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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

John Valluzzo Shot to Death by Police Officer on Domestic Disturbance Call

     John Valluzzo, a wealthy, 75-year-old entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist, lived in a 9,000-square foot mansion in the historic town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. In 1995, the Army veteran funded and helped finance the Military Museum of Southern New England located in Danbury, Connecticut. Valluzzo made his fortune in manufacturing and real estate. He owned a world-class rare book collection as well as a home in Palm Springs, Florida.

     On Friday, May 24, 2013, Valluzzo's 53-year-old girlfriend, Anna Parille, had come to the estate to pick up some clothing for a wedding she planned to attend. Although Parille owned a house in Danbury, she occasionally resided with Valluzzzo in Ridgefield. Parille also owned an award-winning video production company called Inside Look, TV. Before becoming a successful real estate agent, she had operated, for 18 years, a nursery school called Kenosia Kids. Parille hosted a television show, and had published a children's book.

     According to reportage in The New York Times, at five-thirty that Friday evening, Anna Parille phoned a friend in Florida. During that call, Parille reported that she and Valluzzo were fighting and that he was drunk and was brandishing a gun. The friend, on her own without Parille's knowledge, called the Ridgefield Police Department and reported a domestic disturbance at the Valluzo estate.

     When officers rolled up to the mansion they were greeted by Valluzzo who stood in his yard armed with a handgun. Officer Jorge Romero, a seven-year veteran of the force with the Bridgeport Police Department, ordered Valluzzo to drop the weapon. Instead of complying with that command, Valluzzo raised his gun. Officer Romero responded by shooting the armed man several times. Valluzzo died later that night at a hospital in Danbury.

     The New York Times, relying on information provided by a friend of Anna Parille's who witnessed the incident, published a narrative at odds with the police version of the shooting. The New York Times version involved the police entering the Valluzzo house through a back portico off the kitchen. One of the officers yelled, "Freeze! Freeze!" before he shot Mr. Valluzzo as he stood in his kitchen. Immediately after the shooting, Officer Romero reportedly said, "What did I do?" as other officers tried to console him.

     By all accounts, Jorge Romero, a good-natured, low-key man, had been an excellent police officer. In April 2013, he received a commendation for his May 2012 investigation of 26 car burglaries. The Ridgefield chief of police placed Romero on desk duty pending the investigation of the shooting by the New York State Police.

     It didn't matter where Mr. Valluzzo stood when Officer Romero shot him as long as Mr. Valluzzo possessed a handgun and raised it in a manner that threatened the officer. Simply because Officer Romero expressed remorse over the shooting did not necessarily render the lethal force unjustified.

     In July 2014, State Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky announced that under Connecticut law, officer Romero had been justified in shooting Mr. Valluzzo.

Criminal Justice Quote: Robbers Have Bad Days, Too

Police arrested Michael Smith in 1990 for a street corner robbery in Rochester, New York. The 29-year-old robber held up a couple getting out of their car. His weapon of choice was a realistic toy gun. However, the female victim reached into the glove compartment and pulled out her own realistic toy gun, leading Smith to drop his realistic toy gun. As Smith fled the scene, the couple alerted a neighbor who caught Smith and leveled him with a baseball bat. Smith managed to escape further beating but the police arrested him after following his trail of blood.

Chuck Shephard, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Silicon Valley Sex Trade

     The arrest in July 2014 of alleged prostitute Alix Tichelman in connection with the death of Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes has prostitutes worried about the impact on business [The authorities in Santa Cruz, California charged Tichelman with manslaughter in connection with Hayes' heroin overdose death on his luxury boat in November 2013.] "I do worry that people are going to think that this is something that's normal and happens, but it really doesn't," said Maxine Holloway, a high-end prostitute working in Silicon Valley. Other sex workers expressed worry as well--though none said they had experienced cancellations...

     A second issue affecting business was the shut down of MyRedbook, a website that allowed escorts to advertise their services and negotiate with clients. Women in the industry relied heavily on MyRedbook to do background checks on their clients. Sex workers would post about instances of violence or  circumstances in which they felt unsafe. Without MrRedbook, prostitutes were having a difficult time vetting their clients…

     Male clients also used the site to review and discuss their experiences…Call girls say that the further underground sex work goes, the more dangerous it is for everyone involved…

     Another prostitute said she has a roster of regular clients from major tech companies. She is a high-end prostitute and estimates she's made nearly $ million over the ten years she's been working in the area. She says that her clients [I guess they don't call them Johns in the high-end prostitution prostitution  business.] are increasingly worried about their own security, which is one of the reasons they come back to her. They know what they are getting.

Laurie Segall and Erica Fink, "Sex Valley: Tech's Booming Prostitution Trade," CNN, July 11, 2014

Writing Quote: Creating Miserable Characters With a Sense of Humor

I like to read stores where people suffer a lot. If there's no suffering, I kind of tune out…I do have a weakness for funny characters who can't shut up to save their lives…

Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Kills California's Death Penalty

     Since 1979, 900 inmates in California have been sentenced to death. But only thirteen have been executed. One of those unexecuted death row prisoners, Ernest Dewayne Jones, murdered and raped his girlfriend's mother in 1993. In 2011, Jones filed a petition with the federal court for the abolishment of the death penalty in the state. The lawyers filing the motion petitioned the judge to replace executions with life without parole sentences.

     In 2006, another federal judge in California placed the state's death penalty on hold until corrections officials overhauled their lethal injections procedures and protocol. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in an effort to comply with this judge's mandate, built a new execution chamber on the grounds of San Quentin in northern California.

     On July 16, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California's death penalty unconstitutional. The judge wrote that "arbitrary factors" such as the manner in which corrections bureaucrats determined who would be executed and who wouldn't, made the process unfair and unpredictable. Moreover, the state's lethal injection procedures, according to the judge, created a risk an inmate might suffer pain during the execution.

     In concluding that California's execution law and procedures violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, Judge Carney wrote: "As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they have languished so long on death row that their executions serve no retributive or deterrent purpose." [No retributive purpose? Tell that the the families of the people these cold-blooded killers had murdered without regard for the pain and suffering of their victims.]

     Since most of California's death row inmates die of old age before their dates with the executioner, the federal judge's ruling will have little practical affect on the state's criminal justice system.

     The improvement of the state's execution facility in response to the 2006 federal ruling turned out to be another example of California tax money poured down the drain. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Constables Shoot Unarmed Man Over Parking Tickets

     Things turned ugly on July 17, 2014 when two Pennsylvania state constables attempted to serve a man with a warrant because he had accumulated 31 unpaid parking tickets. The two officers approached Kevin McCullers in the garage at his residence in a suburb of Allentown at 7:30 in the morning. McCuller's girlfriend, Hafeezah Muhammad said McCullers was in the car about to leave for Dunkin' Donuts.

     The constables positioned themselves on both sides of McCullers' car. One of them told him to turn off the car, and he did. There was a short conversation. Then, according to Lehigh County district attorney James Martin, one of the constables opened the driver's side door of the vehicle.

     McCullers responded by restarting the car. He began backing out of his garage with the car door ajar. That's when the constables drew their guns and fired. One constable shot the 38-year-old in the back. The other officer shot out the vehicle's left front tire.

     One of the constables told the district attorney he and his partner pulled their guns and fired because they felt threatened while standing in the garage as McCullers tried to back out. McCullers was unarmed.

     McCullers' girlfriend said the constables could have walked up to the front door of their house to serve the warrant. "They never knocked on the door! No nothing," she told a local TV reporter. "I just heard the gunshots. He pulled the car out of the garage and all I heard were gunshots."…

     Muhammad said McCullers may never walk again. "For parking tickets," she said. "It's insane."

     The district attorney expressed concern about the fact a constable--an elected state official--shot a man and possibly left him paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets…The prosecutor said the office of constable--a Pennsylvania oddity--is troubling because people who hold the job are poorly prepared and largely unaccountable. "Although they receive training, they really operate under no one's direct supervision," he said. The district attorney said the shooting would have been avoided had McCullers entered into a payment plan to pay the money he owed.

     [For years law enforcement leaders and lawmakers in Pennsylvania have tried to abolish the position of constable. This is not the first incident of excessive force on the part of one of these officers. And it won't be the last.] 

Writing Quote: Is Promoting Your Book an Exercise in Futility?

     Writers are prone to take themselves very seriously, which is fine, except it also means they sometimes find the self-promotional aspects of their craft distasteful, if not downright excruciating. Writing is about the journey, not the destination, right? And book selling is such an inexact science, it would be near impossible to prove that more publicity necessarily translates into more sales.

     Except it often does. Sure, there are veteran authors who have to do nothing than hit "send" on a manuscript before the Time magazine cover gets scheduled and the royalty checks start pouring in; others, thanks to whatever particular combination of timing and talent, seem to skyrocket into the public consciousness out of nowhere. But they are the exception, not the rule

     Then there are the rest of us. As the editor of two well-publiczed but by no means best-selling books, it would make sense for me to deem aspects of book promotion frivolous--sales of my first book were proof that multiple appearances on high-profile public radio and morning news shows don't always move the needle--but I do believe promotion is a necessary, if often exhausting endeavor.

     [Hillary Clinton's dishonest and boring memoir, Hard Choices, 2014, provides a excellent example of a book failing despite an extreme amount of publicity. In the end, all the promotion in the world won't help a truly dreadful book.]

Anna Holmes, The New York Times Review of Books, May 25, 2014

Writing Quote: Should Novelists Have Children?

I think it has to be faced: There's something in writing, in being a writer, that is inimical to family life. Or vice versa. P. G. Wodehouse made the point with his usual levity and grace by dedicating The Heart of a Goof  to "my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time." A priest friend of mine pointed out to me that all the great works of mysticism were written by celibates: "If they'd had kids, they'd all have been too tired to pray." The writer is a solitary person, immersed in moods. The defect, the brain splinter that makes a person a writer is anti-domestic. He or she waits, yearning, for the moment when the imagination goes rogue and love and duty go out the window. Writers are not easy to live with. Children need, require, and deserve attention. So what's the answer? If you happen to find out, do me a favor and let me know.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, June 15, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dr. Van H. Vu and Prescription Painkiller Drug Deaths

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not been charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.   

Writing Quote: You Want to be a Writer?

You can't envy writers who were persecuted, imprisoned or put to death for their writing. You can't envy writers whose greatness went unacknowledged in their lifetimes. The careers of alcoholic writers and writers who ended up committing suicide are also hard to covet in any wholehearted way. Even the steadiest-seeming, most successful writers tend, on close examination, to have suffered significant and distinctly unenviable episodes of professional misery at some point in their careers. Self-doubt and self-loathing are occupational hazards of a writing life, and no writer--with the exception of the awesomely sanguine John Updike--ever escapes them altogether.

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014