More than 3,225,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pearlie Golden and Leo Sharp: Criminal Justice in an Aging Society

     It's become common knowledge that elderly people are prolific shoplifters. But it's still surprising when an old person commits a serious crime such as assault or criminal homicide. In recent years, due to mental illness and dementia, dozens of eighty and ninety-year-olds have been shot to death by the police. While these police-involved shootings were found to be justified, many of the fatal shootings were the result of the modern era's hair-trigger, militaristic form of policing. While perhaps legally justified, many of these deadly encounters were arguably unnecessary. But in a zero-tolerant police culture, age and dementia are no longer factors in the shoot-don't shoot equation. Gender doesn't figure in either.

Pearlie Golden

     Pearlie Golden, a 93-year-old resident of Hearne, Texas, a town of 4,500 in the east-central part of the state, didn't like it when the Texas Department of Public Safety declined to renew her driver's license on Tuesday May 6, 2014. Back at her house after failing the test, Pearlie, an African-American known in the community as "Miss Sulie," got into an argument with her nephew, Roy Jones. She demanded that he return the keys to her car. He refused. She got up from her chair on the front porch and entered the house. When she returned, she had a .38-caliber revolver in her hand. Roy Jones ran into the house and called 911.

     Officer Stephen Stem with the Hearne Police Department responded to the 911 call. In 2012, officer Stem had shot a man to death in the line of duty. He was cleared of wrongdoing in that case by a local grand jury and remained on the force.

    Officer Stem, in responding to the call at the old woman's house, shot Pearlie Golden three times. She died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. In justifying the deadly use of force on a 93-year-old woman, a police spokesperson said the deceased had "brandished a gun."(According to the Associated Press, Golden, prior to being shot by officer Stem, had actually fired her gun. It is not clear if she took aim at the officer. If she had fired at officer Stem, or at anyone else in his presence, this use of deadly force was clearly justified. If she shot into the air, or the gun discharged accidentally, the issue will be more complicated.) The official spokesperson said, "The officer asked her to put the handgun down, and when she would not, shots were fired." According to the spokesperson, officer Stem ordered her to drop the weapon three times.

     Many citizens of Hearne, outraged by the shooting, protested outside the police department. Ruben Gomez, the town's mayor, said he would recommend that officer Stem be fired from the department. On Saturday, May 10, the city council voted 6-0 to discharge officer Stem. To determine if the officer had committed a form of criminal homicide, the shooting was under investigation by the Texas Ranger's Office.

     On September 10, 2014, a local grand jury declined to indict the former police officer.

     Stephen Stem filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Hearne city council. On February 10, 2015, a federal judge dismissed the case.

Leo Sharp

     In 2014, Leo Sharp, a 90-yar-old decorated World War II veteran, resided in Michigan City, Indiana, a town of 30,000 fifty miles east of Chicago. In the fall of 2013, a federal prosecutor charged Sharp and eighteen others in connection with their involvement with a Mexican drug cartel. Mr. Sharp confessed to hauling more than a ton of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico. He had earned, during his tenure as a drug courier, more than $1 million. (In 2011, police stopped Sharp on a traffic violation on Interstate 94 west of Detroit. The arresting officer recovered a large quantity of cocaine.)

     On May 7, 2014, following his guilty plea, Leo Sharp appeared before a federal judge in Detroit for his sentencing. Sharp's attorney, in arguing for leniency, focused on his client's past, particularly his being awarded the Bronze Star for  his combat in the Battle of Mount Battaglia in Italy. Attorney Darryl Goldberg also informed the court that Mr. Sharp's dementia would place a burden on federal prison personnel.

      When it came time for the defendant to speak, Mr. Sharp, dressed in a suit and tie, said he wanted to spend his few remaining years in Hawaii growing papayas on land he owned in that state. (He had probably purchased the property with his drug income.) "All I can tell you, your honor, is I'm really heartbroken I did what I did. But it's done."

     U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds sentenced Leo Sharp to three years in prison, and fined him $500,000. The judge said, "I don't doubt that prison will be difficult for you, but respect for the law requires there be some custody in this case." In all probability, this judge sentenced the old man to life behind bars.
   
      

No comments:

Post a Comment