6,910,000 pageviews

Monday, December 19, 2011

Travelatrocity: Horrors of Commercial Aviation

     There was a time, I suppose, when travelers considered commercial flying an exciting, pleasurable and even romantic experience. Since that bubble burst decades ago, air travel has become increasingly unpleasant. The ordeal begins at the airport with long lines, footwear inspections, strip searches, pat-downs, and body scanning. The misery continues in-flight with diminished amenities, germ-infested air, surly flight attendants, and drunken, bellicose, and over-sized passengers. Back on the ground, passengers are faced with delays in getting off the plane, missed connections, and lost, misplaced, and damaged luggage. If he were alive, Orville Wright would take the bus.

Standing Room Only

     In July, during a seven-hour U.S. Airways flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 57-year-old Arthur Berkowitz stood the entire trip. When he took his seat on the plane, the spot next to him was empty. A late, very obese passenger came on board and took that seat and half of Berkowitz's. On takeoff and landing, Berkowitz remained squeezed into his seat but was unable to fasten his seat-belt. During the rest of the flight, he strolled about the crammed cabin annoying the flight attendants.

     Following Mr. Berkowitz's complaint, the airline offered him a $200 voucher for his trouble. When Berkowitz declined the offer, U. S. Airways closed his case and issued this statement: "We have attempted to address this customer's sevice concerns, but offering increasing amounts of compensation based on threat of a safety violation isn't really fair - especially when the passenger himself said he didn't follow the crew members' instructions and fasten his seat belt."

Adventures on Jet Blue

     In November, Anibal Mercado, an eighteen year veteran of the New York City Police Department, was returning home from the Dominican Republic on a Jet Blue flight when 22-year-old Antonio Ynoa, four rows behind him, launched into a loud verbal attack on two female flight attendants. Ynoa had gone wild after the attendants told him the bar was closed and refused to bring him soda to mix with the duty-free rum he had brought on board. Seated next to this out of control jerk were two mothers holding babies. The verbal assault turned physical when Ynoa punched a male flight attendant four times in the face.

     Officer Mercado confronted Ynoa and identified himself as a New York City cop. After a brief struggle, Mercado wrestled the drunk to the ground until a flight attendant arrived with a set of flex hand restraints. (The fact they keep handcuffs on planes says it all.) Although cuffed, Ynoa continued to yell and cuss at his captors. He also spit on officer Mercado.

     An hour after the fracus, New York Port Authority police met the plane and took Ynoa into custody. As they hauled him off the plane, he kicked at the arresting officers. Ynoa has been charged with assaulting and interfering with a flight crew. The chance of being confined in a tube thirty thousand feet off the ground with a jerk like Ynoa does not make flying a relaxing way to travel.

     A few days before Mr. Ynoa blew his top, passengers who were stuck eight hours in a Jet Blue plane as it sat at a tarmac in Connecticut during an October snow storm, sued the airline. Because of the delay, the airline could also be fined, by the Department of Transportation, $27,500 per passenger. Guess who will end up paying that tab?

Barroom Brawl in the Sky

     In November, fifteen minutes before a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta landed in Baltimore, an intoxicated William D. Barna punched the man seated next to him. Two air marshals broke up the fight and seated Barna away from the other passengers. Barna fell asleep for a few minutes, then woke up and attacked one of the air marshals. The drunk and the marshals rolled up and down the aisle until the federal officers subdued the bellicose passenger. A couple of weeks later, an U.S. magistrate judge ordered Barna to undergo five to seven days of alcohol rehabilitation then spend four weeks as a patient in some kind of unspecified program designed to--what?--change his personality?

Baggage Theft

     Heightened airport security has made carry-ons less convenient. As a result, airline passengers are checking in more luggage. Besides added fees for this, and the risk of having baggage misdirected, lost or damaged, there is always the chance that airline baggage handlers will help themselves to your stuff. Recently, twelve American Airlines baggage handlers at Kennedy International Airport in New York, were convicted of baggage and freight theft. These airline employees were caught rifling through passengers' belongings for perfume, liquor, and electronic devices. They also stole laptops, jewelry, and items of clothing. According to one of the thieves, everyone was doing it. And we thought airline cargo was being inspected.

Spread 'em Grandma

     A few days ago an 85-year-old woman trying to board a Florida bound plane at JFK in New York, declined to pass through the body scanning machine because she feared the technology would play havoc with her defibrillator. Instead of patting her down, TBA agents took her to a room where they waterboarded her until she admitted the defibrillator was a bomb--just kidding. They gave the old lady a strip search. In the process, she banged her leg against her walker, causing it to bleed. She also missed her flight. My advice to grandma--stay in Florida. You will avoid humiliation and injury, and the skys over America will be much safer. Thank you TBA.

     Someone needs to tell the idiocrats who establish airport security protocol that there is such a thing as being too careful. But instead of applying reason, common sense, and governmental descretion to airline security, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, and some other politician, in the wake of grandma's strip search, have come up with a typically stupid idea that, as one might expect, expands the bureaucracy. Senator Schumer wants what he calls "Passenger Advocates" stationed at every airport to function, I guess, as quasi-magistrates to render decisions in cases involving outrageously inappropriate TBA enforcement practices.This will be a big help. George Orwell, an exceptionally creative writer, couldn't have made this stuff up. I find it amazing that anyone still writes fiction.

Alec Baldwin: Hero or Heel?

     The TV and movie star recently delayed an American Airlines' take-off because he refused to turn off his cellphone until he finished playing some word game. Before leaving the plane, Baldwin insulted and swore at the flight attendants (could this be true?!) who had ordered him, under the electronics-turn-off-before-we-take-off rule, to shutdown his cellphone.

     A few days later, Mr. Baldwin (really a sweet guy) apologized to the passengers he had held up, but let fly at the airline industry. Citing "paramilitary" security procedures, filthy planes, barely edible meals, and reduced flight amenities, Baldwin, in his blog, wrote: "Air travel has devolved into an inelegant experience akin to riding a Greyhound bus." It should be pointed out, in defense of Greyhound bus travel, that you don't have to turn off your cellphone at any point en route. Moreover, I doubt the articulate Mr. Baldwin has ever been on a Greyhound bus.

     The Baldwin dust-up has triggered a serious discussion over the necessity of the cellphone prohibition. ABC News aviation analyst and pilot (and novelist) John Nance, in an article published in "Time," said, "Airlines wrote the scripts that phones can interfere with the systems of the aircraft. But there is zero evidence [to support this]." In other words, this no electronics policy may be based on a myth. It should be noted that American Airline pilots are allowed to us iPods in the cockpit during take-off, in-flight, and while landing. (The image of a pilot playing with his iPod during landing is not a good one.)

     So, back to Mr. Baldwin. Is he a hero or a heel? I guess that depends on how your feel about the actor, and commerical aviation.    

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hygiene Defense in the Sandusky Case

     Former football coach Jerry Sandusky's lawyer in the Penn State sexual molestatin case, pursuant to his "hygiene" defense, says his client's only "crime" was teaching young boys how to soap themselves in the shower. This one is right up there on the lawyer embarrassment scale with the "Twinky" defense raised years ago in a San Francisco murder case. (The defendant blamed his homicidal outburst on a sugar-high brought on by excessive Twinky consumption.) If I remember correctly, the Twinky defense worked. But it was California. As loopy as that criminal justification was, it makes more sense than the hygiene defense.

     My first male teacher was an eigth grade physical education guy who insisted we all take showers after gym class. In response to objections over this policy, the coach reminded us that if the President of the United States found it necessary to take a daily shower, we lowly West Virginia hillbillies should do the same. It made sense to me. Had our gym teacher taken it upon himself to follow us into the shower to give us hands-on instruction on how to soap ourselves, he would have been a pedophile. Fortunately for us, he didn't do that. He just didn't want us to stink.

     What do you think would have happened if Coach Sandusky had sent each of his kids home with a consent form allowing him, in the name of hygiene, to soap-up these boys? How many parents would have signed that waiver? How many would have gone to Coach Paterno? Or better yet, the police?

     Sandusky's attorney should give us a break. Does he think we are stupid? I think he does.

Murder on the Band Bus

     On December 15, the associate medical examiner of Orange County, Florida, Dr. Sara Irrgang, released the results of her autopsy of Robert Champion, the Florida A & M drum major who died on November 19 on a charter bus outside an Orlando Hotel following a football game. The 26-year-old died from "shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma." The forensic pathologist found extensive contusions (bruising) to Champion's chest, arms, shoulder and back. His interior tissues were bruised as well. He passed away within an hour of his injuries. Repeatedly punched, he died like a person being stoned to death. He did not have drugs or alcohol in his system.

     Investigators in the case have uncovered evidence of financial crimes related to the funding of the marching band. Florida Governor Rick Scott has called for the president of Florida A & M to be suspended. This request has upset many A & M students who do not want the president of the school removed. A crowd of the president's student supporters gathered outside the governor's mansion to protest.

     It's not clear to me why, under these circumstances, A & M students would come to the aid of the school's president. One would think they would be protesting against deadly hazing, and the possibility of university embezzlement.

The Case of the Stupid Movie

     This weekend my wife and I saw "Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows" starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. After sitting through this picture without the benefit of popcorn, candy or the stuff Mr. Holmes smokes in his pipe, I think I can deduce how this insipid flick came into being. I can see a producer describing, to a computer guy and a screenwriter, visually stimulating scenes, then telling the computer animater and the scriptwriter (in real life a husand and wife team) to organize a story around the visuals without worrying about plot, or for that matter, the audience. In following these instructions, the animater and screenwriter produced a cartoonish combination of one of those Johnny Depp pirate films, a Harry Potter vehicle, and a super-hero whammy. I won't give away the ridiculous ending even though it would save you money and two hours of boredom. The only tension associated with this movie is deciding whether to stick it out because you paid for it, or to walk. Not even one star for this dog. It's a good thing Arthur Conan Doyle is dead.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 5

A Breach of Security

     On December 5, a customer at a Grove City, Ohio Walmart took his son to the restroom at one-thirty in the afternoon and waited outside near the electronics section of the store. The 9-year-old boy came out of the restroom and reported to his father that a man had held a cellphone under the stall to video tape or photograph him going to the bathroom. The father confronted this person who happened to be 28-year-old Okey Belcher, a Walmart store detective. Belcher denied video taping the boy, explaining that he had dropped his cellphone and was picking it up.

     After the police questioned the boy and Belcher, the officers acquired a search warrant for the suspect's cellphone. The search produced enough evidence to justify Belcher's arrest. He was charged with pandering obscenity involving a minor, a second-degree felony. Because Belcher's iPod contained 100 images of naked children, he was also charged with the federal crime of child pornography. Belcher admitted to a Grove City police officer that he had downloaded child pornography onto his laptop computer as well. A search of his computer revealed 100 digital films depicting juveniles engaged in sexual activity.

     Belcher is currently in state custody pending a hearing before a federal magistrate. If convicted of the federal charges, he could face up to twenty years in prison.

A Sticky Problem

     In Cartersville, Georgia, someone has been planting syringes in clothing sold at the local Walmart. Since November 29, eight needles have turned up in various garments. The syringes, found in the pockets of men's and women's pants, and in boxes containing bras, pajamas, and socks, are the type used by people with diabetes. Customers pricked by the needles risk hepatitis or HIV. The syringes have been sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory for analysis.

Busting an Old Fence

     In 2008, when the police searched 66-year-old Marin Moreno's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they found thousands of dollars worth of merchandise that had been stolen from Target and Walmart stores. Moreno pleaded guilty to paying shoplifters to steal designated items from the stores, merchandise he sold at a local flea market. In return for his plea to the fourth-degree felony of receiving stolen goods, the judge sentenced Moreno to probation.

     The police, in May 2010, arrested Moreno for possession of merchandise his shoplifters had stolen from Walmart and seven other stores. He was charged with racketeering and criminal solicitation. A judge revoked his probation on the 2008 case, sending him back to the Metropolitin Detention Cener to serve out that sentence. On December 8, 2011, after Moreno pleaded guilty to the racketeering and criminal solicitation charges, a judge sentenced him to nine years, suspending all but two. With good behavior and credit for time served, Morino will spend less than a year behind bars. Because the defendant had a sick wife who required care, the judge had gone easy on the old fence.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

     In Waldorf, Maryland, Walmart employees spotted 22-year-old Timothy Clark stuffing video games under his clothing. As soon as he hit the parking lot, police officers arrested Clark who was in possession of $635 worth of stolen video games and game accessories.

     Timothy Clark had picked the wrong day to steal from Walmart. The store was crawling with cops, fifty of them who were there shopping with underpriveleged kids who had been given gift cards by a local charity. As a bonus, the kids also learned that crime doesn't pay. (Why tell them otherwise?)

A Sad Story

     In December, police arrested Elizabeth Elisha Halfmoon inside a Tulsa, Oklahoma Walmart. She had been in the store six hours trying to manufacture methamphetamine from commerical fluids on sale. The arresting officer, in seizing the bottle containing the ingredients being mixed, suffered a chemical burn. Halfmoon said she was trying to cook meth in the store because she was too broke to buy the drug.

Bullets Over Walmart

     On Saturday afternoon, December 3, two police officers were involved in an undercover drug deal unfolding in the Walmart parking lot in Strongsville, Ohio. At some point in the transaction, a gunfight erupted between the narcs and two of the drug suspects. The gun fire sent Walmart customers ducking and running for cover. The gun play ended when a bullet struck one of the suspects, 27-year-old Lawrence McKissic. As the ambulance drove off with the wounded suspect, Walmart customers continued to come and go as though nothing had happened. The store remained open throughout the incident.

Boxstore Murder

     Lilia Blandin was having problems with her husband, Avery. On October 30, 2011, the police had charged him with criminal domestic violence after he allegedly punched her in the face and abdomen. The 38-year-old woman worked for the Woodforest Bank inside the Walmart store in Greenville County, South Carolina. At one-thirty in the afternoon on Saturday, December 10, Avery Blandin entered the store with a knife. Following a brief argument with Lilia, he stabbed her to death. He fled from the bloody scene but wrecked his car not far from the store. Deputy sheriffs took him into custody without incident.

     Customers at Walmart were appalled that the store remained open for business through the slaying and its aftermath. One shopper said, "I saw there was blood everywhere, on the ground, on the table, on the wall." Customers were kept away from the immediate crime scene which was not compromised by the management's decision not to let a murder interfere with Christmas shopping.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Knowing the Score in the Sandusky Case

     Jerry Sandusky, after waiving his preliminary hearing at the Centre County Court House in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, vowed to "fight for four quarters." I presume this means he will maintain his innocence until the Penn State sexual molestation scandal is resolved. His attorney, Joe Amendola, after comparing the case to some historic Penn State football victory, said, "This is the game of his [Sandusky's] life." Someone should tell former coach Sandusky and his attorney that this criminal scandal is not a football game to be won or lost. This is real, and it's about determining an accused sex molester's guilt or innocence. And if Sandusky is found guilty, what his sentence should be.

     While sports metaphores have unfortunately become an intregal part of the English language--we all strike out, drop the ball, tackle the problem, and when desperate, throw hail-Mary passes--the use of football metaphores by the defendant and his lawyer in the Penn State pedophile scandal seems inappropriate.

     Sandusky and his attorney, in my view, should call a time out on football metaphores.  

A Band of Sadists?

     On December 13, three members of the Florida A & M University marching band were arraigned in a Tallahassee court on charges of hazing related batteries. The defendants, who made bail, have been charged with beating fellow band member Bria Shante Hunter with fists and a metal ruler. The alleged crime involved the victim's initiation into the "Red Dawg Order," a band clique for students from Georgia. Hunter was beaten so severly she suffered a borken femur and blod clots in her leg.

     This band related violence occured three weeks before Florida A & M drum major Robert Champion died in a hazing incident following a football game in Orlando. ( Mysteriously, the coroner's office has said it has not determined Champion's cause of death.) I would image that a high school kid who enters Florida A & M instead of the U.S. Marine Corps, and joins the marching band instead of the football team, probably doesn't anticipate physical abuse and hellish hazing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Drug War Shock Troops

     American law enforcement has become zero tolerant, more violent, and militarized. Local, state, and federal teams of elite paramilitary special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams regularly patrol big-city streets and break into homes unannounced. Officers on routine patrol carry high-powered semi and fully automatic weapons. Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country either has its own SWAT unit or has officers who are members of a multijurisdictional force. The barrier between the U.S. military and domestic law enforcement has broken down. The police have become soldiers and military personnel now function as civilian law enforcers. Paramilitary police officers wear combat gear, are transported in army-surplus armored personnel carriers, receive special-forces training, and view criminal suspects as enemy combatants. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies field teams of military-trained snipers. In many jurisdictions, the "public servant" concept of policing has been replaced by the "occupying force" model. The idea of community policing has become outmoded. If one didn't know any better, one would think that the nation is in the grip of an historic crime wave. Today, compared with the 1930s and the late 1960s through the 1970s, the current rate of violent crime is much lower.

     Every year SWAT teams conduct forced entry, no-knock raids into 40,000 to 50,000 homes in search of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. In many jurisdictions all drug-related search warrant executions involve SWAT team entries. Once a law enforcement agency forms a paramilitary unit, the officers on the team must be kept busy to stay sharp. For this reason, the great majority of SWAT raids in this country involve low-risk police work and are therefore unnecessary.

     The predawn, no-knock SWAT raid into a private home has become the signature of the government's escalating war on drugs. Even when the raids are not in some way botched, as when officers break into the wrong house, innocent bystanders, including children, are injured, manhandled, and/or traumatized. Following these raids, residents are left with broken doors, windows, and furniture as well as ransacked rooms. Occasional the "flashbang" grenades the raiders use to disorient occupants cause injuries and start fires. It is not uncommon for subjects of these raids, thinking that their homes are being invaded by criminals, to pick up guns in self-defense. These people are often shot and killed. If they shoot and kill a police officer, they go to prison. In these cases it doesn't matter that the defendants didn't know who they were shooting at. Some end up on death row.

Minneapolis SWAT

     Acting on information from a narcotics snitch, a Minneapolis SWAT team of eighteen officers, on the night of February 16, 2010, used a battering ram to enter the apartment rented by Rickia Russell. The 30-year-old occupant heard her front door being smashed open followed by the sound of a flashbang grenade rolling into her living room. Upon explosion, the percussion device ignited her sofa and seriously burned her leg. As Russell lay face-down on the floor with her hands cuffed behind her back, she tried to tell the officers about her charred limb. They told her to shut up.

     The officers, armed with a warrant alleging that someone named David Conley was selling drugs out of this apartment, found no narcotics, drug paraphernalia, guns, or any other contriband or evidence of a crime. Rickia Russell did not know a David Conley. The SWAT team had obviously raided the wrong apartment. But instead of apologizing and offering to repair the damage they had caused, the police arrested Russell for the misdemeanor of operating a "disorderly house." The authorities, however, never followed through with a formal charge.

     On December 9, 2011, the Minneapolis City Council offered Russell, who had suffered permanent injuries from the flashbang grenade, a million dollar settlement. This horribly botched police operation was not the first botched paramilitary police raid in Minneapolis

The Vang Khang Raid

     Vang Khang, his wife Yee Moua, and their six children, hill people from Laos, lived in a high-crime neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis. Just before midnight on December 16, 2007, Yee Moua, while watching television, heard window glass shatter. Thinking that criminals were breaking into the house, she bolted up the stairs to where her husband and children were sleeping.

     Awakened by the commotion, Mr. Khang grabbed his shotgun, and hearing heavy footsteps advancing up the stairs, fired a warning shot through his bedroom door. Khang didn't know it, but he had opened fired on officers with the Minneapolis Police Department's Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF). The paramilitary unit had broken into the wrong house in search of street-gang guns and drugs. The exchange of gunfire that erupted after Khang's warning shot included 22 bullets from VOTF officers and two more blasts from Khang's shotgun, pellets that struck the body armor of two of the officers. The moment Khang heard his children yelling, "It's the police!" Khang, who miraculously had not been shot, dropped the shotgun and raised his arms. A few seconds later, he was on the floor with a boot planted in the middle of his back.

     The Minneapolis Police, quickly realizing that their informant had directed them to the wrong house, did not take Khang into custody. VOTF offiers, leaving behind broken windows and bullet holes in the bedroom wall, left the house without apologizing to the family they had endangered and traumatized.

     Seven months after the bungled raid, the Minneapolis police chief awarded the VOTF officers who had raided the wrong house, medals of valor for "bravery in action under fire." In December 2008, the Minneapolis City Council approved a $600,000 settlement for the Khang family.

     Paramilitary policing in Minneapolis has been expensive, and a threat to public safety.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shots Fired: Two Days, Nine Shootings

     On Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, 2011, the police, in separate incidents in Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, California, Illinois, and Missouri, shot nine people, killing four of them. As in most police involved shootings, five of the cases received cursory media coverage. Four of the more newsworthy shootings are featured here.

Suicide By Cop in Hollywood

     A month ago, Tyler Brehm, an unemployed 26-year-old from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, moved into a Hollywood, California apartment with his girlfriend. On December 6 they broke up, and on Friday December 9, at ten-fifteen in the morning, Brehm, armed with a 40-caliber handgun, began walking down the middle of Sunset Boulevard toward Vine Street. He shot several times into the air then fired several bullets into a silver Mercedes-Benz coup driven by music industry executive John Atterberry, hitting the victim in the neck and face. Atterberry later died from his wounds. Pedestrians who were aware of what was happening ran for cover. A few bystanders thought they were witnessing the filming of a movie scene. As Brehm fired his weapon, he screamed that he was going to die.

     Two Los Angeles police officers, one of whom was providing security on a nearby movie set, ordered the gunman to drop his weapon. Having run out of ammunition, Brehm pulled a knife. The officers fired four or five times, killing Brehm on the spot.

     Brehm did not have a criminal record. According to one of his Hollywood neighbors, "He wasn't a bad guy, he just got fed up." Another area resident reported that Brehm and his girlfriend had recently moved out of their apartment. "I could tell that he was an unstable person," this neighbor said, "but I don't know the details on what actually made him snap."

     This police shooting has all the earmarks of a suicide by cop case. Although such deaths have become quite common, this police involved shooting drew media attention because it took place in the heart of Hollywood, the town of broken dreams.

Death of a Shoplifter in a Wheelchair

     At four-thirty in the afternnon on Saturday, December 10, loss prevention officers at the Sears store in Visalia, California approached a shoplifting suspect in a wheelchair. The 29-year-old man wheeled out the back door of the store with the security officers in pursuit. When the officers confronted the suspect, he brandished a knife. As the knife-wielding shoplifter rolled into a nearby Marshalls Department Store, the security officers called the police.

     As the police entered Marshalls, the suspect wheeled out the back door. Confronted outside, he lept from the chair and lunged at the officers with his knife. The officers shot him, and he died on the spot.

Suicide By Cop in Chicago

     At eight o'clock Saturday night, December 10, police officers responded to a call regarding a man with a gun at the Western Cermak Pink Line train station in Chicago. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found 55-year-old Frank Steponaitis holding a gun to his head. Ordered to drop the weapon, Steponaitis pulled a second gun and pointed it at the police. The officers opened fire, killing Mr. Steponaitis. According to court records, the dead man had a history of alcoholism and psychiatric treatment.

Double Murder, Car Chase, and Shooting

     In Salem, Missouri at six-thirty in the evening, during an argument with his ex-wife and her boyfriend over custody of their 2-year-old son, 44-year-old Mavin Rice allegedly pulled a gun and killed both adults. The dead woman's 6-year-old daughter heard the gunshots from another room and called 911. Rice, a former Dent County (Missouri) deputry sheriff, drove off with his son in his white station wagon. After leaving the boy with his current wife, Rice headed north on U.S. Route 63 toward Columbia, Missouri.

     Police picked up Rice's trail through his cellphone signals which led to a high-speed vehicle chase that ended at nine-thirty in the parking lot of the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The hotel is just blocks from the grounds of the state capitol.

     The fleeing ex-cop ran from his car into the lobby of the luxury hotel where hundreds of doctors, nurses and their families were attending an annual Christmas party. Other hotel guests included a youlth hockey team. The pursuing officers shot Rice as he ran past the lobby elevators toward the swimming pool. Rushed to a local hospital, Rice is expected to survive his wounds.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jerry Sandusky: Self-Portrait of a Pedophile

     Pedophiles are bold, commit their crimes under our noses, and think we are stupid. Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach charged with 40 counts of child molestation, by granting CNN a four-hour interview, must think we are beyond stupid. In that interview, conducted over two days last week, Sandusky admitted the following: giving money and gifts to disadvantaged boys; staging wrestling matches in his home; arranging sleep-overs; taking boys on overnight trips; sleeping alone with them in hotel rooms; blowing on their stomachs; and taking showers with them. He admitted that his own wife had expressed concerns over his preoccupation with these boys. And coach Paterno didn't like it either.

     A few weeks ago, Sandusky told a TV sportscaster, on national television, that he touched boys while showering with them. I can't decide, if in the minds of America's pedophile population, if Sandusky is a dream or a nightmare. Could he possibly believe that non-pedophiles will interpret his admitted relationships with these boys as nonsexual? Sandusky is sounding a lot like a national spokesperson for NAMBLA.

     Jerry Sandusky has self-profiled himself as a pedophile. He's also self-prosecuting himself before the American public. His public defense of himself is unprecedented, and, in my view, extremely incriminating. We are not that stupid. (See: "Edgar Friedrichs, Jr: The Profile of a Pedophile," November 9, 2001 and "Criminal Intent in the Sandusky Case," November 16, 2011.) 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Death by Hazing: Will the Band Play On?

     Florida A & M drum major Robert Campion, on November 19, collapsed and died on the bus following a football game in Orlando, Florida. The 26-year-old junior from Decatur, Georgia, pursuant to a post-game hazing ritual, had walked through a gauntlet of fists. Prior to his death he had vomitted and stuggled to breathe. While the police have linked Champion's death to the hazing incident, the authorities have not released the results of his autopsy.

     The president of Florida A & M fired Julian White, the longtime director of the school's marching band. He also placed the 375-member band on indefinate suspension. (The president later dismissed four students from the university.) Julian White, the 71-year-old former director of the band, in denying responsibility for the tragedy and potential homicide, insisted that over the past twenty years he has warned school administrators about the hazing problem. Mr. White believes the university is making him a scapegoat in the matter and has demanded to be rehired. (The fact this scandal is unfolding in the wake of the Penn State mess and coach Paterno's dismissal has probably worked against Mr. White.)

     On November 27, Robert Champion's parents, in a news conference, announced plans to sue the university. The attorney representing the future plaintiffs said the parents are bringing this action to stop dangerous hazing practices. In 2006, Florida A & M student Marcus Jones suffered permanent hearing loss after being hazed as a Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity pledge. Two of his fraternity brothers went to jail after fraternity members punched and whipped Jones and other pledges over a period of four nights.

     Forty-four states, including Florida, have passed anti-hazing legislation. In Florida, if hazing results in serious bodily injury or death, it's a third-degree felony. Under the law, hazing is defined as any action or situation that recklesly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student.

The Michael Davis Case

     Michael Davis, on February 14, 1994, died in the track and field complex at Southwest Missouri State University after being slapped, punched and body slammed by members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. The autopsy revealed that Davis had suffered fractured ribs, a torn lung and liver, a lacerated kidney, and hemorraging up and down his spine. His heart was also bruised and bleeding.

     The university banned the fraternity and several of its members were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and counts of hazing. Two of the defendants were sentenced to eighteen months in prison. The Davis case led to the passage of anti-hazing laws in several states.

The Matthew Carrington Case

     On February 2, 2005, 21-year-old Chico State University student Matthew Carrington died in a basement of fraternity house after members forced him to drink water and to calisthenics with fans blowing on him. This water intoxication hazing ritual caused Carrington's brain and heart to swell. His fraternity brothers waited more than an hour before calling 911.

     Four defendants in the Carrington case pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter while others pleaded to offenses such as misdemeanor hazing. In 2006, California legislators passed Matt's Law that upgraded anti-hazing laws from misdemeanors to felonies, and allowed prosecutors under these laws to go after nonstudents.

The Hazing Problem

     A national study in 2008 involving 53 colleges and universities and 11,000 undergraduates revealed that more than half of college kids who were members of clubs, sport teams and fraternities experienced some degree of hazing. Common forms of hazing included alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts. Because a lot of young people have a strong desire to belong to a group, they allow themselves to be mistreated this way. They accept hazing because they believe it's worth going through to get into the club. And there is also peer pressure and the power of tradition. What is more difficult to understand is why so many hazers--bullies-- have the sadistic urge to humiliate, intimidate and inflict pain on people who want to be one of them.

     When I was in college, fraternity related initiations and rituals took the form of paddling and running errands for upperclassmen, mild stuff compared to modern hazing. Unlke today, schools didn't regulate this form of activity, nor was hazing a criminal offense. Notwithstanding the efforts of parents, school administrators, and the criminal justice system, hazing remains a serious problem. And who would have guessed that it latest victim would be a 26-year-old drum major in a college band?    

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Missing Prosecutor: What Happened to Ray Gricar?

     On April 15, 2005, Centre County (Pennsylvania) prosecutor Ray Gricar told his girlfriend he was going out for a drive. The 59-year-old district attorney didn't return, and his body is still missing. No one knows where he is or what happened to him. While women and children go missing every day, some to be found alive and others not, it's not everyday that a prosecutor, or any public official for that matter, disappears. The Gricar disappearance was a mystery in 2005, and more than six years later, as a result of its possible connection to the Penn State scandal, it has become a mystery that crys out once again for a solution.

     The Gricar case reminds us that coincidence can be the investigator's worst enemy. If the prosecutor's disappearace is not related to the Jerry Sandusky case, then suicide seems to be the most reasonable explanation. If the two matters are in some way connected, one has to add homicide to the equasion. Put bluntly, the question is this: Did someone murder Ray Gricar to cover up the Penn State sex molestation scandal?

     In 1980, attorney Ray Gricar moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the seat of government in Centre County ten miles northeast of State College, the home of Penn State. Gricar was elected district attorney of the county in 1985. Nine months before he planned to retire from office in 2005, the twice-divorced prosecutor went missing.

The Missing Persons Investigation

     After not returning home on April 15, 2005, the police found Gricar's vehicle parked in an antiques market parking lot in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania fifty miles east of Bellefonte. Three months later, his lap top computer was found, missing its hard drive, in the Susquehanna River. In October 2005, the damaged and useless hard drive was found up river from where police had found Gricar's lap top. On his home computer, Gricar had recently researched how to destroy a hard drive.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of the missing prosecutor's daughter, a Centre County judge declared Gricar legally deceased. Among the people Gricar had recently prosecuted, none of them surfaced as suspects in Gricar's disappearance.

The Sandusky Connection

     Early in 1998, the mother of an 11-year-old boy reported to the Penn State Univeristy Police that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had made her son feel uncomfortable in the locker room shower. Coach Sandusky, according to the mother, had hugged her son while both of them were nude. University police detective Ronald Shreffler conducted the investigation which included an audo recording of the mother's confrontation with Coach Sandusky over the incident. The mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. The coach did not deny being in the shower with her son. Regarding the arousal question, Sandusky said, "I don't think so...maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead." Acording to subsequent testimony before a grand jury looking into the case, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, described how coach Sandusky lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out."

     Prosecutor Gricar, in my view, had enough evidence against Jerry Sandusky to support Indecent Assault, Corruption of a Minor, and Child Endangerment convictions. The district attorney chose, however, not to pursue the case. Had he done so, more victims may have surfaced the way they are coming forward now, and Penn State would have been scandalized then instead of now. Coach Joe Paterno may or may not have been fired. Who knows how many molestation victims would have been spared had prosecutor Gricar taken action in 1998.

     Shortly after the grand jury testimony of victim # 6, Jerry Sandusky, at age 57, resigned from Penn State coaching. He did not however, leave town or the campus.

The Speculation

     I would imagine that most people familiar with the case believe that Ray Gricar is dead. Dr. Cyril Wecht, former Allegheny County Medical Examiner and famed forensic pathologist, has publicly said that Gricar may have committed suicide over guilt he could have protected more children. Dr. Wecht has not ruled out the possibility of homicide motivated by someone who didn't want the prosecutor re-opening a case against coach Sandusky.

     Robert Buehner, the district attorney for nearby Montour County and longtime friend of Gricar's, doesn't believe there is any connection between the disappearance and the Sandusky case. Rejecting the probability of suicide, Buehner thinks it's more likely that Gricar had been the target of a violent criminal he had prosecuted or was in the midst of prosecuting.

The Future of the Gricar Case

     Without a body there is no way to know what killed Ray Gricar. That means there is no way to determine how he had died. Unless someone comes forward with a credible confession and information that leads to Gricar's remains, the case will remain in limbo. The matter will eventually be forgotten, but until then, at least as long as the Sandusky case is in the news, the speculation will continue.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Role of Fans in the Penn State Scandal

     Although I prefer the Pittsburgh Steelers to other NFL teams, watch PGA golf during the winter months, and enjoy HBO and ESPN boxing, I cannot call myself a real sports fan. I guess I'm a little defensive about this because not being an avid fan is kind of un-American. I just can't imagine myself waving a terrible towel, painting my face team colors, or having my day ruined because the Steelers lost a game. ( While this probably reveals a latent cruel streak,I've often wondered what it feels like for face-painters leaving the stadium after their team has lost.) Outside my dentist's office, I've never leafed through a "Golf Digest" or "Sports Illustrated." (Coming across one of these publications in Barnes and Noble conjurs up bad memories.) If it weren't for the fast-forward control, I wouldn't watch any sports on TV. Golf announcers--I guess they prefer sports broadcasters--are really annoying with their slobbering Tiger Woods hero-worship, and their obsession with the mechanics of the golf swing. (I doubt that people who actually play golf understand any of that golf swing terminology. No kidding, it's brutal.) And the golfers themselves hang over putts longer that it will take me to write this blog. Now that I think about it, why do I watch golf at all?

     While I'm obviously not an avid sports fan, I'm fascinated with fandom itself. The subject interests me because I've never really understood it. Peter Abrahams' 1995 book "The Fan," is one of my favorite novels. In this beautifully written, tightly plotted story, the fan, in the person of Gil Renard, is fixated on a slugger with the Chicago White Sox. As the plot unfolds, the unemployed knife salesman turns from an obessive fan into a murderous maniac. In the 1996 film version, Renard, a rabid San Francisco Giants fan, is played by Robert De Niro.

     The Penn State scandal, besides the horrors of child molestation, is also about the nature of sports fandom in America. Except for the victims, all of the main characters are former athletes and coaches. And the alleged crimes have scandalized and demoralized tens of thousands of Penn State football fans. In the sports world, no fans are more avid than Penn State supporters. Many of them are worried that the sex scandal will cost the team a prestigious postseason bowl game invitation. The school could end up playiing in the--this is no joke--Mieneke Car Care Bowl in Houston.This devotion to sports presents an interesting but difficult question: had Jerry Sandusky been a history professor instead of a Penn State football coach, how long would it have taken for someone to report him to the authorities? And once reported, how long would it have taken to get him indicted? Thirty-five years?

     According to a recent poll, 51 percent of Pennsylvanians still have a positive view of former coach Joe Paterno. Twenty-one percent aren't sure how they feel about him. Of the men polled, 59 percent still support the coach. Only 3 percent have a positive view of Jerry Sandusky, the alleged child molester Paterno failed to report to the police. Thirty-eight percent don't even think Paterno should have been fired. On that issue seventeen percent aren't sure.

     The only way I can make sense of the above statistics is in the context of sports fandom. Penn State football fans have loved Joe Paterno for making their lives as football fans so rich and fulfilling. If he and Jerry Sandusky had been history professors, they would have been run out of town on a rail, and we wouldn't be talking about the story. In American, I don't think you can under estimate the power of fandom. That's what makes it so fascinating for people like me.         

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 4

     So-called "serious" writers of literary fiction, in hundreds of pretentious, unreadable award-winning novels, have for decades portrayed Americans as frenzied consumers who mindlessly eat, polute, and shop until obesity, pharmaceuticals, boredom, and booze puts them in their pre-purchased, overpriced graves.

     After nine-eleven, President Bush told us to dust ourselves off and shop. Today, retail consumers line-up around the block to buy the latest high-tech gizmo. Customers camp out overnight in the vast spaces of box store parking lots. A fake doctor is caught injecting cement into the butts of women who have exercised their asses off. (Sorry, I dropped that in because I might not find another place to use it.)

     Black Friday has become, like Superbowl Sunday, a defacto holiday. On Black Friday we spend money we don't have, and on Superbowl Sunday we eat bad food and get drunk. All of this plays into the above novelistic theme that might be becoming more than a literary stereotype.

     At four in the morning on Black Friday 2008, two thousand bargain hunters were pressed against the sliding glass doors of a Long Island Walmart. As opening time neared, six brave Walmart employees lined up against the quivering glass doors in an effort to hold back the mob. Eventually, under the weight of the pulsating retail mass, the doors snapped loose and the crowd stampeded into the store. The frenzied bargain hounds knocked a 34-year-old Walmart employee to the ground and trampled him to death. Several other shoppers and employees were bowled over, but survived the onslaught.

     On Thanksgiving 2011, a Black Friday early-bird shopper at a Los Angeles area Walmart, pepper-sprayed several customers to keep them from getting their sweaty hands on merchandise the spritzer fancied. One shopper landed in the hospital while the other casualities were treated on the retail battlefield. The pepper-spray combatant escaped capture by disappearing into the mob with the spoils of battle.

     In Walmart and other stores across the country, several Black Friday shoppers were robbed and shot. Also, in-store fights broke out causing injuries, knocked over displays, and trampled merchandise. In Phoenix, police slammed a grandfather to the ground on suspicion he had shoplifted a game. The shopper had stuck the item into his waistband to free up his hands to lift his grandson above the mob.

     Shopping on Black Friday is not for the faint of heart, or even the moderately courageous. This Black Friday, 152 million shoppers hit the stores.  Americans need their stuff, and some of us are willing to stand in line, camp out, and even fight for our things while muggers lurk between the cars, SUVs and trucks waiting to ambush us as we come out of the stores. There's got to be a better way. Wait, there is, the internet! And that's called Cyber Monday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bishop Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw

     Whenever an Amish man gets his name in the paper, or is seen on television, it's because he has run afoul of the law. That's because the Amish, unlike their English counterparts, avoid calling attention to themselves. The crimes that bring unwanted publicity to these private people are mostly petty, and usually involve alcohol and Amish boys in their teens.

     Edward Gingerich got on TV and in the regional press after he stomped his wife to death in 1993. My mass market paperback about the case, Crimson Stain, made him the most notorious Amish man in the country, perhaps the world. Earlier this year, when he hanged himself in a barn, he briefly popped up in the news. If his name comes up again in print or on TV, it will be as a deceased relative of an Amish law breaker.

     Sam Mullet, the 66-year-old bishop of an eighteen-family Amish enclave in and around the village of Bergholz, Ohio, has been in and out of the local news for almost ten years. The cult-like leader of a renegade group at odds with the larger Amish community in central and eastern Ohio, Mullet has been accused of beating and brainwashing members of his clan as well as having sex with a number of married Amish women. In September 2008, Mullet's son Chris pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with two minors in 2003 and 2004.

     In my book, Swat Madness, I wrote about a 2007 SWAT raid on a Bergholz Amish school house. In that raid, Jefferson County Sheriff Frank Abdalia, a longtime Mullet adversary, seized the children of a Bergholz Amish man who claimed that members of Mullet's enclave had sexually molested his children. The complaintant's wife, Wilma Troyer, had refused to let her husband take their children to another community.

     During a three week period in late September and early October 2011, men from the Bergholz group, allegedly on Sam Mullet's orders, invaded Amish dwellings in Holmes and other Ohio counties where the intruders forceably cut the hair and beards off the men, and shaved the heads of the Amish women. These terroristic raids were intended to degrade, intimidate, and humiliate the targets of Sam Mullet's wrath. The bishop had allegedly asked his raiders to bring back photographs and clippings of his victims' hair as proof his orders had been carried out.  (According to author and Amish scholar Donald B. Kraybill, mens' beards and the uncut hair that married Amish women roll into buns are treasured symbols of religious identity.)

     On October 8, 2011, Sheriff Abdalia's deputies arrested Sam Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny and 53-year-old Lester. The deputies also arrested Levi and Lester Miller. Johnny and Lester Mullet were charged with burglary and kidnapping in connection with the hair and beard cutting home invasions in Holmes, Carroll, and Trumbell Counties. Shortly after their arrests, the Amishmen were released after making bail.

     FBI agents and Jefferson County deputies, on November 22, arrested Sam Mullet, three of his sons, and three others from his clan on federal civil rights charges as well as a number of state violations related to the hate crime home invasions. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio said, "While people are free to disagree about religion in this country, we don't settle those disagreements with late night visits, dangerous weapons, and violant attacks."

     Articles about Sam Mullet that included photographs appeared in the New York Times and hundreds of newspapers across the country. CNN and Fox News aired segments on the FBI arrests. Suddenly Sam Mullet and his local band of Amish outlaws were national news figures, an extremely rare event in the Amish world. While the Amish abhor notoriety, the media loves it because people are fascinated with Amish culture. Although stories like this tell us virtually nothing about how the Amish really live, they provide the illusion of accessibility into the darkest corners of Amish life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why do the police use force?

Most people, it seems, have condemned the use of pepper spray on the UC-Davis student protesters. On the more general question of when and where tools of this kind (for example, Tasers) should be used, there is some disagreement (two excellent summaries of the debate are in The New York Times and at Inside Higher Ed).

I had a fairly vigorous discussion with my students yesterday about this, and the tenor and contour of it reminded me of debates over water-boarding (still approved by many; see the recent endorsements of torture by supposed Christian-values candidate Michele Bachmann).

There are two important distinctions to draw in cases involving police force and the military use of torture:

1. Whether using force in a given circumstance is necessary or merely convenient. Using force is a favorite tool of the lazy and incompetent. It is harder to get people to 'do' things, like confess to a crime, reveal information, or move out of a public space, by talking to them. Being a good police officer requires a lot of restraint and patience, and it also requires good 'people' skills. Having pepper spray or a Taser (or water-boarding) at one's disposal is a temptation to skip the hard work of convincing people to cooperate. In the UC case, the police officer did not appear to consider any alternative (including a less painful use of force) before employing the spray.

2. Whether force is used because it is effective or because it is emotionally satisfying. There is little to no evidence that torture actually produces actionable information. Still, anyone who has watched Jack Bauer on 24 or Detective Sipowicz on NYPD Blue knows that torture can be very emotionally satisfying-- as long as the person being tortured is clearly seen by the audience as 'the bad guy.' Pepper spray and Tasers do produce compliance! I suspect, however, that police officers often use them to dole out punishment as pleasure or revenge. 

Limits on the government's use of violence is a core American political value and one of the things that supposedly makes us 'exceptional.' Asking the police and military to use force only when necessary and effective is itself necessary, and, in the long run, more effective.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Close your eyes and think of the Marlboro Man

The Australian government is attempting to reduce smoking by forcing cigarette companies to adopt packaging containing off-putting design features and repugnant images of cancer caused by cigarette consumption. I guess they figure that you won't want to smoke if, in the act of drawing a cigarette out of the pack, you are fighting throwing up in your mouth.

Predictably, this has resulted in a massive lawsuit. In the United States, there would be a decent chance that these kinds of regulations would violate the First Amendment.

I love free speech issues, but I think the more interesting question here is this: If the Australian government, and by extension the Australian people, are so bothered by the negative effects of smoking, why don't they just outlaw cigarettes? The libertarian in me wants the government to either do what they so clearly want to do-- criminalize smoking-- and take the heat, or let people smoke and suffer the consequences.

What do you think?

Whackademia: Nutty Professors

Kennesaw, Georgia
     On December 6, 2010, the police in this town 20 miles north of Atlanta, arrested a 57-year-old accounting professor for public indecency. The part time instructor at Kennesaw State University, amid a classroom rant about refusing to live up to other peoples' standards, stripped naked in front of fifty students. The next day the professor walked (fully clothed) out of jail on $5,000 bond.

     Not everyone exposed to the professor's exhibition came away from his unveiling shocked and appalled. According to one of the students who witnessed the public indecency (is a classroom public?), "He didn't flash us for some sick, perverted kick out of it." (That's probably why he wasn't charged with public exposure.) "I think he did it to make a point (no pun intended) loud and clear to his students. Live life without regrets and shame!" (Perhaps not a good message for future accountants.) "And always have an open heart, be forgiving and grateful. He is a very brave man." (Indeed.) "I respect him deeply." This feeling was not shared by the provost who quickly fired the courageous professor.

     I do not know the disposition of this case, but venture a guess this man is not in prison, or in academia.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
     The 71-year-old former president of the University of New Mexico was arrested in June 2011 for his alleged role in a massive online prostitution enterprise headed by a Fairleigh Dickinson University (New Jersey) physics professor. A political science professor before becoming president of the University of New Mexico (August 2002-July 2003), the arrestee posted a $100,000 bond and was released from custody.

     The online prostitution service arrange for sexual hook-ups and included a three-tiered hierarachy system whereby trusted "johns" could move up in status through certain acts with prostitutes. The highest level of access included a rating system for prostitutes as well as detailed information about prostitution stings.

     The professors of prostitution are awaiting trial.

San Bernardino, California
     A 43-year-old associate professor of kinesiology (the study of human movement) at California State University, San Bernardino, was arrested in September 2011 following the search of his home by deputies with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Office. The officers recovered more than a pound of methamphetamine, rifles, handguns, and body armor. Also, as evidence the professor was president of the local chapter of the Devils Diciple Motorcycle Club, deputies found biker vests and other motorcycle gang paraphernalia. The authorities believe the professor has been involved in the distribution of drugs to a network of dealers in California. The case is pending.

Nassau County, New York
     On November 18, a former New York City police officer turned criminal justice professor at Long Island University accidentally shot himself in the leg and groin just before the start of class. The professor was about to give a test when his concealed handgun went off while he was "securing the weapon." He is expected to recover fully. As a former criminal justice professor myself, I know how dangerous students can be, particularly after you have given them a test. While I never carried a piece, I did keep my eye on the D students, and never got too far from the door.

The Occupy Movement and the Bathwater

At the Saturday "faith and values" forum for Republican candidates for president, Newt Gingrich took all of us back in a rhetorical time machine to the late 1960s, dismissing Occupy protesters with a wave as lazy, smelly hippies. What advice does he have for the protesters? "Go get a job right after you take a bath."

As I asserted in an earlier post, the Occupiers have largely failed to take advantage of their remarkable publicity. Others, of course, are happy to pick up their slack and use the Occupy Movement to advance their own goals. Conservative politicians and voters, for example, thrill with horror at examples of people driven mad by the welfare-state entitlement virus. See what happens when you have an out-of-control welfare state? The Occupy Movement.

Once the messenger has been co-opted, the empirical accuracy of its assertions can be safely ignored. Have we developed a country with vast inequalities in wealth and income? Could it have a corrosive effect on the stability of the economy and the political system? Answer: The protesters are aimless, lazy, and dirty!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Policing the Police

     Police departments cannot police themselves anymore than federal politicians can resist using insider information to make killings in the stock market. Politicians get rich and police officers get away with their corruption and misbehavior. Departmental internal affairs units put in place to unearth and investigate police corruption, wrongdoing and misconduct, are, for the most part, window-dressing.

     In New York City, recent cases of police corruption were not uncovered by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau but exposed by outside agencies such as the FBI and the Queens District Attorney's Office. The Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, a tiny group responsible for monitoring the Internal Affairs Bureau, has no subpoena power and must rely on the department's good will. The watchdog group is therefore toothless.

     Recently, outside agencies uncovered, within the NYPD, cases of evidence planting (drugs), gun smuggling, and a false arrest to cover the crime of a cop's cousin. In the recent NYPD ticket-fixing scandal (see: "They Still Fix Tickets?" October 30, 2011), a scheme uncovered by the Internal Affairs Bureau, internal affairs investigators initially did not want to pursue the case, directing detectives to focus more narrowly on the drug case (involving an officer) that uncovered the racket. Also, one of the IA officers on the case has been indicted for leaking information to the subjects of the inquiry.

     Law enforcement agencies that investigate their own police involved shooting cases almost always justify the use of deadly force. Every year, in numerous cases, after officers have been cleared in-house, outisde agencies draw contrary conclusions. Because cops generally do not trust outsiders, often have things to hide, and by nature are a bit paranoid, they will always resist outside, independent monitoring.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cop Versus Cop: The Law Enforcement Brawl in South Florida

     Florida State Trooper Donna Jane Watts, in the early morning hours of October 11, spotted a Miami police cruiser speed past her in the southbound lanes of the Florida Turnpike. In following the cruiser with her lights flashing and siren blazing, Trooper Watts reached speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The pursuing trooper's supervisors at headquarters repeatedly radioed Watts to "back off," but she didn't

     When the Miami officer, Fausto Lopez, finally pulled over, Watts approached the police car with her gun drawn. She then handcuffed him and escorted him to her vehicle, all the while berating Lopez for reckless driving. For his part, Lopez remained docile, even polite. Trooper Watts released the Miami officer after writing him a ticket for reckless driving.

     By stopping and ticketing Lopez, Trooper Watts violated a sacred, unwritten rule of police conduct: never pull over a fellow officer for a traffic violation. According to this silent code of procedure, Watts should have kicked the problem upstairs so police administrators could cover it up. Speaking about the incident to the press, North Miami Police Major Bob Lynch, a law enforcement training instructor, said both officers were wrong: Lopez for driving recklessly, and Watts for handcuffing a fellow cop. Most civilians, however, seemed to side with Trooper Watts. It was not surprising that Miami Police Department's police union spokesperson harshly criticized the Florida trooper.

     Bad feelings between the two agencies flared up when an unidentified Miami Police officer (or supporter), in retaliation for Lopez's traffic stop, dumped five gallons of human excrement on a state patrol car parked in front of a trooper's house. And tensions heightened a few days later when a Miami patrol officer pulled over a Florida State Trooper for a traffic violation. In this instance, as it turned out, the trooper's brother happened to work in the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

     In an editorial published in The Miami Herald on November 12, the author wrote: "Police solidarity has plunged ignobly into senseless acts that stink as much as the poop thrown on a state trooper's car last week. A few Miami officers--or their supporters--appear to be out of control...."

     This law enforcement feud comes at a time when the Miami-Dade Police Department is under attack for a rash of questionable police involved shootings. So far this year, Miami-Dade officers have shot 21 people, killing 17 of them. New York City Police, by comparison, have this year shot 14, killing 7.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prison for Paterno?

     A reader has asked a question a lot of people are asking. Assuming the child molestation charges against Jerry Sandusky are true, could Joe Paterno go to prison? Given the sex abuse reporting law in Pennsylvania, and the fact no jury would convict an 84-year-old football icon, I think the more relevant question is this: Does Joe Paterno have any moral responsibility for the boys' molestations by his close friend?

     In a November 12 article entitled, "Joe Paterno's Troubling Attitude Toward Sex Charges," published in "The Daily Beast," Nick Summers writes: "To many, Paterno's fall from grace came as a sudden and stunning shock. But in recent years, the football regime over which he presided like a god had begun to show signs of ethical decay." Having analyzed lesser sex-related scandals involving several of Paterno's players, Summers concludes that the legondary coach didn't consider such matters a big deal.

     Former Pittsburgh Steeler and Penn State running back Franco Harris apparently doesn't think his former coach has moral responsibility for the molestations that took place under Paterno's watch. After calling the officials at Penn State "cowards" for firing Paterno, Harris lost his TV spokesman/meet-and-greet celebrity gig at the Pittsburgh area Meadows Race Track and Casino. In the wake of his defense of Paterno, the board of a Pittsburgh charitable scholarship organization voted to remove Harris from its ranks. Sometimes free speech isn't free. And sometimes you end up eating your own words.

     Before the Penn State scandal plays itself out, I think we will know the degree to which coach Paterno is morally responsible for the molestation of Sandusky's alleged victims.  


     Penn State trustees on November 21 announced that former FBI director Louis Freeh will head an independent, private investigation into the child molestation scandal. At a press conference, Freeh said his investigation team has established its own toll-free hotline for tips. The NCAA has also launched an investigation into the matter. With four parallel investigations underway, the Penn State campus will be crawling with investigators for the foreseeable future.

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 3

     On November 15, a man in his twenties in Knoxville, Tennessee became the third Walmart shoplifter this year to be shot by the police. (See: "Shooting Shoplifters at Walmart," November 10, 2011) When the Knoxville officers arrived at the scene, they encountered two shoplifting suspects being interrogated in the loss prevention office by a store detective. One of the suspected retail thieves became violent, and in the struggle, produced an unspecified weapon that lead to his shooting and death. The store remained open. With Christmas on the horizon, why let a little gunplay interrupt the shopping? If I worked at Walmart I'd request that my "May I Help You" vest be bulletproof.


   The police identified the man shot in the Walmart security office as 21-year-old Zachary Blaine Russell. He was on probation following several theft convictions. Store personnel had detained Russell for concealing small appliance light bulbs in his clothing. In the loss prevention office, Russell had pulled a small caliber handgun. Russell's death marks the fourth police involved shooting this year in Knoxville.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Autopsy of the Occupy Movement

The Occupy movement, as an agent of change, is likely over. Active members in the movement have to date failed to follow a few basic tenets of social organizing.

For one, the movement never translated their abstract concerns (inequality in wealth, for example) into specific objectives. A concrete goal motivates members of the movement, allows for the formulation and assignment of tasks, and provides the movement with momentum and legitimacy for the next battle when they generate 'wins.' Even the Tea Party movement, which was and is pretty nebulous, had the goal of kicking certain people out of office or electing certain candidates. What do the Occupiers actually want to see happen? No one really knows.

Identifying a specific set of desired changes also allows activists to identify the decision makers that would effect the change. The Occupiers are attempting to scare politicians and capitalists, but there isn't one specific person or institution that they are pressuring. Who is supposed to do what? Again, no one really knows.

The other major problem is that the Occupier philosophy of how a political movement should work-- extreme non-hierarchical democratic deliberation-- is just not an effective way to get things done. Generally, social movements need leaders and some hierarchical decision making, whether formal or informal (some charismatic leader or leaders who command respect and deference). Sometimes the hierarchy is borrowed from existing institutions. The American civil rights movement relied heavily on churches and church leaders, for example.

The movement, in this re-occupy phase, is in danger of being relegated to a comfortable and harmless cultural space. For the last few weeks, sympathetic spectators basked in the warm glow of outrage. Those spectators, however, were not challenged and mobilized to actually do anything about inequality of wealth and influence in America. The movement was like a good movie-- a vehicle for emotional release without consequence.

The actual Occupiers, meanwhile, are energized by having to fight for their survival. Instead of being forced to figure out how to effect real change, they will likely focus their attention on battles over camping rights and police brutality. This is tempting, because there is a concrete goal to accomplish (retaking public spaces) and the outrage itself is specific and felt daily.

Focusing on re-occupation, however, would be a false cure: It would transform the Occupy movement from a means by which the American system was to be reformed to an end in itself. Like a faded movie star on reality television, the movement would exist only to continue existing. It might hang on a while longer, but the rest of us will have already changed the channel.

Criminal Intent in the Sandusky Case

     In life and in law, actions speak louder than words. Jerry Sandusky, the center of the Penn State child molestation scandal, recently and publicly admitted to a TV sportscaster that he touched boys while showering with them. While not a criminal confession, this is a powerful statement against interest that is to the point of being incriminating.

     Without the intent to gratify oneself sexually, touching a boy in a shower is not, by itself, a crime. But, under the circumstances, what other reason than sexual gratification would a grown man regularly participate in this form of behavior?

     In my view, it would be reasonable for a jury, in weighing Sandusky's words against his actions, to infer  the criminal intent necessary to convict him of a sexual offense. Assuming that no further evidence of his guilt is forthcoming, the former coach has just talked himself into prison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Part-Time Congress?

Texas Governor Rick Perry floated a proposal today to make members of Congress serve part-time with a 50% cut in pay. As the New York Times noted, this has no chance of becoming reality—but realism is not a threshold test anymore for making a presidential candidate’s platform. If it ever was.

Have you ever said something out loud—something outrageous and stupid-- just to hear how it sounded coming out of your mouth? Just to taste it rolling off of your tongue, to make yourself cringe? This is what presidential candidates appear determined to do now every day, either by inclination or by design.

If this proposal were enacted, it would only serve to strengthen the power of the presidency. Given the size of the federal government (even just the part that relates to national defense), we could not have a similar part-time president. The oversight and balancing functions of Congress would be compromised, while the size and reach of the federal government would remain the same.

The irony is that Governor Perry is a self-proclaimed fan of old-time federalism, with a limited federal government role in American life. The key concern of the authors of the Constitution was less an out-of-control Congress than an out-of-control presidency. They were wary of even having a President at all (there was no chief executive or executive branch in the central government under the Articles of Confederation).

So for someone who rails against federal power to propose disabling Congress (which the framers thought would always be the dominant branch of the federal government) while leaving a powerful presidency makes no sense. This would be the worst version of a federal government.

But analyzing the logic of the proposal—or analyzing much of what goes on in presidential politics-- is perhaps like analyzing the logic of the color of the sky. The point isn’t to make sense of it but to appreciate its aesthetics. I am cringing. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Full Employment and Crime

     Since oil companies have been pumping crude out of the ground in northwestern North Dakota, crime rates have soared in the boomtowns of Williston and Watford. Hundreds of young male oil workers with money in their pockets and no families to go home to after work, has significantly driven up the rates of assault, rape, and a variety of alcohol related crimes. The loose money flowing through these towns has created criminal opportunities for armed robbers, burglars, prostitutes, drug dealers and swindlers. The understaffed police departments have been overwhelmed by the surge in the crimes against property and persons.

     When unemployment rates go down, crime rates do not necessarily go down with them. What causes crime is a complicated matter involving a combination of factors and variables. In this part of North Dakota, high employment has brought high crime.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Edgar Friedrichs, Jr.: The Profile of a Pedophile

     The recent allegations of pedophilia involving a former Penn State football coach during the years 1994 to 2009 reminds me of a murder case private investigator Dan Barber and I investigated ten years ago in central West Virginia. (Dan Barber, who works out of McKean, Pennsylvania, specializes in criminal cases.)

     On November 5, 2011, the police arrested 67-year-old Jerry Sandusky on charges he had sexually molested boys he'd met through The Second Mile, a charity he had founded in 1977 for at-risk youths. According to investigators, officials at the university knew of sexual accusations against the coach but failed to alert the authorities. According to one of Sandusky's accusers, a man now 27 years old, the coach initiated physical contact with boys in the locker room showers through a game he called "soap battle." According to this accuser, Sandusky had given him clothing, golf clubs, and hockey and football gear. He also gave the boy $50 to buy marijuana which the youngster smoked in his car. Sandusky drove this victim to The Second Mile functions and to Penn State football games. When the victim resisted Sandusky's advances, the coach, according to the allegations, threatened to send him home from the Alamo Bowl.

     In 2002, a Penn State graduate student reportedly saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old naked boy in a team locker room shower. The student reported the incident to head coarch Joe Paterno who passed the information on to athletic director Tim Curley. Paterno, when it became obvious this information had not gone any further, did not report Sandusky to law enforcement.

     Instead of falling on his sword for his role in the sex abuse scandal, Coach Paterno promised his team and his school he would complete the football season, then retire. No real coach would let a sex scandal distract him from the next big game. A day later the trustees, apparently more concerned about the scandal than beating Nebraska, fired Paterno. In response, a thousand PSU students took to the streets in protest.

Edgar Friedrichs and the Murder of Jeremy Bell

     In 1999, a professor at Edinboro University related to Jeremy Bell showed me a newspaper clipping featuring the 12-year-old's 1997 death in a cabin along the New River owned by 58-year-old Edgar Friedrichs, the boy's former teacher in Fayette County West Virginia. While the healthy boy had died suddenly under extremely suspicious circumstances, his death had not been investigated by the local authorities. As a result, when we begain our investigation, Friedrichs was still teaching in the local school system. It looked to us that he had gotten away with murder.

     After interviewing several of Friedrich's fellow teachers and a number of his former students, it became obvious that the teacher had been obsesed with Jeremy Bell. He had taught the boy to swim in his indoor poor at his home in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The teacher had attended all of Jeremy's little league baseball and basketball games, took him skiing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, and to plays, movies and amusement parks. Friedrichs bought Jeremy expensive gifts and employed him to cut his grass and do other household chores. At the Beckwith Elementary School, Edgar made sure Jeremy received extra helpings of food in the cafeteria, took him out of class to tutor him privately in his office (Friedrichs was also the part-time principal), and organized field trips for Jeremy and his friends. Friedrichs also sponsored special student groups such as chess club, honors club, intramural club and art club. During field trips to amusement parks Friedrichs would let the boys smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and look at sexually explicit magazines. Edgar and his students also spent a lot of time swimming nude in the New River.

     Friedrichs, since coming to West Virginia in 1975 from Delaware County Pennsylvania where he'd taught at an elementary school since 1964, had worked at five elementary schools in Fayette County. In 1985 and 1986, at the elementary school in Powellton, West Virginia, Friedrichs sexually assaulted one of  his students. When the boy's parents found out, Friedrichs, a wealthy man by local standards, bought their silence by buying the father a gas station, and giving the mother a secretarial job in the school system.

     In November 2001, based on our investigation of Friedrichs and his relationship with Jeremy Bell, a Fayette County grand jury indicted him for sexually molesting four boys. Finally, after 26 years of teaching in the state of West Virginia, Friedrichs was taken out of the classroom. In January 2002, after a three-day trial, a jury found him guilty of sexual abuse by a custodian. The judge sentenced him to no less than 30 and no more than 65 years in prison.

     In July 2005, a Fayette jury found Friedrichs guilty of murdering Jeremy Bell on November 8, 1997. He was sentenced to life without parole. (A few months earlier "NBC Dateline" aired a forty minute documentary about our investigation of Jeremy Bell's death.)

     I already see similarities between the Jeremy Bell case and the developing Penn State scandal. One is the nature of the relationship between the coach and his alleged victims. The other involves how knowing co-workers allowed suspicious behavior to go on indefinitely. Pedophiles are serial predators. Until they are caught and brought to justice, the victimization continues.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 2

October 28, 2011
Bowie, Maryland
     Four thieves, at a Walmart in Bowie, Maryland, stole a cash box from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the store. The men worked as a team to pull of the caper. The girls had collected $200.
When it comes to criminal opportunity, no group is sacred, and no place is safe.


     On November 12, police arrested one of the suspects, a juvenile who returned to the scene of the crime. He has been charged with theft under $500.

October 29, 2011
Concord, North Carolina
     In two days, two crooks stole three television sets from two Walmart stores in Concord, New Hampshire. In the first theft, a lanky theif with stringly black hair and a scrufy beard set two small diversionary fires to boost the big-screen TV. The next day the same man, in the same store, walked off with another television, knocking over merchandise displays as the ran out of the building. That day, another thief, this one sporting a goatee-styled beard, in a second Walmart in Concord, stole a television then rode off with a woman driving a blue getaway van.

October 30, 2011
Albion, New York
     Louis A. Rodriquez-Flamenco, 24, in an attempt to carjack a vehicle in the parking lot of a Walmart northwest of Albion near Lake Ontario, stabbed to death the car's 45-year-old owner, Kathleen L. Byham. When interrogated by the police, the subject admitted he had intended, as his car theft MO, to stab the victim. According to his police statement, Rodriguez-Flamenco ran up to the victim, snatched her car keys, and stated stabbing her with a small kitchen knife. He has been charged with second-degree murder.

November 3, 2011
Los Angeles, California
     A 47-year-old homeless man stalking the aisles of a Lakewood Walmart, without provocation, grabbed a baseball bat from the sporting section of the store and used it to beat a 74-year-old male customer he didint know to death. Richard Lawrence Kalfin, a local transient, attacted the man because he wouldn't give him  money. In 2005 a jury in Los Angeles County found Kalfin guilty of arson. After the senseless and bloody attack, the madman walked calmly out of the store where he was met by police officers who took him into custody without incident. The bludgeoning, caught on surveillance video, closed the store for a day.
Charged with murder, Kalfin is being held on $1 million bail. Unless the million or so unmedicated schizophrenics in this country are rounded up and intsitutionalized, there is no way to prevent this form of violence.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Police Involved Shootings For October, 2011

     During the month of October, law enforcement officers in the United States shot 98 people, killing 48. This brings the yearly police shooting total to 973. 532 of these shootings were fatal.

     Police in California, in October, shot 26 people, killing 8. So far this year California officers have shot 160 suspects, killing 83. In October, police in San Jose shot 4, killing 1. So far this year there have been 6 police shootings in this city, 3 of them fatal. Police officers in Los Angeles have shot 16 people this year, killing 13 of them.

     In Arizona, this past October, police shot 8, killing 4. There have been 39 police involved shootings in the state so far this year of which 27 were fatal. In October, officers in Phoenix shot 4, killing 1. So far this year in Phoenix, officers have shot 15, killing 9.

     In Ohio this October, police shot 2, killing 1. There have been 42 police involved shootings this year in the state. (In neighboring Pennsylvania, there have been 37.) In October, officers in Columbus shot 2, killing 1. So far this year in Columbus officers have shot 13, killing 10.

     In Maryland this October, police officers shot 3, killing 1. There have been 30 police involved shootings this year in the state of which 12 were fatal. In Baltimore this October, the police shot 3, killing 2. So far this year in Baltimore, officers have shot 13, killing 4.

     This year, 6 percent of the nation's police involved shootings have taken place in California. Besides Los Angeles and San Jose, there have been numerous shootings in Oakland (8), Fresno (7), San Diego (7), Long Beach (4) and Bakersfield (4).


     At 7:48 AM on Sunday, October 23, officers with the San Jose Police Department, in response to a 911 call involving "a suspicious person with a weapon," arrived at the Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel on East Brokaw Road. They found Javier Gonzales-Guerrero, 25, passed out or sleeping in a stairwell. The subject, having attended a Halloween party, was dressed in medical scrubs. When the officers roused the suspect, he reached into his waistband for what looked like the butt of a handgun. Several officers fired their weapons. Although several bullets hit Gonzales-Guerrero, he wasn't killed.

     The gun in the suspect's waistband turned out to be a plastic, gold-colored toy six-shooter. I guess the lesson to be learned here is: when dressing up for Halloween, don't include a toy gun. (And, in a few cities, don't wear a mask, because it's against the law.)  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Police Shooting Gone Wrong

     At three in the morning of August 30, 2009, 45-year-old James Lee Whitehead, a well-known female impersonator in San Antonio, Texas, was walking home from his waiter's job in the city. Wearing men's clothing at the time, Whitehead was set upon by three assailants who demanded money and knocked him to the ground. Witnesses called 911 and within minutes San Antonia patrol officer William Karman arrived at the scene. Two of the muggers jumped into a nearby car and fled.

     The third mugger, 22-year-old Jesse Ramon, intoxicated and high on marijuana, remained behind and pistol-whipped Whitehead. Officer Karman repeatedly ordered Ramon to drop his weapon. Instead, Ramon approached the officer with his handgun drawn. When Ramon ignored Karman's demands to drop the gun, the officer fired two shots, both bullets striking, but not stopping the subject. Karman fired three more times. Two of those bullets hit Ramon, the third went into and killed the victim, Mr. Whitehead.

     Shot four times, Ramon remained in a coma for more than a month but survived.

     In September 2011, Ramon went on trial for criminally causing Mr. Whitehead's death under the felony-murder doctrine that criminally holds a felon responsible for any death related directly to his felony. In this case, Mr. Whitehead had been killed as a result of Ramon's robbery and his threatening behavior toward the police officer. On October 29, the jury, after deliberating thirty minutes, found Ramon guilty of murder. A few days later the jury sentenced Ramon to forty years in prison.

     Officer Karman, to save his own life, had no choice but to use deadly force. The shooting of Mr. Whitehead was a tragic accident. The fact the victim died from a single bullet and Ramon, his assailant, survived four, shows just how unfair life can be. While Ramon may regret the incident because he got caught, the police officer will struggle a long time with the outcome of his justifiable act.