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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?