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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Dr. Thomas Dixon Love Triangle Murder-for-Hire Case

     The casts in murder-for-hire plots feature three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide; the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role); and the victim, the person targeted for death. While these cases, in terms of the principal actors, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-economic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the specific motive behind the murder plots.

     On July 11, 2012, someone broke a window and climbed into the Lubbock, Texas home of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, the 57-year-old chief pathologist of the Covenant Health System in that city. The intruder shot Dr. Sonnier to death. The victim lived alone, and because nothing had been taken from the house, police ruled out robbery as the killer's motive.

     Later on the day of the murder, Lubbock detectives questioned Dr. Sonnier's girlfriend in an effort to determine who may have had a reason to kill the doctor. When she mentioned she had been having trouble with her former boyfriend who insisted on seeing her even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier, the detectives had a suspect, and a potential motive. Their person of interest was a 48-year-old prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon who practiced in Amarillo, Texas, a panhandle city 120 miles north of Lubbock. Because the homicide detectives didn't think that Dr. Dixon had climbed into Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and personally shot him, they considered the possibility of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. But who was the hit man?

     Less than a week after the murder, detectives caught a break. A longtime friend and former business associate of Dr. Dixon's told investigators that David Neil Shepard had killed Dr. Sonnier. According to the informant, Shepard, who had attempted suicide two days after Dr. Sonnier's murder, told him Dr. Dixon had given him three bars of silver worth $9,000 as an advance on the hit. (On June 15, 2012, Shepard sold one of the bars for $2,750.) Shepard told the informant that after watching Dr. Sonnier's house for weeks, he broke in through a window and murdered him.

     Because the suspected hit man revealed to the snitch information only known to crime scene investigators, the tipster's story rang true. (Shepard had described, for example, how he had muffled the sound of his gun, and  how many times he fired the weapon.)

     The 51-year-old accused hit man had a crime history of two convictions for theft and burglary. Detectives believed David Shepard and the plastic surgeon had met on the day before Dr. Sonnier's murder. The fact Shepard had sold the bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop tended to support a piece of the informant's story.

     On July 16, 2012, police in Amarillo arrested Dr. Thomas Dixon and David Shepard on charges of capital murder. The suspects were booked into the Lubbock County Criminal Detention Center under $10 million bond each.

     This murder-for-hire case was especially newsworthy because the accused mastermind and his victim were physicians. The case was also unusual because David Shepard was much older than the typical hit man. But the love triangle motive was fairly common.

     In April 2013, the mother and sons of Dr. Sonnier filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Dixon. However, before the civil action could proceed, the murder case had to be resolved within the criminal justice system.

     The suspected hit man, David Neal Shepard, in September 2013, pleaded guilty to breaking into Dr. Sonnier's home and stabbing and shooting him to death. The judge sentenced him to life.

     Lubbock County prosecutor Matt Powell announced in November 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Dr. Dixon, the accused mastermind behind Dr. Sonnier's murder.

     In November 2014, at the conclusion of Dr. Dixon's three-week capital murder trial, the jury of six men and six women, after eight hours of deliberation, were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judge Jim Bob Darnell declared a mistrial.

     Doug Moore, the jury foreman, in speaking to the media following the mistrial, said that although the case against Dr. Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as being not very bright. "For me the evidence of guilt seemed very clear," he said.

     Shortly after the mistrial, the judge denied the defendant's request for a reduction of his $10 million bond. However, in September 2015, the judge reduced Dixon's bail to $2 million. A few days later the accused murder-for-hire mastermind paid $200,000 and was released from jail pending the disposition of his second trial.

      On November 19, 2015, the jury in Dr. Dixon's second trial found him guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

      

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ice Cream Truck Wars: Sno Cone Joe Versus Mr. Ding-A-Ling

     When imagining men who sell ice cream products out of good humor trucks, one envisions jolly Mr. Rogers types dressed in white. But in reality, why would these people be any different than people who drive taxi cabs, UPS trucks, and buses. Not that there's anything wrong with those folks.

     In the 1970s and 80s, Robert Pronge, the driver of a New Jersey Mister Softee's Truck, moonlighted as a contract killer. Pronge became known for his use of cyanide to complete many of his assignments. (He dropped the poison in his targets' whiskey and beer, not their Mister Softee cones.) On occasion, however, he'd keep his victims cooling in the Mr. Softee truck until he could permanently dispose of their corpses. The hit man, referred to in certain circles as "Mr. Softee", ended up being murdered by Richard Kuklnski, the prolific Gambino family contract killer known as the "Ice Man." Kuklnski had introduced Mr. Softee to the idea of using cyanide as a murder weapon. Pronge, as far as anyone knows, is the only hit man in history who hauled dead bodies around in an ice cream truck. But compared to Kuklnski who killed more than 200 men for money, Mr. Softee was an amateur. Unlike Kuklinki who was a cold-blooded sociopath, Mr. Softee was a bit crazy and unpredictable. He did, however, sell a lot of ice cream, and from all accounts, loved children.

The Ice Cream Truck War

     In Gloversville, New Jersey, 34-year-old Joshua Malatino, the owner of the local Sno Cone Joe franchise, also sold a lot of ice cream. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Amanda Scott, helped him operate his good humor truck. Business was good in Gloversville until a rival good humor man rolled into town in his Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck.

     Mr. Malatino, aka Sno Cone Joe, decided to harass his business rival, 53-year-old Brian Collis aka Mr. Ding-A-Ling. On April 16, 19, and 28, 2013, Malatino, with his Sno Cone Joe jingles blaring from his truck, tailgated Mr. Ding-A-Ling around town. Whenever Mr. Collis stopped to service a customer, Sno Cone Joe would pull up behind Mr. Ding-A-Ling and offer the consumer free ice cream. At one point, Malatino allegedly phoned Mr. Ding-A-Ling headquarters in Latham, New Jersey and said, "I own this town!"

     On May 3, 2013, a local prosecutor charged  Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott with harassment and misdemeanor stalking. If convicted, Sno Cone Joe and Sno Cone Jane (just kidding) faced up to three months in jail. According to Gloversville Police Captain John Sira, Malatino drove a different ice cream truck operator out of town the previous summer.

     In April 2015, a Fulton County judge dismissed the charges against Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ruby Klokow Murder Case

     In 1957, 21-year-old Ruby Klokow, a resident of Sheboygan, a Michigan Lake town of 50,000 in southern Wisconsin, physically abused and murdered her 6-month-old daughter, Jeaneen. Following the baby's suspicious death Klokow told the police the child had fallen off the sofa. Although the autopsy revealed two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung, and three scalp bruises, injuries inconsistent with a fall from a couch, the Sheboygan County Corner ruled the baby's death accidental. As a result of this bogus manner of death ruling, the police did not conduct a homicide investigation. This stunning example of criminal justice incompetence (or indifference) was particularly tragic because the dead child had a two-year-old brother, and Klokow would give birth again.

     In 1964, Ruby Klokow's infant son Scott died mysteriously in his crib. Given the suspicious death of her daughter Jeaneen seven years earlier, it's hard to understand why the authorities in Sheboygan didn't investigate the passing of this child. (Had there been an autopsy there would have been signs of past injuries caused by abuse.)  Instead of putting this homicidal mother away for life, local criminal justice personnel made it possible for this woman to continue practicing her sadistic style of parenting.

     Finally in 2008, Klokow's 53-year-old son James who was two-years-old when his mother murdered his sister Jeaneen, came forward with his own story of parental abuse. According to James Klokow, his mother repeatedly beat him as far back as he could remember. At school he would lie to his teachers regarding how he had collected all of the bruises on his body that included choke marks on his neck. His mother frequently made him stand in a corner all day long during which time she threw knives and scissors at him. She also blinded him in one eye. When he turned thirteen, James, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, ran away from home. After that he was abused by a series of foster parents until the age of eighteen.

     After James Klokow came forward with his story of child abuse, Judy Post, Ruby Klokow's younger sister, told the authorities that Ruby had physically abused her when they were children. Post also reported having seen Ruby throw her infant daughter Jeaneen to the ground.

     In February 2011, a Sheboygan County prosecutor charged the 74-year-old Klokow with second-degree murder in the 1957 death of Jeaneen. A forensic pathologist took the stand at a preliminary hearing and testified that the infant's autopsy revealed injuries too severe to have been caused by a fall off a sofa. Klokow's attorney, after getting her released on bail, delayed matters by claiming that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 25, 2013, the day Ruby Klokow was scheduled to go on trial for the murder of her daughter, she entered a plea of no contest to the second-degree murder charge. Klokow, who had admitted killing Jeaneen, was scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2013.

     Sheboygan County Judge Angela Sutkiewicz, pursuant to the plea-bargain agreement worked out between the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor, sentenced Klokow to 45 days in jail and ten years probation.

     To reporters following the no contest plea, Klokow's attorney Kirk Obear said that trying his client for murder after all of these years would be "unfair" because so many witnesses have died. The defense attorney went on to say that Klokow was "dealing with a lot of heartache." (Give me a break--serial child abusers don't experience heartaches--they give them.)

     District Attorney Joe DeCecco, in explaining to the media why he signed-off on the plea deal, mentioned Klokow's age and poor health. (Who cares about this woman's health?) The prosecutor also said that because the statute of limitations did not allow him to charge Klokow with the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter he had to prove a case of murder which, under the circumstances, may have been difficult. (So what?)

     It's not that the prosecution in this case didn't have evidence. In addition to the defendant's confession, the district attorney had her sister's testimony and a compelling witness in her son, James Klokow. In my opinion this prosecutor, in the name of justice, should have pushed forward with the trial. What did he have to lose? What was the point of 45 days in jail and ten years of probation?

      Had the jury found this woman guilty of second-degree murder she would have died in prison where she should have been all along. No contest? What kind of plea is that to child abuse and murder? In this case justice was denied in 1957, and after 56 years, denied again.

   

     

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dr. Arnold Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Greenwood, Mississippi, attorney Lee Abraham got wind of a murder-for-hire plot against him by two husbands of women he had represented several years before in a pair of divorce cases. The attorney had reason to believe that a local physician, 70-year-old Dr. Arnold Smith, and a 54-year-old brickmason named William Paul Muller, were the masterminds behind the plan to kill him. Apparently these men still hated the lawyer who had won settlements for their wives. Instead of moving on with their lives, they wanted revenge.

     On Saturday night, April 28, 2012, two agents with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office who were investigating the case were in Abraham's office talking to him about the alleged murder plot. That night, 23-year-old Keaira Byrd and his 25-year-old accomplice Derrick Lacy burst into the law office. (According to some reports, the agents knew the hit men were coming and were waiting for them.) Byrd, armed with an assault rifle, and wearing a ski mask, fired the first shot. The agents returned fire, killing Byrd on the spot. Derrick Lacy was shot in the lower back. One of the attorney general agents received a minor wound. Attorney Abraham, the target of the hit, escaped injury.

     Derrick Lacy, as he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told an investigator that he had overheard Dr. Smith offer Keaira Byrd money to kill the lawyer.

     The day after the shootings, a Leflore County prosecutor charged the oncologist and the brickmason with conspiracy to commit murder. The arraignment magistrate denied Dr. Smith bail. William Paul Muller paid his $250,000 bond and was released. On his Facebook page, Mr. Muller proclaimed his innocence.

     Following Dr. Smith's arrest, his attorney arranged to have him evaluated by a mental health expert who concluded that the physician was not mentally competent to stand trial. In January 2013, in response to the prosecution's request, Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ordered Dr. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     Because of institutional overcrowding, a hospital bed for Dr. Smith didn't become available until June 4, 2013. (Mississippi must have a serious problem with mental illness.)

     On October 8, 2014, Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Dr. Arnold Smith mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that the 71-year-old physician be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     As of December 2015, no trial date had been set regarding suspects William Paul Muller and Derrick Lacy. Another man, Cordarious Robinson, had been charged with conspiracy to murder attorney Abraham. Prosecutors believe that Robinson helped hire Keaira Byrd for the hit.

     In November 2016, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ordered that Dr. Smith be transferred from the the state hospital to a private facility, the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, where he would receive treatment as an out patient. The transfer was based on the diagnoses of a pair of Tulane University psychiatrists. As an out patient, Dr. Smith would be allowed to live in his Jackson home with his current wife.

     The alleged murder-for-hire target, attorney Lee Abraham, filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Smith that is scheduled for trial in March 2017.

     The criminal case against the alleged murder-for-hire hit man and his accomplices has not, as of December 2016, gone to trial. The same is true regarding the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind Dr. Arnold Smith who is presumably mentally fit to face conspiracy to murder charges as well as a felony-murder doctrine charge related to Kearia Byrd's police involved shooting death.   

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Karen Sharpe: The Grandmother From Hell

     Karen Sharpe, a 54-year-old resident of New Straitsville, Ohio in the southeastern part of the state, was as far from Norman Rockwell's version of a grandparent as you can get. Sharpe, who strikingly resembled a hungover Winston Churchill in a long, ratty wig, had custody of her daughter's two girls, ages 13 and 11. A person like grandma Sharpe having custody of her granddaughters meant that the girls' mother must have been dead, homeless, in drug rehab, or in prison.

     The oldest of Sharpe's granddaughters had a metal plate in her head as a result of abuse from another family member. This fact did not deter grandma Sharpe, on January 19, 2014, from punching the 13-year-old in the face. Ten days after that assault, this monster grandparent took out her rage--perhaps drunken--on the younger sister. Unbeknownst to Sharpe, the 13-year-old recorded that assault on her cellphone.

     When the 11-year-old granddaughter accidentally stepped on Sharpe's sore foot [she probably hurt it kicking a Golden Retriever], grandma forced the girl to the floor and stuffed a pair of heavily soiled men's underwear into her mouth. [Whose underwear?] Grandma Sharpe added to the girl's misery and horror by taping the disgusting garment into place, then ordering the child to swallow the fecal matter. [If you are eating breakfast stop now because it gets worse. Sorry.]

     The domestic depravity continued. When Sharpe removed the tape, the girl vomited on the floor. The sadistic grandmother responded by ordering the child to lick up the mess.

     The victim's sister, after secretly recording her grandmother's obscene cruelty, called the police. Police officers, after reviewing video, immediately arrested Karen Sharpe. Child services personnel placed the girls into temporary foster homes.

     A Hocking County prosecutor charged Sharpe with kidnapping (a felony which includes confinement), and misdemeanor counts of assault and child endangerment. The thoroughly disgusted officers booked the suspect into the Southeastern Regional Jail. The judge set her bond at $1.1 million.

     The next day at the Hocking County Municipal Court, Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted of kidnapping, she faced up to ten years in prison.

     Hocking County sheriff's deputy Ed Downs told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that the crime was the "most disgusting, heinous" case of child abuse he'd ever seen."

     On June 3, 2014, Karen Sharpe was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of endangering children. Hocking Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace sentenced the degenerate to three years in prison.

     The public officials responsible for this guilty plea should be thrown out of office. For a crime against nature like this there are no mitigating circumstances. A case like this makes a mockery of our criminal justice system.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Harold Sasko Murder Case

     Harold Sasko lived in a middle-class, ranch style home in suburban Lawrence, Kansas with his chocolate labrador Oliver. The 52-year-old businessman owned three CiCi's Pizza restaurants, one in Lawrence and two in Topeka. In 2014, Mr. Sasko informed the woman he was dating at the time that one of his employees, a 18-year-old named Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, would be temporarily staying at his house. He said she needed help with her drug problem and wanted to separate herself from street gang influence. McLinn, a former employee at CiCi's Pizza Buffet in Lawrence, worked at a local Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

     On Friday, January 17, 2014, a member of McLinn's family reported  her missing. The relative informed officers with the Lawrence Police Department that the 18-year-old had been missing for three days. They became concerned when she didn't show up for a family dinner on January 14.

     On January 17, 2014, pursuant to the missing persons investigation, a Lawrence police officer knocked on Mr. Sasko's door. When the resident didn't answer, the officer looked through a window and saw a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

     The body in the house turned out to be Mr. Sasko's. He had been murdered and the killer had presumably driven off in his 2008 Nissan Altima. Mr. Sasko's dog Oliver was also missing. A local judge issued a warrant for Sarah McLinn's arrest as a prime suspect in the Sasko murder.

     At ten-thirty Saturday night, January 25, 2014, 1,560 miles from the murder scene, Everglades National Park rangers in Dade County, Florida arrested Sarah McLinn. They found her sleeping in the park after hours in the back of the murdered man's car. She also possessed Oliver, Mr. Sasko's dog. The park rangers took McLinn into custody on charges related to the possession of illicit drugs.

     The authorities in Florida also discovered in the Nissan what detectives believed to be the Sasko case murder weapons--two knives and an ax. The day after her arrest on the drug charges, the district attorney of Douglas County, Kansas charged McLinn with first-degree murder.

     At a press conference on January 27, 2014, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib told reporters that, "Based upon our investigation, evidence suggests Ms. McLinn gained control over Mr. Sasko and then killed him." According to the police chief, the victim had been attacked with an "edged instrument." Moreover, Mr. Sasko had not been conscious when he died. Chief Khatib said that Mr. Sasko was murdered on January 14, the day McLinn went missing. He did not identify a motive. The suspect, however, had confessed.

     On February 1, 2014, McLinn, after waiving an extradition hearing in Florida, was transported back to Kansas where officers booked her into the Douglas County Jail. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     According to Sasko case investigators, McLinn, several hours after the murder, was in Bishop, Texas, a small town 100 miles from the Mexican border. She had stopped at two gas stations in Bishop, about 900 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas.

     Carl Cornwell, McLinn's attorney, told reporters that the issue in the case would center on his client's motive to kill, not on whether or not she had committed the murder.

     The Sasko murder trial got underway on March 5, 2015 in the Douglas County Courthouse. Prosecutor Charles Branson told the jury in his opening remarks that Sarah McLinn had carefully planned Mr. Sasko's murder.

     Defense attorney Carl Cornwell, in his opening address to the jury, said his client had not been in control of herself when she killed the victim. The murder, according to attorney Cornwell, had been committed by Alyssa, one of the defendant's multiple personalities.

     Lawrence police detective Robert Brown took the stand for the prosecution and testified that prior to the murder, McLinn had searched Google with the key phrase "neck vulnerable spots." In her confession she admitted stabbing the victim then slicing his throat. When asked by the detective why had she murdered Mr. Sasko, she said, " I wanted to see someone die."

     Detective Brown testified that the defendant had disabled the victim by crushing six sleeping pills and pouring the powder into his can of beer. A toxicology report confirmed the presence of this substance in the victim's system.

     The key witness for the defense, Dr. Marilyn A. Hutchinson, a psychologist, testified that during the 17 hours she spent with McLinn, the defendant spoke to her as four personalities--Sarah, Alyssa, Myla, and Vanessa. Based on these interviews, Dr. Hutchinson diagnosed McLinn as suffering from Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), a psychological condition once called Multiple Personality Syndrome. According to Dr. Hutchinson, Alyssa had told the defendant to murder the victim.

     Defense attorney Cornwell rested his case without putting Sarah, Alyssa, Myla or Vanessa on the stand.

     On March 20, 2015, the jury, after deliberating just four hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Six months later the judge sentenced Sarah McLinn to fifty years in prison.

     The Sasko case illustrates that a defense attorney, regardless of how idiotic the defense, can find a courtroom psychologist to go along with it. Fortunately, most juries are smart enough to cut through the nonsense.

     

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Randall Dale Adams: An Innocent Man

     In June 2011, a 61-year-old man who had been living a quiet life in a central Ohio town, died without much notice. His name was Randall Dale Adams, and in the history of 20th Century criminal justice--or rather injustice--he was a towering figure. The Adams case perfectly illustrates the doleful saying: "Any prosecutor can convict a guilty defendant, it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent one."

     On November 27, 1976, Adams, a 27-year-old manual laborer with no history of crime or violence, while walking along a street in Dallas, Texas after his car had run out of gas, met 16-year-old David Ray Harris. Harris, a kid from Vidor, Texas who had aleady been in trouble with the law, was driving a car he had recently stolen. Harris offered Adams a ride.

     After getting into the stolen car with Harris, Adams and his new acquaintance drank some beer, smoked marijuana, and took in a movie called "Swinging Cheerleaders" at a drive-in theater. Shortly after midnight, on November 28, Harris, while driving the blue sedan with its headlights off with Adams in the front passenger's seat, was pulled over by two officers in a Dallas patrol car. As patrolman Robert Wood approached the driver's side of Harris' vehicle, Harris, using a handgun he had stolen from his father, shot officer Wood five times, killing him on the spot. The dead officer's partner, Teresa Turko, fired at the car as Harris sped off. None of her bullets hit the fleeing vehicle. Officer Turko was certain the man who had shot her partner was the only person in the car.

     After dropping Adams off at his place of residence in Dallas, Harris drove southeast 300 miles to his parents' house in Vidor. During the next several days Harris bragged to his friends that he had "offed a pig" in Dallas. This drew the attention of the local police who recovered the pistol Harris had stolen from his father. Through ballistics analysis a firearms expert identified this gun as the murder weapon. Detectives also gave Harris a polygraph test which he failed. At first Harris denied any knowledge of the shooting, but after the ballistics report, and the lie detector results, he fingered Randall Adams, a hitchhiker he had picked up in Dallas, as the cop killer.

     Following a police interrogation in Dallas in which Randall Adams identified David Harris as the police shooter, he passed a polygraph test with that account. The Dallas County District Attorney, Norm Kinne, decided not to prosecute Harris. Kinne didn't want to prosecute David Ray Harris because, at age 16, he was too young for the electric chair.

     At Adams' May 1977 murder trial, prosecutor Kinne manufactured incriminating evidence in the form of three eyewitnesses who testified they had ridden by the shooting scene just as officer Wood approached the blue car. Although it was dark and the inside of the stolen car was unlit, the three witnesses identified Randall Adams as the driver of the stopped vehicle. These identifications were patently ridiculous and obviously motivated by something other than the truth. Two of the eyewitnesses, a husband and wife team, were looking for a piece of the $21,000 reward. The other witness had a daughter in trouble with the law. After the Adams trial the charges against her daughter were dropped. All three of these prosecution witnesses, bought for and coached, committed perjury. Officer Turko took the stand, and while admitting she hadn't seen the shooter clearly, said his hair was the same color as the defendant's.

     Randall Adams took the stand on his own behalf and proclaimed his innocence. The prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments and the case went to the jury. Without taking much time to deliberate the jurors found the defendant guilty of murdering officer Robert Wood. This led to the penalty phase of the trial which involved the determination of whether or not there was a probability that the convicted man would, if given a life sentence, commit future acts of violence.

     District Attorney Norm Kinne put two expert (so-called) witnesses on the stand who testified that Randall Adams was still a dangerous man. The fact that Adams was innocent and had no history of violence proved that both of these psychiatrists were bogus prosecution hacks. The first of these thoroughly corrupt experts to take the stand, Dr. John Holbrook, had been the chief of psychiatry with the Texas Department of Corrections. (This alone should have disqualified him as an unbiased witness.) The second, a creepy shrink named Dr. John Grigson, after having spoken to Randall Adams fifteen minutes, told the jurors that Adams was qualified to be electrocuted. Dr. Grigson's testimony was so predictably prosecution friendly--he had testified in more than 100 trials that ended in death sentences--defense attorneys around the state called him "Doctor Death." (According the American Psychiatric Association, then and now, future dangerousness is impossible to predict.)

     Relying on corrupt and erroneous psychiatric testimony pertaining to an innocent man, the Dallas County jury voted to sentence Randall Adams to death.

     In January 1979, the Texas Court of Crimminal Appeals affirmed Adams' conviction and death sentence. A judge sentenced Adams to die on May 8 of that year. On May 5, three days before his date with the electric chair, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution. The governor of Texas, Bill Clements, decided to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison.

     While Randall Adams sat in prison, David Harris, the man who had murdered officer Wood, joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Harris committed a series of burglaries that led to a stretch in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. After his release from Leavenworth, Harris moved to California where he committed several kidnappings and robberies. In 1985, Harris was back in Texas where, in Beaumont, he murdered a man. A year later, a jury sentenced Harris to death. Had Harris been convicted of killing officer Wood, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to kill the Beaumont man.

     In 1988, producer Errol Morris made a documentary about the Adams case called "The Thin Blue Line." In the film, Morris exposed the prosecution's eyewitnesses as liars, and Dr. John Grigson as a courtroom fraud. A year later, following the airing of the documentary, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka, following a 3-day hearing on the Adams case, recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Randall Adams be granted a new trial.

     On March 1, 1989, the appeals court, in an unanimous 27-page opinion that cited gross prosecutoral wrongdoing, ordered a new trial. Three weeks later, the Dallas County District Attorney (not Kinne) dropped all charges. Randall Adams, after twelve years behind bars, walked free. Because he had not been pardoned by the governor, Adams was not eligible for the $25,000 he would have otherwise been awarded.

     In 2004, the state of Texas executed David Harris for the 1985 murder in Beaumont. Before he died, Harris admitted shooting officer Wood to death.

     Except for the occasional reairing of "The Thin Blue Line," the Randall Adams case is almost forgotten. But it shouldn't be forgotten because it reminds us of how much damage "a great" prosecutor can do.    

Sunday, December 4, 2016

John L. Marra: The Judicial Cover-Up of a Police Chief's Conviction

     John Marra's modest entry into law enforcement took place on July 11, 2005 when the 29-year-old became a part-time reserve police officer in Uniontown, Ohio, a Stark County village of 2,800 in the northeastern part of the state. A little over two years after being on the job, Marra entered into an intimate relationship with a 16-year-old girl. He sent her inappropriate text messages, and while on duty, kissed and fondled her at her place of employment, a Subway restaurant.

     In May 2008, the 32-year-old police officer pleaded no contest to dereliction of duty, a second-degree misdemeanor. The Stark County judge sentenced Marra to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Marra not to have further contact with the girl or members of her family. As part of the plea deal, Marra agreed to resign from the Uniontown Police Department.

     In 2010, shortly after his period of probation expired, Marra joined the police department in Brady Lake, Ohio, a small Portage County town in the Akron metropolitan area. In December 2013, following the retirement of the chief of police, the major named Marra acting head of the agency. On March 17, 2014, the village council approved Marra's appointment as the chief of the Brady Lake Police Department.

     Marra's promotion, given his history with the Uniontown Police Department, raised more than a few eyebrows. In April 2014, members of the local print and television news media asked Mayor Hal Lehman if someone, in anticipation of Marra's appointment, had conducted a background investigation. The mayor replied that such an inquiry had been made and said, "We are done with the issue." Another reporter asked the mayor if he would provide the media with a copy of the investigative report. Mayor Lehman said he did not have a copy of that document.

     Mayor Lehman, when asked specifically about the new police chief's dereliction of duty conviction five years earlier, had nothing to say other than the matter was settled.

     Chief Marra, aware that his 2008 conviction might prove troublesome to the advancement of his law enforcement career, had petitioned the court to seal the records of the case. If granted his request, this information would be no longer available to the public.

     The Stark County prosecutor's office opposed the Marra petition. Recognizing that offenses less serious than a first-degree misdemeanor can be removed from public scrutiny, the prosecutor trying to preserve Marra's conviction history argued that this particular case was an exception because of Marra's intimate involvement with a 16-year-old girl. Had Marra not agreed to plead in the case, he would have been convicted of a more serious offense. Moreover, as a public official, the chief of police should be held to a higher standard of conduct than an ordinary citizen. Chief Marra had violated that standard.

     On May 1, 2014, following a brief hearing on Marra's petition, Stark County Judge John Poulos approved of the sealing of all documents pertaining to the 2008 dereliction of duty conviction in Uniontown, Ohio. Judge Poulos based his decision on the fact the petitioner had been convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor that, under Ohio law, allowed the sealing of these crime records. The judge obviously didn't buy the argument that public officials should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. [Why would he? The judge was a public official himself.]

     I disagree with this judge's decision. We give our law enforcement officers enormous power over our lives. In return, they owe us honesty, trustworthiness, good character, and sound judgment. Officer John Marra, with regard to the girl, exhibited an alarming lack of good judgment as well as a troubling and perhaps pathological flaw in his character.

     The citizens of Brady Lake who pay the chief's salary, and are subject to his power and authority, had a right to know such things as the degree to which Marra had coerced or stalked the girl. It may also have been important to know how this case came to light, and how the officer initially reacted to the accusations.

    

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Wayne Mills Murder Case

     Jerald Wayne Mills grew up in the town of Arab, Georgia in the northern part of the state. At the University of Alabama where he played football, he earned a degree in education. But instead of becoming a teacher, Mills formed a band and for fifteen years performed primarily on the college circuit.

     Mills, in 2010, was charged with driving under the influence and reckless endangerment after he bumped a police officer who was standing on the side of the highway. Between tours in 2013, Mills busied himself by working on his seventh album. The 44-year-old was married and had a 6-year-old son.

     A friend of Mills, Chris Ferrell, owned the Pit and Barrel Bar located in downtown Nashville. In July 2013, police arrested Ferrell on charges of domestic violence and vandalism. The complaining witness in the case was a bartender he dated. Notwithstanding that arrest, Ferrell possessed a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

     In mid-November 2013, Ferrell and his bar were featured on a TV series on the Spike Network called "Bar Rescue." In the series, experts helped save struggling bars and nightclub businesses.

     During the early morning hours of Saturday, November 23, 2013, Wayne Mills and a handful of friends and acquaintances were drinking with Chris Ferrell in his bar after it had closed. Just before five that morning an argument broke out between Mills and Ferrell. The trouble started when Mills lit up a cigarette in the non-smoking section of the bar. The two men became so angry, bystanders, fearing violence, left the premises.

     Shortly after 5 that morning, a small group of people outside the Pit and Barrel heard three gunshots. One of the bystanders called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the bar to find Mills dead or dying from three shots to the head. One of the bullets had entered the back of his skull. A short time after being taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors pronounced Mills dead.

     Chris Ferrell told detectives that fearing for his life, he had shot his friend in self defense. As the only witness to the shooting, detectives accepted Ferrell's account pending further investigation and the results of the autopsy. The bar owner was not taken into custody.

     Detectives with the Davidson County Police Department, for ten hours following the fatal shooting, worked under the false belief that the man shot by Ferrell was Clayton Mills, a Nashville songwriter. Given the fact several people who knew Wayne Mills had witnessed his argument with Ferrell, then heard gunshots, it's hard to image how detectives didn't immediately acquire the true identify of the victim. And why had it taken them so long to sort out their mistake?

     On November 26, 3013, a spokesperson for the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office announced that while a forensic pathologist had performed the autopsy on Wayne Mills, results of that post-mortem work would not be released for up to fourteen weeks. The spokesperson also refused to say if Mr. Ferrell had sustained injuries from the fight.

     In the meantime, Wayne Mills' friends, fans, and family, having heard that one of Ferrell's bullets had entered the back of Mills' head, questioned the believability of the self defense claim.  A rumor surfaced that the shooting occurred when the men were standing on opposite sides of a physical barrier.

     On December 6, 2013, a Davidson County grand jury indicted Chris Ferrell on one count of second-degree murder. Following the indictment, the bar owner turned himself over to the police. Officers booked Ferrell into the Davidson County Jail and the judge set his bail at $150,000. At a bond hearing on December 16, the judge lowered Ferrell's bail which led to his release from custody.

     In January 2014, the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office released the Mills autopsy report. The victim had been killed by a single bullet to the back of the head. The absence of gunpowder staining around the entrance wound suggested the shot had been fired from a distance of at least eighteen inches. The shooting victim had also suffered two broken ribs, abrasions on his head and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh and right knee. According to the toxicology report, Mills had a blood-alcohol level of .221, three times the legal limit for driving intoxicated. He also had amphetamine in his system.

     The Wayne Mills murder trial got underway in Nashville on March 2, 2015. In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Wesley King said that the victim had been shot in the back of the head as he was leaving the bar.

     Defense attorney David Raybin told the jury that the defendant wouldn't have murdered his best friend, that the killing had been in self defense. "He [Mills] was my client's best friend. My client loved him and cared for him and wouldn't murder him," Raybin said. "Never in the ten years they had known each other was there ever a harsh, loud episode between them."

     Prosecutor King put songwriter Thomas Howard on the stand who testified that he saw Ferrell smack a cigarette out of Mills' hand that made Mills angry. "At that point Mills got up and turned around and said, "You ever smack my hand like that again, I'll kill you." Howard said he heard gunshots as he left the bar.

     After the prosecution rested its case on March 4, 2015, the defense attorney put 24-year-old Nadia Markum on the stand. She had been in the bar that night and said Mills and Ferrell were yelling at each other. While she didn't recall the specifics of the argument because she was drunk, she remembered Wayne Mills throwing a glass to the floor. Right after she exited the bar she heard three shots.

     On Markum's cross-examination, prosecutor King got the witness to admit that when questioned by the police, she had said, "All that Mills did was smoke a cigarette." She had also told detectives that Mills was trying to leave the bar when he was shot.

     Defense attorney Raybin, as his final defense witness, put Chris Ferrell on the stand. The defendant testified that Mills became agitated when he couldn't get a cab. "I can't get a cab!" he said. "There are no whores, and no f-ing cocaine here. Why am I here?" At the time of the outburst, Ferrell was walking around the bar turning out lights in anticipation of closing up the place. It was then Mills lit a cigarette.

     The defendant testified that he asked Mills to put out the cigarette. Mills refused, saying that he had helped "build this bar." Ferrell said he reached across the bar and grabbed the cigarette out of Mills' mouth, crushed it and threw it on the floor. Mills responded to this by saying, "If you ever take a cigarette from me again, I will kill you!" According to the defendant, he told Mills to leave the bar but not with the drink he held in his hand. To that Mills said, "If you talk to me like that again I'm going to f-ing kill you." Mills then threw his drink to the floor, smashing the glass into pieces, "You know what?" he said, "I'm going to f-ing kill you!"

     The defendant said that in response to that threats to his life "I fired in fear. I panicked. I believed he had a weapon."

     On March 6, 2015, the jury found Chris Ferrell guilty of second-degree murder. On April 28, 2015, at his sentence hearing, Chris Ferrell, in addressing the court, said, "I stand here today with the heaviest heart, conscious and soul. I will carry the memory of that horrible night forever. I am so sorry for my actions that in an instant changed so many lives." The judge sentenced Ferrell to twenty years in prison.

     

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Cracker Barrel Murders: No Escaping Kevin Allen

     In June 1995, the day he received word that he and his first wife were divorced, 35-year-old Kevin E. Allen assaulted his girlfriend, Janice Koerlin. A few months later, the diagnosed manic-depressive from Kirtland, Ohio, a town 20 miles east of Cleveland, married Koerlin. In September of that year, police arrested Allen after he tried to suffocate his new wife with a pillow. This was a man who obvioulsy had no business being around women. This was a man who needed to be locked up.

     In 2004, Allen filed for personal bankruptcy for the second time. (He had filed for bankruptcy in 1991.) Four years later, the police in North Royalton, Ohio arrested him, now married to his fifth wife with whom he had fathered two daughters, on charges of theft and burglary.

     In March 2011, Kevin and his fifth wife Katherina, who went by Kate and was ten years younger than him, lived in Strongsville, Ohio with their daughters Kerri and Kayla. That year Kevin and Kate filed for personal bankruptcy. They were in debt $60,000. Although Kevin Allen, with his short, thinning gray hair and his trimmed white beard looked like a friendly guy, he continued to be a bellicose, bad-tempered husband. People went out of their way to avoid him. In 2011, Allen went several months without paying his gas bill, and threatened to shoot anybody from the utility company who came to his place to shut if off. A gas company employee did go to the house, but with a police escort.

     In early April 2012, the domestic abuse had gotten so intense and frequent, Kate and the girls moved into a friend's house. On April 12, Kate decided to take Kerri and Kayla to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in nearby Brooklyn, Ohio to celebrate Kerri Allen's tenth birthday. Kate had invited her estranged husband, and in the relative safety of a crowded restaurant, planned to inform Kevin that she wanted a divorce.

     After the late dinner, while still at the Cracker Barrel, Kate broke the news that she was leaving him. Infuriated, Kevin stormed out of the restaurant, but instead of driving home, he circled the parking lot in his silver Jeep Liberty. Worried that Kevin might become violent, Kate, at 8:40, called 911. "I'm having some spouse problems," she said.

     Kate informed the 911 dispatcher that she had just told her estranged husband that she was leaving  him, and he hadn't taken it very well. At that moment, Kevin Allen was outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant driving around the parking lot. A few minutes later, as Kate spoke to the 911 dispatcher, Kevin re-entered the restaurant and approached her and the children carrying a single barrel shotgun. The local police rolled up to the scene just as Kevin disappeared inside the building.

     The police officers, aware that Kevin Allen had gone into the restaurant armed with a shotgun, decided to remain outside. They were afraid that if they went in after him, innocent bystanders could get shot in the cross-fire. The police were also worried that Allen, if confronted inside, might take a hostage.

     When Kevin Allen got to his wife's table, without saying a word, he aimed his shotgun and fired on her and their two children. The transcript of the 911 call, just before the shooting went like this:

DISPATCHER: "Wait in the lobby for the officers. Do not go outside. Let them talk to him, okay? "

KATE: "He's here and the police are here, too. I have to...." (Gunfire could be heard on the dispatcher's end.)

DISPATCHER: "Ma'am?"

     After murdering his wife and his daughter Kerri, and seriously wounding Kayla, Allen walked out the front door of the restaurant where he encountered the police. When he refused to drop his shotgun, the police opened fire, killing him on the spot.

     When Kevin Allen strode into the Cracker Barrel carrying the shotgun, bedlam broke out with patrons running for cover. The manager helped many diners exit the place through a rear door. None of the customers were injured.

     Medics  rushed Kayla to a nearby hospital where she survived her wounds. People have criticized the officers for not immediately entering the restaurant. But they were faced was a difficult dilemma. Had the police gone in, more people could have been killed. In reality, there is only so much the police can do. They cannot always save families from abusive, murderous husbands. There was no escaping Kevin Allen.

     

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Emani Moss: The Brutal Life and Death of a Girl Georgia Failed to Protect

     In 2004, prosecutors in Gwinnett County, Georgia charged Eman Moss with assaulting the biological mother of his one-year-old daughter, Emani. Because Eman attacked his girlfriend in front of their daughter, the prosecutor also charged him with second-degree child cruelty. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Eman Moss to probation.

     Six years after the domestic assault, Eman and his daughter resided in Lawrenceville, an unincorporated suburb of Atlanta. Eman's new girlfriend, Tiffany Nicole Brown, lived in the apartment with them. In March 2010, the six-year-old told a teacher at Cooper Elementary School that she was afraid to go home with her bad report card.

     Emani's extreme fear of being punished at home prompted an inquiry by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. After finding evidence of abuse, the child protection agency turned the case over to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

     Gwinnett County investigators determined that Tiffany Brown, the girlfriend of the Emani's father, had repeatedly beaten the girl with a belt. On Emani's body doctors found scars, abrasions, scabs, and bruises on her chest, arms, back, and legs. A Gwinnett County prosecutor charged Tiffany Nicole Brown, an elementary school teacher, with first-degree child cruelty. Eman, the girl's father, was charged with child cruelty as well.

     Pursuant to an agreement with the prosecutor, Tiffany was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree child cruelty. Because he and his girlfriend promised to take parenting classes, the charges against Eman were dropped. (The child services agency had signed-off on the plea bargain.) Everybody came out ahead in the deal except Emani who remained exposed to abuse. (I don't know if Tiffany Brown kept her teaching job.)

     In July 2012, Gwinnett County detectives opened another child abuse case on Eman and Tiffany whom he had since married. When investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to back up Emani's claims that she was being beaten and denied food as punishment, the police closed the case. Shortly after being abandoned again by the government, the nine-year-old ran away from home. After finding Emani, the authorities not only returned the child to her private hell, they charged her as a runaway juvenile.

     At four in the morning on Saturday, November 1, 2013, Eman Moss called 911 from the Coventry Pointe apartment complex in Lawrenceville. Moss told the 911 dispatcher that his daughter had consumed some kind of poison and died. He said her body was in the apartment and that he was thinking of committing suicide. (Unfortunately this turned out to be a hollow threat.)

     Gwinnett County police officers encountered Eman outside the apartment complex standing in a breezeway. The 30-year-old led the officers to a trash can in the recreation area. Inside the garbage bin officers discovered the badly burned body of a girl. The girl in the trash was ten-year-old Emani Moss.

     The county medical examiner's office ruled the girl's death a homicide. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Emani had died of starvation. Her body had been burned postmortem. The medical examiner did not believe she had been poisoned.  (A toxicology report would later confirm the lack of poison in the girl's system.) According to the pathologist, the dead girl had endured periods of up to twelve days without food. She had been dead about three days.

     Eman and Tiffany Moss, charged with first-degree murder, cruelty to children, and concealing a body, were booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The magistrate denied them bail.

     On June 8, 2015, Eman Moss pleaded guilty to the charge of felony-murder. As part of the plea bargain deal, he agreed to testify against his wife, Tiffany. Detectives believed that Tiffany had been the driving force behind the murder. Mr. Moss, according to investigators, had played a passive role in his daughter's torture and death. He had failed to protect her. In return for his plea, Eman Moss was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tiffany Moss, if found guilty as charged, could be sentenced to death.

    In November 2015, Tiffany Moss pleaded guilty to first-degree child cruelty and was sentenced to five years probation under the state's First Offender Program.
     

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The William Keitel Murder Case

     William Keitel and his wife Michele were married in 1989. The couple resided a few miles north of Pittsburgh in Ohio Township, Pennsylvania. In October 1996, following a tumultuous marriage and two children--William, 5 and Abbee, 3--William and Michele separated. Shortly after the split, Michele, 35, became engaged to Charles Dunkle, a 34-year-old from nearby Moon Township.

     In the evening of New Year's Day 1998, 45-year-old William Keitel sat in his Mercedes in the parking lot of the Stop 'N Go convenience store on Mount Nebo Road. He and his father, William Keitel senior, were waiting for Michele to arrive with the children pursuant to an a prearranged exchange. As on numerous occasions in the past, Michele had either forgotten about the exchange or was late.

     At nine-thirty that night, after William called the police, Michele, accompanied by the children, her father, and her fiancee, pulled into the convenience store lot.

     As William pulled out of the Stop 'N Go parking lot with his children in the car, Michele saw that he was armed with a handgun. (William had been issued a permit to carry the .38-caliber revolver.) Screaming that he had a gun, Michele ran after the Mercedes as it eased back onto Mount Nebo Road.

     William, realizing that his estranged wife was chasing his car, pulled into a neighboring beer distributorship parking area and climbed out of his vehicle with the gun in his hand. As Michele, her father--Mr. Charles Walker--and Charles Dunkle rushed him, William shot Dunkle in the chest at close range. With Michele on her knees next to Dunkle's body, William placed the barrel of the .38 to her forehead and pulled the trigger. When Mr. Walker tried to disarm William, the father-in-law was shot in the stomach.

     Michele Keitel and Charles Dunkle died on the beer distributorship's parking lot. Charles Walker survived his bullet wound. The Keitel children witnessed the mayhem a few feet away from their father's car.

     Charged with first-degree murder of Michele Keitel, third-degree murder of Charles Dunkle, and the aggravated assault of Charles Walker, William Keitel went on trial in Pittsburgh in October, 1998. His attorney, William Diffenderfer, presented a case of self defense that included putting his client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. Allegheny County prosecutor Edward Borowski, in the murder of Michele Keitel, sought the death penalty.

     The jury, following the one-month trial, found William Keitel guilty as charged. The jurors, however, rejected the death sentence by an eight to four vote. In January 1999, Common Pleas Judge Jeffery A. Manning sentenced Keitel to life in prison without parole. Three months later, prison administrators assigned him to the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

     In 2010, William Keitel's 18-year-son, a high school senior, died when his car collided with a telephone pole.

     At one in the afternoon of August 2, 2013, after returning to his cell following a work assignment, William Keitel's 43-year-old cellmate beat him severely. The 59-year-old convicted murderer was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania where, nine days later, he died from the beating.

     The federal appeal of William Keitel's conviction and sentence pending before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia died along with him. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Randall Price: Small Town Cop Kills Mentally Ill Antagonist

     Along a dirt road in Cottageville, South Carolina on May 16, 2011, Officer Randall Price of the Cottageville Police Department shot and killed Bert Reeves, a local construction company owner and the town's former mayor. They were both 40-years-old, had an antagonistic history between them, and, at the time of the shooting, were engaged in physical combat. The backgrounds of both men involved conflict and trouble. Reeves, shot in the chest, died from his wounds at a local hospital. The chief of the six-man police department, consisting of only two full-time patrol officers, placed Officer Price on paid administrative leave pending the investigation of the shooting by detectives with the state.

     Mayor Reeves, in 2004, scolded a town officer for not writing enough speeding tickets to pay for his job. ( With 10,000 vehicles passing through town every day on a major route between Charleston and Waterboro, Cottageville was a notorious speed trap.) In March 2006, a sheriff's deputy arrested Reeves for driving 103 mph in a 55 mph zone. Three months later, another deputy warned Reeves for driving 71 in a 55 mph area. In July 2006, Reeves suffered a serious brain injury after flipping his pickup. That November, the mayor reported his wife and children missing. He said they had been taken against their will by unidentified people angry at him over some business deal "turned ugly." As it turned out, the wife and kids had left on their own volition to get away from Reeves. A month later, after the state revealed that Reeves had traces of marijuana in his blood when he wrecked his truck, the mayor resigned. About a month before the fatal shooting, Reeves had complained about Officer Price's arrest of one of his relatives on an alchol related charge.

     Officer Randall Price, before joining the Cottageville force in May 2008, had, two years earlier, been fired from the Blockville Police Department over a claim of excessive force. In 2001, he had been fired from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for criminal domestic violence, and in 1999 from the McCormick County Sheriff's Office for unsafe driving. During an eleven year period, Price had held jobs with eight different law enforcement agencies. He was the quintessential small town gypsy cop.

     In September 2011, Cottageville Mayor Margaret Steen laid off Officer Price. The police department, she said, couldn't afford to keep him on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the shooting investigation. The former mayor shot by Price had been Steen's nephew.

     In September 2012, Bert Reeves' ex-wife Ashley, on behalf of their two children, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the town of Cottageville and other defendants. According to her attorney, Mullins McLeod, on the day in question, officer Price drove out to Nut Hatch Lane where he blocked the former mayor in with his patrol car before shooting him in the chest. The plaintiff accused the defendant town of negligently hiring a cop with a history of police brutality. According to the lawsuit, because town officials knew that Officer Price was out to get Mr. Reeves, they were negligent in not firing him.

     In August 2013, Lake Summers, the attorney representing the town, released civil suit documents that portrayed Bert Reeves, in the years before his death, as a mentally unstable and dangerous man. One of these documents included Mayor Margaret Steen's deposition transcript. Steen, the dead man's aunt, testified that shortly before the shooting, while she was at work in the town's municipal building, Reeves pulled his car up behind Officer Price's cruiser and started blowing his horn. The mayor, in an effort to defuse the situation, told the officer to ignore Reeves and go about his business. After Officer Price drove off, Reeves informed the major that he had been "this close to getting" Officer Price.

     According to Mayor Steen, Reeves looked as though he was under the influence of drugs that day. She testified that he was "acting wild and crazy." The mayor advised her nephew to take his complaints about Officer Price to the chief of police. Bert Reeves did not take her advice. In recalling that moment, the mayor said, "and he [Reeves] got this look on his face and he pointed and said, 'I'm going to get him now' and took off like a bat."

     The mayor, worried that there would be a dangerous confrontation involving her nephew and the police officer, immediately notified chief of police John Craddock of the situation. A short time later, Chief Craddock informed the mayor that Officer Price had killed Bert Reeves.

     Mercer Reeves, in his civil suit deposition, revealed that his brother Bert, in November 2006, had been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility after he threatened to harm members of his family. According the brother, Bert had threatened to kill his cousin, and talked about harming a police officer.

     Ashley Reeves, in responding to attorney Summer's deposition transcripts, admitted that Bert had gone through a rough period before and immediately after their June 2007 divorce. In 2006, he had threatened to burn down their house. The family court judge granted the divorce on grounds of Bert's adultery. Although the children remained with her, the judge granted her ex-husband visitation rights. "He was a really good father to his children," Ashley said. The lawsuit plaintiff asserted that her husband's difficulties with mental illness had nothing to do with his being wrongfully shot to death by Officer Price.

     According to a state toxicology report, Bert Reeves, at the time of his death, was not under the influence of illicit drugs. However, he did have in his system, at "therapeutic levels," three prescription drugs designed to treat anxiety.

     There was no third party witness to this police-involved shooting. Moreover, the event was not caught on videotape. As a result, all investigators had to go on was Randall Price's version of the incident. This and the fact Bert Reeves was mentally disturbed and angry in the hours before his death resulted in no criminal charges against the former police officer.

     On October 2, 2014, testimony in Ashley Reeves' wrongful death suit against Randall Price, the town of Cottageville, and its police department, got underway in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina. Former Cottageville police chief John Craddock took the stand for the defense on October 14, 2014. According to this witness, Bert Reeves, just before Randall Price shot him, was swinging at the officer.

     Throughout the trial, plaintiff's attorney McLoad painted Randall Price as a loose cannon cop who had been frequently disciplined and fired for his on-duty bad behavior with several law enforcement agencies.

     The federal jury, on October 15, 2014, finding that the village of Cottageville had been negligent in hiring Randall Price, awarded the Reeves family $97.5 million. This award was a staggering financial blow to a community that couldn't afford it.

    

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Marissa Alexander Stand Your Ground Assault Case

     Marissa Alexander, when she married Rico Gray in June 2010, was six months pregnant with their child. She had two children from a previous marriage and Gray had five with five other women. One of his sons, and two of Marissa's children, lived with them in their rented Jacksonville, Florida home. She was 30 and he was 35.

     Rico Gray had physically abused his former partners and was beating up Marissa. In July 2010, he had thrown his pregnant wife across the room, then given her a black eye with a head butt. Marissa and her children moved out of the house and into her mother's place. She also filed for an order of protection against her husband.

     At the domestic violence injunction hearing, Rico Gray reportedly said this to the judge: "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking...or what I might do...hit them, push them." The judge granted the order of protection.

     Marissa had the baby on July 23, 2010, and on August 1, returned to the rented house to gather up more of her clothes. While there, she showed Gray a cellphone photograph of their baby. After she entered the bathroom, Gray looked through her cellphone and came across text messages she had sent to her former husband that suggested she planned to leave him permanently and get back with her ex-spouse. Enraged, Gray stormed into the bathroom and allegedly said, "If I can't have you, no one can." He put his hands on her throat, threw her against the door, and threatened to kill her.

     Breaking free, Marissa ran into the attached garage and from her car grabbed her handgun. (It was licensed.) She returned to the house (She claims she couldn't exit the dwelling through the garage because the automatic door opener didn't work.) and encountered Gray standing in the kitchen next to his two sons. Fearing for her life, she (according to her account) fired a warning shot into the air. (Ballistics analysis, however, suggested that the bullet hit a wall and ricocheted up into the ceiling.)

     Rico Gray called 911. In reporting the shooting to the dispatcher he sounded more angry than frightened. A short time later, the house was surrounded by a SWAT team. Marissa was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. (Three counts because she had allegedly endangered three people.) Under Florida's so-called 10-20-life law, any person convicted of aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm is subject to a mandatory 20 year sentence.

     A few days after her arrest, Marissa was released on bail under orders from the judge to stay clear of her husband. But four months later, Marissa, in violation of the judge's order, went back to the house and punched Gray in the face. (She would later plead no contest to domestic battery.)

     With the approach of Marissa's aggravated assault by handgun trial, prosecutor Angela Corey, explained to the defendant that if convicted she would be sentenced to 20 years. The prosecutor offered her a deal: if she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the judge would sentence her to three years in prison. Marissa rejected the plea bargain offer.

     In defending Marissa Alexander, her attorney planned to rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law that was in the news as a result of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin  murder case. (Angela Corey, the state's attorney in Marissa's case was the leading special prosecutor in the February 2012 Sanford, Florida shooting.) Under the "stand your ground" self-defense doctrine, a person who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury in a place where he has a right to be, has no duty under the law to retreat and can meet force with force.

     In a pre-trial hearing on the stand your ground issue, Judge James Daniel  ruled that the law didn't apply to Marissa Alexander because she had no reason to fear for her life in that confrontation with her husband. The defendant could therefore not rely on self-defense and the stand your ground doctrine.

     On March 16, 2012, a jury found Alexander guilty of the three aggravated assault counts. The judge, bound by Florida's 10-20-life law, sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

     Critics of mandatory sentencing laws, along with anti-domestic violence advocates, expressed outrage over the outcome of the Marissa Alexander case. Other than winning an appeal, Marissa Alexander's only other legal remedy involved a grant of clemency by Florida Governor Rick Scott. For that to happen, a member of the state clemency board would have to initiate the action. Marissa could only make application herself after she has served half of her sentence.

     In the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, on July 13, 2013, the jury found defendant Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder. He was also acquitted of the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter. In this case, the jury of six women found that because Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life during a fight with Trayvon Martin, the neighborhood watch leader was legally justified in standing his ground and eventually using deadly force against the 17-year-old. The jury had accepted the defense theory that at the time of his death the 17-year-old was on top of the defendant, banging his head against the sidewalk. Following the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had told police officers that he had been afraid the attacker would get control of his handgun.

     In 2013, an appeals court overturned Marissa Alexander's conviction on procedural grounds. The prosecutor immediately announced a second trial that was later scheduled for December 1, 2014. Marissa Alexander remained in custody pending the outcome of the second trial.

     On November 24, 2014, after spending 1,030 days behind bars, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal that consisted of two years probation during which time she would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

P.J. Williams and the Florida State University Football Hit-And-Run Cover-Up

     At two-forty in the morning of October 5, 2014, in Tallahassee, Florida, Florida State University cornerback P.J. Williams and two passengers in his Buick Century drove into the path of an oncoming Honda CR-V driven by 18-year-old Ian Keith. Keith was returning home from his job at a nearby Olive Garden. Williams and his friends, one of whom was a teammate, had been celebrating the previous afternoon's football victory.

     Both vehicles in the accident were totaled. Keith's Honda sat in the street leaking fluid with its front end crumpled amid auto part debris. Bruised and cut from his deployed airbag, the teen climbed out of his car and waited for the police.

     P.J. Williams, the 21-year-old football star who had been named the most valuable defense player in last season's national championship game, fled the scene on foot with his friends. The accident had clearly been his fault, and he had been driving on a suspended license. He had also been drinking.

     Officiers with the Tallahassee Police Department responded to the scene. They asked Ian Keith where the occupant or occupants of the other vehicle had gone. Keith said the three men in the Buick had run off. A check of the Buick's license plate revealed it was registered to P.J. William's grandmother in Ocala, Florida.

     Twenty minutes after fleeing the accident scene, Williams returned with several friends and teammates. He apologized to the officers for leaving the scene of an accident, explaining that he "had a lot on the line." As the local football star rambled on incoherently, a female friend told him to stop talking. "You sound like you've been drinking," she said.

     The Tallahassee officers did not give Williams a field sobriety test or even ask him if he had been drinking or using drugs. Instead, they called two ranking officers with FSU security (no doubt ex-cops) and the director of the athletic department. Because the accident was off-campus, the security officers had no jurisdiction in the case and no business being there.

     At three-thirty that morning, the director of football player development came to the scene and drove Williams home. Ian Keith rode home in a tow truck.

     The FSU campus police officials did not write up a report on the accident. The Tallahassee officers, without conducting an investigation, submitted a report stating there was no evidence of alcohol or drug use associated with the accident. The crash involving the football star went unreported in the local media.

     Rather than being charged with hit-and-run, the police issued Williams a ticket for making an improper left turn and a ticket for driving on a suspended license. His fines totaled $392. Had Williams not been a Florida football star, the officers would have placed him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail where he would have been tested for alcohol and drugs. He would have been charged with hit-and-run, driving under the influence, and driving without a license. He would have been in big trouble.

     Two days after the accident, Williams paid $296 in overdue fines related to an earlier speeding ticket. I wonder who gave him the money for that. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The John Mallett Stabbing Spree

 
     As a teenager growing up in New York City, John Mallett spent time in the juvenile wing of the jail on Rikers Island. He had stabbed a boy in a fight over a girl. As a young adult, Mallett, a paranoid schizophrenic, continued to have problems with the law. He served three years in prison for robbery. Mallett's family tried to get him help through the courts and public health, but were ignored. They learned that the criminal justice system is of no help to a family of a violent, mentally ill person until that person commits a heinous crime. Then, of course, it is too late.

     In 2002, Mallett moved to Nashville, Tennessee where his mental illness continued to lead him into trouble. In March of that year, he was convicted of resisting arrest, and in July 2010, for criminal trespass. In February 2011, just before moving to Columbus, Ohio, the authorities in Nashville charged Mallett with the unlawful possession of a weapon. (That charge was later dismissed.)

     In Columbus, Mallett moved in with his aunt. He became such a problem for her she asked him to move out. This may have placed the mentally ill man under considerable stress. On March 14, 2012, while in downtown Columbus a few blocks from the state capitol, Mallett entered the 25-story Continental Centre building carrying three knives, one of which came from his aunt's kitchen. The office building housed, on the first floor, a for-profit trade school (criminal justice, security, investigation, and court reporting) called Miami-Jacobs Career College. The school, owned by the Delta Career Education Corporation headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, consisted of 37 campuses and 16,000 students around the country.

     In the trade school's admissions office, Mallett, carrying a knife in each hand, repeatedly stabbed two employees and a criminal justice student. Back outside, he knifed an attorney who worked for the state attorney general's office, also housed in the building. Several bystanders tried but failed to disarm Mallett. One of the witnesses dialed 911.

      Within minutes of the 911 call, Columbus patrol officer Deborah Ayers pulled up to the building. The 15-year veteran of the force confronted Mallett near the building's entrance. "Sir," she yelled, "you need to put the knife down. Sir, please put the knife down!" Instead of complying with the officer's command, Mallet lunged toward her with his knife. Ayers fired 11 shots at Mallet, hitting him several times. Before he collapsed to the pavement, a second officer shocked him with a stun gun.

     The 37-year-old Mallett and his four victims were rushed to a local hospital. They were expected to survive their wounds. The fact Mallett lunged at the officer with the knife suggested a suicide-by-cop attempt.

     On Thursday, March 15,2012, he day after the rampage, the local prosecutor charged John Mallett with four counts of felonious assault.

     A battery of psychiatrists appointed by the court to examine Mallett concluded that he suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia. On June 10, 2013, Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft found Mallett not guilty by reason of insanity.

     A few weeks after the verdict, corrections officials assigned the schizophrenic to a Columbus area forensic psychiatric facility where he was to remain incarcerated until his doctors declared he was sane enough to rejoin society. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Miami Beach Check-Out Line Murder Case

     On Monday December 1, 2014, at the M & L Market in Miami Beach, Florida, 58-year-old Mohammed Hussein found himself standing in the express check-out line behind a man with a basket overloaded with groceries. Mr. Hussein, the father of two, complained to this shopper that he was in the wrong line, that he had far too many items to check out. The express line violator ignored Mr. Hussein and continued to unload his grocery basket.

     When Mr. Hussein again objected to what the shopper in front of him was doing, the man told him to mind his own business. This led to an exchange of angry words. In the midst of the argument, the offending shopper, without warning, delivered a vicious backhand that knocked Mr. Hussein off his feet.

     The unconscious victim fell backward and his head bounced off the grocery store floor. Blood immediately began pooling around his skull. As the man who struck him fled the store an employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Hussein to the Ryder Medical Center where he slipped into a coma with a fractured skull and severe bleeding on the brain. Back at the M & L Market, detectives viewed surveillance camera footage of the assault.

     On Thursday night December 11, 2014, officers with the Miami Beach Police Department arrested 53-year-old Roger Todd Perry at his home in Palm Beach County. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Perry with felony battery of Mr. Hussein. Shown the surveillance camera footage and informed that several witnesses had picked him out of a photo line-up, Mr. Perry confessed to striking Mr. Hussein in the grocery store check out line.

     Two days after officers arrested Roger Perry, Mohammed Hussein passed away. His autopsy revealed that he had died of "complications of blunt force head injury." Perry was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

     On December 15, 2014, the Miami-Dade County prosecutor upgraded Roger Perry's felony battery charge to second-degree murder. At his arraignment on the murder charge, Perry asked the judge, "Did that man pass away?"

      Mr. Perry's attorney, public defender Elliot Snyder, in arguing for a bail amount the defendant could afford, told the arraignment judge that his client was mentally unstable. According to the defense attorney, Roger Perry suffered from two disorders: bipolar and post-traumatic stress. Attorney Snyder also cited a 2002 Broward County case involving two elderly men who got into a fight at a movie theater. The victim hit his head and died. The prosecutor charged the 74-year-old suspect with manslaughter. The defendant pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for a six month jail sentence.

      The judge ordered an evaluation of Perry's mental condition and denied him bond.

     Residents at Roger Perry's apartment complex told reporters that the murder suspect had indicated that he had been a member of the Marine Corps.

     On September 30, 2016, Roger Perry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Team Stomping and Kicking: The Football Player Assault Case

     California University of Pennsylvania, one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Learning, sits on 290 acres in California Borough 35 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. A good number of its 8,600 students come from southwestern Pennsylvania.

     Shortly after midnight on Thursday October 30, 2014, California University student Shareese Asparagus, a 22-year-old from West Chester, Pennsylvania, walked out of a restaurant on Wood Street in the college town. She was with her 30-year-old boyfriend, Lewis Campbell, also from West Chester. He did not attend California U.

     The trouble started outside the restaurant when a California University football player, accompanied by four of his teammates, said something to the young woman that offended her. This led to an exchange of angry words that prompted Lewis Campbell to step in to defend his girlfriend.

     The football players reacted to the situation by punching and kicking Mr. Campbell to the pavement. As he lay injured on the ground, the assailants kicked and stomped him into unconsciousness. As the teammates strolled away from their battered victim, they chanted, "football strong!"

     As paramedics loaded Mr. Campbell into a medical helicopter, they noticed a shoe print on his face. Emergency personnel flew the unconscious man to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh where physicians determined that the lower part of Mr. Campbell's brain had shifted 80 degrees. The beating had caused the victim serious brain damage.

     Later on the day of the gang assault in front of the off-campus restaurant, as Mr. Campbell lay in the intensive care unit, police officers showed up at football practice armed with arrest warrants for five California University players. Taken into custody that afternoon were: James Williamson, 20, from Parkville, Maryland; Corey Ford, 22, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jonathan Jacoma Barlow, 21, from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh; Rodney Gillin, 20, from West Lawn, Pennsylvania; and D'Andre Dunkley, 19, from Philadelphia.

     Police officers booked the five college football players into the Washington County Correctional Facility on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, harassment, and conspiracy. The judge set each man's bail at $500,000.

     On Friday October 31, 2014, interim California University President Geraldine M. Jones issued the following statement: "California University does not tolerate violent behavior, and the five student-athletes charged in connection with this incident [incident?] will face university sanctions, along with any penalties imposed by law. The police investigation is continuing and the rights of these accused will be upheld. But in light of these allegations, I asked Coach Keller to cancel Saturday's game [with Gannon University]. Behavior has consequences, and all Cal U students, including student-athletes, must abide by our Student Code of Conduct if they wish to remain a part of our campus community. [Aggravated assault hardly falls into the category of a college code of conduct violation.] At the same time, it must be clearly understood that the actions [crimes] of a small group of individuals are not representative of our entire student body, nor of all Cal U student-athletes. [Then what do these "actions" represent?] I ask our entire campus community to recommit to our university's core values, and to demonstrate through their words and their actions the best that our university can be."

     Good heavens, what a mealy-mouthed public relations department response to a vicious attack worthy of a violent street gang. Where is the outrage in this statement?

     The charges against James Williamson were dropped after surveillance footage revealed that he had not participated in the beating. In response, Williamson filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, the police and the borough.

     Corey Ford, on June 7, 2016, pleaded no contest to assault. He received, in return, a sentence of one to two years in prison. (Ford had earlier pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run that killed a bicyclist in Washington, D.C. In that case the judge had sentenced him to 36 months in federal prison.)

     In July 2016, Rodney Gillin and D'Andre Dunkley, in return for their guilty pleas, received sentences of probation.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Janet and William Strickland Murder-For-Hire Case

     Seventy-two-year-old William Strickland had lived with his 64-year-old wife Janet thirty years in the same house in south Chicago. Their neighbors considered them a happy couple. Mr. Strickland, a dialysis patient, may have been a contented husband, but his wife Janet wanted him dead.

     In February 2013, Janet Strickland informed her 19-year-old grandson--also named William Strickland--that she was "sick" of his grandfather and wanted him "gone." By "gone" she meant murdered. The old guy had money in the bank that couldn't be spent until he was "gone." Janet wanted that money, and she wanted it now.

     In one of their discussions about Mr. Strickland's fate, Janet told her grandson that she had decided against hiring an outside hit-man because she wanted the job done now. Young William, anticipating a share of his grandfather's wealth, said he would assassinate his namesake. Grandma sealed the deal by giving the young man his grandfather's handgun, a weapon he kept around the house for protection.

     At three-thirty on the afternoon of March 2, 2013, Janet said good-bye to her husband as he stepped out of the house to await a ride to his dialysis treatment. The murder target had been standing on the sidewalk a few minutes when he was approached from behind by his grandson. The younger William Strickland, using his grandfather's handgun, shot the elderly man six times in the back. Mr. Strickland fell to the ground and died.

     A few days after what the Chicago Police first considered a random robbery-murder--a common crime in the Windy City--Janet Strickland purchased her grandson a new car. A red one. She also went furniture shopping for herself.

     William rewarded himself with an expensive sound system for his new ride, a pair of high-end sneakers, and a fancy cellphone. He also spent some of his grandfather's money at his favorite tattoo parlor. With old guy dead, life was good.

     Detectives arrested William Strickland on the charge of first-degree murder on March 30, 2013. He confessed to the execution-style homicide, and identified his grandmother as the mastermind behind the deadly get-rich-quick plot.

     On April 6, 2013, officers took Janet Strickland into custody. She confessed as well. The murder-for-hire grandmother and her assassin grandson were held on $50,000 bond in the Cook County Jail.

     On February 19, 2016, a jury in Chicago, after deliberating less than three hours, found William Strickland guilty of his grandfather's murder. Judge James Linn, on March 23, 2016, sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

     Janet Strickland went on trial a month later and was found guilty as charged. The judge sentenced the 67-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to eighteen years in prison.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dr. Nirbhay Singh: The Consultant Who Helped Make Mental Hospitals in California More Dangerous

      If you live in California, are seriously mentally ill, and have been accused of a violent crime, do not plead not guilty by reason of insanity. If you do, and succeed, you'll end up in a state mental hospital. It's a lot safer in prison, and you'll get better treatment.

     In 2002, in an effort to improve services in California's mental hospitals that treat the criminally insane, the state hired a private consultant to reform the system. The reformer, a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University named Dr. Nirbhay Singh, had come to the United States in 1987 from New Zealand. Having specialized in research on the developmentally disabled, Dr. Singh had no experience treating seriously mentally ill patients with sociopathic and predatory tendencies. He had published articles about Buddhist-inspired mindfulness (whatever that means), and alternative treatments such as the herb kava as a calming agent. Dr. Singh, in reforming California's state mental institutions, among other things, replaced individual therapy with group classes on anger management.

     Notwithstanding Dr. Singh's "reforms," the U.S. Department of Justice stuck it's long nose into the problem by suing California on the grounds the state was violating patients' rights by heavily drugging and improperly restraining these extremely violent and dangerous people. The state, rather than fight the case, agreed to a court-supervised improvement plan at four hospitals with more than 4,000 criminally insane patients. (State hospitals in Norwalk, San Luis Obispo County, San Bernadino, and Napa.)

     According to the plan, overseen by Dr. Singh, these four hospitals reduced the use of restraints, isolation rooms, and heavy drugs. The reformer dismantled several behavioral programs, and placed greater importance on bureaucracy, and the production of documentation in support of compliance with the federal mandate. Many health care workers complained that the red tape came at the expense of patient care. Much of the paperwork, according to Dr. Singh's critics, was redundant, and clinically useless. Employees, under Dr. Singh's system, had to fill out 300 new forms every month. Staff members said they no longer had time to play cards and chat with patients, activities that the patients missed.

     While he worked as the chief consultant in California, Dr. Singh also worked with mental health systems in Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee. In January 2011, two weeks after the Los Angeles Times published an interview with a top State Department of Mental Health official about the effects of Dr. Singh's reforms, Dr. Singh abruptly resigned. Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists which represents California's mental hospital's psychiatrists and medical doctors, complained that Dr. Singh's reforms did "very little to create a healthy and safe environment for patients and staff." In fact, according to studies conducted in the four hospitals involved in the federally mandated reforms, three of them had become much more dangerous places for patients and mental health workers. The ban of heavy drugs, restraints, and isolation rooms had tripled the incidents of patient-on-patient and patient-on worker assaults in three of the institutions.

     While, according to his critics, Dr. Singh didn't know beans about how to run a place for the criminally insane, he did know how to make a buck. During his nine year tenure as a California mental health consultant, he charged the state $2,500 a day. His total bill came to $4.4 million. No wonder California was broke.

     Dr. Mubashir Farooqi, a psychiatrist at one of the pilot hospitals, called the reform program a "huge, very expensive, very idiotic experiment that failed badly." But in December 2011, notwithstanding the increased violence in the three California mental hospitals, the Department of Justice asked a federal court to extend the oversight, and continue along the same reform path. According to an assistant in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, California's reforms had not succeeded in improving mental health "outcomes" (bureaucrats love that word) at the four institutions. "Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not," he said in an interview. In the meantime, while the federal government dabbled in the care and treatment of California's criminally insane, mental hospitals in the state were dangerous places for patients, and the people trying to help them.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Officer James Peters: Scottsdale's Dirty Harry

     American law enforcement has become more militaristic, and zero-tolerant. In 201l, the police shot just under 1,200 people, killing slightly more than half of them. (In 2009, the police shot and killed 406 citizens.) Still, 90 percent of police officers, during the course of their entire careers, don't shoot anyone. Most don't even discharge their weapons outside of the firing range. In 2011, of the police officers who did shoot someone, 15 had used this form of deadly force before. One of these officers had a rather provocative history of three previous police involved shootings.

     So, what would you say about a police officer, who, in a span of nine years, shot and killed, in separate shooting incidences, six people? In 2011, the entire police forces of Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, and Alaska, combined, shot less than six people.

     During the period November 2002 through February 2012, Scottsdale, Arizona police officer James Peters shot at seven people, killing six of them. From this, one might conclude that Scottsdale, the Phoenix area suburb of 220,000, is the site of daily shootouts between the police and a large population of violent criminals. But this isn't the case. In 2011, the Scottsdale police only shot one person, and it wasn't fatal. By comparison, the police in Phoenix that year shot 16, killing 9.

     How could one member of a police department made up of 435 sworn officers, shoot so many people in a relatively low crime city? After say, the third shooting incident, why wasn't this man psychologically evaluated, and at the very least, put behind a desk? Moreover, didn't the officer himself ask himself why he was the only guy on the force doing all of the killing?

     On November 3, 2002, roughly two years after joining the police department, Peters, as a member of the SWAT team, responded to a domestic violence call at the home of a man named Albert Redford. Following a 4-hour standoff, Peters and two other SWAT officers fired seven shots at the suspect, hitting him three times. Mr. Redford died a few hours later in the emergency room. As it turned out, none of the fatal bullets had been fired from Peter's rifle. An investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cleared all three officers of wrongdoing

     Officer Peters, on March 25, 2003, responded to a call regarding shotgun blasts coming from the home of a distraught, disbarred attorney named Brent Bradshaw. Three hours later, Peters and his follow officers encountered the 47-year-old suspect wandering along the Arizona Canal carrying a shotgun. When Mr. Bradshaw refused to drop his weapon, Peters dropped him with a shot to the head. This shooting was declared justified.

     On October 10, 2005, Officer Peters shot and killed Mark Wesley Smith. High on methamphetamine, Smith was smashing car windows with a pipe outside an auto-body shop.  In justifying his use of deadly force in this case, Peters said the subject had threatened a fellow officer with the pipe.

     Brian Daniel Brown, 28, took a Safeway grocery store employee hostage on April 23, 2006 after he had hijacked a Krispy Kreme delivery truck. After killing this hostage taker, the department awarded Officer Peters a medal of valor.

     Peters and Scottsdale officer Tom Myers were in Mesa, Arizona on August 30, 2006 hoping to question Kevin Hutchings, a suspect in an assault committed earlier that evening in Scottsdale. After Mr. Hutchings fired a shot from inside his house, the officers had the power company cut off electricity to the dwelling. When the armed man came out of his house to investigate the power outage, Peters shot him to death. The city, in this case, ended up paying the Hutchings family an out of court settlement of $75,000. Even so, the department declared this shooting justified, and Officer Peters kept his assignment as a street cop even though he had killed two people in one year.

     On February 17, 2010, Officer Peters and Detective Scott Gailbraith confronted 46-year-old Jimmy Hammack, a suspect in five Phoenix and Scottsdale bank robberies. When Hammack drove his pickup truck toward the detective, Peters shot him. A few days later, Hammack died in the hospital. This shooting, on the grounds the subject was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon, went into the books as justified.

The Killing of John Loxas

     John Loxas, 50, lived alone in a trash-littered house near Vista De Camino Park in Scottsdale. In 2010, police arrested him for displaying a handgun in public. On February 14, 2012, Peters and five other officers responded to a 911 call concerning Loxas who reportedly was threatening his neighbors with a firearm. To complicate matters, Loxas, who regularly babysat his 9-month-old grandson, had the child in his arms while intimidating the neighbors.

     When Peters and the other officers arrived at the scene, Mr. Loxas and the baby were back inside the house. When ordered to exit the dwelling, Loxas, still holding the child, appeared in the doorway. As the subject turned to reenter the house, and lowered the baby exposing his upper torso and head, Peters, thinking he saw a black object in Loxas' hand, shot him in the head from 18 feet. The subject, killed instantly by the bullet from Peter's rifle, collapsed to the ground still holding the baby. Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, the infant was not injured.

     As it turned out, at the time Officer Peters killed Mr. Loxas, the subject was not armed, or within reach of a weapon. Police did find, in the dead man's living room, a loaded handgun hidden between the arm and cushion of a stuffed chair. Farther into the dwelling, searchers discovered a shotgun, several "Airsoft"-type rifles and pistols, and a "functional improvised explosive device."

     In explaining why he had shot Mr. Loxas, Officer Peters said he had been concerned for the safety of the baby. Peters was placed on paid administrative leave pending yet another police involved shooting investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Critics of the shooting, including some of Loxas' neighbors, protested the incident outside the police department.

     Except for the Safeway hostage case in April 2006, most police officers, faced with the choices presented to Officer Peters, probably would not have exercised deadly force. This didn't mean that Peters had committed criminal acts, or that his shootings were even  administratively unjustified. It just meant that most officers wouldn't have been so quick to pull the trigger. If it were otherwise, every year thousands rather than hundreds of people would die at the hands of the police.

     Because Mr. Loxas had been armed shortly before the police arrived at the scene, and Officer Peters thought the subject was holding a handgun when he shot him, this case was ruled a justifiable homicide. Whether or not, under the circumstances, the killing of Mr. Loxas was the right thing to do, was another question altogether.
 
     On June 22, 2012, the Scottsdale police board for the Public Safety Retirement System approved Officer Peters' application for early retirement based on some unnamed disability. He received a pension of $4,500 a month for life. Not bad for 12 years of work. No wonder the country was going broke, and people in the private sector resented the government.

     In September 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, on behalf of John Loxas' relatives, sued the city of Scottsdale. The Scottsdale City Council, in June 2013, approved a court settlement of $4.25 million. The Loxas family had originally sought $7.5 million in damages. The city of Scottsdale, in this case, was self-insured up to $2 million, a sum that will have to be paid by municipal taxpayers. Officer Peters was one costly cop.