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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Archaeological Protection Gone Wild: The Lynch Case

     In 1979, Congress passed the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which makes it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from federal and Indian lands. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" is an item of past human existence, or archaeological interest, more than a hundred years old. First time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site is less than $500, can be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than one year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceed $500, the offender can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities can pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

The Ian Martin Lynch Case

     Although he didn't know it at the time, 23-year-old Ian Martin Lynch made the mistake of his life when he picked up a human skull lying among hillside rocks on an uninhabited island off the shores of southeastern Alaska. In July 1997, Lynch and two of his friends were deer hunting on public land in an area called the Warm Chuck Village and Burial Site. They had no knowledge of this place, were unaware it had once been the home of Native Americans, and were not looking for prehistoric artifacts. There were no indications, other than the skull, that the men had stumbled upon an ancient grave site.

      While exploring the area as his friends were breaking camp, Lynch scraped the dirt away from the back of the skull then picked it up for a closer look. He guessed the skull, and the bones scattered around it, had been there for some time because of the absence of clothing. He had no way, however, of knowing that the remains he had stumbled upon were archaeological resources.

     Shortly after taking the skull home, Lynch decided to turn it over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Office in Anchorage. He described how he had come in possession of the skull to a government employee and revealed the circumstances surrounding its discovery. A short time later, an agent with the Forest Service asked him to come to the federal building for an interview.

     When the Forest Service agent asked Lynch if he knew the skull was old, the interviewee said, "So, I mean, it's definitely been there for awhile. Oh, man, it's definitely old. There's not a stitch of clothing or nothing with it." (To make a federal case against Mr. Lynch the Forest Service agents would have to establish that he knew, or should have known, that he was taking away a skull more than a hundred years old.)

     The Forest Service archaeologist for the region examined the evidence but was unable to  determine the age of the skull. This prompted the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to call in a physical anthropologist to determine, through visual analysis, the age of the head. This expert also declined to scientifically declare the skull an archaeological resource. The AUSA, determined to establish a crime under ARPA, sent the skull out for carbon dating. This analysis revealed that it was at least 1,400 years old. This opened the door for a federal prosecution.

     In 1998, a federal grand jury sitting in Anchorage returned an indictment charging Ian Martin Lynch with one felony ARPA offense. If convicted, he would face up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Lynch's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground the government had not met its burden of proving that Lynch, in taking the skull, had sufficient knowledge to establish the requisite criminal intent to violate this law. Specifically, the prosecution had not proven that Lynch knew the skull was an archaeological resource.

     The U.S. District Judge, reasoning that Lynch's picking up the skull was "a wrong in itself," ruled that the prosecution did not have to prove that Lynch had specifically intended to commit the crime. Based on this legal rationale, the judge denied the defense's motion to dismiss the indictment. In response to this ruling, Lynch pleaded guilty to the single ARPA count while retaining his right to appeal the judge's decision. In 1999, the judge sentenced Lynch to six months in prison and fined him $7,000 to cover the costs of the burial site restoration. (Lynch had picked up one bone, what restoration?) At his sentencing, Lynch told the judge he had not intended to offend Native Americans. He remained free on bail pending the results of his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

     In 2000, the federal court of appeals overturned the ARPA conviction. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, one of the three jurists on the panel, wrote: "The Government must prove that a defendant knows or had reason to know he was removing an 'archaeological resource' before that defendant can be found guilty of an ARPA offense."

     The reversal of Lynch's conviction makes sense, but what doesn't make sense is why the U.S. Forest Service, and the federal prosecutor in Alaska, went after Mr. Lynch in the first place. Congress, in passing ARPA, intended to punish and deter the for-profit looting of archaeological sites. Mr. Lynch was not even an artifact collector. It's hard to believe that federal law enforcement officers would waste taxpayers' money by pursing such a questionable case. And finally, what kind of judge would sentence a harmless defendant like Mr. Lynch to six months in prison?


   

      

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crime Geography: Being Where Criminals Aren't

     In a perfect world, there would be no crime. That will never happen. (This is good news for cops, security practitioners, lawyers, parole agents, and prison guards.) In a better world, 90 percent of the criminal population would be in prison, victimizing each other instead of us. In the real world, however, only a tiny fraction of them are behind bars. Given that reality, it's helpful to know where at least most of the dangerous criminals are. (Crime can't be prevented, it can just be moved from one place to another.) If you can figure out where most of the dangerous people are likely to be, you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim by avoiding these places. This, of course, doesn't apply to people forced to live or work in high crime areas, and certain types of criminals such as pedophiles, who are everywhere. Elementary kids can't force their parents to home school them. But many of us can avoid places where we are more likely to be mugged, raped, assaulted, and murdered.

Dangerous Cities

     Every year, the FBI announces the five most dangerous cities in the United States. By dangerous, they mean municipalities with the highest per capita crime rates. (Even in these places, over the past ten years, rates of violent crime have declined.) If I were to list, off the top of my head, the five most dangerous cities, they'd be: Miami, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Newark, New Jersey. In the small town category, I'd lead off with Youngstown, Ohio. As it turns out, none of these places are on the FBI's list. According to the bureau, the most dangerous cities are: Flint, Detroit, St. Louis, New Haven, and Memphis. I had no idea things were so bad in New Haven and Memphis.

     So, in terms of avoiding criminals, what does the most dangerous city list mean? Not much. Almost all cities and towns have relatively safe neighborhoods as well as high-crime districts. A person who lives in a good neighborhood in Flint is probably safer than someone who lives in a bad section in say, Erie, Pennsylvania. Moreover, people who live and work in the safer parts of town increase their chances of victimization if they enter crime-hot sections of the city for drugs or prostitutes. Lifestyle, as much as place of residence, determines one's vulnerability to crime. And, there is always bad luck, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. People are mugged in broad daylight in Walmart parking lots.

     Perhaps the FBI should publish a list of 5 things (other than shopping) people do that turns them into victims of crime. This is my list of dangerous behaviors: aggressive driving, public intoxication, buying dope, picking up street walkers, and looking wealthy in the wrong places. And, for good measure, I'll add: cutting in line at McDonalds.

Indian Reservations

     According to figures recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the rates of crime on the nation's 310 Indian reservations are more than two and a half times higher than the national average. The rates of violent criminal offenses--murder, assault, rape, and robbery--are as high or higher than the corresponding crime rates in America's most dangerous cities. Women who live on reservations are ten times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts who live elsewhere. They are sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average.

     Indian reservations are plagued by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, broken families, and higher than average school drop-out rates, problems also found in America's inner cities. Under federal law, tribal courts have the authority to prosecute tribal members for crimes committed on Indian land, but cannot sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. As a result, tribes rely on federal authorities to investigate and prosecute serious offenses.

      Because Indian reservations are located in remote areas of the country, there are not enough FBI agents to handle the investigative caseloads. For this reason, only half, and in some cases less than half, of serious reservation crimes result in criminal prosecution. In 2010, only 35 percent of reported rapes led to federal prosecution. Regarding child sexual abuse, 39 percent of these cases find their way into federal court. By comparison, nationwide, 80 percent of federal drug related crimes are prosecuted. (Cops love drug cases, that's where all the law enforcement money is spent--gadgets, cool weapons, overtime, etc.--and drug users and sellers are easy to catch and prosecute. The other crimes require time and investigative know-how.)

     For women and children, an Indian reservation is a dangerous place.

           

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Red Sash Murder Case

     In September 1995, the daughter-in-law of Josephine Galbraith, found the 76-year-old dead in the guest bedroom of her Palo Alto, California home. The dead woman's husband, 79-year-old Nelson Galbraith, a retired music school owner and insurance salesman, said he was watching TV in another room when she passed away. A detective from the Palo Alto Police Department and an investigator from the Santa Clara Coroner's Office arrived at the scene to find Josephine lying face-up on the bed with three superficial cuts on her left wrist, and a red bathrobe sash tied around her neck. Next to her body, investigators found a bloody eight-inch knife, a razor blade with some blood on it, and a white, 5-gallon bucket containing a small quantity of blood.

     The bathrobe sash, 62 inches in length, had been tightly wrapped around Josephine Galbraith's neck three times. After each wrap, the sash had been tied with a double-knot. The three cuts on her wrist, referred to as "hesitation marks," were typical of the half-hearted attempt of a suicidal person who couldn't bring herself to make the deeper, more painful slashes necessary to cause death by bleeding. There was no suicide note. The coroner's investigator, a man who had been on the job 28 years, recognized the scene as a suicide. The Palo Alto detective, based on the evidence at the scene, agreed with this assessment.

     The investigators figured that if Josephine Galbraith had been murdered, the killer would not have made the hesitation cuts. Moreover, the pattern of blood spatter did not suggest a struggle. And the presence of the bucket intended to make the scene less messy, was not consistent with a murder scene. Both investigators also knew that while people cannot manually strangle themselves (they pass out before they die), people can strangle themselves to death by ligature--the use of a rope, electrical wire, necktie, or other length of cloth such as a bathrobe sash. They also knew that Josephine Galbraith's death would have been slow enough to allow her to wrap and tie the sash three times. Given the nature of the people involved, and the physical evidence at the scene, the investigators had no doubt that this woman had taken her own life.

     Two days after the death, Dr. Angelo Ozoa, the Santa Clara County Coroner, performed the autopsy, a procedure that took him only 45 minutes. Dr. Ozoa found the cause of death to be "asphyxiation by ligature." This did not surprise anyone. What did shock a lot of people, including the investigators, was his manner of death ruling: "strangled by assailant." Dr. Ozoa had based this finding on two assumptions: Josephine Galbraith was too old and frail to have tied the three knots so tightly; and even if she did have the strength, she wouldn't have remained conscious long enough to complete the task. Since Nelson Galbraith was the only other person in the house at the time of his wife's death, if she had been murdered, he must have been the assailant.

     Just days before her death Josephine Galbraith had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, an illness that five years earlier had caused the slow and painful death of her sister. Even before the diagnosis, she had told friends and relatives that she wanted to kill herself. She had informed one of her sons that she would like to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and asked another son, a physician, to provide her with the drugs to end her life. He had refused.

     Nelson Galbraith, the man implicitly incriminated by Dr. Ozoa's manner of death ruling, had severe arthritis of the hands, which would have made it difficult, in not impossible, for him to have tied the knots around his wife's neck. Moreover, there was nothing in Galbraith's background, or in his relationship with his wife, that made him a likely murderer. Investigators, urged on by the county prosecutor's office, nevertheless pushed forward with the case against him, albeit at a snail's pace. In the meantime, Mr. Galbraith's life became a living hell. He complained to a journalist about being referred to in the media as the "Red Sash Murderer," and was spending thousands of dollars on his defense. (Ultimately, his defense costs would reach more than $300,000.)

     Palo Alto Police, guns drawn, stormed Mr. Galbraith's house in January 1997, and hauled the 81-year-old suspect away on the charge of first degree murder. In August 1998, almost three years after his wife's death, Nelson Galbraith, who had been allowed to make bail, went on trial for murder. The prosecution's key witness, Dr. Ozoa, told the jury that in all his years as a forensic pathologist, he had never heard of a woman killing herself by ligature. Suicide by ligature, however, is a well-recognized method of death that is well documented in textbooks and scientific journals.

     The defense called to the stand forensic pathologists who disagreed with Dr. Ozoa, and argued that the defendant could not have physically committed the crime. Following two and a half weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for one day and returned a verdict of not guilty. Following the acquittal, the prosecutor's office sought the opinion of a forensic pathologist in the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office regarding the manner of Josephine Galbraith's death. The pathologist agreed with the defense experts: the poor woman had killed herself.

     Nelson Galbraith, convinced he had been maliciously prosecuted, sued Dr. Ozoa for $10 million. To bolster his case, Mr Galbraith spent $10,000 to have his wife's body exhumed and sent to Salt Lake City to be examined by Dr. Todd Grey, the medical examiner for the state of Utah. According to Dr. Grey, Dr. Ozoa's incorrect finding of homicide was predicated on an incomplete autopsy. Ozoa had, among other things, neglected to dissect the dead woman's neck, a procedure that could have helped determine how long it had taken her to die. He had also failed to interpret the swelling in her brain, and the broken blood vessels in her face and eyes, as evidence of a slow death. Dr. Ozoa, when confronted with Dr Grey's opinion of his work in the Galbraith case, insisted he had performed a complete autopsy, and that the woman had been murdered.

     In 2002, almost seven years after Dr. Ozoa's autopsy in the Galbraith case, the Medical Board of California, citing Dr Ozoa's work in that case, voted to suspend the 77-year-old's license to practice medicine in the state. Two months later, Nelson Galbraith died. Two of his sons kept the civil case alive, and in 2008, Santa Clara County settled the matter for $400,000. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Man They Couldn't Shock

     In the McGuinness Book of World Records there seems to be a record for just about everything. But there is no mention of the man police used their Taser guns on 71 times within a span of thirty minutes. This had to be a world record in the category of repeatedly shocking someone who didn't die from it. The man who holds this unofficial record will simply be referred to as Bob.

     Bob, a 25-year-old veteran of the Afghanistan War who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, after being allegedly disowned by his family in Phoenix, moved in with a relative in Flagstaff, Arizona. One evening in July 2010, after taking PCP and bath salts, Bob entered a Cheveron gas station and store on Highway 89 in Doney Park just north of Flagstaff. Barefoot, Bob wandered about the place leaving muddy footprints, then approached the cashier and asked to be reported to the police.

     When Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Officer Brian Barnes arrived at the Cheveron station, he encountered Bob in the parking lot in front of the store. As the officer approached the suspect, Bob ran toward the entrance of the station with the officer in close pursuit. When Bob slammed into the closed door, he bounced back into the officer, and they both fell to the ground. Bob jumped up, this time opened the door, and ran inside. After shooting Bob with his Taser gun, Officer Barnes and a bystander managed to handcuff the out-of-control man. His hands, however, were not restrained behind his back.

     Bob settled down a bit, but the moment Coronino County Deputy Sheriff Don Bartlett arrived, Bob started acting up. To hold him down, the 260 pound deputy sat on his legs, but when that didn't stop the violent thrashing and kicking, Deputy Barnes gave Bob a taste of his Taser. When that didn't help, he zapped him two more times.

     As the DPS Officer and the deputy struggled with the drug-crazed man in the Cheveron station, EMT and firefighters arrived at the scene, followed by Sheriff's Office Sergeant Gerrit Boeck. During the next thirty minutes, Deputy Bartlett used his Taser twenty more times on Bob with Officer Barnes helping out electronically . While shocking the hell out of the suspect he kept resisting, shocking the hell out of them.

     Finally, the three police officers, with the help of several firefighters, strapped the handcuffed madman onto a gurney, but as they slid him into the ambulance, Bob managed to grab Deputy Bartlett's belt. Sergeant Boeck, thinking that Bob was trying to get ahold of the deputy's gun, started punching him in the arm. It took several officers to pry Bob's fingers from the Deputy's belt.

     Once they got Bob into the ambulance, a paramedic injected him with a tranquilizer used to control animals. The drugs kicked in and Bob settled down.

     At the Flagstaff Medical Center, a doctor diagnosed Bob as being in a state of excited delirium that gave him superhuman strength and rendered him impervious to pain. After a few days hospital personnel discharged Bob. The authorities decided not to charge him with resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, or disorderly conduct. (The county prosecutor was probably concerned with the Taser overuse, and decided to let a sleeping dog lie.)

     Regarding the issue of excessive force, the DPS referred the case to the county attorney's office for investigation. That Bob survived all that electricity, especially when in a state of excited delirium, is miraculous. Had he died, the medical examiner would probably have listed the cause of his death, excited delirium syndrome.

     These officers were presented with an extremely difficult situation and when their Taser guns didn't work ran out of good options. Sometimes the police encounter situations they are not equipped to handle. When it became obvious that their Tasters weren't working, the officers should have stopped using them.

     The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 5

February 2012
Hope Mills, North Carolina

     Evangeline Lucca was either in a hurry or having a serious BigMac Attack when she drove directly up the the McDonald's pick-up window ahead of a line of vehicles in the drive-thru lane. (Cutting off people waiting for McDonald's goodies is like snatching food from the jaws of a starving dog. Not recommended.) With her 3-year-old daughter in the car, the 37-year-old woman wouldn't budge after McDonald employees refused to serve her. Someone, perhaps envisioning a riot, or a McMurder, called the police.

     When confronted by deputies with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, Lucca, apparently unwilling to let a couple of cops move her to the back of the line, wouldn't budge for them either. But unlike McDonalds employees, these guys carry taser guns. A deputy administered the voltage, and the hungry, impatient suspect found herself in another line. One that led directly to the county jail. A child protection officer took the little girl into custody as well. Although charged with second degree trespass, Lucca should have been charged with first degree stupid.

February 2012
Chicago, Illinois

     Burglars broke into a Lincoln Park jewelry store by cutting through a wall shared by a sushi restaurant next door. The thieves cut the hole right behind the safe in a small area not covered by security cameras and the motion detecting intrusion alarm. Using a powerful saw, the burglars cut into the safe and removed the gems. To cool the saw blade as it cut into the money chest, the intruders used a bucket of ice-cold beer. Based on the M.O. of this heist, the thieves were operating with inside information. If I were on the case, I'd be checking out former employees, and asking current ones to take polygraph tests.

February 2012
Armada, Michigan

     In March 2011, 25-year-old Mallorie Wilson-Strat waited in a car parked in front of a house in Armada where two men she had hired were supposedly murdering Wilson-Stat's boyfriend's estranged wife. The killing of the 32-year-old murder for hire target didn't happen because the hit men got cold feet and fled the scene. An earlier attempt to murder this woman, orchestrated by Wilson-Stat, had also failed. On her third try, the mastermind hired an undercover cop to do the job.

     In February 2012, following a three-day trial at the County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, Michigan, the jury found Wilson-Stat guilty of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, solicitation of murder, and aiding and abetting a home invasion. The would-be victim's estranged husband, Kevin Sears, testified that he had not put his girlfriend up to the murder of his estranged wife.

     At her upcoming sentence hearing in March, the convicted woman's attorney will argue that his client was a puppet being manipulated by her boyfriend, Kevin Spears (who has not been charged.) According to the lawyer, she did it--tried to kill a woman three times--for love. The minimum sentence in Michigan for the crimes Wilson-Stat committed is 15 years in prison. The maximum is life. I'm pulling for that one.

February 2012
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

     In November 2010, district judge Kelly Ballentine received a pair of parking tickets and a summons regarding the expired registration on her BMW. The fines totaled $268.50. Rather than pay up like the rest of us, Judge Ballentine accessed the online magisterial district judicial system and fixed her own tickets. The 43-year-old judge had been elected to the bench in 2006. (In Pennsylvania, anyone can be a district judge, all you have to do is run for the office and get enough votes.) Charged with conflict of interest, public records tampering, and obstruction of justice, Ballentine is free on $25,000 bail. (I'd like to hack into the system and raise that to $1 million.) If convicted on all counts, she could be sentenced up to seven years in prison. (That won't happen. I'd be surprised if she gets any prison time.) On paid administrative leave, Judge Ballentine could face disciplinary action imposed by the state supreme court. (Not long ago, a pair of central Pennsylvania judges were convicted of taking kick-backs from a private prison for every kid they sentenced to the facility.)

February 2012
Los Angeles, California

     In Los Angeles, people who are physically disabled can be issued blue placards that allow them to park free all day. The problem is, hundreds of motorists are using cards issued to other people, depriving the city of angels needed revenue. This month, undercover officers with the Los Angeles Department of transportation, ran a sting operation that revealed how badly the system is being abused. Illegal parkers caught in the crackdown were fined between $250 and $1,000. A few could end up in jail for up to six months. (One nice thing about jail--parking is not a problem.) When caught, most of the fraudulent parking card users were not ashamed or remorseful. They were furious.

February 2012
Pasadena, California

     On Sunday night, February 12, Pasadena police were called to the apartment Marston Hefner shared with his girlfriend, Claire Sinclair. Officers took the 21-year-old Hefner into custody when they discovered that his girlfriend had been injured. On Monday, after being charged with domestic assault, Hefner was released on $20,000 bail. Sinclair, that day, acquired an emergency restraining order against Mr. Hefner.

     None of this would have been an event worthy of media attention had the suspect not been the son of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Adding icing to this celebrity journalism cake, the 20-year-old alleged victim was 2011's Playmate of the year. (I predict, for Claire Sinclair, a spot on next year's "Celebrity Apprentice.") Two days after Hefner's release from jail (From young Hef we might see a prison memoir based on his hellish incarceration.), Sinclair told reporters she would not press charges if Marston admitted that he had hit her more than once, and sought psychiatric help. (Too many stories like this one and I'll be looking for a shrink myself.)

February 2012
Ozark, Missouri

     Edward Maher, a 36-year-old armored car driver, on January 22, 1993, drove his money truck to a remote spot near Felixstowe on England's east coast, loaded $1.5 million (U.S.) in bills and coins into his car, and disappeared. "Fast Eddie," as he became known in England, fled to America with his 3-year-old son Lee, his wife Deborah, and the money. After living in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Edward, using the name Michael King, moved his family, in 2006, to Ozark, Missouri, a town of 18,000 in the southwest corner of the state.

     In 2010, the broadband technician with a cable company called Suddelink, was $35,000 in debt, driving an old car, and living with his wife and son in a drab housing complex. That year, he filed for personnel bankruptcy. In 201l, things got better for Michael King when he won $100,000 from a scratch lottery ticket. That year, Michael's 23-year-old son Lee, married an Ozark girl named Jessica. That's when life took a wrong turn for England's "Fast Eddie."

     Lee King, who liked to tell people he had been a decorated military officer, also told his friends that his father had been an infamous English armor car thief who had been on the lamb for twenty years. This story sounded so fantastic, nobody believed him. But when Lee told his new wife the story, Jessica went online to check it out, and sure enough, it was true. When Edward Maher, AKA Michael King, learned that his son had spilled the beans to his new wife, he threatened to kill her if she went to the police. Fearing for her life, that's exactly what she did.

     In February, FBI agents arrested Maher at his home in Ozark. He is currently in federal custody for, as an illegal immigrant, possessing a firearm. He will eventually be extradited back to England where he can still be prosecuted for the armored car heist. Because they are not U.S. citizens, his wife and son will be going back with him. (I find it interesting that in America, an illegal immigrant can file for bankruptcy, get a driver's license, and possess a social security card. I'd also like to know how Maher converted all that money to U.S. currency, then made it to America.) 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Raymond Chandler on Writing

     Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), the British born author of bestselling hard boiled private eye novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, transformed the mystery genre into literature. Chandler lived many years in southern California, and wrote for the movies. The following passages are from The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959, edited by Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane:

...I have never had any great respect for the ability of editors, publishers, play and picture producers to guess what the public will like. The record is all against them.

American [writing style] has no cadence. Without cadence a style has no harmonics. It is like a flute playing solo, an incomplete thing, very dextrous or very stupid as the case may be, but still an incomplete thing.

When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of the story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball.

I have a peculiar idea about titles. They should never be obviously provocative, nor say anything about murder. They should be rather indirect and neutral, but the form of words should be a little unusual.

The people whom God or nature intended to be writers find their own answers, and those who have to ask are impossible to help. They are merely people who want to be writers.

...you never quite know where your story is until you have written the first draft of it. So I always regard the first draft as raw material.

I write when I can and don't write when I can't; always in the morning or the early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don't stand up.

The detective story is not and never will be a "novel about a detective." The detective enters it only as a catalyst. And he leaves it exactly the same as he was before. [As opposed to "straight" novels where the protagonist, by the end of the book, has to have undergone some kind of change.]

A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of.

Television is really what we've been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as far as a half a block to get to the theater. Then people with fat heads would sit in front of you.

...not-quite writers are very tragic people and the more intelligent they are, the more tragic, because the step they can't take seems to them such a very small step, which in fact it is. And every successful or fairly successful writer knows, or should know, by what a narrow margin he himself was able to take that step. But if you can't take it, you can't. That's all there is to it.

The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective. The things which happen to him might still happen as a result of a peculiar set of chances. By making him a private detective you skip the necessity for justifying his adventures.

Talking of [literary] agents, when I opened the morning paper one morning last week I saw that it finally happened: somebody shot one. It was probably for the wrong reasons, but a least it was a step in the right direction.

The only private eye I have met personally was brought to the house one night by a lawyer friend of mine....Most of his work consists of digging up information for lawyers, finding witnesses etc. He struck me as a bombastic and not too scrupulous individual. The private eye of fiction is pure fantasy and is meant to be.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back on the Job: The Cop That Wouldn't Stay Fired

     Police unions, civil service, law enforcement solidarity, and the right of arbitration, makes firing a cop twice as difficult as evicting a freeloading relative. Once a police officer is on the job, short of being convicted of a felony, he stays on the force. Poor job performance, behavior unbecoming a law enforcement officer (a concept that has lost its meaning), and general unfitness for the work, are not grounds for dismissal. (In the private sector, it's another story altogether.)

     While it's easier to get your hands on top-secret CIA files than a police officer's personnel jacket, there are thousands of cops on the job with fat employment histories laden with citizen complaints, and disciplinary actions. A brutal, dishonest, lazy, and/or incompetent police officer can stick around until retirement. Many get out early by fabricating  phony medical disability claims, then take up water sports in Miami. And there is very little police chiefs can do about it. In law enforcement, the higher you go, the less power you have. I'm sorry, but it's true. 

Not One of New Castle's Finest

     New Castle, Pennsylvania, the seat of Lawrence County 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, has seen better days. At one time, the town of 24,000 had been a thriving, fast-growing mill town. It's currently a shell of its former self, and struggling to come back. If any place needs a good police force, it's this town. 

     On the night of December 23, 2010, an off-duty New Castle police officer named James L. Paglia was a passenger in a pick-up truck. His wife Terri was driving. They were arguing, and he was intoxicated. Officer Paglia got so angry, he allegedly hit his wife in the back of the head with his 9-millimeter handgun, then shoved the barrel of the loaded firearm into the side of her face. Forced out of the truck, the terrified woman came upon another police officer who had been following them. (I don't know if this was by design, or just happenstance. I'm thinking it was by design.)

     With his wife out of the vehicle, Paglia slid behind the wheel, and drove off. He didn't get far. Pulled over on suspicion of driving while drunk, he failed a field sobriety test, and was taken into custody. 

     Following a criminal complaint filed by his wife, the Lawrence County district attorney charged Paglia with two counts of simple assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, harassment, and DUI. The police department placed Paglia on unpaid administrative leave, and opened an internal investigation that resulted in the finding that this officer had violated departmental rules and regulations pertaining to officer conduct. 

     In March 2011, members of the New Castle City Council voted unanimously to remove officer Paglia from the police force. Later in the year, Paglia's wife withdrew her criminal complaint. (Not an uncommon event in wife abuse cases.) Without a prosecuting witness, the district attorney had no choice but to drop the serious charges against Paglia. The DUI count remained, but Paglia, as a first offender, was allowed to plead guilty, and enter the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program. Upon completion of this sentence, his DUI conviction would be expunged from the public record. 

     Pursuant to the city's collective bargaining agreement with the local Fraternal Order of the Police, Paglia could appeal his job dismissal to an independent arbitrator. And that's what he did. (With the wife abuse charges dismissed, he was now just an off-duty cop who had gotten behind the wheel of his truck with too much to drink.) In October 2011, the arbitrator held that the New Castle Police Department had to re-hire Mr. Paglia. He would not, however, recover lost wages or benefits, and the department, as a condition of re-employment, could require a drug and alcohol evaluation. 

     So, it looks like New Castle will have a police officer pulling over drunk drivers who himself was a drunk driver. Moreover, this officer will be responding to scenes of domestic violence where the boyfriend or husband is drunk and abusive. In the latter cases, just how sympathetic can this cop be to the abused woman? 

     In dealing with the public, police officers do not tolerate even a trace of disrespect. They have become extremely thin-skinned. For us civilians, the police have set the behavior bar very high. However, when dealing with their own, the behavior bar is extremely low. 

     One would think that the citizens of New Castle, Pennsylvania would be outraged by officer Paglia's reinstatement. But, as far as I can tell, they are not. Given the history of public corruption in this town, I guess they have become numb to stories like this.   


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Walmartology: Crimes in Consumerland 7

January 2012
Houston, Texas

     The Houston Police arrested three shoplifters, a man and two women, who had walked out of three Houston Walmarts with $20,000 worth of merchandise. The thieves swiped small, high-dollar items such as electric razors and nonprescription drugs and merchandise in the pharmaceutical section of the store such as Prilosec, Rogaine, Whitestrips, and Claritin. The suspects smuggled the loot out through the home-and-garden centers where they passed the items though a hole in the fence to an accomplice. If it hadn't been for the surveillance cameras they may not have been caught. The fact they managed to leave the stores so easily with so much merchandise makes one wonder how many Walmart shoplifters are not apprehended. These were not sophisticated heists.

January 2012
Union Township, Pennsylvania

     In western Pennsylvania not far from the Ohio line, police arrested three shoplifters who had stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Walmart and two other box stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Like the thieves in Houston, they loaded up shopping carts with small, high-priced items, and wheeled the stuff to the closed lawn and garden departments where they passed the loot to an accomplice through broken fences.

       You don't have to be a retail security practitioner to realize these stores have weak loss prevention programs. Customers who take merchandise through the cash out counter instead of holes in fences, end up paying for the shoplifted stuff. As long as stores can pass the cost along to paying customers, there is no incentive to spend money on retail security.

February 2012
Bremen, Georgia

     A security camera in this west Georgia Walmart caught a homicide parolee attempting to kidnap a 7-year-old girl browsing in the toy section of the store. The would-be victim, Brittney Baxter, kicked herself from the grasp of 25-year-old Thomas A. Woods of Austell, Georgia. After the girl broke free, Woods ran out of the store. (He got out of prison in October 2011 after serving time for killing is uncle in 2004.)

     Arrested shortly after the failed abduction (and who knows what), and charged with attempted kidnapping, Woods insisted that he had not committed any crime. While Mr. Woods is presumed innocent under the law, if he is the man in the security video, he is guilty as hell. In his case, parole was not a good idea.

January 2012
Cheswold, Delaware

     On New Year's Day, around 11:15 P.M., two men and a woman entered the Walmart store and removed assorted items of jewelry from a display case. Three days later, the trio returned to the store at two in the morning, and stole more jewelry from the display case. In all, the thieves walked off with $3,000 in merchandise. Again, where was the retail security? Aren't display cases supposed to be locked? Don't they have to be opened from the employee side of the case? Where were the clerks (or whatever they are called at Walmart)? I'm thinking these thieves may have had a little inside help.

January 2012
Portage Township, Ohio

     At 4:50 A.M. on Wednesday, January 18, police and firefighters rolled onto the Walmart parking lot to find an Audi sedan fully engulfed in flames. After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters discovered, on the driver's side, the body of a fatally burned man. The driver's side front door was open, and the victim lay partially outside of the vehicle. While the body was burned beyond recognition, the car registration and other identification indicators suggested that the victim was an employee who was scheduled to start work that morning at 5 A.M.

     Following a fire scene investigation by a state fire marshal, the sheriff of Ottawa County told reporters that the authorities did not suspect foul play. While the Lucas County Coroner had not determined the cause of death, the sheriff referred to the event as a "tragic accident."

     Having taught arson investigation, I know that when a vehicle sitting in a parking lot bursts into flames so suddenly the driver has no time to exit the car, it is a highly unusual fire, one that demands a detailed explanation. Most automobile fires that are sudden and intense, and all consuming, are incendiary blazes aided by an accelerant. Accidental car fires not caused by traffic accidents are usually slow burning, smoldering affairs. In my opinion, immediately ruling out any form of foul play in this case was premature.

January 2012
South Jordan, Utah

     In another strange Walmart parking lot blaze, four 13-year-old boys came upon a woman on the ground next to her car with her foot on fire. One of the boys used his coat to smother the flames. Police, responding to the 911 call, rushed the woman to the University of Utah Hospital's burn unit. She had serious burns on her foot and leg.

     This fire victim, a heavy smoker, had been wearing jeans over a pair of nylons. Once the ash from her cigarette burned through her jeans to the flammable nylons, they ignited and produced a suddenly intense fire.

February 2012
West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania

     On Wednesday, February 15, a 6-foot-4-inch, 300 pound man from Downingtown named Verdon Lamont Taylor, parked his car in the Walmart lot, climbed out of his vehicle, took off all of his clothing, and entered the store. Customers gave the 32-year-old man wide birth as he casually walked up to a counter and put on a pair of stolen socks.

     Police arrived to take the big, naked man (except for the socks) into custody. When Mr. Taylor refused to go along with the program, and spit on one of the officers, they let him have it with a stun gun. The device did its job, and the big man was led out of the store in handcuffs. (The spitting suggests schizophrenia.)

     Mr. Taylor has been charged with indecent exposure (if there were a felony version of this offense it would be appropriate here), aggravated assault, simple assault (spitting on a cop), retail theft (the socks), and disorderly conduct (shopping while nude). The suspect, who did not post his $50,000 bail, is incarcerated in the Chester County Jail.       

Friday, February 17, 2012

Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor

     Martin Russ' classic 1980 memoir, Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor, is an entertaining and practical instruction manual for anyone interested in the art and craft of creative writing, or in the difficult job of teaching students how to write for publication. Almost everything in this book is quotable, but here are a few passages that stood out for me:

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

As I believe in passive sadism in childrearing, so I advocate the same stance in dealing with the obstreperous student. Kill him with kindness or at least benevolent inattention. Not only must you never let yourself be drawn into any sort of emotional escalation, you must avoid acknowledging his attitude.

Make sure you have something to say before you write it down. One of the most difficult things undergrads have to learn is they have as yet little to say.

Many nonfiction teachers make the dumb mistake of providing subjects or topics. Let the student choose them himself, and make damn sure he says something about the subject--rather than merely turning in a description or summary or noncommittal analysis of it.

For some cockeyed reason it is assumed that if you have the required degree you can therefore do an adequate job of teaching.

Often a classroom of students will unconsciously follow a peer leader--a sarcastic put-down artist, for instance, who by dint of personality and precocious verbal skills will turn your course into a living nightmare unless you step in and blandly damp him off.

It's quite true that fiction can't be taught; but you can pass along a few shortcuts and get them interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones.

Undergrads tend to use more words than they need to, and much of your work involves showing them that a certain word or phrase or sentence or paragraph can be deleted without loss.

The most prevalent problem in student fiction writing is lack of plot or suspense, or drama.

Undergrad fiction writers are intensely interested in the possibilities of metaphor, simile, alliteration, allusion, parallelism, symbolism, and all the other literary devices. Which is fine. The problem is that they're more interested in the devices themselves than in using them effectively.

For student writers one of the most difficult problems is "creating character"--and it's a damned hard thing to teach.

Fiction-writing students would much rather describe than narrate. Would rather tell than show. Would rather summarize than dramatize. Would rather explain than demonstrate. Would rather obscure than clarify. I don't know why...but students seem to want to do everything wrong.

The amateur's attitude: It is I who am doing this thing, and I'm more important than the thing I am doing. The professional's attitude: This thing I'm doing is more important than me. (In other words, just because you wrote it doesn't make it good, or even interesting.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

To Protect and Speed: Cops with Lead Feet

     Nobody likes being pulled over for speeding. It just ruins your day. And I hate it when the cop asks, "Do you know how fast your were going?" If you answer "no," you sound like an idiot. If you answer "yes," you're essentially confessing. Anyway, it really doesn't matter if you knew you were speeding or not because it's an offense that doesn't require criminal intent. (It's what lawyers call a prohibita violation.) One time I had gotten so many speeding tickets I had to pass a written test to hold onto my driver's license. That baby was more difficult than most bar exams. I think I was the only person in the room who passed it. I consider that feat my greatest academic achievement, which says a lot about my history as a scholar. Okay, enough about me.

     The police want us to believe their jobs are extremely dangerous and difficult, you know, war is hell and all of that. But let's face it, besides the good salaries and outstanding benefits (early retirement and generous pensions), there are a lot of advantages to being a cop. Perhaps the greatest joy in law enforcement is that cops don't ticket each other for speeding. They have a license to speed--off-duty, and in their personal vehicles. If I were still teaching, and a criminal justice student asked me why he or she should become a cop, I'd say, "Free speeding!"

Exceeding the Limit in the Sunshine State

     In the state of Florida, police officers, as a group, are the most egregious speeders. A three-month investigation by Sun Sentinel journalists found that 800 cops from a dozen law enforcement agencies were driving 90 to 130 mph to and from work in their take-home patrol cars. Since 99 percent of these officers were not stopped for speeding, how did the newspaper come up with this information? They figured out how fast cops were driving by analyzing state highway toll records. They simply measured the time it took officers to travel from one toll plaza to the next. Moreover, according to the Sun Sentinel investigation, speeding Florida officers, since 2004, have caused 320 vehicular accidents resulting in 19 deaths. Only one of these officers went to jail, and that was for 60 days.

Officer Fausto Lopez

     Last fall, while commuting from his home in Coconut Creek to his job as a police officer with the Miami Police Department, Fausto (or Fasto) Lopez was clocked going 120 mph by a Florida state trooper. The stopped 36-year-old cop offered a familiar explanation for speeding: he was late for work.

     According to an analysis of toll records by Sun Sentinel journalists, officer Lopez is the king of law enforcement speeders. During the year before his October 11, 2011 traffic stop, Lopez averaged 90 mph over a period of 237 days of driving. But don't worry, Lopez's Coral Springs attorney has assured the public that his client is a good driver. Let's hope so. "Certainly," said the lawyer, "he at no time has put any member of the public in any type of danger." Fair enough, but can you see yourself defending a speeding ticket by telling the officer that you are a good driver? Good luck with that. To a police officer, or a judge, driving 90 mph makes you a bad driver. But we are mere civilians, and civilians get speeding tickets handed out by people who are worse drivers than us.  

Literary Life: A Second Memoir

     In Literary Life: A Second Memoir, the second of a three-volume autobiography, Larry McMurtry, the author of 30 novels, and more than 30 screenplays, sums up his life as a man of letters. Volume 1 of his memoir set deals with his life as a bookman and owner of a massive used book store in Archer City, Texas. The third installment will focus on his adventures in Hollywood as a screenwriter. McMurtry won a Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, a novel made into a popular television series. I enjoyed Literary Life: A Second Memoir because it's honest, devoid of false bravado, and provides a look into the literary life of a person who has been able to support himself on his writing. There aren't many of those people around. What follows are some passages from this engaging book:

I hoped to be a writer, but it was not until I had published my fifth book, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, that I became convinced that I was a writer and would remain one.

Journalists mostly don't expect to be liked--Vanity Fair is not paying its writers big money to write nice things about their subjects.

Probably at least 85 percent of the books I've inscribed both to friends and strangers have found their way into the [book] market, and rather rapidly.

To this day it is not easy to get started in fiction, but the speed with which self-publishing has been established is making getting started a good deal easier....Much trash will get published, but then much trash is published even by the most reputable publishers.

Minor writers provide the stitchery of literature. Besides, major writers often find themselves writing minor books. Major writers aren't major all the time, and minor writers occasionally write better than they normally do, sometimes producing a major book. The commonwealth of literature is complex, but a sense of belonging to it is an important feeling for a writer to have and to keep.

Never discount luck, in the making of a literary career, or any other career, for that matter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inside Jobs: Four Cases

     While it's impossible for a normal person to understand why, for example, a 14-year-old boy sets a building on fire for a sexual thrill, we all know why people steal. We understand because either as children, adolescents, or adults, we have taken something that didn't belong to us. The motive for theft is simple and direct, to get something for nothing. Theft is immoral, and of course, illegal. As a matter of morality, and certainly in law, the more you steal, the more serious your crime.

     In criminal law, there are several forms of theft, or illegal taking. Customers who steal merchandise from stores are retail thieves. People who slip out of restaurants without paying their bills commit theft of service. Employees who steal from their employers are larcenists security professionals call internal thieves. Criminals who threaten to expose victims' secrets if not paid money to remain silent, are blackmailers. A thug threatening future physical harm if the victim doesn't pay up is called an extortionist. (If you don't pay me $1,000 a month I'll burn down your business, is not how fire insurance is supposed to work.) Robbers are thieves who take money and valuables through the use of force or threat of immediate physical force; and burglars steal (and commit other crimes) by unlawful intrusion into homes and buildings. Swindlers and con artists acquire their loot through deception and fraud. And don't forget the passers of bad checks, forged money orders, and stolen and fake credit cards. It seems there are as many ways to steal as there are ways to acquire things legally.

     Except for major armored truck ambush jobs, big time jewelry heists, and massive credit card cases, the thieves who hit their victims the hardest financially, are the embezzlers. (The average bank robbery haul, for example, is just a few thousand dollars.) An embezzler is a person who's in what is called a fiduciary relationship with the victim, a position of trust. The embezzler--accountants, company and organization treasurers, financial managers, and various financial institution employees--steal from private and government employers and clients who have entrusted them with their money. While an embezzler can make a big, one-time haul, most steal smaller amounts over extended periods of time. To accomplish these illegal diversions of funds, embezzlers often alter financial documents, and commit the separate crimes of forgery and false swearing. Quite often, embezzlers, to get away with their thefts, have accomplices within the victim companies and organizations. Detectives and federal agents who investigate these cases (particularly when they involve sophisticated computer crimes), should be specialists in the investigation of financial offenses and criminal conspiracies.

Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania

     A recent audit of the personal finances of 95-year-old Dr. Robert Monsour led to criminal charges against 58-year-old Maureen A. Becker who was hired in 2000 to take around-the-clock care of the doctor, and to look after his money. She has been charged with diverting to her own use, between January 2008 and March 2010, $340,000 of the old man's money. Becker stood accused of depositing, into her own bank account, $167,000 from the sale of 67 acres of the doctor's estate. When asked why she had diverted these funds to her own bank account, Becker claimed the money had been a gift from her employer. (This, apparently, was news to Dr. Monsour.) Becker also told investigators that the doctor had raised her salary from $300 a week to $800. Detectives also found that the suspect deposited a number of her employer's CDs into her account, money she claimed the doctor wanted her to have.

     The judge, following Becker's guilty plea, sentenced her in June 2012 to three years in prison.

New York City

     Anita Collins, in 1986 and 1999, pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the theft of funds from a pair of her New York City employers. In return for her pleas, she avoided prison. In 2010, Collins, at age 65, worked in the finance office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. She had been hired without a background investigation. In an article published in the archdiocese newspaper, Catholic New York, she received praise for volunteering at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a mass welcoming 600 people to Catholicism. Described as an "unassuming" person, Collins told the author of the piece that "My faith has always been a steadfast part of my life."

     An outside auditor, in November 2011, discovered $350,000 of the church's money missing. Following a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Collins was charged with siphoning $1 million in church donations. Over a period of seven years Collins sent fake invoices to the archdiocese then issued some 450 checks to accounts she controlled. All of the transactions were in sums just under the $2,500 threshold that required a supervisor's approval.

     The church fired Anita Collins in December 2011. According to the chief investigator on the case, the suspect spent the $1 million on mortgage payments and on "a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far from her lawful means."

     Collins pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the first degree in September 2012. In October 2012, the Manhattan judge sentenced her to 4 to 9 years in prison. The judge also ordered her to pay back the church.

Belgrade, Montana

      In November 2010, police were called in when members of the Belgrade Little League Baseball Association couldn't figure out why outstanding bills for uniforms and supplies had not been paid. During a period of four years, league board members had signed blank checks, and gave them to the treasurer, Amy Jo Erickson, to pay the bills.

     In January 2011, after the police discovered that $92,000 from the organization had vanished, they confronted Erickson. The little league treasurer admitted that she had made the blank checks out to herself in "cash," and to her husband's plumbing company. She started embezzling in 2007 because, according to court records, she "needed help financially."

     Anita Collins took money from the church and Amy Jo Erickson stole from the parents and sponsors of little league baseball players. These thieves weren't starving, they didn't use the money for life saving surgery, and they didn't play Robin Hood by giving it to the poor. They simply redistributed a little wealth to themselves.

     In October 2012, after Erickson pleaded guilty, the judge sentenced her to 180 days in the Gallatin County Jail. The judge ordered her to pay full restitution.

Lakewood, Washington

     On November 29, 2009, a police assassin named Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington and shot four Lakewood police officers to death. Two days later, a police officer in Seattle killed Clemmons in a gun battle. Following the mass murder, the police department formed a charity to help the families of the slain officers called the Lakewood Police Independent Guild (LPIG). Officer Timothy Manos became the treasurer of the fund.

     Although the 34-year-old treasurer received a police salary of $93,347 a year, Manos had serious financial problems. In June 2006, Ford Motor Credit Company sued him for $12,000 he owned in car payments. He had been sued for unpaid medical expenses, and owed a lot of money to credit card companies. He and his wife also enjoyed what some would consider an extravagant lifestyle.

     In 2010 and 2011, citizens in the Lakewood community donated $3.2 million to the fund from which Manos allegedly skimmed $150,000. During the period the FBI believed he was embezzling the money, this debt-ridden cop took his wife to Las Vegas to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil, and several nights of gambling. Also during this period, Manos spent $1,700 on snowboarding and other outdoor gear. He bought a high-definition video camera; a computer; a stainless-steel refrigerator; and a high-definition television set. Between February 12, 2010 and February 20, 2011 Manos withdrew $50,000 from ATMs.

     In March 2011, FBI agents arrested Manos on 10 counts of wire fraud. LPIG official placed Officer Manos on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the federal investigation.

     A federal judge in Tacoma, following Manos' guilty plea, sentenced him to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $159,000 in restitution.

     Stealing from the Catholic church and the little league is bad enough, but the ripping-off of a charity for the families of slain police officers by a fellow officer is as bad as it gets.            

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hellementary Education: Cases for Home Schooling 3

January 1989-May 1992
Scarsdale, New York

     When I was a kid, the vast majority of elementary teachers were women, some mild-mannered and kind, others hard-nosed and borderline cruel. But the notion of an elementary teacher committing a vicious, cold-blooded murder, was simply out of the question. I imagine people thought the same thing about Carolyn Warmus.

     In September 1987, Carolyn Warmus, with a B.A. from the University of Michigan, and a Master's Degree in Education from Teacher's College, Columbia University, landed a job as a third grade teacher at the Greenville Elementary School in Scarsdale, New York. It was there she met and fell in love with a married fifth grade teacher named Paul Solomon. Carolyn, while having an affair with Paul, associated closely with his wife Betty Jean, and the couple's daughter Kristan. At some point in her clandestine relationship with Paul, Carolyn asked him to leave his wife, and marry her.

     Just before midnight on January 15, 1989, Paul Solomon came home to find Betty Jean shot to death. The killer had pistol-whipped then shot her nine times with a .25-caliber handgun. Investigators initially suspected the murdered woman's husband. However, when Paul established an alibi, they began looking at other possibilities.

     Following Betty Jean Solomon's murder, Paul ended the affair with Carolyn Warmus and took up with another woman. This infuriated the school teacher who began stalking him. On one occasion, Warmus followed Paul to Puerto Rico. She also telephonically harassed Solomon's new girlfriend and her family.

     Warmus' pathological behavior caught the attention of the detectives investigating the murder, and she became their prime suspect. They learned of the affair which provided a motive. Moreover, shortly before the homicide, Warmus, using a driver's license she had stolen from a co-worker at a summer camp, purchased a .25-caliber Beretta. Forensic ballistic analysis determined that the fatal bullets had been fired through the barrel of that handgun. At the interrogation following her arrest, Warmus proclaimed her innocence.

     Indicted in February 1990, Warmus went on trial in April 1991 at the West Chester  County Court House. Twelve days later the judge declared a mistrial after only eight jurors voted for conviction. In January 1992, at Warmus' second trial, the prosecution presented new evidence in the form of a bloody crime scene glove that belonged to the accused. This jury, after deliberating six days, found Warmus guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 25 years to life. She is currently serving her time at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. (The West Chester County prison has been home to several infamous inmates including Amy Fisher (no relation), Jean Harris, Barbara Kogan, Pamela Smart, and the child serial killer, Marybeth Tinning.)

     Carolyn Warmus was one scary school teacher who liked to get her way, and if she didn't get it, watch out.

January 2012
Hercules, California

     It would be interesting to know what it is about elementary education that drains so many school administrators of their discretion, judgement, and sense of proportion. Is it the job, or are people devoid of these qualities drawn to this line of work?

     In Hercules, California, a 6-year-old boy at the Lupine Hills Elementary School, while roughhousing with a male schoolmate during recess, touched either the boy's upper thigh or his groin. The school's principal, Cynthia Taylor, upon learning of this incident, suspended the alleged offender. In her suspension notice, Taylor wrote that the suspect had "committed or attempted to commit a sexual assault or sexual battery."

     The young suspect's mother, thinking that being labeled a possible sex offender was not a good thing for her son, sought advice from an online forum for bay area families called Berkeley Parents Network. When other parents learned of this idiocy, they expressed their outrage. If this could happen to one kid, it could happen to all of them.

     Elementary education experts believe such overreaction is caused by school administrators' concerns over bullying. Fine. In America we are concerned about a lot of things. We are worried about another 911 terrorist attack, but that doesn't justify yanking 92-year-old women out of wheelchairs and bracing them against airport walls for strip searching. We should also be concerned about idiot school administrators, and mindless airport security personnel. Maybe we should overreact to that reality. How about firing this school principal, and dumping half the TSA?

     In the Lupine Hills Elementary debacle, thanks to the firestorm of criticism, the 6-year-old boy was cleared of sexual wrongdoing, and the record of the incident purged. What we shouldn't purge, however, is our memory of what happened, and who was responsible.

February 2012
Redwood City, California

     A teacher's aid at the Roosevelt Elementary School, having witnessed behavior toward students by one of the teachers she considered abusive, called a state child protection agency. Following an investigation, a child protection agent notified the police.

     Alexia Aliki Bogdis, a 44-year-old who taught developmentally disabled and autistic children at the school, had allegedly slapped a 4-year-old boy and twisted his wrist. Bogdis, hired in August 2006 as a tenured employee, was also accused of denying another 4-year-old boy food, and kicking him in the stomach. She also kicked the back of a desk chair that banged into another kid. These events, and presumably others, took place over a period of months.

     After being booked into the San Mateo County Jail on five counts of child cruelty, and four counts of battery, Bogdis made her $5,000 bail and was released. A week later, following an internal investigation by the school district, eight Roosevelt teachers, suspected of abusive behavior themselves, were placed on paid, administrative leave.

February 2012
Cleveland, Texas

     At the Eastside Elementary School, fourth grade teacher Carlos Artieda got into an argument with a fifth grade boy. The confrontation intensified to the point where the teacher choked the student. The boy's parents filed charges, and the police arrested Artieda. He stands accused of causing injury to a child, and is on paid administrative leave. Artieda has been working at the school since August 2006.

January 2012
Kansas City, Missouri

     Matthew J. Nelson, a 33-year-old second grade teacher at the Grain Valley Prairie Branch Elementary School, has been charged with one count of child molestation, and three counts of sodomy. He is incarcerated in the Jackson County Jail under a $250,000 cash-only bond.

     According to witnesses, this teacher fondled young boys in class when they approached his desk for help with assignments. In addition, Nelson allegedly abused students during reading and movie sessions. One of the sexual molestations allegedly took place at a Kansas City Royals baseball game during the 2009-10 school year.

     Nelson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, has taught second and third grades at the school for ten years. In 2007, he was honored as the "Teacher of the Year." Since the initial sexual molestation charges were filed against him, four other students have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse.

February 2012
Winona, Minnesota

     On a lighter note, a 9-year-old student at a Catholic school in Winona, was suspended after he grabbed his crotch--Michael Jackson style--at a school fundraiser. The boy, at two previous fund raising events, had entertained approving adults with Michael Jackson moves absent the self-groping.              

Friday, February 10, 2012

Whackademia: Nutty Professors 6

College Education: A Good Investment?

     In his book, "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much," Richard Vedder makes the case that a college education costs too much and delivers too little. On average, tuition plus room and board costs more than $17,000 a year at four-year, state supported universities. The author believes that university presidents pay less attention to students--the customers--than to rich alumni, athletic coaches, big name professors who attract grants, key administrators who can raise money, and politicians. These presidents bribe powerful faculty members with low teaching loads, high salaries, and good parking.

     Today, students who borrow to finance their educations graduate with an average debt of $24,000. More and more college graduates are asking themselves if this money was well spent. Vedder, at least in some cases, doesn't think so. In 2008, 30 percent of flight attendants, 25 percent of retail salespersons, and 18 percent of airport baggage porters, had bachelor's degrees or higher. (To be fair, this doesn't mean that they will always have jobs like this.) More than 17 million college graduates, according to some estimates, were underemployed in 2008.

     Recently, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, using U.S. Census Bureau data, determined what group of college graduates, according to what they majored in, were the most likely to find employment in their fields. All of the graduates who did find work--from medical technology and nursing, to civil engineering and elementary education majors--held vocational degrees. Students who majored in liberal arts programs--English, sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy--seem to be the most likely degree holders on their way to graduate school, or to employment opportunities at the shopping mall.

     Employers are generally as interested in what a college graduate can do as in what he or she knows. The problem is, how much do they know? And how relevent is it to the job in question? Professor Richard Arum of New York University, and Professor Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, recently tracked several thousand undergraduates as they worked their way through 24 universities. The researchers found that nearly 50 percent of these students didn't significantly improve their reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college. After four years, more than 1/3 of the students showed no improvement in these areas.

     In his book, "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory," New York University Professor Jonathan Zimmerman argues that the nation's colleges and universities have no idea if their students are learning anything. That's because there are no effective measures in place to find out. Students pay all that money for college degrees that designate nothing other than they've killed four years, and put themselves in debt. (Okay, that may be a little strong.)

Phony Prestige

     To stay afloat, many colleges have to grossly overcharge their students, and the best way to get away with that is to convince potential tuition payers they are entering a prestigious institution. It's a lot like buying a bottle of pretentious wine. The fact the bottle is expensive is evidence of its superiority. This is probably true of perfume and other status purchases as well.

     The so-called elite colleges and universities, to prove they deserve their status, flaunt the high SAT scores of their students. In rating institutions according to how prestigious they are, "U.S. News & World Report" uses SAT scores as one of the factors. Recently, an administrator with California's Claremont McKenna College resigned after being caught falsifying SAT scores to "U.S. News & World Report." (The current "U.S News" rankings lists Claremont McKenna as the 9th best liberal arts college in the country.) It will be interesting to see how the college will be rated next year.

Poaching Students

     A survey released in September 2011 by "Inside Higher Education," reveals that public universities have been increasing their focus on recruiting out-of-state students. According to a "Wall Street Journal" report, eight state universities get more than 40 percent of their tuition from out-of-state students. These students are attractive because they pay as much as three times what in-state students pay for the same education. It's about money, and sometimes at the expense of in-state students who don't get in because outsiders have taken their places. Parents have raised such a fuss that some politicians are pushing for laws limiting the percentage of out-of-state enrollment.

From Academic Hero to Heel

     Professors who attract federal research money--and there is plenty of it out there--are considered faculty heroes by university presidents. Between June 2006 and February 2011, Graig Grimes, professor of material science and engineering at Penn State, after acquiring $3 million in grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established himself as an academic star. (Every year the NIH grants billions in taxpayer dollars to advance medical research.) Professor Grimes suddenly lost that status when the U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania charged him with research grant fraud. In addition to making false statements on his grant application, the 55-year-old professor is accused of failing to turn over $500,000 of the grant money to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. This money, related to detecting necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects infants, was supposed to fund clinical/trials at the medical center.     

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fired Fire Setting Firefighter Gets Job Back

     In 1997, 34-year-old Mary Wolski became the first female firefighter in Erie, Pennsylvania. From all accounts, she did an excellent job, and all was well until her mother fell ill from a staph infection in 2005. Following her mother's death that year, Wolski became deeply depressed and came under the care of a psychiatrist who prescribed six medications which, according to Wolski, induced thoughts of suicide.

     The firefighter, on December 28, 2006, attempted to kill herself in a vacant house owned by her father. Wolski started a fire in a bathtub by igniting a pile of clothing. When the heat became too intense, she threw a pan of water on the blaze. After dousing the fire, Wolski made shallow cuts (hesitation marks) across her wrists with a knife. She called a family member for help, stating that she had tried to kill herself by smoke inhalation. Four fire department units rushed to the scene where a firefighter added more water to the smouldering clothing. (The vast majority of pathological fire setters are men. Women who set these attention-getting, cry-for-help fires usually ignite pieces of clothing piled on their beds. Wolski, a firefighter, had the good sense to set her fire in the bathtub so the house wouldn't burn to the ground.)

     In April 2007, the district attorney of Erie County decided not to charge Wolski with an arson-related offense. (I've thought about this decision, and believe the proscutor would have made the same decision even if Wolski had not been a firefighter.) Shortly after the district attorney's decision not to pursue the matter, the fire chief, citing the firesetting as the reason,  fired Wolski. In December of that year, the Erie Civil Service Board upheld the dismissal. Set out in its report, the civil service rationale was: "The act of establishing [setting] a fire in a residence is wholly incompatible with the role of a firefighter, despite the mitigating circumstances of Ms. Wolski's psychological state."

     Wolski's attorney, Paul Susko, in October 2008, filed a wrongful termination suit against the city in federal court. The plaintiff, citing the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), claimed that Wolski had not been fired because she set the fire in the bathtub, but because she suffered from a mental illness. This, according to Susko, was in clear violation of theADA.

     Assistant City Solicitor Gerald Villella defended the city against Wolski's suit. In February 2011, he filed a motion asking federal judge Sean J. McLaughlin to dismiss the action. Villella argued that because the city had fired Wolski for setting the fire, not for being mentally ill, she had no case under the ADA. The judge refused to dismiss the case, ruling that a jury would decide "...whether or not Wolski's disability was a motivating factor in the city's decision to terminate her employment."

     The civil trial got underway on January 30, 2012. Wolski's attorney, Paul Susko, told the panel of eight jurors that the city had no evidence that his client's bout with mental illness posed a threat to her or others. According to Wolski, once city officials learned of her attempted suicide, she was treated "like a pariah." The ADA had been passed, he said, by congress to protect people like his client aginst unfair treatment by their employers.

     Assistant City Solicitor Villella argued that the ADA was not meant to protect a firefighter who had started a fire in a house. The solicitor denied that Wolski's mental illness per se caused her termination. He said her reinstatement would erode firefighter morale and public trust.

     The jury, on February 6, found in favor of Wolski. Judge McLaughlin ordered the city to hire her back as soon as a firefighter's retirement provided an opening. The judge said Wolski had "clawed" her way back from death's door, and was ready to serve the city again. He encouraged the community to take pride in the jury's verdict. Solicitor Villella, telling reporters that this was "...the first time a firefighter had started a fire and had gotten her job back," would explore the possibility of an appeal. (This is unlikely.)

     The firing of this firefighter cost the city of Erie $206,665, $186,624 of it in back wages, plus various other reimbursements.

     When all is said and done, how one feels about the Wolski case depends on one's opinion of the Americans with Disability Act being applied to cases of mental illness. Had Wolski been injured in a car accident that rendered her physically incapable of doing the job, the ADA wouldn't apply. Does the fact Wolski set a pathologically motivated fire, then tried to kill herself, make her unfit to be a firefighter? What if she is confronted with another tragedy, and is given depression medication that induces suicidal thoughts? If she had been a police officer instead of a firefighter, would the results of this case been any different? What if she had been a public school teacher?    

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Daycare Nightmares: The Rent-A-Parent Epidemic

     Millions of children in the United States are being partially raised (or warehoused) in 400,000 or so licensed and regulated child care facilities. Forty-one percent of preschool children whose mothers are employed, find themselves in daycare 35 or more hours a week. In America, daycare has become a big business.

     Suzanne Venker, in an online "National Review" article entitled, "Will America Ever be Ready for the Truth About Daycare?" points out that politicians and media journalists avoid talking about the harm daycare is doing to the nation's children. Politicians don't want to offend female voters, and women in the media rely on daycare services themselves, and are therefore not prone to publicly discuss the issue. Venker, and others, consider daycare one of the greatest tragedies of modern America. They see the phenomena as a growing epidemic of parental abandonment.

     In her "National Review" piece, Venker discusses a recent e-book by May Saubiek called, "Doing Time: What It Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare." According to the author, daycare children receive very little individualized attention, and when they do, because of the high daycare employee turnover rates, it's often from a stranger. Because daycare is a business that relies on customers who believe their children are happy, and being cared for by people who care, parents aren't told how miserable their children really are. On the contrary, parents receive rose-colored reports of how well their kids are adapting and progressing. Parents are often told that the daycare experience helps "socialize" their children. According to Saubiek, Daycare life fosters aggressive behavior by forcing kids into survival mode. If a child wants a toy, he or she learns to fight for it. (This is probably true at home as well, and who knows, might not be a bad thing. But what do I know?)

     Saubiek, who has worked in child care, and has a master's degree in special education, equates children's time in daycare to the institutionalized nature of prison life. Some child care facilities are obviously better than others, and conditions might not be as bleak as this author describes. But it seems to me that, to some degree, a good number of working mothers' children are paying a price for the realities of modern society. Daycare workers are not highly paid, thoroughly investigated, or highly trained. The country is awash in drug use, alcoholism, mental illness, and pedophilia. Who are these rent-a-parents, and what are they doing to America's preschool population?

January 2012
Ludlow, Kentucky

     In October 2011, at a child care facility in this northern Kentucky town, a daycare employee duck-taped an 18-month-old to a mat to calm him down during nap time. The matter didn't come to light until a fellow employee reported the incident to the police. The suspect, 20-year-old Alicia Lyons, has been charged with a felony offense that carries a maxium 10 year prison sentence. She has admitted taping the baby to the nap mat, and will probably receive a probated sentence. Lyons, following the state required background check, began working at the facility in August 2011. The daycare company has been in business three years, and has locations in two other Kentucky towns.

January 2012
Hopkinsville, Kentucky

     The police arrested a daycare employee named Erica Jones who allegedly left a 3-year-old girl in a company van. The 40-year-old suspect had dropped the vehicle off at a tire company for maintenance. She left the van, and 45 minutes later, when a tire company employee climbed into the vehicle to move it into the garage, found the little girl crying and "very disoriented." Jones has been charged with first-degree wanton endangerment of a child.

February 2012
Port Arthur, Texas

     The daycare center in Hopkinsville, Kentucky is called House of Angels. In April 2010, an employee of Little Angel's Faith Development Center, left a 4-year-old "angel" in the back of the company van after she had driven home to take a nap. After two hours in the vehicle, the child managed to unlock the door and climb out. The 4-year-old walked several blocks to a major highway. Onlookers rescued the kid as she crossed the highway. The child's mother sued the daycare company for $1 million. In February 2012, the defendant settled the suit for an undisclosed amount. These daycare places are supposed to care for "angels," not make them.

February 2012
Lodi, California

     Dorothy Bernhoft, 66, ran a licensed child care business out of her home. When investigators with the state Department of Social Services made a surprise visit to Bernhoft's house, they found 9 infants, in darkened upstairs bathrooms and closets, strapped into car seats. The district attorney is deciding whether or not to charge this child care provider with criminal offenses. If I were her, I'd get a lawyer, quick.

January 2012
Midland, Texas

     Rashawn Rapheal Lewis, an employee of Peppermint Plantation Daycare, was taken into custody on charges he sold two grams of crack cocaine to a user, and made the deal at the daycare facility. He faces up to 20 years in prison.  

February 2012
New York, New York

     A longtime New York Fire Department inspector has pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes from the owners of daycare centers in the city. In exchange for the money, Carlos Montoya, 54, certified that these facilities had complied with fire safety standards. So far, six city employees and eight daycare operators have pleaded guilty in the $1 million bribery case.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 4

January 2012
Hanford, California

     A Kings County Court Clerk, in October 2011, received a call from attorney Michelle Winspur who said she would be late for her client's trial that day. Because Winspur sounded intoxicated, the 45-year-old lawyer was given a breath-alcohol test when she finally arrived at the court house. The booze test registered more than twice the legal alcohol limit for driving. In December, Winspur failed a sobriety test as she left the court house after representing a client at a hearing. In 2010, she had been professionally disciplined for being drunk during a trial in Montgomery County.

     In January 2012, the state of California suspended Winspur's law license, and the Kings County district attorney charged her criminally with appearing in court drunk. I had no idea that lawyering under the influence was a crime. I can see charging wasted operating room surgeons with drinking while cutting, and airline pilots with flying under the influence. But don't you think this is a little harsh? In the Lindbergh kidnapping case, defendant Bruno Richard Hauptmann's attorney was drunk throughout the six weeks trial. Although Hauptmann went to the electric chair, I think his attorney did a fine job. I would be a lot more concerned if the jurors had been drunk.

February 2012
Gaston, North Carolina

     In 2009, Danny Robbie Hembree, Jr. was found guilty of murdering 17-year-old Heather Catterton. A judge, in November 2011, sentenced Hembree to death. The 50-year-old is currently on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. In March, Hembree is scheduled to go on trial for the murder of 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana whose burnt remains were found near Blacksburg, South Carolina in 2009. He has also been accused of murdering a third woman named Deborah Ratchford. Hembree, after confessing to all three murders, recanted with the absurd story he had confessed to these homicides to cover-up a series of robberies he had committed.

     This month, Hembree pulled a stunt that reveals just how arrogant and sadistic a sociopathic serial killer can be. He wrote a taunting letter to his hometown newspaper, "The Gaston Gazette." Lest the community and members of his victims' families thought he was being punished for his murders, Hembree wrote: "Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C. [?], reading, taking naps at will, eating three well balanced hot meals a day. I'm housed in a building that connects to the new 55 million dollar hospital with around the clock free medical care...." The death row prisoner assures his readers that the chance of him being executed within the next 20 years is "very slim." Hembree closes his letter with: "I laugh at you self righteous clowns and I spit in the face of your so-called justice system. The state of North Carolina has sentenced me to death but it's not real."

     Perhaps, but what is real is this: Hembree is not free, he has killed his last woman, and he will die behind bars, one way or another.

January 2012
Seattle, Washington

     In July 2010, police in the Bahamas captured 20-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, the so-called "Barefoot Bandit" who had eluded the authorities for two years. The Barefoot Bandit had escaped arrest in stolen cars, boats, and even a plane he crashed in the Bahamas. To taunt the police, he once left chalk outlines of bare footprints at one of his crime scenes.

     In December 2011, Harris-Moore pleaded guilty in Seattle to burglary, car theft, identity theft, and a variety of other property crimes. (He had committed more than 30 residential burglaries.) Under his plea agreement, he will give up profits from book or movie deals stemming from his larger than life crime spree. That money will go to his victims. In January 2012, a federal judge sentenced the Barefoot Bandit to 6 1/2 years in prison. According to his attorney, he will be out in 4 1/2 years at which time he plans to enter college to study aviation. (He's already proven he can take off and fly, he just needs to work on his landings.) A movie is already in the works with 20th Century Fox. By the time he walks out of prison, Colton Harris-Moore will be a celebrity, and an American hero--a modern day Charles Lindbergh.

January 2012
Santa Barbara County, California

     Late in 2009, 51-year-old Eugene Darryl Temkin, asked a friend if he knew someone who would kill Temkin's former business partner, his partner's wife, and one of their business associates. The friend alerted the police who arranged to have an undercover cop, posing as a hitman, meet with Mr. Temkin.

     In a series of meetings in June and July 2010, Temkin furnished the undercover office with details regarding the identities and habits of his intended targets. He also gave the officer $3,000 in cash as a down payment on the $30,000 murder contract. Temkin instructed the "hitman" to extort $15 million from his victims, money to be deposited into a special bank account in Uruguay. Once the money got into the mastermind's bank account, the hitman was to torture the two men, rape the woman, then murder all three.

     Shortly after Temkin's final meeting with the undercover cop, the police took him into custody. Found guilty in federal court, the judge, in January 2012, sentenced Temkin to 6 years in prison. I've looked at hundreds of cases like this one, and this is the lightest sentence I've seen for a murder for hire solicitation  mastermind. Over a business deal gone wrong, Mr. Temkin wanted to kill three people. He wanted to torture them first. Al Capone would have been impressed. The fact this mastermind was talking to a cop instead of a real hitman does not, in my view, mitigate the seriousness of his crime. In cases like this, 35 years is the typical sentence.

January 2012
Syracuse, New York

     Nicole Osbourne was in criminal court as a defendant in a felony assault case. Theodore Murphy, her boyfriend, the victim who had reported the assault, was in the courtroom as well. At Murphy's request, an order of protection prohibiting Osbourne from making any kind of contact with him had been issued by the presiding judge. At the hearing, the prosecutor asked the judge to lift the protection order so that the assault victim could ask the defendant to marry him. The judge lifted the order, the victim popped the question, and the assault defendant accepted the marriage proposal. It's enough to make you puke.

     I don't think you have to be Nostramdamus to predict a bleak future for this couple.