More than 4,050,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Television's "CSI" Shows: These People Do Not Exist in Real Life

     The various "CSI" television shows depicting forensic scientists who are each versed in forensic pathology, firearms identification, fingerprint identification, toxicology, blood spatter analysis, DNA profiling, forensic anthropolgy, odontology, and document examination, and who also process crime scenes, conduct homicide investigations, and make arrests, inspire thousands of high school graduates every year to enroll in criminal justice programs offered by at least two thousand colleges and universities. When asked why they have chosen criminal justice as a major, many of these students say "forensics." When asked what they mean by "forensics," CJ majors express hopes of some day doing what the stars of the "CSI" shows do every week on television.

     Eventually these students find out that the "CSI" people do not exist in reality. A small percentage of these forensic hopefuls actually earn degrees in science and get jobs in crime labs. A handful attend medical school and became forensic pathologists. A few join police departments as patrol officers and work their way up to the position of criminal investigator.

     Most of the criminal justice students who initially express an interested in "forensics" do not want to be stuck all day in a crime lab. They avoided science courses in high school, and want no part of science in college. Most of these CJ majors end up working in the corrections system as prison guards, parole agents, or as social workers.

     In a November 4, 2011 article in "The New York Times," Christopher Drew reported that colleges and universities are not graduating nearly enough people holding degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Studies have found that between 40 and 60 percent of STEM majors either switch to other subjects or fail to graduate. These students were either unprepared for college-level science or quit because they weren't willing to put in the hard work these studies require. Kevin Rask, a professor at Wake Forest conducted a study in 2010 that showed the lowest grades on campus were issued in the introductory math and science courses. The chemistry department's grades averaged 2.78 out of a a possible 4.0. Math students earned an average of 2.90. Education, language and English courses recorded the highest averages ranging from 3.33 to 3.36.

   

      

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Payroll Bankrupts Town

     The city of Desert Hot Springs [California], population 27,000, is slowly edging toward bankruptcy, largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs, but also because of years of spending and unrealistic revenue estimates. It is mostly the police, though, who have found themselves in the cross hairs recently….

     About $7 million of the city's $10.6 million annual payroll went to the 39-member police force. The situation was so dire that an audit, compiled weeks before municipal elections in November [2013] but not made public until later, showed that Desert Hot Springs was $4 million short for the year and would run out of money as early as April 2014.

     So at a tense meeting, the new City Council voted unanimously to slash all city salaries, including those of the police, by at least 22 percent, as well as to cap incentive pay and reduce paid holidays and vacation days. For some officers who took advantage of overtime and the other extra payments, the cut could be as much as 40 percent, the [police] union says. Management had already taken a hit: the former police chief and one of two top commanders retired this month, not to be replaced.

     Wendell Phillips, a lawyer for the Desert Hot Springs Police Officers Association, quickly filed a fact-finding request with the state's Public Employment Relations Board, calling the cuts illegal and vowing to go to court if they were not overturned. [Police unions help cause the problem, then fight against fixing it.]

Rick Lyman and Mary Williams Walsh, "Police Salaries and Pensions Push California to the Brink," The New York Times, December 27, 2013

The Printed Book is Here to Stay

For a while there, after the 2008 crash, it seemed possible that publishing would follow the music and journalism businesses into meltdown. The best literary news of 2013 is that…books have not succumbed to the downward-spiraling revenue trend. Sales of book in all formats actually grew by almost $2 billion in the last five years, and e-books have turned out to complement printed books without replacing them.

Adam Kirsch, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, December 15, 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

College Stand-Ins

     In October 2013 a student the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to fly to India to attend a wedding. If she took the trip she'd miss two days of class, absences she couldn't afford. To solve her problem, the young woman decided to find a classroom stand-in.

     In the Raleigh section of Craigslist the wedding-bound girl posted a photograph of herself and an offer of $100 to any female who met her general description willing to attend the classes on her behalf. According to the posting, the job required "sitting in the classroom and raising one's hand during attendance."

     Getting away with this class-skipping ploy is one advantage of taking classes attended by hundreds of students. This little academic episode begs the question: why do professors even bother keeping attendance records. Why should a professor care if kids are skipping class? It's students' money that's wasted. One wonders how many college students make extra money filling empty seats for classroom slackers? It's a lot easier than babysitting.

     In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an enterprising person pushed the college stand-in game to its limits. This man wanted someone, under his name, to acquire a four-year degree from Harvard University. This man claimed to have a 4.0 high school grade average and high SAT scores.

     The Pittsburgh Craigslist posting read: "I am looking for someone to attend Harvard University pretending to be me for four years, starting August 2014. I will pay for your tuition, books, housing, transportation, and living expenses and pay $40,000 a year with a $10,000 bonus after graduation. All you have to do is attend all classes, pass all tests, and finish all assigned work while pretending you are me."

     According to the terms of this education scam, all persons applying for the assignment were required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

     Because I don't think a Harvard degree is worth the cost, I believe this is a better deal for the stand-in than the pretender. Since no one ever flunks out of Harvard, the stand-in can slack off by hiring seat-fillers whenever he wants to skip class.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Abuse 2013

America's police force can claim many victims this year: From senior citizens gunned down in their own homes during botched drug raids to non-violent offenders murdered via police neglect for their most basic needs. The Daily Caller chronicled the worst police abuse cases of 2013, and has learned a few unfortunate lessons: You can be killed by police for possessing trivial amounts of marijuana--or even no drugs at all. If your autistic son tells you he met a new friend at school, that friend could be a narcotics officer trying to trick him into selling drugs. And whatever you do, stay away from New Mexico cops. [Cops in Albuquerque are particularly brutal.]

Robby Soave, "The DC's [Daily Caller's] Dirty Dozen: 12 Shocking Police Abuse Stories of 2013," December 26, 2013. [An excellent summary of this year's worst police behavior.] 

There's a National Novel Writing Month?

     We're now past the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month [November]--or, as it's inelegantly shortened online, NaNoWriMo--when aspiring authors aim to produce 50,000 words during November. More than 277,000 writers signed up for the sprint this year. Erin Morgenstern, whose best-selling novel The Night Circus originated as part of the exercise, once advised: "Don't delete anything. Just keep writing. And if you don't want to look at it, change the font to white."

     Communal support is an important part of the endeavor, with participants sharing daily word counts and inspirational exhortations on Twitter and Facebook. The forums on the project's official website offer a cascade of advice. One writer asked the crowd: "How old must a child be to survive in the Nordic forest?" Another solicited "favorite literary quotes that a guy might not mind having as a tattoo."

John Williams, "Open Book," The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Police Involved Shooting Statistics: A National One-Year Summary

     In 2011, according to data I collected, police officers in the United States shot 1,146  people, killing 607. Between January 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012 I used the Internet to compile a national database of police involved shootings. The term "police involved shooting" pertains to law enforcement officers who, in the line of duty, discharge their guns. When journalists and police administrators use the term, they include the shooting of animals and shots that miss their targets. My case files only include instances in which a person is either killed or wounded by police gunfire. My data also includes off-duty officers who discharged their weapons in law enforcement situations. They don't include, for example, officers using their firearms to resolve personal disputes.

     I collected this data myself because the U.S. Government doesn't. There is no national database dedicated to police involved shootings. Alan Maimon, in his article, "National Data on Shootings by Police Not Collected," published on November 28, 2011 in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal," wrote "The nation's leading law enforcement agency [FBI] collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life."

     Since the government keeps statistics on just about everything, why no national stats on something this important? The answer is simple: they don't want us to know. Why? Because police shoot a lot more people than we think, and the government, while good at statistics, is also good at secrecy.

     The government does maintain records on how many police officers are killed every year in the line of duty. In 2010, 59 officers were shot to death among 122 killed while on the job. This marked a 20 percent jump from 2009 when 49 officers were killed by gunfire. In 2011, 173 officers died, from all causes, in the line of duty. The fact police officers feel they are increasingly under attack from the public may help explain why they are shooting so many citizens.

Who The Police Shoot

     A vast majority of the people shot by the police in 2011 were men between the ages 25 and 40 who had histories of crime. Overall, people shot by the police were much older than the typical first-time arrestee. A significant number of the people wounded and killed by the authorities were over fifty, some in their eighties. In 2011, the police shot two 15-year-olds, and a girl who was 16.

     The police shot, in 2011, about 50 women, most of whom were armed with knives and had histories of emotional distress. Overall, about a quarter of those shot were either mentally ill and/or suicidal. Many of these were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Most police shooting victims were armed with handguns. The next most common weapon involved vehicles (used as weapons), followed by knives (and other sharp objects), shotguns, and rifles. Very few of these people carried assault weapons, and a small percentage were unarmed. About 50 subjects were armed with BB-guns, pellet guns or replica firearms.

     The situations that brought police shooters and their targets together included domestic and other disturbances; crimes in progress such as robbery, assault and carjacking; the execution of arrest warrants; drug raids; gang activities; routine traffic stops; car chases; and standoff and hostage events.

     Women make up about 15 percent of the nation's uniformed police services. During 2011, about 25 female police officers wounded or killed civilians. None of these officers had shot anyone in the past. While the vast majority of police officers never fire their guns in the line of duty, 15 officers who did shoot someone in 2011, had shot at least one person before. (This figure is probably low because police departments don't like to report such statistics.) Most police shootings involved members of police departments followed by sheriff's deputies, the state police, and federal officers. These shootings took place in big cities, suburban areas, towns, and in rural areas. Big city shootings comprised about half of these violent confrontations in 2011.

Police Shooting Investigations

     Almost all police involved shootings, while investigated by special units, prosecutor's offices, or an outside police agency, were investigated by governmental law enforcement personnel. It is perhaps not surprising that more than 95 percent of all police involved shootings were ruled administratively and legally justiified. A handful of cases led to wrongful death lawsuits. Even fewer will result in the criminal prosecution of officers. Critics of the system have called for the establishment of completely independent investigative agencies in cases of police involved shootings.

Where People Were Shot

     Most Deadly States

     California 183 total (102 fatal)
     Florida 96 (49)
     Illinois 64 (26)
     Texas 58 (26)
     New York 49 (23)
     Pennsylvania 49 (23)
     Ohio 45 (28)
     Arizona 45 (27)
     Maryland 41 (16)
     Washington 39 (29)

     Least Deadly States

     Delaware 0
     Vermont 0
     North Dakota 1
     Wyoming 2 (1)
     Alaska 2 (2)
     Montana 3 (2)
     South Dakota 3 (3)
     Hawai 4 (3)
     Conneticut 6 (1)
     West Virginia 6 (5)
     New Hampshire 6 (5)
     Idaho 7 (2)
     Kansas 7 (5)

     Most Deadly Cities

     Chicago 46 total (10 fatal)
     Los Angeles 22 (14)
     Philadelphia 17 (7)
     Las Vegas 17 (15)
     New York City 16 (6)
     Phoenix 15 (10)
     Baltimore 15 (5)
     Columbus, OH 14 (8)
     Atlanta 12 (4)
     St. Louis 11 (3)
     Cleveland 10 (7)
     Miami 10 (6)
     Houston 10 (3)

     Least Deadly Cities

     Boston 1
     New Orleans 1 (1)
     Portland, ME 1
     Buffalo 2
     Detroit 2 (1)
     Seattle 2 (1)
     Denver 2 (2)
     Pittsburgh 3 (1)

     Cities with High Per Capita Shooting Rates

     Fresno, CA 9 total (4 fatal)
     Tucson, AZ 8 (6)
     Aurora, CO 7 (6)
     Oakland, CA 7 (6)
     San Jose, CA 7 (3)
     Albuquerque, NM 6 (5)
     Mesa, AZ 6 (2)
     Jacksonville, FL 5 (4)
     Syracuse, NY 5 (3)
     Orlando, FL 5 (2)
     N. Miami Beach, FL 5 (2)
     Little Rock, Ark. 5 (1)
     Yakima, WA 4 (1)
     Bakersfield, CA 4 (3)
     Long Beach, CA 4 (2)
     Garden Grove, CA 4 (3)
     Redding, CA 4 (2)

New York City

     In 1971, police officers in New York City shot 314 people, killing 93. (In California, the state with the most police involved shootings in 2011, the police shot 183, killing 102.) In 2010, New York City police shot 24, killing 8. Last year, in the nation's largest city, the police shot 16, killing 6. In Columbus, Ohio, a city one eighth the size of New York, the police shot 14, killing 8. Statistical diversities like this suggest that in the cities with the highest per capita shooting rates, better people ought to be hired, or the existing forces need a lot more training in the use of deadly force.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Jersey Carjackers Murder Dustin Friedland at Shopping Mall

     On Sunday evening, December 15, 2013, 30-year-old Dustin Friedland and his wife Jamie finished shopping at the Mall at Short Hills, a fancy retail mecca ten miles west of Newark, New Jersey. Friedland and his 27-year-old wife had been married two years. After loading Christmas packages into their silver 2012 Range Rover on the mall's parking deck, the Hoboken lawyer opened the passenger door for his wife. At that moment two assailants confronted the holiday shoppers. One of the men pulled out a handgun and shot Mr. Friedland in the head at close range.

     After the shooting, the carjackers pulled Jamie Friedland out of the Range Rover and drove off in the SUV. They were followed by two other men in a green Chevrolet Suburban.

     Paramedics rushed Dustin Friedland to the Morristown Medical Center where he died a short time later.

     This senseless violence at the shopping mall shocked and frightened residents of this low-crime area of the state. While the nearby city of Newark, once called the "car theft capital of the world," was a crime-ridden place, the urban mayhem rarely spilled over to upscale Essex County suburbia. (In 2013 450 carjackings took place in and around Newark. Last year there were 422 of these violent crimes.)

     On Monday morning, December 16, police officers came across the Friedland's SUV abandoned behind a boarded-up house in south Newark. Two days later, in South Orange, a town not far from the Mall at Short Hills, police officers discovered an abandoned green Chevrolet Suburban registered to a woman in Newark. This vehicle matched the description of a car caught on a surveillance camera circling the mall's parking area shortly before the murder. The finding of the green Chevy broke the case wide open.

     Police officers, between nine o'clock on Friday night December 21 and three the next morning, arrested four men in connection with the Friedland carjacking murder. Officers arrested 29-year-old Hanif Thompson at his home in Irvington, New Jersey. In Newark, a SWAT team took Karif Ford, 31 and Kevin Roberts, 33, into custody. In the early morning hours of December 22, officers arrested 32-year-old Basim Henry at a Comfort Inn near Easton, Pennsylvania.

     An Essex County prosecutor charged each of the four suspects with murder, felony murder, carjacking, and several lesser offenses. The men were booked into the Essex Correctional Facility where they were each held on $2 million bail.

     The four men suspected of murdering Dustin Friedland in cold blood were not strangers to crime nor the criminal justice system. They were not out-of-control teenagers high on drugs, but seasoned adult criminals. Basim Henry had robbed a Union Township bank in November 2003. He pleaded guilty to the crime in 2006. In April of this year, Henry walked out of prison after a sympathetic judge reduced his 96-month prison sentence.

     Police arrested Karif Ford in 2012 after the 30-year-old led police officers on a three-mile, high-speed chase in a car Ford had stolen from a supermarket parking lot. In 2003 a jury found Ford guilty of burglary. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     Hanif Thomspon, originally from eastern Pennsylvania, had moved to Irvington, New Jersey several years ago. Thompson had a record of narcotics and theft convictions. Kevin Roberts, although he had a criminal record, did not have the reputation of being a hardened, violent criminal.

     According to reports, the four murder suspects, shortly after their arrests, began snitching on each other in an effort to strike plea bargain deals for lighter sentences. (Each man probably admitted taking part in the carjacking but denied being the shooter.)

     The authorities have not recovered the murder weapon or revealed which man pulled the trigger. If convicted as charged, each suspect could be sentenced to life behind bars.

     

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Death Penalty Blues

Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure. The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice. [In 2013 there were 39 executions. Since 1976, there have been 1,359.]

Richard Dieter as quoted by CNN reporter Bill Mears, December 19, 2013 

A Harvard Sociologist on The Knockout Game

[Regarding the "Knockout Game"] this pattern of violence is sick and barbaric, and, for its victims, both senseless and tragic. Social scientists, and especially sociologists, have abandoned or underplayed the fundamental concepts of norms and values. [Good and evil if you will. Academics generally believe that crime is  mostly caused by poverty and social environment, particularly among minorities.]

Orlando Patterson as quoted in John Bennett's article published in The Daily Caller, December 18, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

The LAPD Wants You!

     Less than a year after reaching its long-sought goal of 10,000 officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is now seeing a steady decline in its ranks as the city struggles to find enough qualified candidates. Fewer people are applying to join the LAPD and, of those who do, a significantly higher number of them are being disqualified from consideration. Officials say budget cuts have slashed advertising used to draw recruits while other departments are luring top talent with higher salaries than the LAPD offers. Since the decline began several months ago, the LAPD is down more than 100 officers. The department needs to hire about 350 officers a year to make up for normal attrition, and officials say they could remain understaffed for years if the current trend holds….

     Also, the number of women and blacks--and especially black women--making it into the training academy has dropped considerably. The leaves the department far short of diversity goals in recent academy classes….None of the 30 rookies who recently graduated from the academy, for example, were black and only five were women….

     Although the LAPD has the advantage of a strong reputation, some other agencies pay significantly higher starting salaries….The base starting pay for an LAPD recruit is $48,462….

     Many of the applicants are being eliminated because of their responses to 173 questions about past drug use, run-ins with the law, financial problems and other potential character flaws….[Many of them are either too fat for the job, functionally illiterate, or mentally unstable.]

Joel Rubin, "With Fewer Qualified Recruits, LAPD Sees Decline in Ranks," The Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: Declining Law School Enrollments

     According to the American Bar Association, the number of first-year law students dropped 11 percent in 2013 across the 202 U.S. law schools that the organization recognizes. This year only 39,675 full or part-time students decided to enroll in law school which is 5,000 fewer than last year and only one shy of the total first-year enrollees in 1977--when there were only 165 ABA accredited schools….

     Many law schools can cost more than $50,000 a year. In a three-year program, a graduate who relied on student loans to get through school could wind up being in debt up to $150.000…Some law schools have lowered tuition, others have reduced admission standards, and a few have lowered class sizes in order to maintain the caliber of its students and preserve its ranking. [This means that the lower tier law schools are producing even more incompetent practitioners.]

Breanna Deutsch, The Daily Caller, December 18, 2013  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Memo to Earl Woods, Jr.: Bomb Threats Aren't Funny

     Earl Dennison Woods, Jr., the 58-year-old half-brother of Tiger Woods, the world famous professional golfer, worked for the Department of Economic Security, a state agency headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona that provides social services for needy children, the elderly, and the disabled.

     In an April 2012 interview with a TV correspondent with ESPN, Earl Woods said that Tiger hadn't spoken to any of his half-siblings since their father, Earl Woods, Sr. died in 2006. According to the ESPN report, Earl said, "I'd like to slap Tiger, wake him up. I'd like to say, 'Don't come knocking on the door when you need a bone-marrow transplant.' " Earl Woods said he was upset with Tiger for not helping his half-brother Kevin who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. "Maybe when you see the world like he does you don't see what other people are going through. But, seriously? You're got problems with you knee? That's nothing compared to what Kevin is going through. Nothing."

     As reported in Golf Digest, Tiger Wood is close to Earl Jr.'s daughter Cheyenne who turned pro last year on the European Ladies' Golf Tour.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of Friday, December 13, someone called the front desk at the Department of Economic Security headquarters and reported that a bomb had been planted in the building that would blow the place up. As 100 DES employees filed out of the structure, police officers and firefighters searched the premises for a bomb. Before the emergency responders completed their sweep, Earl Woods informed a supervisor that he was the one who had called in the bomb threat. He said he did it as a joke, a prank.

     After repeating his admission to detectives, the officers placed Mr. Woods under arrest. Shortly thereafter the apologetic bomb hoaxer was booked into the Maricopa County Jail on the misdemeanor charge of using an "electronic device (a telephone) to terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass others."

     According to Earl Woods, he was surprised that people took his joke so seriously. Really? On the theory that Mr. Woods is not a stupid man who must have foreseen the consequences of his "joke," one has to suspect that behind his bomb threat lies a motive that is pathological or associated someway with drugs or alcohol. Otherwise, this crime makes no sense whatsoever.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Knockout Game: A Cultural Cycle of Violence

     When violence is culture; then it's a cultural problem. Throw together large amounts of fatherless teenagers with no real goal in life except, briefly to become NBA stars or rappers boasting about selling rock, and the knockout game is inevitable.

     Some of the knockouters will drift back and forth out of prison, heading back to the old neighborhood to hang out with the old gang, catch a meal and a nap at their mother's house, before urging their friends to go out looking for trouble….

     Catch them two decades down the road and they'll talk about how they almost wound up going down a bad path before they turned their lives around and they'll have stories of their friends who went from mugging to dealing to shooting. But often these same men, now amiable and wise, shaking their heads at their past selves, will have left behind a trail of fatherless kids who are repeating the process all over again.

David Greenfield, "Civilization and the Knockout Game," Frontpagemag.com, December 4, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Declining Rate of Gun Violence in U. S.

School violence is decreasing, just as the general crime rate has decreased steadily over the past 20 years. With the focus by the news media and public on crime, particularly gun crimes, the public is largely unaware that the gun homicide rate is down 49 percent from its peak in 1993. Most of the public believes incorrectly that gun crime is higher than two decades ago.

Bill Dedman, "Newtown Anniversary: Daily Drumbeat of Child Homicides Gets Little Notice," NBC News, December 12, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Homicide by Gun in U. S.

The high-profile tragedies that glue us to the TV screen are a very small part of the overall [homicide] problem, and they're not representative of it. If you take Sandy Hook and the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine, 95 people were killed in those shootings. And each of those deaths is horrific. But we lose on average 88 per day to firearm violence.

Professor Garen Wintemute as quoted in an article by NBC News reporter Bill Dedman, December 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Cost of Shoplifting

Shoplifting incurs remarkable real-life costs for retailers and consumers. The "crime tax"--the amount every American family loses to shoplifting-related price inflation--is more than $400 a year. [This does not include the cost of retail security to combat it.] Shoplifting cost American retailers $11.7 billion in 2009. The theft of one $5 item from Whole Foods can require sales of hundreds of dollars to break even.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2009

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writing Quote: Norman Mailer on Responding to Letters

     An author [who is well-known] will receive as many as several hundred letters a year from strangers. Usually they want something: will you read their works, or listen to a life-story and write it.

     There are happy paradoxes to being successful as a writer. For one thing, you don't have much opportunity to read good books (it's too demoralizing when you're at sea on your own work) and you also come to dread letter-writting. Perhaps ten times a year, a couple of days are lost catching up on mail, and there's little pleasure in it. You are spending time that could have been given to more dedicated writing, and there are so many letters to answer! Few writers encourage correspondents. My reply to a good, thoughtful, even generous communication from someone I do not know is often short and apologetic.

Norman Mailer, Introduction to Jack Henry Abbott's In The Belly of the Beast, 1981



     

Monday, December 9, 2013

New York City Police Shoot Two Bystanders

     On September 14, 2013, a mentally ill man from Brooklyn, New York named Glenn Broadnax created a disturbance at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue near Times Square in Manhattan. The 250-pound 35-year-old disrupted traffic by putting himself in the path of passing vehicles. Broadnax escalated his public disturbance when he resisted attempts by officers to pull him out of harms way. During the encounter, Broadnax reached into his pants pocket for his wallet. Fearing that he was going for a gun, two police officers shot at the mentally disturbed and distraught citizen. The bullets missed Mr. Broadnax but wounded two female pedestrians. As it turned out, Mr. Broadnax was reaching for his wallet. He was unarmed. A police sergeant, not wanting to fire his gun in a place crowded with people, subdued the subject with a Taser.

     At Bellevue Hospital Center where he was taken for psychiatric observation, Mr. Broadnax told a detective that he had been "talking to dead relatives in his head." The obviously mentally ill man said that by putting himself into the path of moving vehicles he was trying to kill himself.

     As the authorities booked Mr. Broadnax into jail on the misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession, and resisting arrest, the two officers who shot at him were placed on administrative duty pending an internal inquiry. The women who had been shot were treated for their gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital. They were both expected to survive.

     A Manhattan prosecutor, perhaps worried about the public relations ramifications of this police involved shooting, decided to upgrade the charges against Mr. Broadnax. Pursuant to the truism that a prosecutor has the power and discretion to indict a ham sandwich, the assistant district attorney talked a Manhattan grand jury into indicting the mentally ill man, in relation to the two wounded women, with felony assault. Mr. Broadnax, according to the wording of his indictment, had recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death." Further, "the defendant was the one who created the situation that injured the innocent bystanders." If convicted of the assault, Mr. Broadnax faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

     The Broadnax grand jury, instead of looking into the actions of an unarmed, mentally unstable man trying to kill himself, should have been contemplating the conduct of the two hair-trigger police officers who fired into a crowd. The "risk of death" in this case had been created by the police.

     On January 8, 2014, Sahar Khoshakhlagh, one of the women who took a police bullet, wrote an open letter about the incident to New York mayor de Blasio. She called for better police training in the handling of mentally ill people. Officers should not, she wrote, shoot at people "indiscriminately." The 38-year-old Iranian-born mental health care worker said the following about Mr. Broadnax: "This man could possibly go to jail. That weighed heavily on my conscience. He didn't do anything to me. He needs help."

     The Broadnax case illustrates a major shift in priority over the past thirty years in American law enforcement. During an earlier era, a time when crime rates were much higher, citizen safety came first, officer safety second. Today, in our highly militarized policing, the cop/warrior's safety is priority. Citizens suspected of crimes are treated as enemy combatants rather than people merely under suspicion. Moreover, police officers now presume that everyone is armed and dangerous. One furtive move and a person will be shot.

     

Friday, December 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Knockout Game: A New Wave of Violence?

[The series of knockout assaults] could become the start of a crime trend because the attacks have a social media component that could go viral. As experience shows, other kids will see this and it becomes group think. The trend has not become an epidemic.

Will Marling, National Organization for Victim Assistance as quoted in USA Today, November 24, 2013 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Maryville, Missouri Rape Scandal

     Two girls, 14 and 13 years old, sneaked out to join a group of older football players at a party last year [2012] in Maryville, Missouri, the Nodaway County Seat. After the girls became drunk, a 17-year-old boy had sex with the 14-year-old, while another boy stood by with an iPhone video camera running. Afterward, the boys left the girl on her front porch, nearly unconscious in subfreezing temperatures. The 13-year-old told police that she too had been assaulted by another older boy.

     Nodaway Sheriff Darren White told the Kansas City Star that his [investigators] swiftly compiled the evidence and he expected to see the boys in court. But county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The 17-year-old--the grandson of a former state representative--went to college rather than to prison.

David Von Drehle, Time, October 28, 2013 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dajour Washington Sucker-Punched A Teacher

       A year ago, the crime involving black youths who try to knockout white strangers they encounter on the street with a single punch didn't have a name because the authorities were unaware of the motive behind these senseless attacks. Once it became known that the perpetrators of these assaults referred to the crime as the "knockout game," the offense became a national media story. A little more than a year ago, an incident that would now be classified as a knockout attack, drew local media attention because the offense didn't make any sense. It was not, however, a national story. That has changed.

      James Addlespurger, a 50-year-old English teacher at the School For The Creative and Performing Arts (grades 6-12), while walking in downtown Pittsburgh near his school at 3:30 in the afternoon of October 4, 2012, approached six teenage boys who were coming toward him. One of the black youngsters, without warning or provocation, punched the white teacher in the face, then casually walked off with his friends. Mr. Addlespurger fell to the pavement and was later treated for his injuries at a nearby hospital. The gratuitous assault was caught on tape by a city surveillance camera. The teacher had no idea who had punched him, or why.

     Five days after the sucker-punch, Pittsburgh police officers arrested 15-year-old Dajour Washington. The youth attended the Student Achievement Center in the Homewood section of the city. When asked why he had attacked a total stranger, Washington explained that he was an "angry person" who was having a "bad day." Charged with simple assault, Washington was placed into a juvenile detention center. (Under Pennsylvania law, minors charged with misdemeanor crimes cannot be charged as adults.)

     Dajour Washington's grandmother, the woman who helped raise him, told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the boy was "very intelligent but not street-wise." She characterized Dajour as a follower who, easily influenced by others, would commit inappropriate acts out of a need to fit in. (Isn't this always the case? Has there ever been a parent who says, "I've got a rotten kid who is a bad influence on his friends?") 

     Besides the simple assault charge, Dajour faced a probation violation revocation which revealed this was not the first time he had been in trouble with the law. Knowing what we know now about these random street assaults, the Pittsburgh school teacher had been the victim of the knockout game. This was, at its core, a recreational race crime. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Knockout Game a Non Story for The New York Times

     The New York Times has discovered that the media panic over the "knockout game"--in which primarily black youths engage in random, violent, racist attacks against mostly white victims--is just a product of "fear sown by reports" that "may have racial roots."

     In " 'Knockout Game' a Spreading Menace or a Myth," a...story from Saturday's paper [November 24, 2013], reporter Cara Buckley, with the help of two other credited journalists, reports that "police officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the 'game' amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred"… However, the paper's record on other seeming trends is an unbroken tissue of credulous reporting about alarming phenomena that did not stand up to close scrutiny…[Racially motivated church burnings, crack babies, killer bees, global warming, etc.]

     According to a journalistic rule of thumb, three examples of any phenomenon are enough to constitute a trend. "If there ever was an urban myth, this was it," a Jersey City [New Jersey] police spokesperson told the Times' Buckley when asked about the knockout game.

Tim Cavanaugh, The Daily Caller, November 25, 2013


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Michael Joseph's Deadly Daughter

     In America, teenage girls have become cold-blooded killers. Over the past decade girls between the ages 13 and 17 have murdered or attempted to murder girlfriends, boyfriends, and parents. Pretty in pink has turned into ugly in red.

     In 2012, 51-year-old Michael Joseph resided with his 12-year-old daughter Jasmine in an apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. That year, Jasmine started running away from home and associating with neighborhood street thugs who turned her into a child prostitute.

     Just after midnight on October 28, 2013, as Mr. Joseph slept, Jasmine let two members of the Crips gang into the apartment for the purpose of murdering her father. In the kitchen, she handed Ricardo Leveillez, her on-and-off boyfriend, a knife. She also armed Leveillez's friend, a gangbanger known as "Murder," with a blade from the kitchen drawer.

     Mr. Joseph awoke that night to find two young men stabbing him with his own kitchen knives. One of the attackers yelled, "Kill that motherf---er!" After being stabbed in the face, chest, arms, legs, and back, Mr. Joseph managed to escape by running into another room and locking the door.

     Shortly after the assault, a surveillance camera caught Leveillez and "Murder" walking out of the apartment building. Before leaving, the two gang members stole the victim's wallet. They also drove off in Mr. Joseph's 2012 Hyundai Sonata, a car they later wrecked. Later that day the hoodlums were recorded on another surveillance camera using the victim's debit card.

     When police officers searched the wrecked and abandoned stolen Hyundai they discovered one of the bloody knives.

     On November 11, 2013, New York City detectives arrested Jasmine Josephs on 34 criminal charges that included attempted murder. The 14-year-old claimed that her father had raped her. (Mr. Joseph denied the allegation and detectives believed him.)

     Four days following Jasmine's arrest, a Brooklyn judge released the girl to the custody of her mother, a resident of a Manhattan homeless shelter for people with AIDS. The judge also issued a restraining order prohibiting the accused attempted murderer from any contact with her father.

     Detectives arrested Ricardo Leveillez a few days later on the charge of attempted murder. The Crips gangster told investigators that Jasmine, who had been thinking about having her father killed for some time, had motivated them by alleging that he had raped her.

     Leveillez was booked into Rikers Island on $250,000 bail. His accomplice, the gangster known as "Murder," is still at large. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Subway Train Station Pushers: Death on the Tracks

     Beneath the streets of New York City where barbaric young men are sucker-punching strangers to the pavement in a game called "knockout," mental cases and drunks are pushing people off subway station platforms onto the tracks below. If these case reflect an emerging trend in random, violent assault and murder, New York residents and visitors to the city are becoming less safe.

     In December 2012, Erika Menendez shoved Sunando Sen into the path of an oncoming subway train. The 31-year-old mental case pushed the Bangladeshi immigrant onto the tracks at the elevated 40th Street-Lowery stop in Queens.

     When taken into custody, Menendez told her interrogators that "I pushed a Muslim…because I hate Hindus and Muslims. Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers I've been beating them up."

     Menendez, charged with second-degree murder, is being held without bail.

     At a subway station beneath Manhattan, Naeem Davis, a homeless man with a history of mental illness, pushed 58-year-old Ki Suck Han onto the tracks in front of a passing train. This murder also took place in December 2012. Just before his sudden death, the small business owner from Queens and Davis were seen arguing with each other. Davis has been charged with the second-degree murder of a total stranger.

     On Friday afternoon, November 22, 2013, as 72-year-old Sho Kuan Lin and his wife Yumie Li stood on the train platform at the 145th Street station in Harlem, a 57-year-old drunk named Rudralall Baldeo walked up behind Sho Kuan Lin and pushed him onto the tracks.

     Several subway station bystanders lifted the victim to safety before a train rolled into the station. Paramedics rushed the Chinese native to St. Luke's Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a fractured skull.

     A New York City prosecutor has charged Baldeo with attempted murder and felony assault. A magistrate has denied him bail. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Iranian Rock Band Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2012, five members of a rock band from Iran called Yellow Dogs were granted asylum in the United States. The group had achieved notoriety in 2009 following the airing of a documentary about the underworld music scene in Tehran called "No One Knows About Persian Cats." The production won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

     In Iran, the "post punk/dance band" rehearsed in a homemade soundproof studio and performed in underground concert venues. The Yellow Dogs, by performing in Iran, risked arrest and imprisonment. Music in that country is not tolerated by the state.

     In America, the band played at New York venues such as Webster Hall and the Brooklyn Bowl and as far away from the group's East Williamsburg, Brooklyn townhouse as Austin, Texas.

     In 2012, 28-year-old guitarist Ali Akbar Mahammad Rafie left the band following a dispute over a relatively small amount of money. Following his departure, Rafie joined a group called Free Keys.

     Just after midnight on Monday, November 1, 2013, the former Yellow Dogs guitarist, armed with an assault rifle concealed in a guitar case, made his way to the roof of a townhouse adjoining the three-story dwelling occupied at that time by two members of the band and several other tenants. From a third floor terrace, Rafie fired a shot through a window that killed a 35-year-old musician who was not a member of the Yellow Dogs band.

     Once inside the townhouse, Rafie entered a third floor bedroom where he shot and killed Arash Farazmand. Rafie shot the 28-year-old Yellow Dogs guitarist in the head. On the second floor, Rafie murdered the guitarist's brother Soroush. At the time of his death, the 27-year-old drummer was on his bed working on his laptop computer.

     Rafie, before returning to the roof, shot a fourth tenant, a 22-year-old artist names Sasan Sadeghpourosko. This victim, shot in the arm, was treated and released from a local hospital.

     Back on the roof, the mass murderer took his own life by shooting himself in the head. (The third and fourth members of the Yellow Dogs band were not home when Rafie went on his shooting rampage.)

     Residents of the industrial neighborhood consisting of warehouses and a few dwellings mostly inhabited by young musicians and artists were stunned by the murders of the Yellow Dog band members and the other musician. The two murdered Yellow Dog musicians came to America to be free. Instead, thanks to a fellow Iranian, they were dead. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Knockout Game

     There's an emerging urban street crime that is quite alarming. It's called the knockout game. A black youth, in broad daylight, sneaks up behind a random white pedestrian and tries to knock him or her unconscious with a single sucker punch. Some of the victims hit the pavement and die.

     These assaults are not motivated by money, sex, drugs, or revenge. Moreover, the black youths who perpetrate these unprovoked attacks are not crazy. The street gangsters who commit these blindside assaults do it for the thrill and fun of seeing strangers they've rendered unconscious hit the ground with a thud. These are recreational crimes that reflect a breakdown of civilized life.

     In Brooklyn, New York knockout practitioners, in a series of assaults, have targeted Jews. On November 10, 2013, in a "Get the Jew" attack, a knockout artist killed a 78-year-old woman.

     There have been knockout crimes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Missouri, Hoboken, New Jersey, and Washington, D. C.

     According to Bo Dietl, a former New York City police detective, the news media has ignored the knockout trend because it involves black-on-white crime. Appearing on the Fox TV show "Hannity," Dietl said, "The liberal news media doesn't want to say exactly what [the knockout game] is. It's a group of black youths attacking whites. It's called polar bear hunting….That's racism."

     A white woman recently sucker-punched to the ground in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, D. C. by black teenagers playing the knockout game appeared on the Greta Van Susteren show on Fox TV. Regarding her victimization at the hands of a young gangster, she said: "I've moved past it and I really have no bad feelings about what happened. And I just see it as another reason why we [society] need to better support our youth with activities and youth programs….It's great to see teenagers do incredible things when they're supported and empowered."

     Good heavens. This woman views her vicious attackers, criminals who could have killed her, as victims of a society that has neglected them. In other words, it's our fault. No bad feelings? Really? What world does this woman live in?

      

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing Quote: E-Books Taking Over in Britain

     Ninety-eight British publishers closed their doors in the year ending August 2013. The cause? E-books and online discounts.

     Closures were up 42 percent over the previous year, according to the Guardian. The companies that folded included the 26-year-old healthcare publisher Panos London, and Evans Brothers, which published popular children's book author Enid Blyton for 30 years.

     During 2012, e-book sales in Britain rose by 134 percent to more than $346 million. While print sales still dominated the bottom line in Britain with more than $4.6 billion in sales, that total was a one percent drop from the year before. The trend is toward e-books, and that trend has not been good for publishers….

     "The rise of Amazon and other discount sellers with massive buying power means the pressure on publishers' margins is now immense," Anthony Cork of [publisher] Wilkins Kennedy told the Guardian. "While publishers might be able to sustain relatively small margins on a bestseller, it is much harder for niche publishers."

Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Juan Rivera Case: A False Confession and the Unsolved Murder of Holly Staker

     Years ago I wrote a book about two youngsters who in 1956 and 1958 confessed falsely to Pittsburgh area murders they didn't commit. (Fall Guys: False Confessions and the Politics of Murder, 1996) In those days people believed that short of physical abuse, innocent persons would not confess to crimes they didn't commit. Although we know better now, innocent people continue to confess because the police either don't know how to properly interrogate, or they know how to elicit false confessions.

     Anyone, under the right conditions, can falsely confess, but those most prone to this are young people, the mentally slow, and arrestees terrified of the police. False confessors often think that the investigators will eventually catch the real criminal and everything will be staightened out. These people obviously don't know much about law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

     An interrogator more interested in getting at the truth than acquiring a confesson should suspect that something is wrong when the physical evidence contradicts the confessor's account of the crime. Factual inconsistency within the confession is another sign of trouble. To avoid false confessions, interrogators should  be careful not to feed details of the crime to suspects and to ask open ended questions. Contradictions in confessions should be resolved before the written statements are signed. To reduce the risk of coercion, prolonged questioning should be avoided, and it's best that only one officer conduct the interrogation in a calm and professional manner. Ideally, an interrogator should only question a suspect that he believes, based on solid evidence, is guilty of the crime at hand. Interrogation techniques should not be used on weak suspects.

     All interrogations should be video-taped (In some states this is required by law.) and no conviction should be based solely on the strength of a confession.

The Juan Rivera Case

     On the night of August 17, 1992, someone raped and stabbed to death an 11-year-old girl named Holly Staker who was baby-sitting two young children in Waukegan, Illinois. The Lake County police questioned 200 people, including a 19-year-old with a ninth-grade education named Juan Rivera. Rivera said he had attended a party that night not far from the murder house. At the party he had noticed a man who had behaved strangely. Weeks later, on October 27, 1992, the police brought Rivera back to the station for a second interview. Rivera told the same story, but the interrogators didn't believe him.

     Following a psychologically brutal, nonstop 24-hour interrogation, Rivera broke down and confessed to raping and murdering Holly Staker. When asked why his fingerprints were not at the scene of the crime, Rivera provided a helpful explanation. After stabbing the girl 27 times, then raping her, Rivera said he bashed in a door with a mop to simulate a break and entering. Before leaving the house, he removed his fingerprints by wiping off the mop handle with a towel. He then broke the murder knife and tossed the pieces in the victim's backyard.

     In 1993, a jury found Rivera guilty and sentenced him to life. In two subsequent trials, the last being in 2009, juries found him guilty again even though DNA testing in 2005 ruled him out as the depositor of the semen inside the victim's body. (The prosecutor wished this exonerating evidence away with the preposterous theory that the 11-year-old had had sex with another man just before being murdered by Rivera.) The fact Rivera had been convicted of such a serious crime without the benefit of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene or the murder weapon, reveals the power confessions have over juries.

     On December 10, 2011, an Illinois appellate court reversed Rivera's murder conviction. The judge also barred Lake County prosecutors from going after Rivera for the fourth time. A week later, the 39-year-old, after 19 years served at the Statesville Correctional Center near Joilet, walked out of prison. Because Rivera's interrogators manufactured a false confession, Holly Staker's killer has not been brought to justice.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Afghanistan Poppy Farming and Opium Production

     Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2013--despite nearly $7 billion spent by the U. S. to combat the problem, according to a sobering United Nations report out Wednesday [November 13, 2013]. Propelled by strong demand and an insurgency that has become more hands-on in the trade, cultivation of opium poppies, which are processed into heroin, rose 36 percent, amounting to 209,000 hectares [a hectare of land is about two and a half acres].

     Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer--last year accounting for 75 percent of the world's heroin supply. This is despite more than a decade's worth of international efforts to persuade poppy farmers to switch to other crops such as wheat….

     At $160 to $200 for one kilogram of dry opium, compared to 41 cents for one kilogram of wheat, farmers are making a strictly economic decision when they decide to get into the opium trade…

Aarne Heikkila, producer, NBC News

  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lakisha Gaither's Warning Shot: Reckless Endangerment or Self-Defense?

     On Saturday night, October 19, 2013, when questioned at her apartment complex in Woodbridge, Virginia, Lakisha Gaither told Prince William County police officers that she and her daughter had been set upon that night by a gang of boys. As Gaither and Brianna, her 15-year-old daughter, walked to their apartment, ten boys approached them in the parking lot.

     According to the 35-year-old mother, one of the boys insulted and swore at them. Brianna, who was five-foot-nine and 160 pounds, did not back down. This led to an exchange of face-to-face insults. When the boy grabbed Brianna's shirt and started hitting her, Ms. Gaither unholstered her handgun and fired a shot into the air.

     The warning shot ended the parking lot confrontation.

     Police officers arrested Lakisha Gaither for the reckless use of a weapon, a misdemeanor offense. None of the boys were charged with a crime. The next day, Lakisha took Brianna to Fairfax, Virgina to stay with the girl's grandmother. Lakisha feared that the boys she had run off with the gunshot might retaliate.

     In speaking to a local reporter, a Prince William County spokesperson said, "Ms. Gaither should have called the police instead of taking matters into her own hands. She may have been trying to break up the fight, but that's not the proper course of action to take."

     The gun-owning mother told the same reporter that, "I didn't feel like I was wrong. I wanted to protect my child. I just wanted this group of guys to disperse. I didn't know what they were going to do. I wanted him to stop hitting my child."

     Gaither's public defender attorney, Daniel L. Hawes, conceded that his client, while well-motivated, should not have created a threat herself by shooting into the air.

     A week after the confrontation and warning shot, a Prince William County Police Department spokesperson issued a modified account of the incident. According to investigators, Brianna and the boy in question had been involved in an ongoing dispute over rumors that had been spread about her. That night, Gaither and her daughter had sought out the boy near his home where the fight and warning shot took place. The boy claimed that Brianna had thrown the first punch.

     Most people believe that citizens have the right to defend themselves when threatened with bodily harm. There is something profoundly satisfying about dispersing overwhelming force with a shot into the air. However, if the person claiming self-defense instigated the confrontation, there is a lot less sympathy for the shooter.

     The day after being taken to her grandmother's house in Fairfax, Brianna went missing. Lakisha filed a missing persons report with the police. "I don't know where she is," said the mother. "I don't know if she's okay. I don't know if she's hurt. There's been no action on her Facebook."

    Four days later, on October 24, 2013, Brianna returned home. Her mother, without revealing where her daughter had been, used Facebook to thank the people who had been looking for her.

     

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Who Wouldn't Want to be a Wiseguy?

As a wiseguy you can lie, you can cheat, you can steal, you can kill people--legitimately. You can do any goddamned thing you want, and nobody can say anything about it. Who wouldn't want to be a wiseguy?

Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero [played by Al Pacino in "Donnie Brasco."] In Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lindbergh Kidnapping Case Speech

     At one o'clock on Saturday, November 9, Jim Fisher, the author of this blog and two books on the historic Lindbergh case, will speak in Allentown, Pennsylvania at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum on Walnut Street.

     While many crime buffs strongly believe that Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man executed for the 1932 Lindbergh murder was innocent, Fisher will make the case for his guilt. It is Fisher's belief that Hauptmann, acting alone, killed the baby in cold blood for the $50,000 ransom. All of the evidence presented by the prosecution at Hauptmann's 1935 trial in Flemington, New Jersey was physical and therefore circumstantial.

     On Saturday, Fisher will debunk the books that argue for Hauptmann's innocence, including the works that accuse Charles Lindbergh of accidentally killing his 20-month-old son then fabricating the kidnap story to cover up his role in the child's death. The exoneration books also accuse FBI agents, New Jersey State investigators, and New York City detectives of evidence tampering and perjury. Moreover, these authors allege a conspiracy of lies among the prosecution's eight handwriting experts who identified Hauptmann as the writer of the 16 ransom documents. These authors also attack the scientist who connected Hauptmann to the homemade, wooden ladder used to snatch the baby from his second-story nursery. There are also Lindbergh case enthusiasts who claim that the body found in the shallow grave two miles from the Hopewell, New Jersey Lindbergh estate was not Baby Lindbergh.

     After-speech questions and comments will be welcomed. Admission: $6 adults and $3 children. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Scams to Watch Out For

     [Watch out for] reverse mortgage and precious metals scams. Home-equity and reverse-mortage swindles are attractive now because a lot of seniors have paid off their homes, and that's like an untapped bank account. If your home is worth $300,000, and you've paid off your mortgage, you have $300,000 in the bank waiting for  me to steal it. A lot of TV and direct mail advertising tells you how to get money out of your house while you are still living in it. Some of these ads are legitimate, many are not….

     As for gold and silver scams, coins can be sold at a 300 to 500 percent markup. So the victims would pay $25,000 for a bunch of coins, which they would receive, but years later, they would take them to a coin shop and learn they were worth only a few thousand dollars. This is a great hustle, because the coin industry is largely unregulated. Plus, because the victims receive the coins, they don't realize until years later that they have been taken. With the bad economy, these scams are huge now….

     Victims don't look for why the offer is a scam; they look for why the offer will make them money. 

"Confessions of a Con Man," As told to Doug Shadel, Reader's Digest, November 2013 

     

Responding to Rejection

     I've often suspected that part of the reason why editors take so long to decline on projects, apart from never having enough time to consider them, is linked to how uncomfortable we are rejecting and disappointing people, whether it's the agent who has submitted the work or the unknown soldier who wrote it. Plus, we've all seen enough books that have been notoriously and strenuously rejected throughout the industry that nevertheless go on to bestsellerdom or critical acclaim.

     Just as you shouldn't take a polite letter for an encouraging one, don't let a harsh letter do more damage than necessary….It's hard not to focus too deeply on a rejection letter, or any correspondence from an editor, because it's often the only feedback you have, but I beg you not to spend more time with rejection letters than the time it takes to read and file them away.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Monday, November 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Opening a Serial Murder Case

A serial murder investigation is generally initiated by an agency or group of agencies following the identification of a series of related homicides….A serial murder investigation may be initiated as an extension of a current homicide investigation when a second unsolved murder or series of unsolved murders are linked to the original case. This linkage may be similarities in victims, crime scenes, attacks, geography, or any number of actions or situations which convince investigators that the homicides have been committed by a common killer.

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

Writing Quote: Detective Fiction's Golden Age and "Trent's Last Case" by E. C. Bentley

The well-known description "Golden Age" [of detective fiction] is commonly taken to cover the two decades between the First and Second Wars, but this limitation is unduly restrictive. One of the most famous detective stories regarded as falling within the Golden Age is Trent's Last Case by E. C. Bentley, published in 1913. The name of this novel is familiar to many readers who have never read it, and its importance is partly due to the respect with which it was regarded by practitioners of the time and its influence on the genre. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote that it "holds a very special place in the history of detective fiction, a tale of unusual brilliance and charm, startlingly original." Agatha Christie saw it as "one of the three best detective stories every written." Edgar Wallace described it as "a masterpiece of detective fiction," and G. K. Chesterton saw it as "the finest detective story of modern times." Today some of the tributes of his contemporaries seem excessive but the novel remains highly readable, if hardly as compelling as it was when first published, and its influence on the Golden Age is unquestionable.

P. D. James, Talking About Detective Fiction, 2009

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mary Agnes Leider: Murder on the Crow Indian Reservation

     The Crow Indian Reservation, 3,500 square miles covering parts of Big Horn, Yellowstone, and Treasure Counties in southern Montana, is home to 8,000 tribe members. Geographically, it is America's fifth largest Indian enclave. In these jurisdictions serious crimes are federal offenses principally investigated by the FBI. Tribal police handle everything else. In many of these nations within a nation, rates of unemployment, alcoholism, and crime are significantly higher than the national average.

     Mary Agnes Leider, the mother of a three-year-old girl named Tannielle, lived with her mother in the Big Horn County town of St. Xavier on the Crow Reservation. On December 3, 2012, at four in the morning, she and her two brothers, after a night of drinking in Hardin, Montana, were on their way home in a Dodge pickup driven by her brother Wally. Lieder and her brothers had consumed a quart of gin and sixty beers. Mary, with her daughter sitting on her lap, sat in the front while her brother Arland rode in the back seat.

     Wally was driving 50 miles-per-hour on Highway 313 south of Hardin when Mary opened the truck door and tossed Tannielle out of the vehicle. Wally jammed on the brakes and ran back to find the child. He found her lying on the highway with blood gushing from of the back of her head. Because the little girl didn't seem to be breathing, Wally assumed she was dead.

     When Wally returned to the vehicle with Tannielle's unresponsive body in his arms, he told his sister and brother to get out of the truck. With his niece lying on the back seat, Wally drove toward St. Xavier with Mary and Orland sitting on the side of the road crying.

     Georgina Denny, the siblings' mother, was driving north on Highway 313 in search of her children and granddaughter when she passed Wally going the other direction. After both vehicles came to a stop, Georgina saw Tannielle and learned from Wally how she had died.

     A deputy with the Big Horn Sheriff's Office found Mary and Arland still sitting along Highway 313 crying uncontrollably. Mary told the officer that she and Wally had been arguing over how fast he was driving. (He was, in fact, driving under the speed limit.) According to Mary, when Wally stopped the vehicle abruptly, she banged her head of the dashboard. When she came to, Tannielle was gone. Mary said that's all she could remember. While the deputy spoke to Mary, police officers were questioning Wally and Georgina.

     Doctors at the Hardin Memorial Hospital pronounced Tannielle dead on arrival. At the same hospital, an FBI agent arranged to have samples taken of Mary's blood. (Her blood-alcohol level measured 0.24, three times the Montana threshold for driving under the influence.)

     While being questioned at the hospital, Mary alternated between her story that Tannielle had died in some kind of traffic accident, and "I killed my baby."

     According to the Montana State Medical Examiner's Office, Tannielle had died from severe head injuries. The medical examiner classified her death as homicide.

     The United States Attorney for the state of Montana charged Mary Agnes Leider with second-degree murder, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. The federal magistrate denied Mary bond and appointed a public defender to represent her.

     On July 24, 2013, in a Billings, Montana courtroom, Mary pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder charge.

     On October 21, 3013, United States District Judge Donald Molloy, before imposing his sentence, said that in his eighteen years on the bench he had never encountered such depravity in a criminal case. The judge said the details of the offense made him nauseous. Because the judge wanted to keep the defendant from doing further harm, he sentenced her to twenty-one years in prison. (Leider's attorney had asked for a fifteen-year sentence.) Judge Molloy also said he wanted to send a message about the dangers of alcohol abuse on the Crow Reservation.

     Mary Leider, after receiver her sentence, said, "Words can't explain anything. Nothing can bring her back and I have to live with that."

     

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mass Murders: Twenty-One Killed in Four Massacres in Two Days

Terrell, Texas

    In 2013, Charles Everett Brownlow, Jr. lived with his mother Mary Catherine in Terrell, Texas, an east Texas town of 16,000 thirty miles from Dallas. At sixty-one, Ms. Brownlow worked at the Walmart store in nearby Mesquite. Her 36-year-old son, since his youth, had been in trouble with the law. The drug addict and burglar was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for possessing a firearm as a felon. He only served seven months of that sentence.  Brownlow, after being convicted of assaulting a family member in 2011 was back on the street in less than a year.

     At five o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, October 25, 2013, Charles Brownlow shot his mother to death execution style in her home. Thirty minutes later, just down the street, he murdered his aunt and set fire to her house. Firefighters found the victim's remains in the debris.

     That night, at ten-thirty, Brownlow shot a young couple. Police found James Wooden and Kelleye Lynnette Sluder dead in their Terrell home. Their three-year-old son was not harmed. (I don't know how Brownlow was connected to these victims.)

     Shortly after Brownlow's third and fourth murders, an off-duty police officer spotted his car parked outside a Terrell convenience store. As the officer pulled into the lot, Brownlow ran out of the store, jumped in his vehicle and sped off.

     Following a high-speed police chase, Brownlow lost control of his car and crashed. Unhurt, he ran into a heavily wooded area east of Dallas. Around midnight, police officers found the fugitive hiding in a creek bed.

     Back at the convenience store, investigators found employee Luis Leal-Carillo shot to death. The 22-year-old victim had worked at the store for three years. The fifth person Brownlow had killed that day left behind a one-year-old son.

     A local prosecutor charged Charles Brownlow with five counts of murder. The magistrate denied him bail.

Greenwood County, South Carolina

     In October 2013, 27-year-old Bryan E. Sweatt, a resident of rural Greenwood County, South Carolina had lost his girlfriend and custody of their seven-month-old daughter. Facing an upcoming burglary trial in which he faced up to twenty-five years in prison, he was about to lose his freedom.  Bryan E. Sweatt had also lost his mind.

     Sweatt's former girlfriend, Chandra Fields, lived in her parents' house on a rural road a few miles south of Greenwood, a town of 23,000 in the northwest part of the state. Recently, deputies with the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office had been summoned to the Fields' home on domestic violence calls involving Sweatt, Chandra, and her parents.

     Bryan Sweatt was not a stranger to local law enforcement. He had an extensive criminal history of burglary, assault, and forgery. He was also a violent self-pitying loser.

     On October 9, 2013, Sweatt expressed his rage, frustration, and hopelessness in an online message that read: "I'm about to lose it. I just want someone to talk to and be here with me so bad. I'm about to just get in the truck and ram it into the biggest pole I can find. Nobody gives a f…about me cuz of what that stupid b-h done [sic] to me. She played me for so long. I can't take it anymore. I've ask [sic] for someone just to be here for me to take my mind off doing something stupid to hurt myself. " [Punctuation added.]

     Sweatt, on October 20, 2013, posted the following angry, angst-ridden message to Chandra Fields: "U don't care and never wanted her [their daughter] to no [sic] me. But always remember its [sic] gonna come back on U when she grows up and thats [sic] what [sic] gonna make her hate U."

     Just before six o'clock on the evening of Tuesday, October 26, 2013, Bryan Sweatt, from Chandra Fields' house, called 911 and said, "I'm stressed out. I'm about to take my life."

     "Do you have a gun?" asked the dispatcher.

     "A 44," Sweat replied with the sounds of a crying woman in the background. Before the 911 dispatcher could ask another question, the phone line went dead. A few minutes after Sweatt's 911 call, a neighbor called 911 to report gunshots coming from the Fields' residence.

     Sheriff's deputies and a local SWAT team responded to the scene. After failing to get a response from anyone inside the house, officers entered the dwelling to find the bodies of four adults and two children. They had all been shot once in the head.

     After murdering Chandra Fields' parents and two of their grandsons, ages nine and eleven, Sweatt executed Chandra then killed himself. Their bodies were found in her bedroom. The parents and the children had been tied up. They also had their mouths duct-taped. Four other children who had been in the house escaped to a neighbor's house. They were not hurt.

     On October 25, 2013, in South Carolina, six people died in a mass murder-suicide. The next day, in Terrell, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, and Brooklyn, New York, fifteen people were killed in three homicidal rampages. (For accounts of the Phoenix and Brooklyn cases, see: "Saturday Massacres: Two Men Kill Ten People on the Same Day," October 29, 2013.)

     Twenty-one deaths caused by four mass murderers within two days, while perhaps an anomaly, reflects an alarming trend in the nature of American homicide. Instead of being in prisons or mental institutions, violent losers are on the loose, free to take out their rage on family, friends, and society in general.

   

     

Style Reveals Personality

The writer's personality and his personality on the page are not necessarily identical, but often there is a resemblance, not unlike that between an owner and his dog. A writer's work emanates from his personality, ego, sensitivities, and blind spots, his projections and unconscious wishes. All these contribute to what we eventually call style. Not everyone can arrive at a party and command the room; most writers are more inwardly focused. But even for those whose personal style attracts attention, the proof is always, finally, on the page. [This begs the question: can a reader tell if a novelist is a jerk by reading his fiction?]

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Friday, November 1, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Guillotine Chic

Almost from its first victim on April 25, 1792, the guillotine became a fetishistic object for the French during their revolution. Men had it tattooed on their bodies; women wore dangling guillotine earrings and brooches; the design was incorporated into plates, cups, snuffboxes; children played with toy versions, decapitating mice; elegant ladies lopped off the heads of dolls and out squirted a red perfume, in which they soaked their handkerchiefs.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Eduction, 1997

Writing Quote: Breeziness

There is a kind of writing that sounds so relaxed that you think you hear the author talking to you. E. B. White was probably its best practitioner, though many other masters of the style--James Thurber, V. S. Pritchett, Lewis Thomas--come to mind. I'm partial to it because it's a style that I've always tried to write myself. The common assumption is that the style is effortless. In fact the opposite is true: the effortless style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining. The nails of grammar and syntax [word order] are in place and the English is as good as the writer can make it.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saturday Massacres: Two Men Kill Ten People on the Same Day

Phoenix, Arizona

     At eight-thirty on the morning of Saturday, October 26, 2013, residents of a 250-unit townhouse complex in Phoenix heard several gunshots. Police officers narrowed the possible shooting sites to a pair of units separated by a small courtyard.

     At the first townhouse the police entered, officers discovered the bodies of four people. Shot to death were 66-year-old Brian Moore, his daughter Reese, and her husband Michael. The couple's 17-year-old son Shannon had been gunned down as well. The family dogs, a chihauhua and a pit bull, were also dead from shotgun blasts.

     According to witnesses, 56-year-old Dante Guzzo, a resident of the townhouse across the courtyard from the murdered family, shot the victims and their dogs. Neighbors saw Guzzo, armed with a pump-action shotgun, kicking and pounding on Mr. Moore's front door. When no one answered, he gained entry by blasting the door with his shotgun.

     After killing the four victims and the two dogs, Guzzo headed back to his unit. But along the way, he fired a couple of shots at another townhouse. Inside his dwelling Guzzo ended his life by shooting himself in the head. Police officers found the shotgun lying next to his body.

     Neighbors told a reporter with The Arizona Republic that Guzzo's complaints about the barking dogs had created bad feelings between him and the family he murdered. He had written several notes to the dog owners complaining about the barking.

Brooklyn, New York

     At ten-thirty on the night of Saturday, October 26, 2013, a resident of the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn called 911 to report a knife attack at an apartment on 57th Street near Ninth Avenue. The working class area is inhabited by many Chinese and Hispanic immigrants. In the apartment, police officers found the bodies of five people and the blood-covered man who had stabbed and slashed them.

     Discovered dead in a back bedroom were Zinda Zhuo who was nine and her seven-year-old sister Amy. Eighteen-month-old William Zhuo was also found dead in the room. Five-year-old Kevin Zhuo and his mother Qiao Zhen Li were alive but bleeding to death. All of the victims had been stabbed and slashed in the neck and torso with a butcher's knife. The mother and the five-year-old boy died a short time later in nearby hospitals.

     At eleven o'clock, the husband and father of the victims came home from his job at a Long Island restaurant. He found police cars and ambulances along with a cluster of neighbors in front of his apartment.

     In the apartment, police officers, after a brief scuffle, arrested the murder suspect. They took into custody 25-year-old Mingding Chen, a cousin who had been living for a week with the family. Questioned at the 66th Precinct station house, Chen, through a Chinese interpreter, confessed to the slaughter. "I know I am done," he said.

     Since coming to the United States in 2004 Chen had been fired from dozens of restaurant jobs in several cities. After almost a decade of living in this country he still spoke Mandarin Chinese. Over the past few days, Chen and his relatives had been heard by neighbors yelling at each other. According to people who knew Chen, he had grown jealous of other Chinese immigrants who were doing well in America. One person described him as "crazy."

     On Sunday, the day after the knife attacks, a New York City prosecutor charged Mingding Chen with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder. Also charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, the suspect is being held without bond at the city jail on Riker's Island. Chen first settled in Chicago after he left China. He does not have an arrest record in New York City. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Days, Four Senseless Murders

Mike Reda's Killing Spree

     Sixty-five-year-old Mike Reda resided in a 80-unit apartment complex in south Detroit called the Pablo Davis Elder Living Center. On Sunday, October 20, 2013, Reda's girlfriend, also a resident of the retirement complex, broke up with him. Reda, who didn't take well to rejection, started drinking and brooding over the break-up. At five that afternoon Reda decided to take out his rage and frustration on two friends of his ex-girlfriend, residents of the living center he blamed for his relationship problems.

     Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, Reda began hunting down his two targets. He found his first victim sitting outside the apartment building with another resident. To the man with her, Reda said, "Get on the ground and start praying." He then shot the 54-year-old woman in the head. She died a short time later at a nearby hospital. Her companion was not shot.

     Reda cornered his second victim in her apartment where he shot the 65-year-old woman dead. Police arrested Reda that evening at the living center. In resisting arrest, he received a minor head injury that required medical treatment. He has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is being held without bail in the Wayne County Jail.

Benjamin Frazier's Deadly Response to a Minor Problem

     At 5:45 in the morning of October 21, 2013, Las Vegas resident Benjamin Frazier, a man with a history of violence, asked a security guard at an after hours club on the lower level of Bally's Hotel-Casino if he could avoid paying the cover-charge until after he scoped out the place. The Drai's After Hours guard refused to let the 41-year-old into the place without first paying the cover.

     Frazier, shortly after reluctantly paying the entrance fee, came out of the club. Because the casino-bar wasn't full that morning, Frazier demanded his entrance money back. Again, the guard refused him.

     Furious over not getting his cover-fee returned, Frazier started an argument with the security guard. When the officer wouldn't budge, Frazier pulled out a handgun and shot him. He also shot and wounded the club's security manager who had been summoned to the scene.

     Several patrons of the after hours club wrestled Frazier to the ground. But before they disarmed him, he shot and killed one of the good samaritans. The citizen responders held the gunman down until police officers took him into custody.

     The triple shooting did not disrupt patrons inside the club who continued gambling while crime scene investigators processed the murder scene. Frazier, charged with murder, is in the Clark County Jail without bond.

Student Shoots His Classmates and Murders a Teacher

     On Monday, October 21, 2013, fifteen minutes before classes began at the Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada, a seventh-grade student pulled out a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and shot two 12-year-old boys. Before wounding his classmates in the school playground, the gun-wielding boy said, "You ruined my life, and now I'm going to ruin yours." (According to reports, the young shooter had been bullied and made fun of in school.)

     Michael Landsberry, a 45-year-old math teacher who had served two tours as a Marine in Afghanistan, approached the armed seventh-grader and asked him to hand over the gun. The boy shot the teacher in the chest, killing him on the spot. The student then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Twenty-five middle-schoolers witnessed the murder-suicide.

     Under Nevada law, if the murder weapon had come from the shooter's home, his parents could be charged with a crime.

     In modern America, people have been murdered in churches, big box stores, amusement parks and at various sporting events. In a two day period in October, four innocent victims were gunned down in a retirement center, a gambling casino, and a middle school playground. The people who killed them, aged 12 to 65, were distraught over matters that normally do not call for such violence. It seems that more and more citizens are resolving minor problems and slights through deadly force.

   


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Florida Prison Escapes: Who Needs a Hacksaw When You Have a Computer?

     Inmates have been known to tunnel, climb, sneak, saw, assault, and bribe their way out of prisons and jails. Recently, in central Florida, a pair of convicted murderers managed to forge their way to freedom.

     On September 27, 2013, an official with the Florida Department of Corrections ordered convicted killer Joseph Jenkins released from the Franklin Correctional Institution where he had been serving a life sentence. In 1997, Jenkins murdered Roscoe Pugh in an Orlando robbery that went bad. The 34-year-old's ticket to freedom was a phony court document that reduced his life sentence to fifteen years. The release order bore the signature of Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry. The forged corrections paperwork included a motion filed by a local prosecutor in support of the new sentence. The phony documents had been processed by the Orange County Clerk of Courts Office.

     On October 8, 2013, another convicted murderer serving a life sentence at the Franklin County prison near Tallahassee walked out of the joint a free man. Charles Walker had killed Cedric Slater in 1998. At his trial, Walker claimed that because the victim bullied him, he fired three shots to scare him off. Instead of scaring Slater, Walker shot him dead. The Orlando jury found Walker guilty of second-degree murder.

     Corrections authorities released the 34-year-old Walker after receiving the same set of forged documents that had freed Joseph Jenkins. It is extremely rare for a trial judge, in cases involving convictions affirmed on appeal, to order reduced sentences. Moreover, prosecutors rarely support shortened sentences. To say that someone at the Florida Department of Corrections was asleep at the switch would be an understatement. After their releases, both men went to the Orange County Jail where they registered as felons as required by law.

     According to investigators with the Florida Department of Corrections, the forging lifers had been helped by a jailhouse lawyer with computer skills, or by an outside person with paralegal experience.

     Judge Belvin Perry told an Associated Press reporter that "Someone with the aid of a computer lifted my signature off previously signed documents, which are public record." [Judge Perry, in 2011, presided over the Casey Anthony trial. As a result, his signature is available on public documents, and accessible online.]

     According to judge Perry, "In my 35 years in the judicial system, I have never seen the state of Florida file a motion to correct an illegal sentence. One of the things we have never taken a close look at is the verification of a particular document to make sure it is the real McCoy." [One can't help wondering if there are Florida inmates currently enjoying freedom on the strength of bogus court documents.]

     In speaking to reporters, the niece of the man Joseph Jenkins murdered, said, "I just don't believe it. I know for a fact it [the forgery] was an inside job."

     At 6:40 PM on October 19, 2013, U. S. Marshals and officers with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, arrested Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City. A tip from a person who knew both men led to their arrests. When taken into custody, Walker and Jenkins were unarmed. 

Writing Quote: Jon Krakauer on What Interests Him as a Journalist

I've been pegged as a writer whose beat is extreme ideas, extreme landscapes [mountain climbing], extreme individuals who take actions to their logical extreme. And there is some truth to that. I'm intrigued by fanatics--people who are seduced by the promise, or the illusion, of the absolute. People who believe that achieving some absolute goal, say, or embracing some absolute truth, will lead to happiness, or peace, or order, or whatever it is they most desire. Fanatics tend to be blind to moral ambiguity and complexity, and I've always had a fascination with individuals who deny the inherent contingency of existence--often at their peril, and at the peril of society.

Jon Krakauer, in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

     Andrew Cunanan stalked Gianni Versace [renowned fashion designer] before he killed him, often walking the same routes, sometimes following him.

     The morning of the shooting [July 15, 1997], Versace left his house to walk to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive [Miami Beach] where he had his favorite gourmet coffee and picked up several newspapers and magazines. When he arrived back at his home on 11th Street, Cunanan walked up behind him and fired two shots into the back of Versace's head, killing him instantly.

     The assassin then fled, and the case wasn't closed until Cunanan's dead body was found eight days later on a houseboat owned by a friend of Cunanan's who was in Germany at the time....

     One FBI theory is that Versace once turned town Cunanan for a modeling job. Cunanan was a bar-hopper, drug-user (possibly including steroids and rage-inducing testosterone), and he often sold himself to older, wealthy men. It is now known that Cunanan and Versace were never involved sexually, but it is known that the two men had met at least once.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In the Crosshairs, 2003

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wanted: L A County Probation Department Job Applicants Who Are Not Criminals

     Since 2008, the federal government's monitoring of the Los Angeles County Probation Department's twenty juvenile offender camps hasn't done much good. The probation department came under federal scrutiny after years of serious problems with county personnel. During the past two years alone, 135 probation department employees have been fired after being charged with crimes. These offenses included assault, rape and child abuse. These terminations didn't include employees discharged for simple misconduct and poor work performance. For many of the probation employees charged with serious crimes, being arrested and hauled off to jail was not a new experience.

     Why were so many unfit probation workers on the job? The answer is simple: low hiring standards. The department would pretty much take anyone. If you were unfit for a job in the private sector, or had been rejected by the sheriff and police departments, the L A County Probation Department would take you. Welcome aboard.

     In an effort to staff the probation department with people who, at the very least are not criminals, the agency's chief, Jerry Powers, pursuant to an agreement with the U. S. Department of Justice, recently raised the department's hiring standards. But this has created a problem of its own: only ten to twenty percent of probation job applicants can live up to the new, albeit minimum, hiring standards. This has created a serious personnel shortage in the county's probation department.

     In the past, probation employment candidates convicted of violent crimes within the past seven years were considered unfit for the job. So, if an applicant had been convicted of beating his grandmother into unconsciousness eight years before applying for the job, he could get in. If this applicant, within the past seven years had been merely arrested six times for attacking his grandmother, no problem. Hey, we're all presumed innocent.

     Under the old hiring standards, applicants convicted of property crimes within the past five years were deemed unfit for probation work. But older convictions for crimes like burglary, arson, or grand theft were not a problem. Histories of illegal drug use, drunken driving, and prostitution were not considered, by themselves, reasons to disqualify a probation job candidate. (Employers are not even allowed to ask applicants if they are mentally ill or alcoholics.)

     Pursuant to the old system of filling probation department posts, job applicants did not undergo background checks, or submit to pre-employment polygraph examinations. That meant they were free to lie on their government job applications. And they did. Probation hiring personnel had no idea who they were putting on the job to deal with juvenile delinquents. It was, let's hire the guy and see what happens. Even for government work, this is substandard.

     Candidates for Los Angeles County Probation jobs are now screened if they have ever been convicted of violent or serious property crimes. However, convictions for minor employee theft, shoplifting, and recreational marijuana use, for L A County employment purposes, are still forgiven.

     Ralph Miller, the head of the public union that represents L A County Probation Department workers, has labeled the new hiring standards unreasonable and unfair to certain groups of people. (Yeah, criminals.) "If you're a poor person," he said, "or you're a person of color, you may have encountered some problem in your life...." Mr. Miller didn't specify what kind of "problem" should be forgiven for the purpose of hiring county probation employees. It seems that Mr. Miller's is more interested in finding unemployable people jobs than serving the public.