Thursday, April 30, 2015

A long battle with a ruthless British government corporation

The last time Diana Morgan-Hill ran, it was for a train. A day has not passed since when she has not wished she’d missed it.

Instead, as it pulled into a suburban London station one summer evening, she dashed to catch it and in so doing set in motion a string of events that changed the course of her life profoundly and irrevocably.

Diana opened a carriage door, put one foot on the step under it, then the train jolted forward and she lost her balance and fell.

Wedged between the platform and running board, she screamed, but the train did not stop. Instead, it picked up speed and she was dragged along until she fell under the wheels.

Miraculously, even with the vast weight of the train crushing her, she survived. But as it ground, belatedly, to a halt, the life Diana had known ended. She lost both her legs. One, severed above the knee, hung by a thread. The other was ripped clean off below the knee.

In seven awful seconds Diana — a businesswoman with her own PR firm — had become a double amputee, her life in ruins.

She was 29: bright, beautiful and successful. She loved to walk, dance and ride. The athletic grace that defined her was wrenched from her in the most horrific way imaginable.

Yet this was just the start of her torture.

Just seven days after the accident, when she was still in hospital, traumatised and heavily sedated, the rail company announced its intention to sue Diana. Its aim was to invoke a 100-year-old by-law and prosecute her for trespassing on the railway line.

The sheer callousness of its tactic was gasp-inducing. The train had already started to move when Diana boarded it, the firm claimed. It hoped to prove her culpable, thereby diminishing its responsibility to compensate her for her injuries.

For Diana— who remembered with certainty that the train had been stationary when she’d tried to board — it was the start of a nightmare; the beginning of five years of litigation that consumed her life as she struggled to adapt to her disability.

‘My fight with what was then British Rail was worse even than losing my legs,’ she says.

‘I’d just come out of intensive care. I’d lost my mobility; I’d nearly lost my life and BR put out a press statement saying they were suing me. The cruelty was astounding.’

Now, 25 years after the accident, Diana, 54, has written a book about her ordeal. It tells the story of her indefatigable battle against both disability and injustice.

Her story is one of triumph over both her injuries and the intransigence of British Rail, who in 1995 paid her £634,000 after a judge found it was 70 per cent to blame for the accident.

Today, Diana recalls the day in August 1990 when her life changed in the blink of an eye. ‘My new business was going well and I was enjoying myself,’ she says. ‘That evening I was going to meet a friend for supper and I wasn’t in a rush.

‘But as I walked over the bridge at Wandsworth Common station, the 6.29pm train to Victoria was pulling in. I knew I’d have to wait half an hour if I missed it, so I ran down the stairs and across the platform to the train.

‘I had my right foot on the running board (the step under the door) and was raising the other when the train jerked ferociously and pulled away. My right foot slipped, I clung to the doorframe and then the train jolted again.

‘Then my left leg dropped below the running board and I fell into the gap between the platform and the train. I was wedged there, crushed, terrified, and the train moved on.

‘Four hundred tons of metal were rolling against me, crushing my ribs — they were all broken — and I screamed: "Stop the train!" But it just picked up speed and carried on moving.

‘Then a wheel caught my right leg and I was pulled down. I felt a tugging sensation, then nothing. When I came to, the train had stopped and I was trapped underneath it.

‘I knew my left leg had gone because it was under the wheel of the train. Then 650 volts of electricity from the train line hit me, and the pain was obliterating.

‘I wanted oblivion but it didn’t come. Most people, when they suffer traumatic shock, lose consciousness. But I didn’t — there was no merciful blacking out.

‘The driver was distraught. He said they were going to switch off the power to stop me shaking due to the electricity.’ Diana’s life was saved by her rubber-soled pumps, which don’t conduct electricity.

‘I lay there, I later discovered, for 45 minutes,’ she recalls. ‘A lovely passenger who told me her name was Maggie — talked to me and held my hand.

‘Then the ambulance men arrived, and they said they had to switch the electricity on again to move the train off me.

‘There was a moment when I thought "I can’t bear any more", and I had to choose between holding Maggie’s hand and living, or turning away and oblivion.

‘I held her hand. I realised later how brave she was, not knowing if the current would carry through to her, and I was still holding it when they rolled the train off me. The pain was so severe I didn’t even have the energy to scream. ‘My heart stopped, and the second electric shock seemed to glue me to the tracks.’

There ensued a desperate fight to save Diana’s life. She was rushed to St George’s Hospital, Tooting, where she underwent surgery and was given 12 pints of blood. For three days she lay in intensive care.

She recalls now the sheer joy she felt when she came round to realise she was still alive: ‘It was exquisite, heavenly, and the nurses in intensive care felt like angels.’

But then came the crushing news, from her sister, Helen, who had spotted a paragraph in a newspaper, that Diana faced legal action from British Rail.

So, as she confronted the momentous struggle of learning to live without legs, Diana had to marshal fresh strength to fight BR through the courts.

First, though, she had to acclimatise to her new life. After 11 days in hospital at Tooting, she was transferred to Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, which specialises in the rehabilitation of amputees. For almost six months, it became her home.

Exactly a month after her accident, she stood for the first time, on a rudimentary pair of prosthetic legs. She remembers both the effort and euphoria of the experience:

Her determination was also unquenchable: within a year of the accident, she was living in her own ground-floor flat in Tooting and driving a specially adapted car.

Although she continued to work in her business, the physical demands of the job became untenable and she had to sell her share to her business partner.

But, in 1991, she met David Morgan, a City banker, and they fell in love. To their delight, she became pregnant and daughter Lara was born in 1993. David and Diana married a year later. But their marriage endured difficulties, not least because of Diana’s protracted litigation with BR.

In 1992, a judge had decreed that BR was 70 per cent responsible for the accident. Its guard had not applied the emergency brake in time; he hadn’t shouted a warning. Diana was considered 30 per cent to blame.

The judge believed the guard’s testimony that she’d boarded the train as it had started to move — even though Diana asserts it had been stationary.

More intrusion ensued: BR picked over Diana’s life in meticulous detail to try to prove her compensation claim was exaggerated and to reduce it.

The stress of the legal battle took its toll on her marriage and in 2000, with regret but without rancour, she and David divorced. Since then, Diana has continued to wring happiness from life. In 2010 she was a finalist, with dance partner Mark Foster, in the BBC’s Strictly spin-off Dancing On Wheels.

She danced again at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in 2012, and as CEO of the Limbless Association she has helped child victims of the Iraqi war.

Original report here

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NC: Wrongful conviction lawsuit filed against Greensboro police

What is the value of 17 years of a person’s life? The city of Greensboro may soon have to reckon with that question. LaMonte Armstrong, who spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Greensboro and the Police Department, alleging misconduct by police and prosecutors.

"Investigators based their case on an informant they knew was unreliable and untrustworthy." said the brief filed by Armstrong’s attorneys. "(He) withheld exculpatory evidence from the prosecutors and from Armstrong and participated in the fabrication of inculpatory evidence that they knew, or reasonably should have known, was false."

In 1995, Armstrong was convicted of the 1988 murder of North Carolina A&T State University professor Ernestine Compton and sentenced to life imprisonment.

From the beginning, Armstrong maintained his innocence. After he wrote to the Duke Law Innocence Project, the wrongful convictions clinic at Duke Law School encouraged the Greensboro Police Department to reopen the case.

Investigators retested a handprint found near the body and matched it to Christopher Caviness, a convicted murderer who died in 2010. Armstrong was released from prison in 2012 and officially pardoned by Governor Pat McCrory in 2013.

It is unknown exactly how much recompense Armstrong seeks. Theresa Newman, an attorney who worked to free Armstrong, told The Guilfordian that Armstrong applied for statutory compensation. Under state law, a wrongfully imprisoned person can receive $50,000 per year of time served, up to a maximum of 15 years. Armstrong applied for and received the full $750,000 maximum.

Asked why Armstrong had chosen to pursue further compensation from the state, a source who wanted to remain anonymous due to their relationship to the case told The Guilfordian that more than money is at stake.

"Someone loses 17 years of their life to prison," said the anonymous source. "There’s accountability that needs to be assessed. There needs to be an acknowledgement that what was going on was wrong and that what happened to (Armstrong) was wrong. Those things are the purpose of the suit. (While) money is the way those damages are measured under our system, that’s far from the sole, or primary, motivating factor."

Armstrong, who knew Compton, was questioned by police after the murder but was quickly let go.

The lawsuit alleges that investigators omitted possibly exculpatory information from the file provided to the district attorney, including that key witness Charles Blackwell was known to the police as a habitual liar and changed his story several times over the course of the investigation.

City attorney Tom Carruthers, speaking to the Greensboro News & Record, emphasized the city and the Police Department’s cooperation with the Innocence Project.

"The most important thing is for us to fully understand why this happened," said Carruthers. "That’s why we cooperated with the Innocence Project, and that’s why we provided the entire criminal file to Armstrong’s attorney before the lawsuit."

Newman agrees that police and prosecuters were cooperative when the Innocence Project asked for Armstrong’s case to be reopened but says that the increasing frequency of overturned convictions has, in some cases, led to less cooperative attitudes from district attorneys’ offices.

"In our exonerations, it’s always occurred with different levels of cooperation from the district attorney’s office," said Newman. "It’s becoming more difficult to get that cooperation now. (You) can do two things in that situation: you can become much more involved and open in investigating whether wrongful convictions have occurred or you can become much more resistant.

"(In) some prosecutorial districts, we are seeing more resistance to overturning convictions."

Wrongful conviction lawsuits can be painful for city pocketbooks.

In June 2014, a group of wrongfully convicted black men known as the Dixmoor 5, who were accused of fabricating confessions to convict the men of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old, received a $40 million settlement from the Illinois State Police.

Also in 2014, the city of New York settled for $41 million with the Central Park Five, five minority men who were wrongfully convicted of a much publicized sexual assault on a jogger in Central Park.

Newman believes that a judgment or settlement in Armstrong’s favor is definitely possible.

"When I look at what happened, I certainly hope that these kinds of facts support recovery in a civil suit," said Newman. "I’m optimistic. I believe there’s sufficient evidence to support recovery."

Original report here

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cleared journalist launches blistering attack on British prosecutors, accusing them of treating him like a 'murderer or terrorist'

Police were accused of treating a senior journalist like a ‘murderer or terrorist’ yesterday as charges against him were finally thrown out of court.

Graham Dudman, 51, launched a blistering attack on the authorities as his three-year ordeal of ‘mental torment’ came to an end.

The former Sun managing editor walked out of the Old Bailey a free man after prosecutors formally abandoned the case against him.

Mr Dudman had been accused of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

In a furious broadside, he said a ‘truly grotesque’ sum of public money had been spent investigating journalists. But he said that a combination of a damning High Court ruling and repeated jury acquittals have exposed the £20million inquiry as a ‘politically motivated witch-hunt’.

‘How can it possibly be right the squad investigating journalists for publishing true stories in the public interest was allocated twice the number of detective than a murder squad? ‘Somebody somewhere got their priorities horribly wrong.

‘While today’s hearing marks the end of the process for me, three of my colleagues from The Sun still face trials and my thoughts today are with them and their families.

‘I’m now looking forward to getting on with the rest of my life and hope that journalism - a vital part of any democracy – is never again subjected to such an appalling attack.’

Mr Dudman was among nine journalists whose cases were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service after an urgent review. Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders announced the dramatic climbdown after juries repeatedly threw out cases.

Describing his arrest, Mr Dudman said: ‘They confiscated my passport before locking me in a cell, stripping me of any dignity and swabbing my mouth for DNA. I was treated like a murderer or a terrorist.'

Original report here

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Three British cops charged with stealing money during raid

Phillips has form, a conviction for stealing on duty in 2014

A CARMARTHENSHIRE police officer has denied charges of stealing £30,000 in cash during a police raid along with two other officers.

Police Constable Christopher Evans, aged 37, of Llangennech, along with another PC and a sergeant from South Wales Police are alleged to have taken bundles of notes from the home of a suspected criminal.

Cardiff Crown Court heard former Detective Sergeant Stephen Phillips, PC Michael Stokes and Christopher Evans (pictured) were arrested as part of an ongoing investigation carried out by their own force's professional standards department.

Phillips, aged 46, from Swansea, is the most senior rank of the three to be charged with "theft by a serving police officer".

PCs Christopher Evans and Michael Stokes, from Glynneath, also face charges of theft by a serving police officer.

Phillips, Evans and Stokes were released on bail at Cardiff Crown Court to stand trial on June 15.

Original report here

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Decent lives destroyed by the British Post Office: The monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame

Julie Carter’s great mistake was to become a sub-postmistress, operating a branch of the Post Office out of the store she and her husband once owned in South Shields in Tyneside. For them, that decision has been a disaster.

While some bigger post offices are run by direct employees of the Post Office, the vast majority are run by private business people — sub-postmasters. These are the people running the smaller outlets, away from city-centre branches. They’re the friendly faces greeting elderly neighbours coming to collect their pension, the glue holding their communities together.

Anyone thinking of using their life savings to join their ranks, say the Carters, should take heed of their story.

Since 2009, Mrs Carter has faced the possibility of being prosecuted by the Post Office for the disappearance of almost £60,000 from her business. She has been accused of fraud by Post Office investigators apparently convinced that the losses — recorded by the organisation’s nationwide computer system Horizon — must in some way be attributable to her.

Some 150 former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have faced similar accusations, resulting in prison, bankruptcy and — it is suspected in one case — suicide.

All this despite claims that it is the IT system which is to blame for the cash shortfalls.

The scandal surrounding Horizon quite likely represents one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in the UK this century. Reputations of people selected for a job that demands they be of good character have been shredded in an effort to prove that an antique computer network — unfit for use by any self-respecting private firm — can do no wrong.

Yet, the Post Office — one of the last bastions of nationalisation — has used millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to pursue people through the courts and silence criticism via an army of expensive lawyers, while continuing to deny to Parliament that there was ever anything amiss.

‘Dealing with the Post Office is like being in a nightmare,’ says Mr Carter. ‘They are right and they can never, ever be wrong.’

‘I can’t explain what they do to you — the bullying, the harassment,’ says Sarah Burgess-Boyde, a former sub-postmistress who lost everything after being accused of theft. ‘The investigators threaten you with prison unless you admit to something. It’s just awful.’

‘You think it is about honourable public service but I wouldn’t put anything past these people,’ says Jim Withers, a former member of the Royal Air Force and another sub-postmaster ruined by his encounter with the Post Office.

There are 11,500 sub-post offices in the UK, and buying into one is often seen as an attractive option for couples entering later life.

Horizon is the computer system through which the Post Office carries out and records transactions — from withdrawals from accounts, to road-tax payments and Premium Bond purchases. It works in tandem with a banking system used by the Post Office, through which debit and credit card transactions take place.

But if these two systems get out of sync, because of a power or telecoms connection failure, transactions might be repeated or not go through.

The result can be unexplained losses or gains which are hard to investigate because Horizon — which is being operated by people with little expertise in IT — is just about the opposite of user-friendly. It is also extremely difficult to spot and correct human errors — even involving thousands of pounds.

And it isn’t just the computer system. The cash machine system used in the Post Office network has also produced errors, which have then been logged in Horizon.

Miss Burgess-Boyde, 51, initially made a great success of her business, also in Newcastle, tripling her salary through commission to £60,000. ‘I felt like I was a key part of the community, respected and liked,’ she says. ‘People liked my staff and me, and we felt as if we were at the heart of things.’

Yet she experienced problems with Horizon from early on — during a thunderstorm the system malfunctioned and credited her branch with £250,000-worth of stamps it didn’t have.

But her real nemesis was the branch cashpoint machine. In the past, cashpoints in sub-post offices were filled by bank security staff. But then the Post Office insisted that sub-postmasters become responsible for that task — and accounting for the cash in the machines. This meant the Post Office had no incentive to launch an inquiry into shortfalls.

‘As soon as I knew there was a problem I told them [the Post Office helpdesk],’ says Miss Burgess-Boyde. ‘The ATM was producing really odd figures. I ended up with a £40,000 anomaly.’

Following an audit in November 2009, she was suspended.

‘I was absolutely distraught,’ she says. ‘But I still thought they would sort it out. Then my contract was terminated and I was prosecuted for theft.’

Her trial in December 2011 at Newcastle Crown Court collapsed on the second day after lawyers for the Post Office offered no evidence. But the damage was done. Miss Burgess-Boyde, who has not worked since, required counselling for depression.

‘My partner and I have lost all our savings because we put them into the business,’ she says. ‘I have lost my income, my reputation, my confidence. My life will never be the same again.’

She has yet to receive an apology. ‘The truth is, the people running the Post Office are terrified that their brand will become toxic if they admit something is wrong.’

In fact — amazingly — this public enterprise is using its legal muscle to attack the very firm of forensic accountants it called in to prove that its computer system and cashpoints are ‘innocent’, and its former sub-postmasters guilty.

The Post Office this week disowned a report by Second Sight, specialists in fraud investigation, which it recruited in 2013 to investigate the cash shortfalls. The Post Office has even issued a 83-page report, carefully crafted by its lawyers, rebutting the findings of its own investigators.

Second Sight’s crime has been to turn on its erstwhile client, accusing the Post Office of failing to investigate adequately losses before rushing into court. The accountants also accuse the Post Office’s management of withholding documents needed to establish the truth about where millions of pounds of lost money has gone.

The report by Second Sight suggests that errors in Horizon — which it describes as not fully fit for purpose — possibly combined with raids on Post Office cashpoint machines by criminals using malicious software, are responsible for most of the losses, and that the vast majority of the 150 sub-postmasters involved are innocent.

‘Bad things happen with computerised transactions — this is a fact of life,’ says the source. ‘This is why we have seen an upswing in mysterious disappearances of money since Horizon replaced paperwork. Where has the money gone? Probably into the pockets of customers, who benefited unwittingly from a glitch, or criminals who rifled cashpoints.’

Crucially, when a bank ATM loses money, the bank will immediately send out a team to investigate. The Post Office, however, does not have to shoulder the loss — the contract means the sub-postmaster is responsible — and so many ATM shortfalls were never actually investigated.

While Horizon has now been updated, it is still vulnerable to errors. ‘Any company with an error-prone computer system learns over time that the system is costing it money and improves it,’ says the source. ‘The Post Office has no incentive to do this because it doesn’t suffer any loss.’

Crucially, the Post Office has the power to bring its own prosecutions rather than submit allegations to independent scrutiny by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Of the 150 sub-postmasters convicted or investigated, it appears only a handful have acted in a truly dishonest manner. Worse, staff were encouraged to gloss over losses by the Post Office’s own helpdesk, which routinely promised worried callers that errors would iron out over time. Many had little idea they were committing an offence in balancing their books to keep their business functioning.

Jim Withers, 52, ran a busy branch in the Norfolk seaside town of Cromer. His problems started almost immediately after he took up his new post in 2006 and ran into problems using the Horizon computer system. ‘The figures were not right from week one,’ he says.

As his losses escalated, he raided his savings and sold his car in a doomed effort to balance his books. He told his wife nothing of his nightmare so as not to worry her.

‘I rang the helpline and they said: "Don’t worry, it will sort itself out" — that was always the reaction,’ he says. ‘One time, the woman at the call centre told us what to do, we did it and it doubled the loss! The woman said: "Don’t worry about it" again and put the phone down.’

Mr Withers lost his business and home, and now lives with his wife in rented accommodation.

There are worse stories. The strain of being pursued for losses is believed to have contributed to the suicide of Martin Griffiths, a sub-postmaster from Chester, who deliberately stepped in front of a bus one morning in September 2011. An inquest heard that Mr Griffiths, 57, was being pursued by the Post Office over an alleged £61,000 shortfall.

The Post Office has reached a settlement with his widow, but has insisted on keeping the terms of it secret.

Critics of the Post Office, left behind in public hands after the privatisation of the Royal Mail delivery arm in 2013, say the heavy-handed tactics have helped it hide its own culpability.

‘The modus operandi of the Post Office is sheer and utter bullying,’ says the source. ‘There is nothing wrong with the local operations of Post Office — it’s the headquarters.’

The Post Office has offered to take part in mediation with those of the 150 not convicted of an offence. But many of those eligible believe the future lies in a class action in court.

‘These people have a good case,’ says the source. ‘But the Post Office has more money than them — and more money than sense. It’s got my money and your money and that is what will fund their lawyers.

‘And that is the most outrageous thing of all. They are so hell-bent on denial that they are not prepared to give an inch.’

Responding to these claims, the Post Office says: ‘Investigations over three years have found that Horizon works as it should and, despite the complaints in the scheme, investigations have found that the majority of losses were caused by human errors at the counter.

‘No evidence has been found which shows that Horizon did not accurately record the transactions entered in a branch.

Mr Withers, now back working on aircraft for a living, has a simple message for those thinking of going into the sub-post office sector: ‘Don’t even think about it.’

Original report here

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Grinning rapist finally jailed almost SIX years after attacking teenage girl, 14, as British police admit 'unacceptable delays and failures' allowed him to live freely near his victim

A grinning child rapist able to live streets away from his victim for years afterwards because of a bungled police investigation has finally been jailed for five years.

Arman Nejad, 23, dragged the teenager into his house and abused her in October 2009 as she walked to a youth club in Moss Side, Manchester.

The girl, now 18, eventually went to police in February 2010 and was interviewed by officers who then mysteriously dropped the case.

Three years later police visited her about a different matter and she asked why her rape case was shelved, and detectives then arrested and charged Nejad with rape.

Today Greater Manchester Police admitted 'unacceptable delays and failures' allowed the rapist to live as a free man just streets away from the girl he attacked.

She has made a formal complaint about the conduct of the officers involved, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is aware of the case, which will be investigated internally.

Superintendent Simon Retford, from GMP's Professional Standards Branch, said: 'There were unacceptable delays in bringing the case to court after the initial complaint was made.

'The victim received a service that I believe fell below the level which we strive to offer to victims of rape and other sexual abuse.

'An investigation is underway to establish the reasons and circumstances around our initial response and apparent lack of action in progressing this case.'

In October 2009, the victim was walking along Caythorpe Street, Moss Side with her friends and all were making their way to a nearby youth club.

Nejad called the girl over his house on false pretences, separating her from her friends.

Once her friends had walked out of view he dragged her into the house and raped her.

Last year it emerged that Greater Manchester Police faced ten investigations into alleged mishandling of sexual assault and rape cases.

One included a claim that a vulnerable child was able to enter the home of a suspected paedophile, who was already under surveillance.

In 2013, the same year Nejad was finally arrested, GMP chief constable Sir Peter Fahy admitted that six out of every ten crimes were not properly investigated.

Greater Manchester's officers only 'actively pursue' criminals in 40 per cent of cases reported to them, he said, with detectives effectively shelving or 'screening out' the rest because there are no witnesses or clues.

It meant that more than 106,000 crimes in Greater Manchester were all but given up by the force as lost causes.

Today the force said that it takes sexual abuse seriously.

Detective Inspector Debbie Oakes, from GMP's Phoenix Protect Team, said: 'Greater Manchester Police's Protect Team was first made aware of Arman Nejad's appalling crimes in 2013.

'As a result, a full and thorough investigation was completed that resulted in this matter being brought to court and which aided in bringing Arman Nejad to justice.

'While the Force absolutely accepts the failures in this case, we should also stress that the work of Protect and the Phoenix partnership over the last few years that has made huge strides towards protecting vulnerable people who are at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

'Working with our partner agencies, we can make use of legislation at our disposal to disrupt premises where we suspect CSE may be taking place, shut those premises down and also arrest and investigate suspects so we can put them before the courts, as we have done with Arman Nejad.

'With the launch of the 'It's not Okay' campaign we are increasing public awareness of how to protect children at risk by increasing people's understanding of child sexual exploitation and how to spot the warning signs of CSE.

'Together, we will continue to tackle CSE and continue to pursue people like Arman Nejad and expose them for the criminals they really are'.

Original report here

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Supreme Court Says Police Violated 4th Amendment When Use of Drug-Sniffing Dog Prolonged Routine Traffic Stop

Law enforcement loses 6-3 in Rodriguez v. United States.

In a 6-3 decision issued today in the case of Rodriguez v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Nebraska police violated the Fourth Amendment by extending an otherwise lawful traffic stop in order to let a drug-sniffing dog investigate the outside of the vehicle.

According to the majority opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures."

While "an officer...may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop," Ginsburg held, "a dog sniff, unlike the routine measures just mentioned, is not an ordinary incident of a traffic stop."

At issue was a 2012 traffic stop conducted by a Nebraska police officer who happened to have his K-9 dog in the cruiser with him. When the stopped driver, Dennys Rodriguez, refused to consent to letting the drug dog walk around the outside of his vehicle, the Nebraska officer called for back-up, thereby prolonging the stop by an additional eight minutes. According to the Court’s ruling today, those extra minutes violated Rodriguez’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

During the January 2015 oral argument in the case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor previewed the Court’s skepticism towards the police officer’s approach. "We can't keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement," Sotomayor declared. "Particularly when this stop is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It's purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper."

Original report here

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Homeowner is handcuffed after being gunned down by police after she shot estranged husband 'who broke into her house and tried to kill her'

A homeowner was gunned down and handcuffed by police after she

blasted her estranged husband who allegedly broke into her house and tried to kill her.

Lisa Skinner, 52, shot the male home invader, who has now been identified as her estranged husband Bradley Skinner, 59, after he broke into the house she shared with her mother around 6 p.m.

Police said Mr Skinner was armed with both a pistol and a large knife. According to, his injuries are life threatening but she is expected to survive.

Police said the incident unfolded when her husband broke the glass out of a back door of the home in South Huntsville, Alabama, to get inside.

Officers say Mrs Skinner armed herself with a shotgun then went into the garage, where he followed her and aimed his pistol at her. She then opened fire with a shotgun, hitting him in the chest, causing life-threatening injuries. Her mother ran from the house in the 2500 block of Bonnie Oaks Drive to a neighbor's house and called 911.

Officers from Huntsville police arrived on scene and heard gunshots ring out and saw Mrs Skinner in the garage holding the shotgun.

They demanded that she drop her weapon but when she turned toward them with the gun in her hand, at least one officer fired at her, wounding, but not killing her.

A spokesman for the Huntsville Police Department, said that the couple was estranged and the woman had been living at the home with her mother.

Mrs Skinner also had a protective order against her estranged husband, according to WHNT 19 News.

Meanwhile, the officer who shot the woman has been placed on administrative leave.

According to Mrs Skinner, a science teacher at Arab High School, lived in fear of violence from her estranged husband.

Records show that she had filed for multiple orders of protection against him and planned to take time off from her teaching job to protect her students from his violent temper.

Mrs Skinner's petitions to the court describe her estranged husband, who she was divorcing after almost 11 years, as a 'clever, gifted manipulator' who was heavily armed.

In February, a Madison County judge prohibited Mr Skinner from going within 100 yards of the Bonnie Oaks Drive home where Sunday's shooting occurred.

Police said he violated that order when he broke into the home, which belongs to his mother-in-law, armed with a handgun and a large knife.

Mrs Skinner described him as a 'mercurial' man who abused alcohol and prescription and illegal drugs and said he had begun speaking about his death.

She wrote: 'On [February 18] he began talking about dying and had often mentioned that he wanted to 'take out all of his enemies and die by PoPo,' meaning he wished the police would kill him after he had killed his enemies. I am certainly now an enemy.'

And as recently as Friday, Mr Skinner had been ordered - again - to have no contact with his estranged wife or her family. He was also ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation prior to a court hearing next month in the couple's divorce.

Original report here

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Wisconsin witch-hunts

Politically motivated and brutal police raids on innocent people who happened to be conservative politically. Crooked prosecutors abetted by a supine judge. Just two episodes below

Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the "Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill," it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking.

She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram. She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door.

"I was so afraid," she says. "I did not know what to do." She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic.

"I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix."

She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee. "I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted."

Wrong thing to say. "This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me."

They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off. The neighbors started to come outside, curious at the commotion, and all the while the police searched her house, making a mess, and — according to Cindy — leaving her "dead mother’s belongings strewn across the basement floor in a most disrespectful way."

Then they left, carrying with them only a cellphone and a laptop.

A second episode

"IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH." That was the first thought of "Anne" (not her real name). Someone was pounding at her front door. It was early in the morning — very early — and it was the kind of heavy pounding that meant someone was either fleeing from — or bringing — trouble. "It was so hard. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought someone was dying outside."

She ran to the door, opened it, and then chaos. "People came pouring in. For a second I thought it was a home invasion. It was terrifying. They were yelling and running, into every room in the house. One of the men was in my face, yelling at me over and over and over." It was indeed a home invasion, but the people who were pouring in were Wisconsin law-enforcement officers.

Armed, uniformed police swarmed into the house. Plainclothes investigators cornered her and her newly awakened family. Soon, state officials were seizing the family’s personal property, including each person’s computer and smartphone, filled with the most intimate family information.

Why were the police at Anne’s home? She had no answers. The police were treating them the way they’d seen police treat drug dealers on television. In fact, TV or movies were their only points of reference, because they weren’t criminals. They were law-abiding. They didn’t buy or sell drugs. They weren’t violent. They weren’t a danger to anyone.

Yet there were cops — surrounding their house on the outside, swarming the house on the inside. They even taunted the family as if they were mere "perps."

As if the home invasion, the appropriation of private property, and the verbal abuse weren’t enough, next came ominous warnings. Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t tell anyone about this raid. Not even your mother, your father, or your closest friends.

The entire neighborhood could see the police around their house, but they had to remain silent. This was not the "right to remain silent" as uttered by every cop on every legal drama on television — the right against self-incrimination.

They couldn’t mount a public defense if they wanted — or even offer an explanation to family and friends. Yet no one in this family was a "perp." Instead, like Cindy, they were American citizens guilty of nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights to support Act 10 and other conservative causes in Wisconsin.

Sitting there shocked and terrified, this citizen — who is still too intimidated to speak on the record — kept thinking, "Is this America?"

Much more here

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Baltimore cop who arrested black 27-year-old who died in police custody of 'severed spine' is identified

Baltimore police who said a 25-year-old they arrested was taken into custody 'without incident' are facing questions about what happened to lead to his death from a severed spine.

Freddie Gray died Sunday after he 'had his spine 80 per cent severed at his neck' following his arrest by three bicycle officers for violation that's been kept 'secret' until today.

Official police documents filed Monday said that the man was arrested by Officer Garrett Miller for having a switchblade knife after being stopped because he 'fled unprovoked after noticing police presence'.

Gray, who was screaming in pain as he was taken to a police van, then lapsed into a coma and was taken to a University or Maryland trauma center where he struggled to stay alive for seven days before his death.

Police still have no answers about exactly what happened that led to the neck injury though Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, 'Whatever happened happened in the back of the van'.

Six officers have been suspended, but investigators say they still don’t know how it happened.

The mayor had vowed in the aftermath of the death to ensure the city held 'the right people accountable' after his early-morning death at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

She expressed frustration on Monday as authorities could not figure out the exact circumstances that led to Gray's neck injury and said that the description of events given in a police report may not have shown probable cause in his arrest.

'When Mr. Gray was put in that van, he could talk, he was upset. And he was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe,' Rodriguez said

The recent disclosure marks the first time authorities have given a reason for Gray's interaction with police.

Though his arrest was for the switchblade, officers said that his arrest in a 'hot spot' area of Baltimore known for narcotics was because he was running away after seeing police.

Rodriguez said Monday that the police involved believed that the 27-year-old was committing or had just committed a crime when they chased and subdued him.

The switchblade knife was found in his front right pants pocket, according to documents obtained by the Baltimore Sun. The knife was punishable by a year in prison and a $500 fine.

A timeline released by police said Gray was taken by a prisoner transport van from the 'crime' scene to the Western District station shortly before 9am.

He asked for his asthmatic inhaler while he was being arrested, and requested medical assistance at another unknown point in time, according to Rodriguez.

An officer pulled out his Taser for use during the incident, but an autopsy that came back Monday showed no Taser marks.

While he was in the van, Gray, who is 5'8'' and 145 pounds, was put in leg restraints after become 'irate'.

Thirty minutes after he was arrested, an ambulance was called to the police station to take Gray to the hospital after he had a 'medical emergency, according toNBC Baltimore.

The van made multiple stops, including stopping to pick up another suspect that could hear but not see gray because of a partition in the vehicle.

Gray suffered a broken vertebra and an injured voice box, according to his family.

Civilian video showed him being loaded into the van, but did not show the entire encounter.

During the video, a woman said: 'That boy's legs look broke.'

Attorneys said that he suffered three broken bones, according to CBS Baltimore.

However, the autopsy report said that Gray had no physical injuries beyond his spine. It concluded that no force was used, a claim echoed by officers.

An attorney retained by Gray's family, William 'Billy' Murphy, spoke out on Sunday and described the circumstances leading up to the young man's death, saying that police chased the man ;without any evidence he had committed a crime.'

'His take-down and arrest without probable cause occurred under a police video camera, which taped everything including the police dragging and throwing Freddie into a police vehicle while he screamed in pain.

Murphy also took issue with the police's previous silence about the issue for Gray's arrest. 'We believe the police are keeping the circumstances of Freddie's death secret until they develop a version of events that will absolve them of all responsibility.

The incident comes as relations between police and black communities have taken on new levels of tension following several incidents of alleged police brutality that received national headlines.

About 50 people marched from City Hall to police headquarters Monday, carrying signs reading 'Black lives matter" and 'Jobs, not police killings.' They unfurled a yellow banner reading 'Stop police terror.'

The police, an independent review board and the Baltimore prosecutor's office will investigate the case.

Rodriguez said that homicide investigators and the police training academy will be included in the task force that gives a report to the state attorney general's office by Friday, May 1.

He said that the investigation is particularly interested in deciding whether police waited to late to call paramedics and whether an officer placed a knee on Gray's back during the arrest.

Monday's press conference included CCTV footage of part of the incident, though it does not show the fatal spine injury.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that whatever injury occurred to Gray must have happened in the van, where cameras that allowed the driver to see the back of the vehicle do not record the footage.

Commissioner Batts, who has been a proponent of body cameras, said that he was looking into changing the cameras so they would record.

She said that she was 'frustrated' by Gray's death and the lack of immediate answers and said that the police department had been working to 'overcome decades of mistrust'.

The mayor added that the information about Gray running in the police report does not necessarily represent probable cause for an arrest and that authorities will 'provide the community with all the answers it deserves'.

The commissioners announced immediate changes to arrest policies on Monday, including immediately giving medical attention to suspects who ask for it.

Original report here

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Want to Record The Cops? Know Your Rights

There are some very disturbing videos circulating the Internet right now, depicting the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of trained, armed men. Many of these videos even show individuals being shot in the back, or as they try to flee.

These are videos of police officers in America killing unarmed black men like Oscar Grant and Eric Garner. And, as the most recent case shows, without these recordings, much of America might not have any idea exactly how much of a problem this is.

Citizen videos of law enforcement encounters are more valuable than ever. And for those who are wondering—it is legal to record the police.

The police don’t always seem aware of this. There have been incidents across the country of police telling people to stop filming, and sometimes seizing their camera or smartphone, or even arresting them, when they don’t comply.

In the most recent citizen-filmed incident to gain widespread media attention, on April 4, white police officer Michael Slager shot and killed 50-year-old black man Walter Scott in the back as he ran away in North Charleston, South Carolina. Bystander Feiden Santana filmed the encounter, which started with a traffic stop. After Santana’s video surfaced, the officer was arrested and charged with murder. Santana said that he is scared of what might happen to him. He also considered deleting the video, and doing nothing with it. And Santana is not the only person who may be intimidated by the prospect of filming the police, with good reason.

That’s why, in addition to EFF Attorney Sophia Cope's legal analysis highlighting some of the recent case law establishing the right to film police officers, we’re sharing some basic information cop watchers should know.

What Courts Have Said

Courts across the country have held that there is a First Amendment right to openly record the police. Courts have also held, however, that individuals cannot interfere with police operations, and that wiretapping statutes that prohibit secretly recording may apply to recording the police. But underlying these decisions is the understanding that recording the police is constitutionally protected.

Know Your Rights and Be Safe

While it has been established that individuals have the right to record the police, what happens on the street frequently does not match the law. Also, if you’re thinking about filming the police, it’s likely you’ll have more police encounters than you otherwise would.

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is a bar association that does police accountability work. The National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer program is focused on watching the police at protests. CopBlock and Cop Watch are loosely organized groups that have chapters across the country, and provide resources on filming the police everyday.

Here are the most essential things to keep in mind:

Stay calm and courteous, even though the situation may be stressful. Remember—if you get arrested or get into an altercation with the police, you won’t be able to keep filming them!

Be sure that you are not interfering with police operations, and stand at a safe distance from any encounter you film.

Your right to record audio surreptitiously of police carrying out their duties in public may vary from state to state. You should check your state law to know the fullest extent of your rights, but the lowest risk way to record is to hold your device in plain view of the officers.

Do not lie to police officers. If they ask whether you are recording, answer honestly.

If the police start interacting with you, treat the encounter as you would any encounter with law enforcement—in fact, you may want to be extra careful, since as the repeated incidents of police seizing cameras and smartphones demonstrate, it may make you more of a target.

If you are at a demonstration, police will often issue a dispersal order—in general, they will declare a protest an unlawful assembly and tell people to leave. Unless you are granted permission to stay, that order applies to you, too. If you do not comply, you should expect to be arrested.

While it is not legal for an officer to order you to move because you are recording, they may still order you to move. If you do not comply you could be arrested. If you do want to comply, consider complying with the smallest movement possible, and verbally confirming that you are complying with their orders. For example, if you are standing five feet from an officer, and they say "You need to move back," you might want to consider calmly saying "yes, officer, I am moving back" while taking a few steps back.

Below are some helpful resources and tips related to interacting with and filming the police from these groups and EFF:

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) "Know Your Rights" pamphlet (available in multiple languages) provides basic information you should know for interacting with the police.

The NLG Legal Observer Program training manual has tips for filming the police at protests, many of which are useful for filming any encounter.

EFF’s Know Your Rights guide provides information on what you need to know if the police want to search your electronic devices.

Why Focus on Citizen Recording When Departments Are Implementing Bodycams?

As the conversation about police accountability continues to take place across the country, body cameras are often proposed as a solution, and they are getting a lot of attention in the news right now. "Bodycam" recordings have made a difference in some cases.

But many transparency and accountability advocates including EFF, have expressed reasonable doubts about their efficacy. States are trying to grapple with the many privacy issues they raise, mostly by considering exempting the footage from public records act requests. And while "bodycams" may be a contentious subject, there’s little doubt that it is citizen footage of law enforcement encounters that has really fueled the current debate about police accountability.

Keep Taping

As North Charleston Pastor Nelson Rivers said: "If not for the video, we would still be following the narrative from the officer. If not for this video, the story would be entirely different."

Scott’s family agrees. After watching the video, his brother stated: "I think that if that man never showed the video we would not be at the point that we’re at right now." And North Charleston Councilwoman Dorothy Williams had this to say: "I'm asking all the citizens of North Charleston to continue taping."

You don’t have to live in North Charleston to know why that’s a good idea.

Original report here

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Zealand: Teina Pora confirms compo bid for 'wrongful conviction, imprisonment'

The NZ government is being very tight-assed about it though

Teina Pora has formally notified the Government of his intention to claim compensation for "wrongful conviction and imprisonment".

Justice Minister Amy Adams has today received a letter from the lawyers for Teina Pora of the news.

Mr Pora spent more than 21 years in prison for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett, before his conviction was quashed by the Privy Council in March 2015. The Privy Council did not order a retrial.

Ms Adams said that as no retrial was ordered by the Privy Council, Mr Pora's application will be treated as being within Cabinet Guidelines.

"Now that Mr Pora's application has been received, I will be seeking preliminary advice from my Justice officials on the next steps," says Ms Adams.

"Officials will assess whether the claim merits further consideration and, if so, provide me with advice on appointing a QC or retired judge to determine whether the applicant can prove they are innocent on the balance of probabilities."

Ms Adams has also ordered a new inquiry into whether or not David Bain should be awarded compensation after he was acquitted, at a retrial, of murdering five members of his family in Dunedin in 1994.

Retired Canadian Judge, Justice Ian Binnie, reported to then Justice Minister Judith Collins that he thought Mr Bain was entitled to compensation.

Ms Collins ordered a peer review of Justice Binnies report which found the retired judges findings were flawed and in February Ms Adams declared the Bain compensation claim process would start again.

Original report here

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

THREE convicted gang rapists have been sentenced to 15 years jail — after their original punishment sparked outrage

In 2013, six men attacked, bashed and gang raped a 16-year-old girl — known by the pseudonym Liz — as she returned from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia County, Western Kenya.

The gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch. Liz suffered a broken back, caused either by the beating or by being hurled down into the pit, as well as serious internal injuries from the rape.

The case made global headlines after it emerged that three of the alleged rapists were ordered by police to cut grass around the police station as punishment.

Worldwide outrage over the punishment prompted more than 1.8 million people to sign an online petition demanding justice.

On Monday, three of Liz’s assailants were sentenced to 15 years jail. "Today’s sentencing is sure to have a ripple effect across the nation, and hopefully the region at large," said lawyer Kimberly Brown, from the campaign group Equality Now, which supported the schoolgirl.

Other suspects are on the run, with the public prosecutor ordering they be "apprehended and brought to justice without further delay."

Sentencing had been set for last Friday but was delayed after one of the men skipped bail and failed to turn up, but police arrested him over the weekend.

Rape is a serious problem in Kenya but is seldom taken seriously by the police, rights groups say. "The sheer scale of sexual violence in schools, communities and its general acceptability in society is astounding," Ms Brown added.

Original report here

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Dashcam video shows police car slam into suspect

Sounds like the cops did a mad guy a favor. An armed confrontation would probably have got him shot dead. Police officer Michael Rapiejko will not be charged

Extraordinary dashcam video has emerged of the moment a police car rams into a man walking along a footpath in Arizona.

The video was taken from a dashcam video of another police car that was following Mario Valencia after he had fired a shot into the air from an allegedly stolen rifle.

The vision shows the second police car speeding past the first and slamming into the Mr Valencia, throwing him into the air in a shower of dust and debris. Mr Valencia survived the incident.

Police have said the police action probably saved Mr Valencia's life, but it has sparked fierce debate about the level of forced used, CNN reports.

The video shows officers in the first car staying a distance from Mr Valencia, reporting his movements by radio and that he had fired one shot into the air.

It is moments after the shot is fired that the second police car races past.

"Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force. It is miraculous that my client isn't dead," Mr Valencia's lawyer told CNN.

The incident happened on February 19.

Police Chief Terry Rozema told CNN: "If we're going to choose between maybe we'll let him go a little bit farther and see what happens, or we're going to take him out now and eliminate any opportunity he has to hurt somebody, you're going to err on the side of, in favor of the innocent people. Without a doubt."

Police say Mr Valencia was involved in a convenience store robbery, set fire to a church and stole a car and a gun on the day. He is facing up to 15 charges.

Original report here

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another Innocent Black Man on Death Row?

The case of Rodney Reed

Reed, who is black, was convicted in Texas by an all-white jury in the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman.

Reed has been on Texas' death row since 1998. Just last week, after nearly two decades in prison and with a March 5th execution date looming, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution based on new evidence that his attorneys at the Innocence Project say could exonerate him.

Reed's case is a classic textbook example of how innocent people wind up on death row: bad lawyering, the failure of the police to investigate other leads, possible prosecutorial misconduct, junk forensic science and, perhaps most significantly, the taint of racial bias.

On its face, the prosecution's case against Reed was simple. Reed's DNA was found inside Stites' murdered body. Therefore, he must have killed her.

Reed's semen was the only physical evidence that linked him to the crime. His fingerprints were not on Stites' truck, nor were they on the belt used by the perpetrator to strangle her. There were no hairs, no other biological evidence, and no witnesses who'd seen them together. Just the DNA. DNA, which Reed explained, was not from the day of her death, but from a sexual encounter with Stites from the day before her murder.

Reed consistently claimed that he had been sexually involved with Stites for months before her death, and that he had nothing whatsoever to do with her murder. Yet, at trial, Reed's lawyers did very little to establish Reed's relationship with Stites, even though there were multiple witnesses who could have attested to that relationship.

There also was another clear suspect: a white police officer and Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell. As one witness, Mary Blackwell, told the court, Fennell once said during a police academy class that he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt if she cheated on him. Stites was strangled to death with a belt.

Fennell was later convicted in an unrelated kidnapping and sexual assault case of a twenty-year old woman.

But the police focused on Reed as their suspect. They never searched the apartment shared by Fennell and Stites. They returned the truck to Fennell six days after the murder and before full forensic testing was complete. Fennell promptly sold the truck and any potential evidence that went with it.

And the police pursued the case against Reed.

The lack of physical evidence against Reed in this death penalty case is deeply troubling. But so is the racial bias that pervaded every aspect of this case. That bias started with the taboo of an inter-racial relationship between a black man and a white woman in a small-town in Texas. It was compounded by an all-white jury. And it was consistent with the disturbing pattern of racial disparity found in so many capital cases involving a black-defendant and a white victim.

Maybe Reed will get lucky. Twelve innocent people have been exonerated and released from Texas' death row. 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationally - sometimes within weeks - or even hours - of their scheduled execution. 78 of the exonerated were black.

But innocent men appear to also have been executed.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who proclaimed his innocence until his last breath, was executed in Texas for the arson-murder of his three children. The evidence against Willingham was junk science - experts now say the fire was accidental. Carlos DeLuna was executed in Texas for a murder that now seems fairly certain to have been committed by another convicted murderer named Carlos Herrera.

Reed should not become another Texas tragedy. Reed's death sentence - and nineteen long years of deprivation on death row -- is far too severe a penalty for a man who appears guilty of nothing more than taking part in a consensual interracial sexual relationship.

Original report here

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Firing of Officer Who Shot Unarmed Suspect Shows Benefits of Non-Unionized Police Departments

Americans were stunned last week by graphic video of North Charleston, S.C. Police Officer Michael T. Slager shooting an unarmed suspect in the back after a routine traffic stop.

The video led to Slager both being charged with murder and fired from the North Charleston Police Department.

Slager’s quick dismissal from the department stands in stark contrast to similar incidents in other cities which, unlike North Charleston, have unionized police departments.

Often police unions prevent officers from being dismissed without a lengthy arbitration process—even when they have flagrantly abused their power. An article in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf recounts numerous cases where officers used excessive force and were reinstated after union arbitration.

In 2007, for example, Oakland Police Officer Hector Jimenez shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old and was reinstated thanks to the police union’s protection. Seven months later, Jimenez shot another unarmed man in the back as he fled arrest. Shockingly, the arbitrators again ordered the police department to reinstate Jimenez, even though they had lost confidence in his ability to serve and protect.

Often police unions prevent officers from being dismissed without a lengthy arbitration process—even when they have flagrantly abused their power.

Such a last minute reinstatement seems unlikely for Slager, however, as the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) is not unionized. In South Carolina collective bargaining is optional for cities and North Charleston has chosen not to do so.

Consequently the NCPD can fire any employee who is abusing his power without going through a lengthy union-designed arbitration process.

Elected officials should not have to bargain over whom to trust with deadly force. They—not government unions—answer to the public and should have the authority to take a dangerous cop off the streets.

Because municipal collective bargaining is optional in South Carolina, that is exactly what happened in North Charleston. Other states should take note.

Original report here

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How ‘recovered memories’ fuelled the paedo panic

The UK justice system needs to face facts: 'recovered memories' simply aren't credible

Last month, the psychology department of Goldsmiths College in London hosted a lecture by Professor Elizabeth Loftus on memory research, and what it tells us about the value of human recollection, entitled ‘The memory factory’. Loftus is an American cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine. She has spent the past 40 years conducting trials on how memory works (or doesn’t work), as well as presenting expert witness testimony in several high-profile court cases.

It is a tribute to Loftus’ exceptional determination and expertise that she was not derailed in her work by the bitter ‘memory wars’ of the 1990s, which arose as a result of US feminist campaigners and trauma therapists insisting on the veracity of ‘recovered memories’ of abuse. This notion of recovered memory remains hotly contested. As recently as 2012, Loftus convinced a court that the theory of recovered memory is outwith medical orthodoxy (1). Nevertheless, Loftus has been the subject of professional complaints and has received death threats.

Dangerous work

As one commentator notes, to work in this field you need ‘skin as thick as permafrost and caller ID on the phone’. Loftus is not the only academic to be pilloried for her work in this field. Susan Clancy, a young cognitive psychologist working at Harvard in the mid-1990s, was viciously attacked after she began laboratory research into how people might be prone to false memories. Part of the cohort of subjects who presented at Harvard’s Memory Laboratory claimed to have been the victim of childhood abuse, even though they had no actual memory of being abused! This was intriguing research terrain (2).

But Clancy received bags of hate mail, was shunned by her graduate students, and even found herself giving guest lectures to empty halls. Harvard encouraged her and her mentor, Professor Richard J McNally, to switch the focus of their research on to people who believed they were abducted by aliens: a less politically sensitive class of victim. Clancy accepted a visiting professorship in Nicaragua, where she still works in the field of consumer behaviour, though she did succeed in publishing her own original work in the field of recovered memory: Abducted (2005) and The Trauma Myth (2010).

Loftus, by contrast, was not run out of town so outrageously: as an older woman, she had been involved in research going back to the 1970s, and had thus built up a solid string of publications by the time things turned ugly in the 1990s. One of her earliest studies of memory paradigms examined how misinformation, provided after an event is witnessed, can cause the witness to recall the event differently. Memory is reconstructive, and people can all-too-easily process new information after the fact, and then re-attribute this new information to their original experience. Memory, her research shows, can be rewritten.

Tell ’em what to say

Similar findings have been replicated in studies up to the present. In her talk, Loftus cited a 2013 study by psychiatrist Dr Charles Morgan from the Yale Medical School of a crack troop of US soldiers undergoing survival-school training. This entailed a real-life, high-stress exercise of being hunted, captured and then aggressively interrogated by ‘enemy’ combatants, after which they were ‘rescued’ by friendly survival-school staff.

In the debrief interviews, some soldiers were given false information about their interrogator’s appearance; were asked leading questions such as ‘describe the weapon/uniform worn by your interrogator’, and were shown a doctored video which (incorrectly) showed the survival-school staff, whom the soldiers knew, as carrying automatic weapons when, in fact, they did not. The results were dramatic. In the cohort which was given the misinformation:

– 84 per cent misidentified their interrogator;

– 27 per cent wrongly said their interrogator had a weapon;

– 85 per cent wrongly stated their interrogator wore uniform;

– Over 50 per cent wrongly stated that school staff carried automatic weapons.

Another memory paradigm, which Loftus discussed in her lecture, is one where people claim to remember events that are wholly imaginary. In her classic ‘Lost in the Mall’ study, in which people were given a description of a child lost in a mall, about a quarter of participants came to believe that this experience had happened to them. And at (arguably) a more harmless level, she and her team have successfully planted false memories in people relating to food. Some people have been persuaded to avoid strawberry ice cream, believing it once made them sick as a child; others have been impelled to avoid imbibing vodka. Potentially, this kind of research may provide a way to cure addictions and obesity.

Memory and law

But memory is far more problematic, when deployed in a forensic context. Who is more believable, and who decides? A person’s liberty, or a child’s future, may depend on this. According to Loftus, there is no way to distinguish a false memory from a true one. A false memory can be detailed, it can be recounted convincingly, and it can carry the same emotional charge as an accurate depiction of real experience. Loftus’ take-home message is that human memory is unreliable, unless supported by independent corroborating evidence. This message is diametrically opposed to the increasingly victim-centric approach of the UK justice system, currently in thrall to the politically correct ‘I believe her’ camp.

Wisely, Loftus steered clear of volunteering any observations about the implications of her work for the UK’s mounting obsession with historic abuse allegations. However, it is disturbing that the numerous authors of the growing piles of reports into Savile et al, abjectly fail to confront the problems of memory, or the lessons of memory research. This is a serious flaw in their approach. The unprecedented media frenzy over Savile, succeeded by wild accusations about VIP paedo-murder ‘rings’, should have flagged up to any intelligent person the obvious dangers of accepting tales of woe from long ago, uncritically. But this has not happened.

Instead, most journalists have shown an almost willful ignorance of modern memory science, in their stampede to propagate sensational stories that sell. Even more reprehensibly, Britain’s courts have been remiss in their refusal to face up to this problem, while simultaneously refusing to subject the constant special pleading from the victim lobby, which now includes the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to proper analytical scrutiny. The outcome has been a serious unbalancing of the UK’s justice system towards a presumption of guilt, and a cynical willingness to risk innocent people’s liberty.

Original report here

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Chief constable retires on full pension while facing bullying probe

A chief constable facing a bullying probe for her alleged Alex Ferguson-style 'hair dryer treatment' of colleagues is to retire with full pension after 30 years of service.

Sue Sim, who came to national prominence five years ago as Northumbria Police dealt with the Raoul Moat manhunt, said she was 'sad' to leave the force but was retiring to spend more time with her family.

It was announced last month that Ms Sim was to be investigated by her Police and Crime Commissioner's office for alleged misconduct. Although she was not suspended after the accusations were made against her, it was reported those below her were walking on 'eggshells' such was the manner in which she delivered her assessments.

Her style has been compared to her predecessor Sir John Stevens, who delivered what have been described as legendary 'b**********' to the officers under his command.

A Northumbria Police spokesman today confirmed she will retire with full pension despite being the subject of an investigation.

Ms Sim said: 'After careful consideration I have decided to retire when I reach my 30 years service on June 3. 'My family have made many sacrifices to enable me to have such a fantastic career and it is now time to spend more time with them.

'I am obviously sad to leave but it is the right time and I am confident I have left a legacy of high performance that will continue.

'I have been extremely fortunate to have had a marvellous career and I am as committed to serving the public as I was when I first joined Merseyside Police in 1985.'

Chief Constable Sim came to public prominence during the hunt for crazed killer Raoul Moat in 2010 when she held her position in a temporary capacity. She described the search for Moat following the murder of Christopher Brown and shooting of one of her own officers, PC David Rathband, as 'one of the most challenging times' of her career.

During this time she fronted public appeals to locate the killer and became the face of the police response, during which officers were warned they were targets.

She said: 'That was one of the most challenging times of my career and the largest manhunt the country has seen for 44 years.

'I am immensely proud of my officers and staff who went about their roles fully aware of the threats against them, but determined to support the public.'

Vera Baird, police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, said she would miss working with Ms Sim.

Ms Baird said: 'Chief Constable Sue Sim gave me formal notice of her decision to retire on Wednesday April 8 and she will leave the force on June 3 when she has completed 30 years of public service in policing.

Last month, Ms Baird announced that she had appointed a judge to lead an inquiry into allegations that Ms Sim might have 'fallen short of her duty as a police officer to treat colleagues with respect and courtesy'.

She said: 'Over the past few days, I have sought clarification about the issues raised by some officers. 'I am now clear that they wish to make complaints against the chief constable of Northumbria Police which merit investigation.'

Ms Sim said she would co-operate with the inquiry.

Original report here

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ten California deputies put on leave after shocking helicopter footage shows them 'punching and kicking horse thief as he lay on the ground with hands behind his back'

Ten deputies have been placed on leave after a shocking video emerged showing them punching and kicking an alleged horse thief for two minutes following a chase through the California desert.

In the video, captured by an NBC helicopter, Francis Pusok, 30, is seen falling off the horse he was suspected of stealing after being pursued several miles by the San Bernardino County officers.

Seconds later, two deputies catch up to Pusok and stun him with their Tasers. They then stun him again, and again, as lies splayed face-down on the ground, with his arms placed behind his back.

As the camera keeps rolling, the officers apparently kick the suspect in the head and crotch, before other deputies arrive on the scene. One clearly draws back his leg and swings it at Pusok's head.

Chillingly, after the beating, a deputy whispered in the suspect's ear: 'This isn't over,' according to Pusok's attorney Jim Terrell, who said the man was left 'scared to death for himself and his family'.

Now, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon has placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave for their alleged roles in the graphic footage, which he said had 'disturbed and troubled him'.

McMahon said the video, captured on Thursday, appeared to show an excessive use of force. He added that he was launching an internal investigation into the actions of the unidentified officers.

'I'm not sure if there was a struggle with the suspect,' he told NBC. 'It appears there was in the early parts of the video. What happens afterwards, I'm not sure of, but we will investigate it thoroughly.'

In a tweet via the San Bernardino Sheriff's Office, McMahon said: 'We have identified 10 deputies involved in the use of force during the arrest & they have been placed on paid admin leave.'

Earlier on Thursday, Pusok had allegedly fled by car after deputies had tried to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation. He later dumped the vehicle in the Hesperia area, it is said.

The suspect, dressed in bright red clothing, then reportedly stole a horse and made his way across the desert near the town of Apple Valley, east of LA, before being tracked down by deputies.

In the video, Pusok can be seen falling from the horse as a deputy runs up and uses a stun gun on him. McMahon said the stun gun was believed to be ineffective because of the man's loose clothing.

The suspect then falls face down with his arms and legs outstretched and put his hands behind his back. The video shows two deputies appearing to come up and kick him in the head and crotch.

As more officers join in, the men huddle in a pack over Pusok, continuing to pummel their fists and feet into his back and head. Meanwhile, one deputy stands calmly holding the horse by the saddle.

Following the incident, two deputies were taken to a nearby hospital for injuries, including abrasions, a twisted knee and a back injury from being struck by the horse, the sheriff's office said.

Pusok was treated at the hospital for abrasions and bruising. He was then released to be booked on suspicion of felony evading, theft of a horse, possession of stolen property and reckless driving.

After the video was broadcast by NBC, it sparked outrage on the Internet, with many users noting that Pusok was lying on the ground in a 'surrender' position when he was beaten by the officers.

On Friday, Mr Terrell told KABC that the attack seemed never-ending. 'This is as bad, if not worse, than what they did to Rodney King. This was terrible. It kept going and going and going,' he said.

Rodney King, who died in 2012, rose to national fame after he was captured on video being beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase in March 1991.

Although four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force, they were later acquitted in a series of verdicts that are thought to have caused the 1992 LA riots.

Also Friday, McMahon said an internal investigation is underway into the deputies' actions in the arrest of Pusok. A criminal inquiry into the actions of the suspect is also being carried out, he said.

However, he said that the department will not release the names of deputies - which apparently include a sergeant and a detective - until they are sure that multiple threats made are not valid.

'I'm asking for some patience while we complete a thorough and fair investigation,' McMahon said.

'I am disturbed and troubled by what I see in the video. It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures.

'I assure you, if there is criminal doing on the part of any of our deputy sheriffs or any policy violations we will take action.'

The deputies were wearing audio recorders, but McMahon said he had not listened to them and the recordings will be part of the investigation.

Attorneys for Pusok told KNBC-TV Friday as they left the jail that their client has a badly swollen eye, marks from the beating over his face and body, and is in pain.

'He remembers being beat, and he remembers that he wasn't resisting, that he laid still, he complied immediately. He says that he didn't even move a muscle because he didn't want to be continuously beat, yet it still happened,' said attorney Sharon Brunner.

Ken Cooper, a use of force expert, said the deputies were clearly frustrated and appeared to take that out on the suspect. One, he said, appeared to be striking Pusok with the Taser.

'It doesn't look good. It looks like his hands are behind his back even when they're doing the blows,' Cooper said.

'The justification for using force is to gain compliance from the suspect, and the suspect seems to be complying. So what this looks like is those blows are not justified, they're not necessary and they're not professional.'

Cooper said the officers should be disciplined, retrained to deal with stress especially, and the video should be used for department-wide training.

He said the officers allowed their emotions and adrenaline to overtake their professionalism. But training helps 'inoculate' officers from responding improperly during high-stress situations.

'When chasing a fleeing suspect, in high stress, you have to control that. It's your obligation as a professional. You can lose it sometimes,' Cooper said.

McMahon said deputies had previously been called to Pusok's home in Apple Valley, where he had allegedly made threats to kill a deputy and shot a puppy in front of family members.

Pusok's beating came as recent violent episodes by officers dealing with suspects have hit the headlines, including the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend.

Pusok's girlfriend of 13 years, Jolene Bindner, said her long-term boyfriend has had several run-ins with the law. However, she insisted that he is a great father who did not deserve the brutal beating.

'I'm not going to stand here and say that he's perfect, because who is?' she said. 'I couldn't believe it,' Bindner said after seeing the video. 'The first thing I said was 'they cannot do that.''

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement saying it is 'deeply troubled by the video images' and applauding McMahon's call for an investigation.

Original report here

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