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Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunando Sen: Two NYC Subway Murders in One Month

     New York City, compared to urban murder centers like Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., is a relatively safe place to live. In Chicago, with 500 criminal homicides so far this year, residents of that city were 3.7 times more likely to be homicide victims than New Yorkers. In 2012, New York was the site of 414 criminal homicides, a 19 percent decrease over 2011. This will mark the lowest number of homicides in New York City in 40 years. In 1990, with 2,262 homicides, the city was five times more dangerous than it is today. But even in the Big Apple, murder can raise its ugly head anytime, and in places that are normally safe. These unexpected, high-profile cases, particularly if they suggest a dangerous trend, create a degree of pubic fear out of proportion to the low risk of victimization.

     On Thursday morning, December 27, 2012, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, 46-year-old Sunando Sen stood on the elevated platform at the subway stop at Queens Boulevard and 40th Street. Mr. Sen, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Calcutta, India twenty years ago, was on his way to work. Six months earlier, Sen had started the New Amsterdam Printing Company, a small copying shop located on Manhattan's upper west side. Mr. Sen resided with three roommates in a small apartment in Elmhurst, Queens.

     As Sunando Sen waited for the Flushing-bound No. 7 train, a heavyset Hispanic woman in her late 20s paced the subway platform behind him. This woman, wearing a blue, white, and gray ski jacket and Nike sneakers, was mumbling to herself. She took a seat on a wooden bench near the north end of the platform, then, as the train rolled into the station, rushed up to Mr. Sen, and from behind, pushed him off the platform onto the tracks below.

     When the train ground to a stop, Mr. Sen's crushed body was pinned under the second subway car. His sudden, violent death had come out of nowhere, a reality that makes this kind of murder so frightening. Nobody is safe from that kind of bad luck.

     After pushing Mr. Sen in front of the train, the woman ran up the subway station stairway onto Queens Boulevard where she disappeared into the crowd. In addition to descriptions provided by at least five eyewitnesses, detectives had access to grainy, black and white images of the suspect from a surveillance camera positioned at the top of the subway stairway.

     Two days after the murder, on December 29, New York City detectives arrested  31-year-old Erika Menendez who said she pushed Mr. Sen to his death because she thought he was a Muslim. Menendez has been charged with murder as a hate crime which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. According the the New York District Attorney's Office, Menendez said this to her police interrogators: "I pushed a Muslim off the train [platform] because I hate Hindus and Muslim ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers. I've been beating them up."

     Erika Menendez and her victim had never met. She had killed a total stranger, a mild-mannered, hardworking man who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a moment of uncharacteristic political candor, admitted that there is nothing anyone can do to prevent mentally ill people from pushing innocent victims in front of subway trains. We have to have the trains, and there is no way to keep crazy people off the street. If you throw a ball into a group of fifteen or more people, it will bounce off at least two individuals suffering from some kind of serious mental illness. Moreover, one of those persons will be off his medication. Since most mentally ill people do not walk around in baby steps talking to themselves, it's not always possible to spot and avoid them. Nobody really knows how many out of control meth users and paranoid schizophrenics off their medication are wandering around our big city streets. Also unknown is how many of these people are capable of murder.

     On December 30, 2012, a 30-year-old mentally ill street vendor named Naemm Davis pushed Ki-Suck Han in front of a train at the Times Square Station in mid-town Manhattan. Davis has been charged with second degree murder. His attorney is claiming that Davis acted in self-defense. The 58-year-old victim had a wife and a daughter, and lived in Queens. He and Davis didn't know each other, but had argued after Mr. Han asked Davis to stop frightening other subway patrons. At the time of his death, Mr. Han had been drinking vodka.

UPDATE

     Since 2005, police officers have been called to Erika Menendezs' home five times on reports of a mentally disturbed person behaving violently. On one of these occasions she threw a radio at a police officer. In 2003, police arrested her for punching a 28-year-old man in the face. He had been a visitor in her family's home. That case was dismissed when the victim dropped the charges. Later that year Menendez assaulted a stranger on the street near her house. As she punched and clawed him in the face, she accused the victim of having sex with her mother. According to members of her family, the mentally ill woman becomes violent when she stops taking her anti-psychotic medication. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crime Takes a Christmas Day Break

     Merry Christmas to everyone. Thank you for visiting my blog. I will resume posting true crime stories and comments tomorrow. It has been a pleasure and honor writing for you.
Best,
Jim

Friday, December 21, 2012

Daniel Wozniak: A Bad Actor in a Double Murder Case

     Daniel P. Wozniak and his fiancee Rachel Buffett lived in the Camden Martinique apartment complex in Costa Mesa, an Orange County town of 120,000 located 37 miles south of Los Angeles. Wozniak was active in community theater, and Buffett, a 23-year-old aspiring actress, had played princess roles at Disneyland. On a few occasions, the couple had performed together in dramatic plays and musicals in and around Orange County.

     Daniel Wozniak had a problem. The 26-year-old was not only broke, he owned money to everyone he knew. On May 22, 2010, four days before his wedding, Wozniak decided to murder Samuel Herr, another community theater actor who lived in the Camden Martinique apartment complex. It was Wozniak's understanding that Herr, a 26-year-old Army combat veteran who had served in Afghanistan, had $50,000 in the bank. After killing the actor whom he owed $500, Wozniak planned to use the dead man's ATM card to withdrawal cash from his bank in $400 increments over a period of months. Wozniak had decided to murder Sam Herr at the Liberty Community Theater located on the Joint Forces Military Training Base in Los Alamitos.

     On May 23, 2010, on the pretense he needed help moving boxes, Wozniak lured his intended victim to the theater. The two young actors were in the theater attic when, as Herr bent over to pick up a box, Wozniak shot him in the back of the head with a .38-caliber revolver. The combat veteran fell to his knees and looked up at Wozniak and said, "I have just been--something happened. I just got electrocuted." Wozniak pulled the trigger again, but the gun jammed. After fixing the problem, Wozniak fired another bullet into his victim's head.

     Wozniak left the theater in possession of Herr's cellphone, wallet, and ATM card. Before he reaped the monetary benefits of Herr's murder, there was another person Wozniak had to kill. Once he dispatched his second victim, he would return to the theater and deal with Herr's corpse.

     Daniel Wozniak intended to kill Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, a 23-yar-old fellow community actor who lived in the Camden Martinique complex. He'd murder Kibuishi in Sam Herr's apartment, and stage the crime in a way to make homicide investigators think that Herr, Julie Kibuishi, and the dead woman's boyfriend had been involved in a love triangle. Wozniak figured that detectives would think the boyfriend, having caught Kibuishi with Herr, had murdered them both, then disposed of Herr's body. (I think it was Truman Capote who said that the most talented actors were also the most stupid. If this is true, then Daniel Wozniak must have been one talented actor.)

     Using Herr's cellphone, Wozniak sent Julie Kibuishi a text message asking her to come to the murdered actor's apartment. Shortly after Kibuishi showed up as requested, Wozniak shot her twice in the back of the head. The cold-blooded killer removed her clothing, and posed her in a kneeling position with her head resting on Herr's bed. With a felt-tip pen, Wozniak wrote: "All yours, f--- you" on Kibuiski's sweater.

     The next day, May 23, 2010, Wozniak returned to the military base and the Liberty Theater where, in the attic, he used an ax and a saw to cut off Herr's head and both of his hands. Leaving the torso in the theater, Wozniak drove to El Dorado Park in Long Beach where he disposed of the victim's head and hands. Wozniak stupidly thought that by doing this, he had made the dismembered corpse in the attic unidentifiable.

     Later that day, Wozniak met with a 17-year-old boy he knew from the local acting community. Wozniak, once again revealing his stupendous lack of intelligence, gave the teenager Herr's debit card and talked him into using it at various ATM locations. (I presume Wozniak promised the kid a small piece of the action.)

     Homicide detectives with the Costa Mesa Police Department investigating Julie Kibushi's murder and the disappearance of Sam Herr, began monitoring Herr's bank card activity. They began staking out an ATM location at a pizza parlor in Long Beach where the card had been used several times. Three days after the murders, detectives confronted the 17-year-old after he made a withdrawal. The kid said he had pulled a total of $2,000 from the account, money he had turned over to Daniel Wozniak.

     On the eve of Wozniak's wedding, May 25, police arrested him at a place in Huntington Beach called Tsunami where his brother was hosting his bachelor's party. At the police station the next day, Wozniak told his interrogators that "I killed Sam first, and then I killed Julie." Wozniak also led detectives to the spot in El Dorado Park where he had dumped Herr's body parts. Officers went to the Liberty Theater where they recovered the rest of Sam Herr's remains.

     An Orange County prosecutor charged Daniel Wozniak with two counts of first degree murder. The prosecutor indicated an intention to seek the death penalty in the case. Wozniak is being held in the Orange County Jail without bond.

     On November 20, 2012, more than two years after the double murder, Costa Mesa detectives arrested Wozniak's 38-year-old brother Timothy on the related charge of accessory after the fact. The police also arrested Wozniak's former fiancee, Rachel Buffett on the same charge. According to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, Buffett had fabricated a story about Sam Herr intended to mislead detectives and throw suspicion off Wozniak. After spending several days behind bars, Buffett made bail. If convicted, she could be sent to prison for up to 44 months. According the the 25-year-old aspiring actress, she had no idea her fiancee had murdered Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

   

        

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jerry Sandusky Complains About Prison Conditions, Lost Pension

     On December 7, 2012, a corrections officer at the Blair County Jail in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania near Altoona, found 62-year-old Aaron Dishong hanging dead in his suicide-prvention cell. In November, Dishong, in an effort to murder his ex-girlfriend, had set a house on fire that killed a 3-year-old boy instead. Apparently Dishong's intense remorse over the boy's death led to his suicide.

     When reading about the suicide of a man who had done a terrible thing, my mind jumped to Jerry Sandusky, another Pennsylvania inmate who for decades did terrible things to dozens of young boys. The former Penn State football coach, convicted in June 2012 of sexually molesting ten children, is serving a thirty to sixty year sentence at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania east of Pittsburgh.

     Because Jerry Sandusky is a sociopath who deep in his heart doesn't believe pedophilia is wrong, and that he's therefore a victim of a corrupt criminal justice system, the thought of suicide would not cross his mind until all hope was lost. And even then, it is unlikely he would give his victims and others the satisfaction of his death.

     Instead of sitting in his cell feeling guilty about the lives he has directly and indirectly ruined, the 68-year-old pedophile is defiant, and combative. He and his lawyers are currently discussing his post-conviction sentencing motions and appeals. (For example, Sandusky blames his trial attorney for his conviction. He believes that had he taken the stand on his own behalf he could have convinced the jurors of his innocence. In reality, he hadn't been able to convince sports broadcaster Bob Costas that he wasn't a child molester. A typical sociopath, Sandusky has no insight into his own repulsiveness.)

     Karl Rominger, one of Sandusky's post-trial attorneys, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter recently, said, "I was meeting with a man [Sandusky] who was ready to press forward, who has regenerated his energies and has clearly devoted his time and energy to perfecting that appeal. His fight is 100 percent back." Really? Is this supposed to make us feel better? Are we supposed to say, "Yea Jerry!" Forgive me, but I would rather be reading a story about Jerry Sandusky's prison suicide than his resurgence as a sociopathic pain in the ass.

     On November 21, 2012, attorney Charles Benjamin wrote a letter on Sandusky's behalf to the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) appealing the forfeiture of his client's $59,000 a year pension. "We trust," the lawyer wrote, "that SERS, upon further reflection, will agree that no legal basis exists for forfeiture of Mr. Sandusky's vested retirement benefits." When Sandusky retired in 1999, he collected a $148,000 lump sum benefit. By September 2012, when the state cut off his benefits, Sandusky had received a total of $900,000 in pension payments. Under Sandusky's circumstances, most pensioners would leave well enough alone. But Jerry Sandusky is not like most people. He's a sociopath and sociopaths feel entitled, no matter what. Who cares about his "vested interest?" His victims have a vested interest in his misery.

     Jerry Sandusky not only wants to keep the state pension money rolling in, he is not happy with his living conditions at the state prison. Because of the nature of his crimes, and his high profile inmate status, prison officials are holding Sandusky in protective custody. This means he is alone in his cell 23 hours a day during the week, and locked in his cell around the clock on weekends. The prisoner is allowed two phone calls a month, and has been issued a television set.

     In speaking about Jerry Sandusky's living hell in Greene County, Pennsylvania, attorney Rominger said this: "It's a tough life. And I know some people in the public will say, 'who cares?' " Well Mr. Rominger, you took the words right out of my mouth.         

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Actor Sherman Hemsley's Disputed Will and Delayed Burial

     Born in 1938, Sherman Alexander Hemsley studied acting as an adolescent at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts. He served four years in the Air Force, and worked eight years as a postal clerk while acting in New York City workshops and theater companies. In 1973, Hemsley became a regular on the popular television sitcom, "All in The Family." Two years later, he began starring as George Jefferson in the spin-off show, "The Jeffersons." In that sitcom, Hemsley played the role of a feisty, bigoted owner of a dry cleaning chain. In his later years, the actor retired and took up residence in El Paso, Texas.

     The 74-year-old actor, on July 24, 2012, died from complications related to lung cancer. At the time of his death he had been scheduled for radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Had Mr. Hemsley died in California, because he was a celebrity, his body would have been autopsied pursuant to state law. Since there was no reason to think that Hemsley's manner of his death was anything but natural, the authorities in Texas did not arrange an autopsy.

     According to Mr. Hemsley's last will and testament, his entire estate, valued at $50,000, would pass to Flora Enchinton Bernal, his live-in friend and manager. But when two people came forward to challenge the disposition of Mr. Hemley's assets, Bernal could not proceed with his funeral and burial. As a result, his remains were put on hold at the San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso. Probate battles are not uncommon, particularly following the deaths of wealthy people. However, due to the size of Mr. Hemsley's estate, one would not have predicted such a challenge.

     The first person to challenge the Hemsley will and claim the dead actor's estate was the deceased's half-brother and former manager, Richard Thornton. In his probate petition, the resident of Philadelphia questioned the will's authenticity by casting doubt on Hemsley's signature that "looked like a tracing." (I don't know if this was the opinion of a qualified forensic document examiner or Tornton's.)

     The second challenger to enter the probate battle was Hemsley's cousin, Reverend Michael George Wells, the minister at Philadelphia's Arch Street United Methodist Church. On August 16, 2012, Reverend Wells officiated at a memorial service held for his cousin at the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia.

     By October 2012, because of the probate challenges, Sherman Hemsley's body had still not been buried. Probate court judge Patricia Chew scheduled a hearing for November 9, 2012 to resolve the dispute.

     A few weeks before the hearing, Reverend Wells, in speaking to a reporter with the El Paso Times, pointed out that Flora Bernal, the beneficiary, had not been on good terms with the deceased actor. When the reporter asked the reverend why he was going to such lengths over such a tiny estate, Reverend Wells said he believed Hemsley's estate was much larger than $50,000. "We are family," he said, "and we are not looking for money. But if we are entitled to something, we don't want anyone else to have it."

     As the probate hearing grew near, Reverend Michael Wells continued to wage his probate battle in public. To a Fox News correspondent he said, "What the media needs to know is that Sherman Hemsley's body being in the refrigerator for this amount of time is unnecessary and uncalled for. He could have been buried with his family within a week or ten days of his passing. His will...was found seven days after he died. No one reached out to me, my mother, or any person with a relationship to Sherman. In the beginning they said he died of natural causes. Then it came out he had cancer. [Cancer is a natural manner of death.] We have no knowledge of the doctors, hospitals, no one talked to us about his cancer....[Flora Bernal] knows my family, this is what perplexes me. I called there on June 1, and why did she not tell me Sherman was dying of cancer? There needs to be an investigation."

     On November 9, 2012, Judge Chew ruled that Sherman Hemsley's last will and testament was valid. That put an end to the probate challenges. On November 21, following a service at the Cielo Vista Church in El Paso, Mr. Hemsley was buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

     You can choose who to put in your will, but, as they say, you can't choose your relatives.     

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The David H. Petraeus Scandal: Bring in the Spin Doctors, Celebrity Lawyers, and Media Hired-Guns

     In today's America, fame is power, and unless you're someone like Jerry Sandusky, it generally doesn't matter if you acquired it by hitting home runs, with musical talent, or having your sex-tape go public. Fame can also be fleeting, and can turn into a curse. According to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the 1920s aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, "Fame is a kind of death because it arrests life around the person in the public eye. If one is recognized everywhere, one begins to feel like Medusa. People stop their normal life and actions and freeze into staring mannequins."

     Anne Lindbergh, a private person who did not want to be famous (her father Dwight Morrow was a wealthy and well-known banker) lived before the age of television and the dawn of America's celebrity culture. While fame made Charles Lindbergh rich and powerful, it led to the kidnap and murder of his first child. Today, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean is remembered by many as a Nazi sympathizer who cheated on his wife. (The latter is true.) Charles Lindbergh's fame did not fade, but it did become a nightmare for him and his wife. He died in 1974 harboring an intense hatred of the media.

     In Charles and Anne Lindbergh's day, there weren't many famous people. Today, there are thousands of celebrities. There are so-called A-list stars down to D-list personalities. Many of these people pop onto the public stage, make a big splash, then just as suddenly, pass into obscurity. For people who crave public attention, the loss of fame is their own form of death.  Film actors, successful athletes, and TV personalities, in an effort to gain some control over their reputations and images, hire public relations professionals who help them create favorable personas and manipulate the media. Knowing a celebrity through the media is like knowing a cartoon character. Charles Lindbergh might have benefited by hiding behind a fictitious persona created by a public relations expert. But in those days, media consultants and news manipulators didn't exist for people who weren't movie stars.  

     Today, even for people who want to become famous, overnight fame brought on by public scandal is not the best way to achieve celebrityhood. For these folks, the question becomes, how can I turn bad publicity into an asset? In other words, how can I create a phony but positive persona, and most important of all, hold onto my fame? This is where the professional scandal lawyers, spin masters, and public relations specialists enter the picture to manage the publicity fallout.

     The current sex/political/national security scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, his former mistress Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa area social-climber who received Broadwell's threatening emails and contacted the FBI, illustrates how the second phase of a national political scandal unfolds. The Petraeus scandal is now being managed, from the inside, by four well-known media management hired-guns who have been brought in for damage control, image rehabilitation, and fame exploitation that could include lucrative book deals, movie rights, and television gigs. The fact professional media spin doctors, legal advisors, and news manipulators exist reflects the celebrity-obsessed nature of our popular culture. Simply being represented by one of these high-profile media experts confers celebrity status on the scandalized client.

     David Petraeus, the scandal's central figure, is being represented by Robert B. Barnett, a Washington, D.C. super-lawyer who has represented our last three presidents. Barnett is also known for negotiating big money book deals for his clients. The fact Petraeus' career came to a premature end as a result of a sex scandal will accrue to his monetary benefit when it comes time to negotiate the advance for his future memoir. The average reader is much more interested in illicit sex that the war in Afghanistan.

     Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' ego-stroking, opportunistic mistress, is being handled by Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton White House press secretary. Since her time with Bill Clinton (a public relations handful) Myers has kept up her public profile as a cable TV talking-head. (These people prefer to be called television pundits.) Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer and former lover, has made it known to  her friends and acquaintances that important people have been encouraging her to run for the U.S. Senate. This notion sounds absurd until you realize that it doesn't take much to do the job of a senator. Really. You accept special interest money and cast votes, usually without any idea of what you're voting for. We may have, one day, if Dee Dee Myers has anything to do with it, a Senator Broadwell.

     Jill Kelley, the bankrupt Florida party hostess whose complaint to the FBI ignited the Petraeus scandal, is being represented by Abbe D. Lowell, the top Washington, D.C. lawyer who got John Edwards, the disgraced ex-senator and presidential candidate, off the hook. (Edwards was accused of using campaign money to keep his mistress and the mother of his "love child" in comfort and hiding while he ran for president.) Edwards is not in the White House, but thanks to attorney Lowell, he's not in prison. Who knows, we may see Mr. Edwards back on the campaign trail.

     Even Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley's twin sister who had prevailed upon Mr. Petraeus and General John R. Allen to write letters on her behalf in a messy child custody case, has armed herself with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. The famous "wronged-woman" attorney has already held a news conference at Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel aimed at correcting "misconceptions" about her client.

     Media hired-gun Dee Dee Myers, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, laid out her Paula Broadwell mission statement as follows: " To help Paula and her legal team (wow, she now has a legal team), navigate a crowded media environment, manage incoming requests, and ensure that her story is accurately told." (These people have "stories," us ordinary folks merely have daily routines.)  Dee Dee went on to say, "It's really impossible for anyone in Paula's situation to manage the daily avalanche of interview requests, let alone rebut rumors, correct supposed misconceptions and put the client's story in a sympathetic light." Who better to make a person like Paula Broadwell "sympathetic" than Dee Dee Myers, one of Bill Clinton's former bimbo-erruption spin doctors. All of this is enough to make you sick.

UPDATE

     According to reports, David Petraeus has been offered teaching positions at four universities. He is also weighing book offers from several publishers, and is contemplating various positions as a television commentator. This is a former general who has no intention of fading away. This guy is on a mission to become even more famous. Big surprise. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The General Jeffrey Allen Sinclair Case

     In 1985, after graduating from West Virginia University, Jeffrey Allen Sinclair began his career in the U.S. Army as an officer and a paratrooper. He served at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overseas, Sinclair was stationed in Germany and in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. As he rose in rank, Sinclair served two tours in Iraq and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. This high-profile, highly decorated officer rose to the rank of Brigadier General. In July 2010, General Sinclair became the Deputy Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

     In May 2012, the 50-year-old One-Star General was removed from his command in southern Afghanistan and sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was named Special Assistant to Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the Commanding General of the 18th Airborne Corps. General Sinclair's transfer from a position of leadership in Afghanistan to a desk job in the states raised eyebrows and inquiries from the media. The Army, however, refused comment on the reason behind the general's sudden removal from command.

     The reason behind the Army's action against General Sinclair became public on September 26, 2012 with the announcement that criminal charges had been filed against the general, and that an Article 32 hearing had been scheduled to determine if Army prosecutors had enough evidence to move the case forward to a full court-marital trial before a military judge and jury. (An Article 32 hearing is the military version of the civilian grand jury.)

     The Army, at this point in the case, refused to provide detailed information regarding the nature of the charges against the general except to reveal that the most serious charges were sexual offenses. Although court-martial cases against high-ranking officers were extremely rare, the media didn't pay much attention to this story.

     General Sinclair's Article 32 hearing, held at Fort Bragg, the Fayetteville, North Carolina home to the 82nd Airborne Division, got underway on Monday, November 5, 2012 before hearing officer Major General Perry L. Wiggins. For the first time, the specific allegations against the general became a matter of public record. The most serious accusations involved forcible sodomy committed on five women--four military subordinates and one civilian--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Fort Hood, and Fort Bragg between 2007 and 2012.

     Lesser charges against General Sinclair included possession of pornography; use of alcohol while deployed; engaging in inappropriate relationships; misuse of government travel charge cards; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to court documents, the General was also accused of trying to silence a victim by threatening her career and life, and the lives of her relatives.

     Major General James Higgins, the defendant's commanding officer, testified that he launched an investigation after a female captain accused General Sinclair of forcing her to have sex with him over a period of three years. According to accounts of this testimony as reported in the Fayetteville Observer, the general's sexual encounters with several women occurred "in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel, and on a plane where he allegedly groped a woman." (One of these encounters involved an accusation of rape.) When subordinates confronted the general with his out-of-control behavior with women, he reportedly said, "I'm a general, I'll do whatever the [expletive] I want."

     On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, the second day of the Article 32 hearing, the female Army captain took the stand and testified that the defendant had initiated their three-year sexual affair in 2008 while they were stationed at a forward operations base in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their relationship. On two occasions, the Brigadier General, following a conversation in which the captain tried to end the relationship, exposed himself, then forced her to perform oral sex. In Afghanistan, Sinclair was so controlling, he told the captain how much water she could drink as well as where and when she could use the bathroom.

     On several occasions, during the captain's testimony, she broke down in tears. Seated at the defendant's table, the general rolled his eyes, sighed audibly, and glared at his former aide. The witness avoided eye contact with the general. "I was extremely intimidated by him," she said. "Everyone in the brigade spoke about him like he was a god." The witness said she had taken his threats seriously because of his Ranger training and his reputation of fearlessness in battle. The captain reported the general after finding messages from another woman in his email account.

     On cross-examination, the general's attorney tried to portray this witness as a jilted lover seeking revenge. The defense attorney also pointed out that his client had passed a polygraph test in which he denied forcing the captain into oral sex. The cross-examining lawyer also introduced explicit test messages the captain had sent to the general in which she referred to him as "Mr. Sexy Pants." The witness had also expressed her love and admiration for General Sinclair, comparing him, in a birthday card inscription, to General Washington, a man he admired. In response to the cross-examiner's questions, the captain, at one point said, "In a (expletive)-up way, I still love him. I don't want him to be mad at me."

     The next day, prosecutors put a second woman on the stand who testified that she first met the general when she was a staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan. They did not have a sexual relationship, but over the years stayed in touch. In 2011, when the witness was married and a captain, the general asked her to send him nude photographs of herself. (They hadn't seen each other in years.) After several of these requests, the captain downloaded photographs from a porn site, cropped the head of a model onto a woman posing nude, and sent the photographs to Sinclair. The general didn't realize the images where not of the captain. For her participation in this bizarre exercise, the Army had issued this officer a letter of reprimand.  

     Another female officer took the stand and testified that in 2010 she sent the general photographs of her breasts. At the time they were both stationed at Fort Bragg. The major, a company commander under Sinclair, has been disciplined in this matter for so-called "indecent acts."

     On November 8, in her closing argument, defense attorney Major Elizabeth Ramsey, painted the general's primary accuser as a scorned lover who was trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot. "Her lies are her fury, and these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell," she said.

     The prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Helixon, in his closing presentation, drew a different picture of the defendant by stating that, "General Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires."

     Under the military system of justice, there are no minimum sentencing guidelines. This meant that even if the case went to trial and the general was convicted of all charges, he could avoid punishment. The judge could demote him, allow him to retire, dismiss him from the Army, or send him to prison for life. Experts on military justice who were following this case did not think the general, if convicted, would be sent to prison.

     On November 15, 2012, about a week after the close of the four-day Article 32 hearing (the hearing officer had not yet made his ruling regarding whether the case would proceed to court-martial), General Sinclair's wife Rebecca, in an 800-word opinion column for the Washington Post, blamed her husband's infidelity on "the stress of war." Mrs. Sinclair said she was certain the sex offense charges against the general would be dropped. So, if we were to take the general's wife seriously, he wasn't a horny control freak abusing his power. He was merely a man under stress.

     The Sinclair case didn't generate much media interest until the sex-scandals regarding Generals David H. Petraeus and John R. Allen became news. Even though General Sinclair was charged with crimes that could put him away for life, the scandals involving David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley dominated the news. That was because Petraeus was Director of the CIA and a key player in the Benghazi massacre.

     In the end, General Sinclair was spared a prison sentence in favor of a $20,000 fine. Sinclair was only the third Army general to face court-martial in sixty years.

     

Saturday, November 17, 2012

David Petraeus and the Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath Syndrome

       In a celebrity-obsessed nation under the leadership of sociopaths who play by their own rules, sex scandals are predictable and common. This is particularly true in a country under constant government surveillance. The current political/sex scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus; Marine General John R. Allen; and their power and influence groupies, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, should not surprise anyone.

     Sociopaths exist in all walks of life. They populate prisons, halls of government, television studios, movie sets, police departments, corporations, sports arenas, churches, and military bases. When these highly intelligent, super-ambitious, amoral narcissists find themselves in positions of power and authority, they often behave as though the rules of society and the laws of the land do not apply to them. They stupidly believe they can get away with reckless, outlandish, and often puerile behavior that eventually brings them down.

     People who aren't sociopaths have a difficult time understanding why a former top general and Director of the CIA would risk his marriage, career, reputation, and the nation's national security on a 40-year-old ego-stroking opportunist like Paula Broadwell. The same question has been asked about President Bill Clinton. Why did the leader of the free world risk his marriage, career, and the dignity of his office by engaging in White House sex with an intern? How could Marine General John R. Allen allow himself to get tied-up with an aspiring influence peddler and social climber known for lavish parties and crushing personal debt? What could possibly explain why these high-level government officials would let themselves get involved with a pair of reality television types? These men are not alcoholics, on drugs, or insane. And they surely aren't stupid.

     The only explanation for this kind of reckless behavior that makes any sense is sociopathy. The generals did these things because sociopaths feel entitled, and immune from scrutiny and criticism. These powerful men knew better, but sociopathy is a personality disorder that overrides the ability to restrain oneself.

     Someone once said that old generals don't die, they just fade away. While that may be true for some, for hard-core sociopaths like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, fading away is not an option. Look at Larry King. The poor guy looks like he has a week to live, but refuses to slip into obscurity. He can't. They will have to carry the former talk show host off the stage. A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. They are hooked for life.

     Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are a sad but interesting story. They almost always find a way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced sociopath often resurfaces as the promotor of a ghost-written memoir bearing his name. Take ex-congressman Anthony Wiener. It's just a matter of time before we will see this disgraced politician on television talking about his memoir, My Package (or something like that.) Sociopaths who became well-known because they possess some kind of expertise, often end up as cable television commentators. Regular people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, they are bullet-proof.

     The disgraced, celebrity sociopath can't live without attention, and because he has a personality disorder rather than a curable illness, change is out of the question. It's my guess that former general and ex-CIA director David Petraeus will not fade away. As for Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, expect to see these sociopaths on a reality television series featuring married women who become mistresses and/or confidants of powerful men.

     

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Fero's Bar & Grill Mass Murder Case

     At 1:48 in the morning of Wednesday, October 17, 2012, a Glendale, Colorado police officer on routine patrol spotted flames coming out the back of Fero's Bar & Grill that was situated in a strip mall five miles south of downtown Denver. Firefighters, upon entering the structure to combat the blaze, discovered five corpses.

     One of the four women found dead at the fire scene was 63-year-old Young Fero, the owner of the establishment. The South Korean native assumed sole proprietorship of the 28-year-old business following her divorce from its co-founder, Danny Fero. Fero's Bar & Grill catered to regular patrons and people staying at local hotels. The bar featured a weekly poker game, pool tables, and Japanese food. It had not been a particularly busy place.

     A spokesperson with the Denver Police Department, at a press conference later in the day, announced that on-site evidence indicated that the fire had been intentionally set fifteen to twenty minutes before the bar's regular 2:00 AM closing time. The bodies of the five victims showed signs of physical trauma unrelated to the blaze. As a result, investigators were operating on the theory that the victims had been murdered before someone set the place on fire. Detectives believed the murders had been committed in the commission of an armed robbery and the fire started to cover up the crimes.

     Besides Young Fero, the bar's owner and operator, the other victims, all patrons, were: Daria M. Pohl, 22; Kellene Fallon, 45; Ross Richter, 29; and Teressa Beesley, 45. There were no other innocent people in the bar during the robbery, murders, and fire.

     On October 18, the day after the arson-murders, the Denver police arrest three men in connection with the case. Dexter Lewis, 22 and brothers Joseph Hill, 27 and Lynell Hill, 24, were each charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated robbery and arson.

     Dexter Lewis, engaged to a woman who was seven months pregnant, had been arrested in May 2009 in Jefferson County, Colorado on several counts of assault on a police officer. He pleaded guilty to felony menacing. The other charges were dropped. That year, Lewis also pleaded guilty to felony robbery and was sentenced to three years in prison. When arrested on October 18, 2012 in connection with the Fero's Bar & Grill mass murder case, he was out on parole.

     Police in Arapahoe County had arrested Lynell Hill in August 2011 on charges of misdemeanor assault, reckless endangerment, and harassment. Hill pleaded guilty to harassment involving physical force and in return received a deferred nine-month sentence that allowed him to stay out of jail as long as he stayed out of trouble.

     Joseph Hill, on his Facebook page, called himself a "singer song writer" who is just a ..."great person to know, if you're genuine." Hill, who apparently thought a lot of himself, went on to say, "I'm very hardworking and dedicated and very ambitious as well. I'm chasing my dreams."

     The Denver Medical Examiner's office ruled the manner of the five deaths as criminal homicide. All of the victims had been shot to death before the fire.

     The Hill brothers pleaded guilty to the murders in December 2013. A month later, the judge sentenced Joseph to five life sentences and Lynell to 70 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, the brothers agreed to testify against Dexter Lewis. In May 2014, the prosecutor in the Lewis case announced his intention to pursue the death penalty.

     In August 2014, lawyers representing Dexter Lewis were in court presenting arguments in support of having the upcoming trial moved out of Denver. The defense attorneys also urged the judge to exclude statements their client had made to the police after his arrest.

     On September 30, 2014, Denver District Court Judge John Madden denied 32 pre-trial motions that had been filed by the defense including a request to sequester the jury. The judge also denied the defense petition to query members of the jury pool on how they felt about the death penalty. (The last time a Denver jury sentenced a defendant to death was 1986.) Judge Madden did not rule on the motion to exclude the incriminating statements Lewis had made to the police. He set the trial for January 20, 2015.

     In November 2014, Lewis' attorneys were back in court, this time seeking more time to prepare their defense. Public Defender Chris Baumann claimed his legal team needed more time to interview potential trial witnesses. "We have gone to nine cities in seven states so far," he said.

     Judge Madden, in December 2014, granted the defense request to delay the start of the Lewis trial to July 20, 2015. Lewis faced 16 felony counts that included first-degree murder, arson, and robbery in the October 2012 massacre of the bar's owner and his patrons.  

     In August, 2015, a jury in Denver found Dexter Lewis guilty as charged. A few months later the judge sentenced him to life in prison.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Heather Kowalczik, Robert Rodriguez, and The Boy Buried in Their Backyard

     In July 2010, Heather Kowalczik and her boyfriend Robert Rodriguez, the father of two of her children, moved from upstate New York to East Farmingdale, Long Island. The couple took up residence in a rented house with 6-year-old Alex, and Robert, Jr., age 9. The pair also came to Long Island with Justin, a 17-month-old boy fathered by another man.

     A Suffolk County Child Protection Services (CPS) agent, pursuant to a routine welfare check, visited Heather on October 3, 2012. During the visit, the CPS worker noticed that Justin, who would now be about three years old, wasn't in the dwelling. When asked where the toddler was, Kowalczik said he was with relatives. When the CPS agent pressed for details, the mother's vagueness led the social worker to suspect foul play. For that reason, she reported her suspicion to the New York State Police.

     Two days after the CPS call, detectives with the state police paid the 29-year-old mother a visit. When the officers insisted that she tell them where to find Justin, Kowalczik told them the boy had died in August 2010 shortly after she moved to East Farmingdale. She said her 30-year-old boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez, had buried the child in the backyard next to the back fence line. The mother said she had not reported Justin's death because she feared retaliation from Rodriguez. Later, to a reporter with the New York Post, Kowalczik said, "He [Rodriguez] was pretty much keeping watch of me. He hit me in the head, smacked me in the face if I'd say anything."

     On October 6, the police recovered Justin's remains. The boy had been buried in a three-foot grave. The police searched the Kowalczik/Rodriguez house, seizing, among other things, a shovel, a post-hole digger, a video camera, and a photograph album. CPS workers had already taken custody of Alex and Robert, Jr.

     The Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office has not released information regarding the cause and manner of Justin's death. Because the child's remains have been severely altered by the passage of time, the forensic pathologist didn't have much of a corpse to work with. Perhaps the postmortem examination will determine if the child had died a natural death, or had been killed.

     On October 9, the owner of the East Farmingdale house evicted Kowalczik and Rodriguez. Robert Rodriguez has retained a lawyer, and is not cooperating with the police. While he is considered "a person of interest," no one in this suspicious death case has been charged. Even if Justin wasn't murdered, his mother could be charged with not reporting his death. And if Rodriguez buried the body, he could be charged with abuse of corpse. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Philadelphia Cop Jonathan Josey Sucker-Punches Aida Guzmani: "To Serve and Protect?"

     On Sunday, September 30, 2012, Philadelphia police were out in force to provide security for the city's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. A group of officers, just off the parade route, were putting a man into handcuffs when someone nearby threw water or something like silly string on them. Lieutenant Jonathan Josey, in reaction to this harmless act, grabbed 39-year-old Aida Guzmani whose back was to him. Josey turned her around, punched her in the face, and then hit her in the back of the head. The mother of three collapsed to the ground with blood running out of her nose and mouth. Other officers slapped handcuffs on the stunned Guzmani, lifted her to her feet, and hauled the bloodied woman off. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

     A witness to officer Josey's assault recorded the event on her cellphone, then posted he 94-second video on YouTube where, over the next couple of weeks, it was seen by millions of viewers. It's hard to imagine anyone who has watched the video concluding the officer Josey's actions were justified. The Philadelphia Highway Patrol Lieutenant's attack on Guzmani seemed unprovoked, and entirely uncalled for.

     The day after officer Josey decked Aida Guzmani, he was placed on "restricted status," meaning assigned to a desk until internal affairs officers completed their investigation. But as more and more online viewers witnessed this egregious overreaction, the Philadelphia's police commissioner and the mayor came under increasing pressure to act more aggressively against this officer. A week or so after the incident, the police commissioner suspended Lieutenant Josey "with the intent to dismiss." The department also dropped the disorderly conduct charges against the women he slugged.

     In response to growing public outrage of Lieutenant Josey's gratuitous brutality, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in publicly apologizing for this officer's indefensible behavior, used the words "appalled," "sickened," and "ashamed." This apology did not sit well with members of the Philadelphia Police Department. (Cops never apologize, and don't look kindly on people who do it for them.)

     So, who is this female-punching, 19-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department? In 2006, Josey, pursuant to some puerile contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News, nominated himself as the city's sexiest man. In support of his quest for the title, the cop submitted a photograph of himself in a pair of red shorts, a shot that featured his pierced nipple. According to Josey's sexiest man resume, the officer described his most outstanding character traits as charm, and a "magnetic personality." (Really.) This charming and magnetic law enforcement hunk wanted to make it known that he was in search of a "sexy, sexy, sexy" woman. How ironic.

     In 2007, the city settled a lawsuit against officer Josey brought by a man who claimed the officer had inappropriately kicked, punched, and threw him against a wall. In March 2010, Josey shot and killed a man who was robbing a 7-Eleven store. The department cleared him of this shooting, and no criminal charges were filed. During his career, Officer Josey has been the subject of 13 complains for both verbal and physical abuse. (Who knows, in the Philadelphia Police Department, this may be a good record.)

     Shortly after the police commissioner announced Lieutenant Josey's dismissal, John McNesby, the president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), announced that the organization would be holding a fund-raiser for their fellow union member. The proceeds would go for Josey's living expenses.

     FOP President McNesby, said this to a reporter: "It was inappropriate for the city to apologize to this woman [he couldn't bring himself to utter her name] and drop the charges until the [internal affairs] investigation was completed." (Perhaps the FOP could have held-off the fund-raiser until the facts were in.
     Police officers have become increasingly thin-skinned and militant. They don't like outside interference and criticism by people they think have no idea what it's like to enforce the law. Police officers also hate civilian cellphone cameras. Had the Josey-Guzmani incident not been caught on video, one of Philadelphia's most sexy men would still be in uniform.        

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Matthew Sofka: The Philadelphia Wedding Brawl

     Matthew Sofka, a 26-year-old from Westfield, New Jersey, had attended his brother Michael's wedding in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia on Saturday, October 8, 2012. That night, after the wedding reception held at a nearby restaurant, members of his family who were staying at the Sheraton Society Hill, were partying in the hotel bar. Guests from another wedding that day were also in the lounge having late night drinks. Early Sunday morning, when Matthew Sofka arrived at the hotel bar, more than fifty post-wedding drunks were in the midst of a wild, barroom brawl.

     This massive display of drunken violence in the city of brotherly love was caught on video by Max Schultz, a 15-year-old in town on a birthday sightseeing trip. ( I'm sure the barroom scrap will make a bigger impression on the boy than his visit to the Liberty Bell. His video, portraying the fight from above, and at a distance to give it panoramic scope, has been seen by at least a million people on YouTube.)

     The Philadelphia police were on the scene swinging their batons and firing their stun guns when Matthew Sofka arrived at the bar, and allegedly jumped into the fray. Before the police brought the wildly swinging wedding celebrators under control, Sofka had been struck by a police baton, and tasered. During the melee, a 57-year-old uncle celebrating the marriage of the other bride, suffered a heart attack in the hotel parking lot. A short time after Vincent Sanutti's collapse (I presume he was in the bar when the fight broke out), he died at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

     While no one has been charged in connection with Mr. Sanutti's death, the authorities have charged Matthew Sofka with assaulting officer Sean Dandridge. The defendant has denied punching and kicking the Philadelphia cop. ( I presume the police have the assault on video.) Two other belicose party animals have been charged with disorderly conduct. No one seems to know what started the fight, but I sure it was over something really stupid. Sofka's paid his $25,000 bail and was released from custody. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jerry and Dorothy Sandusky: The Pedophile and His Enabling Wife

     Just when you think you've heard the last of Jerry Sandusky, the convicted Penn State child molester, he pops back into the news. The current burst of media attention involves a letter his wife Dorothy, aka "Dottie," wrote to John Cleland before the judge recently sentenced her husband to thirty to sixty years in prison.

     In her leniency plea to the judge, Mrs. Sandusky referred to Jerry as a "man of very high morals." While portraying the former football coach as a saint, Dottie labeled the ten witnesses who had testified against him last summer as ungrateful liars. The outraged wife blamed Jerry's sex offense conviction on a vast conspiracy comprised of dishonest criminal investigators, overzealous prosecutors, perjuring witnesses, and a tabloid news media. She also accused Penn State University officials of putting public relation concerns above honesty. She then laid into Matt, one of the Sandusky's six adopted children. Matt, just before the jurors began deliberating Jerry Sandusky's fate, publicly accused the defendant of repeatedly sexually molesting him.

     In 1987, Matt Hiechel, a troubled 8-year-old, met Jerry Sandusky through his charity, The Second Mile. The coach took the boy, who was living in a foster home, to football games, and spent a lot of time with him alone. At one point, Matt told his biological mother, Debra Long, that he didn't want to see Mr. Sandusky anymore. The boy's desire to be left alone by the coach did not end the relationship.

     In 1996, after Matt burned down a barn, Jerry and Dottie Sandusky took the 17-year-old into their home, and a year later, adopted him. In March 1996, Matt tried to kill himself by overdosing on aspirin. (He later described the suicide attempt as a cry for help.)

     During middle of Jerry Sandusky's trial, Matt told investigators that the defendant had repeatedly molested him, and that he was willing to testify for the prosecution. (He didn't testify.) In an audio-taped police interview, Matt said this about his relationship with the coach: "It just became very uncomfortable. With the showering, with the hugging, with the rubbing...."

     In her letter to Judge Cleland, Dottie wrote: "People need to know what kind of person he [Matt] is. We have forgiven him many times for all he had done to our family, thinking he was changing his life, but he would always go back to his stealing and lies. He has been diagnosed Bipolar, but he refuses to take his medicine."

     Mrs. Sandusky reminds me of Anna Hauptmann, the woman married to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted in 1935 for the murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Following Hauptmann's electrocution in April 1936, Mrs. Hauptmann, in the face of overwhelming evidence of her husband's guilt, devoted her life to exonerating him. She did this, I think, because she simply couldn't live with the realization she had been married to a baby killer.   

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Alexis Wright and the Zumba Madam Case

     Alexis Wright co-owned and operated Purd Vida, a fitness studio in downtown Kennebunk, a seashore town of 10,000 25 miles south of Portland, Maine. The 29-year-old mother of one taught Zumba, an arduous Latin-inspired dance workout in rented space above a hair salon and flower store. The studio operated across the street from where Wright's business partner, 57-year-old Mark Strong Sr., sold insurance and worked as a private investigator. The pair opened Purd Vida in early 2010 and in two years grossed about $150,000.

     In September 2011, someone tipped off the local police that some of Wright's male Zumba students were getting more than a good dance workout. According to the snitch (or snitches), these clients were paying the instructor for sex, and there were a lot of these customers. The idea of a whorehouse operating in this quaint, upscale community was, for the media, and those with a taste for the prurient, a scandal made in heaven.

     On February 14, Valentine's Day 2012, officers with the Kennebunk Police Department, the Maine State Police, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, armed with a search warrant, raided Purd Vida. The officers seized a hard-drive that contained 100 hours of video-recorded sex acts featuring Wright, her business partner Mark Strong, Sr., and dozens of local men who may or may have also been learning how to do the Zumba. Some of the taped sex sessions had porn film-like titles. Members of the police raiding party also walked off with boxes of business records which included a list of 150 sex clients. In Wright's office, the cops found a massage table, and a video camera sitting on a tripod.

     In July 2012, the police arrested Mark Strong Sr. on 59 misdemeanor counts of operating a house of prostitution. The York County prosecutor began issuing summons to men on Wright's client list which meant they would eventually have to appear in court to answer misdemeanor charges of engaging the services of a prostitute. (These court appearances would be matters of public record.)

     According to officials familiar with the Purd Vida investigation, some of Wright's clients were lawyers, cops, accountants, local politicians, businessmen, firefighters, and a local TV personality.

     On October 9, 2012, following their indictments, Alexis Wright and Mark Strong Sr. were arraigned in a district court. Wright had been charged with 106 misdemeanor counts of accepting money for sex, and invasion of privacy. (The taped tricks had been secretly recorded.) Both defendants were released on their own recognizance after pleading not guilty to all charges.

     Stephen Schwartz, the attorney representing two of the alleged johns who had received summons, filed a motion to stop the authorities from releasing the 150 names on Wright's client list.

     Laura Dolce, the editor of the York County Coast Star, promised to publish the names on the so-called "list of shame." In justifying the decision to publicize the list, Dolce said this to a CNN correspondent: "...many in the community...would prefer we not print the names at all. There are people in this community who had their names dragged through the mud for months because people believed they are on the list. We also believe that printing the names of those charged with engaging a prostitute is the fair thing to do...to help set the record straight, and put to rest the ugly rumors that continue to circulate throughout town." (Publishing the names would also sell a lot of newspapers.)

     After the district court judge denied attorney Schwartz's motion to suppress Alex Wright's client list, the attorney appealed the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. In speaking to reporters, attorney Schwartz said, "We believe very strongly that their names ought not be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have a difficult time proving. We fully expect that they [Wright and Strong] won't be convicted, but the damage is done once the horse is out of the barn."

     On October 16, 2012, the judge cleared the way for the authorities to release the names, addresses, and ages of 21 suspected johns who have been issued summons to appear in court on December 5, 2012. Their ages ranged from 34 to 65, and all but two were from Maine. One was from Boston, and the other New Hampshire. One of the men accused of paying to have sex with Alexis Wright was 58-year-old James Soule, the former mayor of South Portland, Maine.

     Mark Strong Sr., Wright's business partner, issued a statement in which he said, "I never had sex with [Wright] for money. The charges against me are untrue. I will be vindicated in a jury trial."

     In March 2013, Judge Nancy Mills sentenced Mark Strong Sr. to 20 days in jail and a $3,000 fine. The judge sentenced Alexis Wright to ten months in the York County Jail. She was released after serving six months of her sentence.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NYC Detective Hassan Hamdy's Road Rage

     Noel Polanco, a 22-year-old member of the New York Army National Guard, lived with his mother and worked at a nearby Honda dealership in the Astoria section of Queens. At 5:15 in the morning of Thursday, October 4, 2012, Polanco and two passengers were in his black Honda traveling on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. Diane Deferrari, a bartender at the Ice NYC Bar, an Astoria lounge where Planco worked part time, was riding in the front passenger's seat. Seated in the back was Venessa Rodriguez, Planco's friend and off-duty police officer. (Officer Rodriguez was on restricted duty following a June shoplifting arrest.) The trio were coming from the Ice NYC Bar en route to the building where Deferrari and Polanco had apartments. While at the lounge, Polanco had consumed a beer, and had smoked a hookah (flavored tobacco filtered through a multi-stemmed water pipe).

     When Polanco encountered heavy, early morning traffic on the parkway, he began driving erratically. He crossed into the middle lane from the right, and in so doing, squeezed between two New York City Police Emergency Service Unit (ESU) trucks. (ESU is an elite SWAT-like paramilitary squad within the NYPD.) Polanco suddenly swerved into to the left lane and tailgated the car in front of him. After traveling a short distance, Polanco cut back in between the two police vehicles.

     One of the ESU officers, infuriated by Polanco's reckless driving, gave him the finger and shouted obscenities. The police turned on their sirens, ordering the wild driver to pull over. (The ESU officers had just raided and searched a drug site in the South Bronx, and were on their way to Brooklyn to break into another place.)

     Noel Polanco, in heavy traffic, brought his Honda to a stop alongside the parkway median. Two ESU officers approached the car. Detective Hassan Hamdy walked up to the passenger's side with his gun drawn. When Diane Defarrari lowered her window, Hamdy ordered the car's occupants to show their hands. Polanco complied with the order by placing his hands on the steering wheel. What happened next defies logic: Detective Hamdy, through the passenger's window, shot the unarmed driver in the abdomen.

     The ESU officer on the Polanco's side of the Honda pulled the severely wounded man out of the car and onto the parkway. Paramedics rushed Polanco to New York Hospital  Queens where an hour after he arrived, Polanco died.

     The fatal shooting of an unarmed man following a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway by an ESU officer comprised a major news story. While New York Police officers in recent years have shot very few people, over the past few months there has been a dramatic spike in the department's rate of police involved shootings. The killing of Noel Polanco by Detective Hamdy brought media scrutiny upon this officer which has revealed the following:

     In 1998, after four years in the Marine Corps as a sergeant in an artillery division, Hassan Hamdy joined the NYPD. The resident of Centereach, Long Island was not only assigned to ESU, he became a member of the Tactical Apprehension Team (TAT), a paramilitary unit that conducts predawn, no-knock SWAT-style drug raids. In 2001 and 2008, Hamdy was among several defendants in a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits against the city that the municipality had to settle for a total of $516,000. However, in May 2012, when TAT officers were in a neighborhood to conduct a drug raid, Hamdy and his fellow officers helped rescue five people from a burning apartment. Up until he killed Noel Polanco, Detective Hamdy had not fired his weapon in the line of duty.

     It seems unlikely that NYPD internal affairs investigators will find this fatal shooting administratively justified. On October 10, 2012, NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a local grand jury will determine what happened in the Polanco shooting. In the meantime, the dead man's mother and her attorney will meet with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Detective Hamdy's lawyer has said that Polanco didn't comply with his client's orders to raise his hands. Diane Defarrari, the front-seat passenger, has disputed this claim.

   

     

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Sentencing of Jerry Sandusky: Goodbye and Good Ridance

     Jerry Sandusky, the 68-year-old former Penn State football coach and founder of the Second Mile Charity for underprivileged kids who was recently convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing ten boys, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 400 years in prison. Six of Sandusky's convictions carried a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. That doesn't mean, however, that the judge John Cleland had to impose a minimum sentence of sixty years behind bars. The judge had the discretion of running these sentences concurrently--meaning simultaneously. He could also have imposed consecutive prison terms which means sacking them on top of each other. Theoretically, Sandusky could have received as little as ten years, but as a practical matter, any sentence more than 25 years would consist of a life sentence for this pedophile.

     On Monday, October 8, 2012, the day before his date with the judge, the Penn State radio station played a jailhouse taped statement by a defiant Sandusky in which he blamed his accusers, the investigators, his attorneys, the media, and the university for his convictions. He said, among other ridiculous things: "They can take away my life, they can make me out as a monster, but they can't take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged, disgusting acts. My wife has been my only sex partner and that was after marriage. Our love continues." (I think I'm going to be sick.)

     Only a hardcore sociopath could make a statement like this. The guy not only believes he hasn't victimized anyone, he sees himself as a criminal justice martyr. I'm sure in the vast pedophile community, Jerry Sandusky is a hero. It will be interesting to see what happens if he tries to sell this line of bull in prison where everybody is innocent, and has a tale of woe.

     On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Judge John Cleland, after hearing from several of Sandusky's victims, and the sex offender himself, sentenced the Penn State pedophile to thirty to sixty years behind bars. When escorted out of the courtroom handcuffed and in his red jumpsuit, Sandusky smiled for the TV cameras.

     It will be up to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to determine where Sandusky will serve his time, and under what conditions. Just because he is a sex offender does not mean he will automatically be placed in administrative segregation for his own protection. At present, there are 6,800 sex offenders serving time in the state's prison system. Most of them live in the general prison population.

     When I visualize Jerry Sandusky's future as an imprisoned serial pedophile, I see a big, gray-haired guy in black and white striped overhauls breaking big rocks with a small sledge hammer. Sometimes I see him frightened and helpless, cowering in the prison yard, or looking furtively over his shoulder for a heavily tattooed guy armed with a homemade dagger.

     This, of course, is not how it will be for Penn State's famous child molester. Sandusky will probably be incarcerated in one of the state's minimum security correctional institutions. He will have his own dorm room where he can watch Penn State football on his $275, prison-issued, 13-inch TV set that will bring in 15 channels. (HBO and networks like it are excluded, as well as movies that are R-ratred.) He will enjoy two hot meals a day, full health care services (including a sex change operation if he wants one), and whatever medication he needs.

     The coach will be able to exercise daily, have a prison job if he wants one, buy things at the commissary, go to church on Sunday, and have regular visitors. If he wants, he can play cards and other table games with his fellow sociopaths, many of whom will be disgraced politicians and crooked bureaucrats. He'll probably make a lot of new friends, people, as compared to him, are pretty nice.

     Okay, Mr. Sandusky's life behind bars is not going to be that great, but it might be better than the lives he created for some of his victims. One thing is sure, this man has violated his last child. Perhaps that will be his greatest suffering. In the meantime, the scandal and legal mess he left behind for Penn State University will continue, for years.
     

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Crime Lab Crisis: Too Many Cases, Not Enough Money

     So far this year, forensic science auditors have reported serious quality control problems in crime labs throughout the state of Michigan, St. Paul, Minnesota, Houston, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, Los Angeles, California, and Boston, Massachusetts. Over the past few years, dozens of crime laboratories across the country have lost their accreditation or have been closed. There have been major problems in drug testing units as well as in the fields of toxicology, DNA analysis, latent fingerprint processing, and firearms identification.

     While there has been some budget cutting that affects street policing, SWAT operations, anti-terrorism programs, and drug enforcement, crime labs have suffered the most from economic austerity. The lack of adequate crime lab funding has created personnel shortages, diminished training, physical plant deterioration, and attenuated administrative oversight.

     Overworked, and in many cases under-qualified lab personnel have produced scientifically unreliable results which have put tens of thousands of criminal cases in jeopardy. Moreover, virtually every crime lab in the country is plagued with substantial caseload backlogs which has seriously eroded the nation's criminal investigative services. Detectives are gathering the physical evidence, but getting it tested is a problem. While investigators wait for crime lab results, criminals remain at large committing more crimes. Crime labs have been closed down because forensic scientists have been caught taking short cuts, lying under oath, and mishandling evidence. As a result, the nation's crime investigation services have become less productive.

     On August 30, 2012, in Massachusetts, after revelations that a forensic chemist had deliberately mishandled drug samples, and failed to follow testing protocols, the state crime lab was shut down. Between 2003 and 2012, this lab analyst had handled more than 50,000 drug samples involving some 34,000 defendants. Now all of these cases are in jeopardy.

     The crime lab problem in Massachusetts reveals how much damage a single forensic scientist can cause. It also shows the effects of a grossly imbalanced criminal justice system. The government spends an enormous amount of tax dollars catching drug dealers and their customers which in turn overloads our underfunded crime laboratories. While television series like "CSI" has created high forensic science expectations among the general public, American criminal investigation, as it is actually practiced, is becoming less scientific and more militaristic. In the relatively short history of American forensic science, the golden era lays behind us, and the future looks bleak.   

Rodrigo Carpio: The Tiny Terror of P.S. 330

     John Webster, a 220-pound former college football player taught physical education and health at P.S. 330 elementary school in Queens, New York. On April 26, 2012, the 27-year-old teacher filed an "occurrence report" with the school principal regarding an incident involving a first grade student named Rodrigo Carpio. According to Mr. Webster, the 40-pound student had "acted out" while walking to the cafeteria with his classmates. The boy had allegedly kicked the teacher in the knee and ankle.

     The 6-year-old's kicks had supposedly produced injuries so severe, John Webster has not been able to return to work. Moreover, he has acquired a lawyer, and is contemplating suing the city of New York, the state department of education, and his attacker's family.

     As reported by The New York Daily Post, Webster's attorney, Andrew Siben, said, "This young boy repeatedly attempted to hit Mr. Webster 20 times and landed two serious kicks, one to his right knee and one to his right ankle. With the kick to the knee, he sustained a meniscus tear that required surgery, and with the the kicks to the ankle, an avulsion fracture which might also necessitate surgery....What's truly sad is that Mr. Webster and teachers within the school were not afforded adequate security to prevent injury which ultimately happened to Mr. Webster."

     Attorney Siben, in speaking to a correspondent with ABC News, said, "This young boy [Carpio] was clearly a tiny terror." The student's parents took exception to the "tiny terror" label, but did acknowledge that their son was now taking medication to "help him focus."

     If elementary education has become a physically dangerous occupation for young, former college football players, we are all in danger. The fact that so many grade schoolers have to be drugged into civilized behavior is also not a good sign. When these kids grow up, they will have to deal with the police, and in those confrontations, the cops will be the ones who inflict the pain. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Eric Dean Lewis: The Secret Life of an Elementary School Principal

     Eric Dean Lewis, before settling in California in 1999, taught at elementary schools in West Palm Beach Florida and New York state. In 2005, before he became principal of Montague Elementary in Silicon Valley's Santa Clara, he taught at Zanker Elementary and four other Santa Clara County schools in the Milpitas (a town of 70,000 north of San Jose) Unified School System. In 2012, the popular 42-year-old principal of Montague Elementary lived by himself in a San Francisco apartment.

     In early September 2012, a member of a multi-agency drug task force received a tip that Lewis was selling drugs. An undercover agent with the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team, using the name "Anthony," made contact with Lewis on a dating site for gay men. In an email to the undercover cop, Lewis suggested that they get together and "blow some clouds," meaning smoke methamphetamine. The principal also promised to bring Anthony a "bomb," slang for meth.

     On September 20, Eric Lewis and the undercover agent met at a Caltrain station in San Francisco. After the agent purchased a quantity of drugs from the elementary school principal, Lewis was taken into custody and transported to Santa Clara County's Elmwood Jail where he was held in lieu of $25,000 bail. Officials in the Santa Clara school district placed Dean on unpaid administrative leave.

     If the drug arrest of an elementary school principal wasn't bad enough, the case took an even more disturbing turn when the police searched Lewis' San Francisco apartment. Members of the task force seized seven ecstasy pills, a small amount of meth, and four vials of GHB, a liquid date rape drug. Lewis also possessed a syringe without a needle, a device commonly used to dole out precise doses of a drug. Police officers also discovered miniature surveillance cameras hidden in a watch, a cigarette lighter, and a teddy bear. The searchers also seized three of the principal's computers.

     At his September 24 arraignment, Eric Dean Lewis was charged with drug-related offenses that exposed him to a maximum of eight years in prison. It's quite possible that the drug aspect of the case will turn out to be the least of the principal's problems. Those covert cameras and the date rape drug suggest something even more disturbing. What the investigators might find on this man's computers may end up defining the nature of this case.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Larry Chidester SWAT Raid: Boots in the Wrong House

     At ten on the night of May 25, 2005, the Utah County Metro SWAT team was about to break into a house on South State Street in Springville to confiscate methamphetamine, guns, and other contraband they might find in the dwelling. The Sierra Team, one of the four Utah County SWAT groups involved in the raid, pulled into the neighborhood first. The six snipers in the unit took up positions 50 yards from the target house. The Sierra snipers were in place to watch the house and report any activity at or near the dwelling to the other SWAT units as they moved into their attack positions. From this point on, any bystander who happened onto the surveillance are would be viewed through the cross-hairs of rifle scopes.

     The remaining 24 SWAT officers arrived at the scene. Alpha Team members, taking up positions 70  yards from the house, would break into the dwelling through the front entrance. Team Charlie had the side door. The Bravo squad, setting up behind a wooden fence in the back, 500 yards from the target, would enter the  house through the rear door.

     At 10:30, the Alpha, Charlie, and Bravo teams were supposed to reach the target at the same time, tossing flashbang grenades into the front, side, and rear of the  house. Because of some kind of miscommunication, the Bravo team entered the back door ahead of the other two units, which were moving toward the dwelling from 65 yards away.

     Forty-year-old Larry Chidester lived in the basement quarters of his parents' place next door to the SWAT target. Awakened by the flashbang explosions coming from the other side of his house, Larry came out his side door to investigate what he thought was a car accident. Instead, he saw a group of SWAT officers charging toward his neighbor's house. Before he got back inside, Larry heard one of the officers yell, "There's one?" Alpha Team member Jason Parker, a reserve sheriff's deputy, ran up to Larry and ordered him to the ground. Each time Larry lowered his arms to help himself down, Deputy Parker, his rifle pointed at Chidester's head, yelled, "Keep you hands up!"

     "I'm not resisting! I'm not resisting!" Larry pleaded as Deputy Parker tackled him to the ground and kept him there for a minute or so with his knee pressed into the middle of his back. Although not seriously injured, Chidester had the wind knocked out of him, and suffered abrasions to his forehead, nose, shoulder, back, and knees.

    As Larry Chidester lay pinned to the ground under reserve deputy Parker's knee, Sergeant Deke Taylor and another Alpha Team officer stormed into the Chidester house. Deputy Taylor encountered Larry's mother, Emily, in the kitchen, and at gunpoint, ordered her to the floor. The other officer found Lawrence Chidester in the bedroom sitting on the edge of his bed putting on his trousers. This deputy grabbed Mr. Chidester by the shirt and threw him to the floor, ripping the garment off his back. Shortly after the two Alpha Team officers left the Chidesters shaking and bruised, a third deputy entered the house and apologized for the armed intrusion.

     Sheriff Jim Tracy insisted that the Chidester incident did not fall into the category of a wrong-house raid. His men were merely protecting themselves by taking control of the target area. From a law enforcement point of view, the only mistake involved the deputy's on-site apology, which suggested police wrongdoing.

     The Chidesters filed suit against the Utah County Sheriff's Office and deputies Jason Parker and Deke Taylor individually for violating their Fourth Amendment rights of privacy. The deputies raised the issue of qualified police immunity, arguing that they had acted in good faith. A federal district court judge, in August 2006, ruled that the Chidesters had grounds to sue the officers as individuals. The deputies appealed this decision, and in March 2008, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Deputy Parker's actions did protect him from personal liability under the immunity doctrine. However, the appeals court judges did not bar the plaintiffs from suing Utah County and Deputy Taylor as an individual. The lawsuit is pending. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The High Cost of Cops Shooting People in Wheelchairs

     On January 4, 2011, Randal Dunkin, a 55-year-old mentally ill man who had been born with polio and was confined to a wheelchair, was creating a disturbance in the street outside San Francisco's Department of Public Health building. That morning at ten o'clock, Dunkin started slashing tires with a knife, and throwing pieces of concrete at passersby. Someone called 911.

     An officer in plainclothes arrived at the scene first, and when he approached the agitated subject to disarm him, Dunkin, from his wheelchair, slashed the officer in the arm with the knife. (The wound, which was not life-threatening, required 21 stitches.) Following the assault, uniformed officers squirted Dunkin with pepper spray, and shot him with a bean bag gun. These nonlethal modes of force did not calm the subject down. As the erratic behaving Dunkin tossed the knife onto the street, Sergeant Noah Mallinger, from range of ten feet, shot him twice in the groin as he sat in his wheelchair.

     Following Dunkin's discharge from the hospital, the police transferred him to the city jail on charges of police assault, resisting arrest, vandalism, and brandishing a knife. San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon, in speaking to the media about the incident, said, "I believe from a legal stance, this shooting will be deemed an appropriate, lawful shooting."

     In reaction to public outrage over the shooting of a crazy man armed with a knife in a wheelchair, the police chief, a few weeks later, announced the proposed formation of a specialized crisis intervention team to deal with mentally ill subjects. (Cops have to be trained not to shoot people in wheelchairs?)

     On March 2011, Randal Dunkin filed a civil rights suit against the city of San Francisco and its police department. Two months later, the department announced that following an internal investigation of the shooting, officer Noah Mallinger had been cleared of any wrongdoing. In other words, the shooting, in the eyes of the police, was justified.

     Randal Dunkin, in November 2011, went on trial for his alleged police assault and the lesser charges. Although convicted of vandalism and brandishing a knife, the jury inexplicably acquitted Dunkin of slashing the officer. (The defendant had claimed self-defense, that the officer in plainclothes had not identified himself.) The jurors split on the resisting arrest charge.

     Use of force experts who studied this case were critical of the shooting. A man in a wheelchair should not have been given the opportunity to inflict a knife wound on an officer. Once Dunkin had tossed the knife, he was no longer a deadly threat to the police. And even if he hadn't dropped the weapon, the police could have prevented, without the use of deadly force, a man in a wheelchair from hurting anyone. (In downtown Pittsburgh recently, police negotiators talked a mentally ill man, who was in possession of a knife and holding a hostage, into surrendering. The stand-off lasted five hours and no one was hurt. In Pittsburgh last year, the police shot three people, killing one. In San Francisco, officers in 2011 shot eight, killing three.)

     In Houston, Texas, at two in the morning on September 22, 2012, Brian Claunch, a resident of the Healing Hands group home, created a disturbance when a caregiver refused to give him a cigarette and a can of soda. In his mid-40s, and diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Claunch was confided to a wheelchair after having lost an arm and a leg in a train accident.

     Officer Matt Marin, a 5-year-veteran of the Houston Police Department, arrived at the group home with another officer. Shortly after responding to the call, officer Marin shot Brian Claunch in the head as he sat in his wheelchair, killing him instantly. According to a police spokesperson, "He [Claunch] was approaching them [the officers] aggressively. He was attempting to stab them with what is now found to be a felt-tip pen." This statement begs the question: just how aggressive can a pen-wielding man in a wheelchair be?

     In October 2009, officer Matt Marin had shot and killed a knife-wielding man who had stabbed his girlfriend and a neighbor. In 2011, officers with the Houston Police Department shot ten people, killing three.

     For the city of Houston, the police killing of an unarmed man in a wheelchair is going to be costly. For example, a jury in Los Angeles just awarded a known gang member who was shot by the police in September 2005, $5.7 million. In 2009, 24-year-old Robert Contreras pleaded no contest to his role in the drive-by shooting that led to the police wounding and paralyzing him. After being released from prison in 2011, Contreras filed the excessive force suit against the city and the police department. In Los Angeles, police officers put a violent criminal into a wheelchair, and the taxpayers of that city will foot the bill. In Houston, where the officer killed an unarmed man in a wheelchair, taxpayers can expect a lawsuit, and a forthcoming multi-million dollar court settlement. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Downgrading Crime in New York City: How the Police Control Crime Rates

     Crime statistics have always been unreliable indicators of crime rates because a substantial percentage of felonies are not reported to the police. This is particularly true in cases of spousal abuse, child molestation, and rape. Even criminal homicides are underreported. And of the crimes that do get reported to the authorities, not all of them become part of the official record. Crime statistics do, however, reveal trends, and for that reason they are important.

     Politicians and police administrators hate high crime rates because they are afraid the public will blame increases in crime on them. Because mayors and police chiefs take credit for low crime rates, they are held responsible when the numbers go the other direction. This is a problem politicians and police administrators have brought upon themselves. If politicians were honest (an odd thought), they would inform the public that the police have little control over the rate of crime in their jurisdictions. That's because law enforcement is not about preventing crime as much as reacting to it after the fact. The level of crime in a particular city has little bearing on the quality of that municipality's law enforcement services. While there are many ways to judge a police department, the local crime rate is not one of them.

     Because politicians and police administrators have misled the public into believing they are protecting us from criminals, they try to control crime statistics the only way they can, by manipulating the reporting process. This kind of bureaucratic skullduggery has been going on forever.

     In New York City during police commissioner Raymond Kelly's tenure, he has taken credit for the city's declining crime rates. But in 2011, New York's crime statistics revealed a slight increase over 2010, and so far in 2012, this trend has continued. So it's not surprising that when researchers with The New York Times reviewed 100 police reports submitted over the past four months, they found that the police were falsely downgrading felony offenses to misdemeanor crimes (that are not counted) to manipulate crime stats and mislead the public.

     In an article published on September 16, 2012, The New York Times published examples of several cases that feature obvious felonies reported by the police as misdemeanors. (A friend of mine who worked 20 years as a patrolman in New York City, has said the first thing you learn as a NYC cop is that nothing is on the level.) What follows are examples of how the NYC police control crime statistics by mischaracterizing felonies as misdemeanors.

     In 2010 a 17-year-old gunman fired several shots into a group of young men on the street in the Bronx. Nearby, two teenage girls were hit by the shooter's stray bullets. Because their injuries were minor, police officers, in their reports, didn't mention that two girls had been shot in the shooting spree.

     In Brooklyn, the police characterized an attempted rape as "forcible touching," a misdemeanor. When a prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney's office learned of the facts of this case, he charged the subject with attempted rape, a felony. After a man in a domestic violence case choked his wife to the point of unconsciousness, the police wrote up the crime as a misdemeanor offense even though the attack clearly fell within the legal guidelines of a felonious assault.

     Numerous New York City police officers admitted to the reporters reviewing these cases that they are encouraged, whenever possible, to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors in order to keep the city's crime rates low, and the politicians happy. Sometimes police supervisors will actually show up at a crime scene to make sure officers are following this program of crime statistics manipulation. Sergeants and lieutenants have been known to modify police reports to achieve this result.

     Crime rates fluctuate but what never changes is the fact that in law enforcement, nothing is on the level. My ex-cop friend was right.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wrong House SWAT Raid: For Ronita McColley, No Apology, No Redress

     A confidential informant told an investigator with the Rensselaer County District Attorney's Office that a number of unidentified people were selling cocaine out of three houses in Troy, New York. On June 23, 2008, a member of the county drug task force sent an undercover operative into one of the houses where he purchased cocaine from a known dealer. A few days later, a judge in Troy issued four no-knock nighttime search warrants based on nothing more than the snitch's tip, and one controlled buy.

     At four in the morning on June 28, an explosion inside the house at 396 First Street awoke Ronita McColley and her 5-year-old daughter. Seconds later, officers with the Troy Emergency Response Team (ERT) and county drug police, poured into McColley's home past her splintered door. McColley would describe that moment to a local reporter this way: "The flash and then the police coming into my house, and me not having any clothes on....It was just a lot of men looking at me, and there was no female in sight." (SWAT teams are almost entirely made up of male officers.)

     After breaking down Ronita McColley's front door, smashing a window with the flash-bang grenade--which burned a hole in her carpet and scorched a wall--and rummaging through her personal belongings, the police found no evidence of illegal drug activity. Some of the officers thought they had accidentally raided the wrong house. But no, this was one of the addresses the snitch had identified as a cocaine site. No one got hurt that night, including McColley's 5-year-old daughter. The SWAT raiders did not apologize for the destruction and terror they had visited upon this innocent mother and her child. Moreover, no one in authority offered to replace McColley's door, the broken out window, or the carpet damaged by the percussion grenade. This wrong house SWAT raid was just another case of collateral damage in the drug war the police will never win.

     In the other raids that night in Troy, the police also failed to find cocaine. Officers recovered small quantities of marijuana, but didn't take anyone into custody. The entire operation, from a drug war perspective, was a failure. Criticism of these fruitless and potentially dangerous no-knock intrusions prompted an internal police inquiry into the operation. On September 17, 2008, the Troy Record published excerpts from Assistant Chief of Police John Tedesco's report. According to Tedesco, "The bulk of this drug investigation was predicated upon the word of the confidential informant absent further investigation. Arguably, the reputation of proven reliable information of the CI was established. However, this fact alone does not negate the need to substantiate the CI's claims. Surveillance or controlled buys at the locations is the seemingly appropriate investigative pursuit to accomplish this function." (This is how the police write. The assistant chief could have said, "We shouldn't SWAT raid a dwelling on nothing more than the word of a snitch.")

     Ronita McColley's attorney, Terry Kindlon, gave notice of his intent to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Troy. Interviewed by a Troy Record reporter, he said, "I sometimes think...that rather than doing thoughtful, thorough police work, they phoned it in, and ended up throwing bombs at one of the nicest, sweetest woman I have ever met." (The raid would have been just as wrong had Ronita McColley not been a nice person.)

     Attorney Kindlon filed the civil rights suit in October 2008, and on March 4, 2012, the judge in a New York state U.S. District Court, ruled in favor of the city and the police.

     Because this mindless police intrusion into a dwelling at night did not result in anyone being shot or seriously injured, this case did not attract much attention in the media. The fact that cases like this are not rare is the real story, a reality ignored by local media outlets uninterested in incidents that do not feature blood and guts. Had Ronita McColley, thinking that her home was being broken into by criminals, picked up a gun and shot a cop, she would have either been killed, or shipped off to prison for life. For reporters, that would have been a much better story.