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Friday, October 19, 2012

Heather Kowalczik, Robert Rodriguez, and The Boy Buried in Their Backyard

     In July 2010, Heather Kowalczik and her boyfriend Robert Rodriguez, the father of two of her children, moved from upstate New York to East Farmingdale, Long Island. The couple took up residence in a rented house with 6-year-old Alex, and Robert, Jr., age 9. The pair also came to Long Island with Justin, a 17-month-old boy fathered by another man.

     A Suffolk County Child Protection Services (CPS) agent, pursuant to a routine welfare check, visited Heather on October 3, 2012. During the visit, the CPS worker noticed that Justin, who would now be about three years old, wasn't in the dwelling. When asked where the toddler was, Kowalczik said he was with relatives. When the CPS agent pressed for details, the mother's vagueness led the social worker to suspect foul play. For that reason, she reported her suspicion to the New York State Police.

     Two days after the CPS call, detectives with the state police paid the 29-year-old mother a visit. When the officers insisted that she tell them where to find Justin, Kowalczik told them the boy had died in August 2010 shortly after she moved to East Farmingdale. She said her 30-year-old boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez, had buried the child in the backyard next to the back fence line. The mother said she had not reported Justin's death because she feared retaliation from Rodriguez. Later, to a reporter with the New York Post, Kowalczik said, "He [Rodriguez] was pretty much keeping watch of me. He hit me in the head, smacked me in the face if I'd say anything."

     On October 6, the police recovered Justin's remains. The boy had been buried in a three-foot grave. The police searched the Kowalczik/Rodriguez house, seizing, among other things, a shovel, a post-hole digger, a video camera, and a photograph album. CPS workers had already taken custody of Alex and Robert, Jr.

     The Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office has not released information regarding the cause and manner of Justin's death. Because the child's remains have been severely altered by the passage of time, the forensic pathologist didn't have much of a corpse to work with. Perhaps the postmortem examination will determine if the child had died a natural death, or had been killed.

     On October 9, the owner of the East Farmingdale house evicted Kowalczik and Rodriguez. Robert Rodriguez has retained a lawyer, and is not cooperating with the police. While he is considered "a person of interest," no one in this suspicious death case has been charged. Even if Justin wasn't murdered, his mother could be charged with not reporting his death. And if Rodriguez buried the body, he could be charged with abuse of corpse. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Philadelphia Cop Jonathan Josey Sucker-Punches Aida Guzmani: "To Serve and Protect?"

     On Sunday, September 30, 2012, Philadelphia police were out in force to provide security for the city's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. A group of officers, just off the parade route, were putting a man into handcuffs when someone nearby threw water or something like silly string on them. Lieutenant Jonathan Josey, in reaction to this harmless act, grabbed 39-year-old Aida Guzmani whose back was to him. Josey turned her around, punched her in the face, and then hit her in the back of the head. The mother of three collapsed to the ground with blood running out of her nose and mouth. Other officers slapped handcuffs on the stunned Guzmani, lifted her to her feet, and hauled the bloodied woman off. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

     A witness to officer Josey's assault recorded the event on her cellphone, then posted he 94-second video on YouTube where, over the next couple of weeks, it was seen by millions of viewers. It's hard to imagine anyone who has watched the video concluding the officer Josey's actions were justified. The Philadelphia Highway Patrol Lieutenant's attack on Guzmani seemed unprovoked, and entirely uncalled for.

     The day after officer Josey decked Aida Guzmani, he was placed on "restricted status," meaning assigned to a desk until internal affairs officers completed their investigation. But as more and more online viewers witnessed this egregious overreaction, the Philadelphia's police commissioner and the mayor came under increasing pressure to act more aggressively against this officer. A week or so after the incident, the police commissioner suspended Lieutenant Josey "with the intent to dismiss." The department also dropped the disorderly conduct charges against the women he slugged.

     In response to growing public outrage of Lieutenant Josey's gratuitous brutality, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in publicly apologizing for this officer's indefensible behavior, used the words "appalled," "sickened," and "ashamed." This apology did not sit well with members of the Philadelphia Police Department. (Cops never apologize, and don't look kindly on people who do it for them.)

     So, who is this female-punching, 19-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department? In 2006, Josey, pursuant to some puerile contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News, nominated himself as the city's sexiest man. In support of his quest for the title, the cop submitted a photograph of himself in a pair of red shorts, a shot that featured his pierced nipple. According to Josey's sexiest man resume, the officer described his most outstanding character traits as charm, and a "magnetic personality." (Really.) This charming and magnetic law enforcement hunk wanted to make it known that he was in search of a "sexy, sexy, sexy" woman. How ironic.

     In 2007, the city settled a lawsuit against officer Josey brought by a man who claimed the officer had inappropriately kicked, punched, and threw him against a wall. In March 2010, Josey shot and killed a man who was robbing a 7-Eleven store. The department cleared him of this shooting, and no criminal charges were filed. During his career, Officer Josey has been the subject of 13 complains for both verbal and physical abuse. (Who knows, in the Philadelphia Police Department, this may be a good record.)

     Shortly after the police commissioner announced Lieutenant Josey's dismissal, John McNesby, the president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), announced that the organization would be holding a fund-raiser for their fellow union member. The proceeds would go for Josey's living expenses.

     FOP President McNesby, said this to a reporter: "It was inappropriate for the city to apologize to this woman [he couldn't bring himself to utter her name] and drop the charges until the [internal affairs] investigation was completed." (Perhaps the FOP could have held-off the fund-raiser until the facts were in.
     Police officers have become increasingly thin-skinned and militant. They don't like outside interference and criticism by people they think have no idea what it's like to enforce the law. Police officers also hate civilian cellphone cameras. Had the Josey-Guzmani incident not been caught on video, one of Philadelphia's most sexy men would still be in uniform.        

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Matthew Sofka: The Philadelphia Wedding Brawl

     Matthew Sofka, a 26-year-old from Westfield, New Jersey, had attended his brother Michael's wedding in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia on Saturday, October 8, 2012. That night, after the wedding reception held at a nearby restaurant, members of his family who were staying at the Sheraton Society Hill, were partying in the hotel bar. Guests from another wedding that day were also in the lounge having late night drinks. Early Sunday morning, when Matthew Sofka arrived at the hotel bar, more than fifty post-wedding drunks were in the midst of a wild, barroom brawl.

     This massive display of drunken violence in the city of brotherly love was caught on video by Max Schultz, a 15-year-old in town on a birthday sightseeing trip. ( I'm sure the barroom scrap will make a bigger impression on the boy than his visit to the Liberty Bell. His video, portraying the fight from above, and at a distance to give it panoramic scope, has been seen by at least a million people on YouTube.)

     The Philadelphia police were on the scene swinging their batons and firing their stun guns when Matthew Sofka arrived at the bar, and allegedly jumped into the fray. Before the police brought the wildly swinging wedding celebrators under control, Sofka had been struck by a police baton, and tasered. During the melee, a 57-year-old uncle celebrating the marriage of the other bride, suffered a heart attack in the hotel parking lot. A short time after Vincent Sanutti's collapse (I presume he was in the bar when the fight broke out), he died at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

     While no one has been charged in connection with Mr. Sanutti's death, the authorities have charged Matthew Sofka with assaulting officer Sean Dandridge. The defendant has denied punching and kicking the Philadelphia cop. ( I presume the police have the assault on video.) Two other belicose party animals have been charged with disorderly conduct. No one seems to know what started the fight, but I sure it was over something really stupid. Sofka's paid his $25,000 bail and was released from custody. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jerry and Dorothy Sandusky: The Pedophile and His Enabling Wife

     Just when you think you've heard the last of Jerry Sandusky, the convicted Penn State child molester, he pops back into the news. The current burst of media attention involves a letter his wife Dorothy, aka "Dottie," wrote to John Cleland before the judge recently sentenced her husband to thirty to sixty years in prison.

     In her leniency plea to the judge, Mrs. Sandusky referred to Jerry as a "man of very high morals." While portraying the former football coach as a saint, Dottie labeled the ten witnesses who had testified against him last summer as ungrateful liars. The outraged wife blamed Jerry's sex offense conviction on a vast conspiracy comprised of dishonest criminal investigators, overzealous prosecutors, perjuring witnesses, and a tabloid news media. She also accused Penn State University officials of putting public relation concerns above honesty. She then laid into Matt, one of the Sandusky's six adopted children. Matt, just before the jurors began deliberating Jerry Sandusky's fate, publicly accused the defendant of repeatedly sexually molesting him.

     In 1987, Matt Hiechel, a troubled 8-year-old, met Jerry Sandusky through his charity, The Second Mile. The coach took the boy, who was living in a foster home, to football games, and spent a lot of time with him alone. At one point, Matt told his biological mother, Debra Long, that he didn't want to see Mr. Sandusky anymore. The boy's desire to be left alone by the coach did not end the relationship.

     In 1996, after Matt burned down a barn, Jerry and Dottie Sandusky took the 17-year-old into their home, and a year later, adopted him. In March 1996, Matt tried to kill himself by overdosing on aspirin. (He later described the suicide attempt as a cry for help.)

     During middle of Jerry Sandusky's trial, Matt told investigators that the defendant had repeatedly molested him, and that he was willing to testify for the prosecution. (He didn't testify.) In an audio-taped police interview, Matt said this about his relationship with the coach: "It just became very uncomfortable. With the showering, with the hugging, with the rubbing...."

     In her letter to Judge Cleland, Dottie wrote: "People need to know what kind of person he [Matt] is. We have forgiven him many times for all he had done to our family, thinking he was changing his life, but he would always go back to his stealing and lies. He has been diagnosed Bipolar, but he refuses to take his medicine."

     Mrs. Sandusky reminds me of Anna Hauptmann, the woman married to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted in 1935 for the murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Following Hauptmann's electrocution in April 1936, Mrs. Hauptmann, in the face of overwhelming evidence of her husband's guilt, devoted her life to exonerating him. She did this, I think, because she simply couldn't live with the realization she had been married to a baby killer.   

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NYC Detective Hassan Hamdy's Road Rage

     Noel Polanco, a 22-year-old member of the New York Army National Guard, lived with his mother and worked at a nearby Honda dealership in the Astoria section of Queens. At 5:15 in the morning of Thursday, October 4, 2012, Polanco and two passengers were in his black Honda traveling on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. Diane Deferrari, a bartender at the Ice NYC Bar, an Astoria lounge where Planco worked part time, was riding in the front passenger's seat. Seated in the back was Venessa Rodriguez, Planco's friend and off-duty police officer. (Officer Rodriguez was on restricted duty following a June shoplifting arrest.) The trio were coming from the Ice NYC Bar en route to the building where Deferrari and Polanco had apartments. While at the lounge, Polanco had consumed a beer, and had smoked a hookah (flavored tobacco filtered through a multi-stemmed water pipe).

     When Polanco encountered heavy, early morning traffic on the parkway, he began driving erratically. He crossed into the middle lane from the right, and in so doing, squeezed between two New York City Police Emergency Service Unit (ESU) trucks. (ESU is an elite SWAT-like paramilitary squad within the NYPD.) Polanco suddenly swerved into to the left lane and tailgated the car in front of him. After traveling a short distance, Polanco cut back in between the two police vehicles.

     One of the ESU officers, infuriated by Polanco's reckless driving, gave him the finger and shouted obscenities. The police turned on their sirens, ordering the wild driver to pull over. (The ESU officers had just raided and searched a drug site in the South Bronx, and were on their way to Brooklyn to break into another place.)

     Noel Polanco, in heavy traffic, brought his Honda to a stop alongside the parkway median. Two ESU officers approached the car. Detective Hassan Hamdy walked up to the passenger's side with his gun drawn. When Diane Defarrari lowered her window, Hamdy ordered the car's occupants to show their hands. Polanco complied with the order by placing his hands on the steering wheel. What happened next defies logic: Detective Hamdy, through the passenger's window, shot the unarmed driver in the abdomen.

     The ESU officer on the Polanco's side of the Honda pulled the severely wounded man out of the car and onto the parkway. Paramedics rushed Polanco to New York Hospital  Queens where an hour after he arrived, Polanco died.

     The fatal shooting of an unarmed man following a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway by an ESU officer comprised a major news story. While New York Police officers in recent years have shot very few people, over the past few months there has been a dramatic spike in the department's rate of police involved shootings. The killing of Noel Polanco by Detective Hamdy brought media scrutiny upon this officer which has revealed the following:

     In 1998, after four years in the Marine Corps as a sergeant in an artillery division, Hassan Hamdy joined the NYPD. The resident of Centereach, Long Island was not only assigned to ESU, he became a member of the Tactical Apprehension Team (TAT), a paramilitary unit that conducts predawn, no-knock SWAT-style drug raids. In 2001 and 2008, Hamdy was among several defendants in a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits against the city that the municipality had to settle for a total of $516,000. However, in May 2012, when TAT officers were in a neighborhood to conduct a drug raid, Hamdy and his fellow officers helped rescue five people from a burning apartment. Up until he killed Noel Polanco, Detective Hamdy had not fired his weapon in the line of duty.

     It seems unlikely that NYPD internal affairs investigators will find this fatal shooting administratively justified. On October 10, 2012, NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a local grand jury will determine what happened in the Polanco shooting. In the meantime, the dead man's mother and her attorney will meet with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Detective Hamdy's lawyer has said that Polanco didn't comply with his client's orders to raise his hands. Diane Defarrari, the front-seat passenger, has disputed this claim.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Sentencing of Jerry Sandusky: Goodbye and Good Ridance

     Jerry Sandusky, the 68-year-old former Penn State football coach and founder of the Second Mile Charity for underprivileged kids who was recently convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing ten boys, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 400 years in prison. Six of Sandusky's convictions carried a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. That doesn't mean, however, that the judge John Cleland had to impose a minimum sentence of sixty years behind bars. The judge had the discretion of running these sentences concurrently--meaning simultaneously. He could also have imposed consecutive prison terms which means sacking them on top of each other. Theoretically, Sandusky could have received as little as ten years, but as a practical matter, any sentence more than 25 years would consist of a life sentence for this pedophile.

     On Monday, October 8, 2012, the day before his date with the judge, the Penn State radio station played a jailhouse taped statement by a defiant Sandusky in which he blamed his accusers, the investigators, his attorneys, the media, and the university for his convictions. He said, among other ridiculous things: "They can take away my life, they can make me out as a monster, but they can't take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged, disgusting acts. My wife has been my only sex partner and that was after marriage. Our love continues." (I think I'm going to be sick.)

     Only a hardcore sociopath could make a statement like this. The guy not only believes he hasn't victimized anyone, he sees himself as a criminal justice martyr. I'm sure in the vast pedophile community, Jerry Sandusky is a hero. It will be interesting to see what happens if he tries to sell this line of bull in prison where everybody is innocent, and has a tale of woe.

     On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Judge John Cleland, after hearing from several of Sandusky's victims, and the sex offender himself, sentenced the Penn State pedophile to thirty to sixty years behind bars. When escorted out of the courtroom handcuffed and in his red jumpsuit, Sandusky smiled for the TV cameras.

     It will be up to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to determine where Sandusky will serve his time, and under what conditions. Just because he is a sex offender does not mean he will automatically be placed in administrative segregation for his own protection. At present, there are 6,800 sex offenders serving time in the state's prison system. Most of them live in the general prison population.

     When I visualize Jerry Sandusky's future as an imprisoned serial pedophile, I see a big, gray-haired guy in black and white striped overhauls breaking big rocks with a small sledge hammer. Sometimes I see him frightened and helpless, cowering in the prison yard, or looking furtively over his shoulder for a heavily tattooed guy armed with a homemade dagger.

     This, of course, is not how it will be for Penn State's famous child molester. Sandusky will probably be incarcerated in one of the state's minimum security correctional institutions. He will have his own dorm room where he can watch Penn State football on his $275, prison-issued, 13-inch TV set that will bring in 15 channels. (HBO and networks like it are excluded, as well as movies that are R-ratred.) He will enjoy two hot meals a day, full health care services (including a sex change operation if he wants one), and whatever medication he needs.

     The coach will be able to exercise daily, have a prison job if he wants one, buy things at the commissary, go to church on Sunday, and have regular visitors. If he wants, he can play cards and other table games with his fellow sociopaths, many of whom will be disgraced politicians and crooked bureaucrats. He'll probably make a lot of new friends, people, as compared to him, are pretty nice.

     Okay, Mr. Sandusky's life behind bars is not going to be that great, but it might be better than the lives he created for some of his victims. One thing is sure, this man has violated his last child. Perhaps that will be his greatest suffering. In the meantime, the scandal and legal mess he left behind for Penn State University will continue, for years.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Crime Lab Crisis: Too Many Cases, Not Enough Money

     So far this year, forensic science auditors have reported serious quality control problems in crime labs throughout the state of Michigan, St. Paul, Minnesota, Houston, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, Los Angeles, California, and Boston, Massachusetts. Over the past few years, dozens of crime laboratories across the country have lost their accreditation or have been closed. There have been major problems in drug testing units as well as in the fields of toxicology, DNA analysis, latent fingerprint processing, and firearms identification.

     While there has been some budget cutting that affects street policing, SWAT operations, anti-terrorism programs, and drug enforcement, crime labs have suffered the most from economic austerity. The lack of adequate crime lab funding has created personnel shortages, diminished training, physical plant deterioration, and attenuated administrative oversight.

     Overworked, and in many cases under-qualified lab personnel have produced scientifically unreliable results which have put tens of thousands of criminal cases in jeopardy. Moreover, virtually every crime lab in the country is plagued with substantial caseload backlogs which has seriously eroded the nation's criminal investigative services. Detectives are gathering the physical evidence, but getting it tested is a problem. While investigators wait for crime lab results, criminals remain at large committing more crimes. Crime labs have been closed down because forensic scientists have been caught taking short cuts, lying under oath, and mishandling evidence. As a result, the nation's crime investigation services have become less productive.

     On August 30, 2012, in Massachusetts, after revelations that a forensic chemist had deliberately mishandled drug samples, and failed to follow testing protocols, the state crime lab was shut down. Between 2003 and 2012, this lab analyst had handled more than 50,000 drug samples involving some 34,000 defendants. Now all of these cases are in jeopardy.

     The crime lab problem in Massachusetts reveals how much damage a single forensic scientist can cause. It also shows the effects of a grossly imbalanced criminal justice system. The government spends an enormous amount of tax dollars catching drug dealers and their customers which in turn overloads our underfunded crime laboratories. While television series like "CSI" has created high forensic science expectations among the general public, American criminal investigation, as it is actually practiced, is becoming less scientific and more militaristic. In the relatively short history of American forensic science, the golden era lays behind us, and the future looks bleak.   

Rodrigo Carpio: The Tiny Terror of P.S. 330

     John Webster, a 220-pound former college football player taught physical education and health at P.S. 330 elementary school in Queens, New York. On April 26, 2012, the 27-year-old teacher filed an "occurrence report" with the school principal regarding an incident involving a first grade student named Rodrigo Carpio. According to Mr. Webster, the 40-pound student had "acted out" while walking to the cafeteria with his classmates. The boy had allegedly kicked the teacher in the knee and ankle.

     The 6-year-old's kicks had supposedly produced injuries so severe, John Webster has not been able to return to work. Moreover, he has acquired a lawyer, and is contemplating suing the city of New York, the state department of education, and his attacker's family.

     As reported by The New York Daily Post, Webster's attorney, Andrew Siben, said, "This young boy repeatedly attempted to hit Mr. Webster 20 times and landed two serious kicks, one to his right knee and one to his right ankle. With the kick to the knee, he sustained a meniscus tear that required surgery, and with the the kicks to the ankle, an avulsion fracture which might also necessitate surgery....What's truly sad is that Mr. Webster and teachers within the school were not afforded adequate security to prevent injury which ultimately happened to Mr. Webster."

     Attorney Siben, in speaking to a correspondent with ABC News, said, "This young boy [Carpio] was clearly a tiny terror." The student's parents took exception to the "tiny terror" label, but did acknowledge that their son was now taking medication to "help him focus."

     If elementary education has become a physically dangerous occupation for young, former college football players, we are all in danger. The fact that so many grade schoolers have to be drugged into civilized behavior is also not a good sign. When these kids grow up, they will have to deal with the police, and in those confrontations, the cops will be the ones who inflict the pain. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Eric Dean Lewis: The Secret Life of an Elementary School Principal

     Eric Dean Lewis, before settling in California in 1999, taught at elementary schools in West Palm Beach Florida and New York state. In 2005, before he became principal of Montague Elementary in Silicon Valley's Santa Clara, he taught at Zanker Elementary and four other Santa Clara County schools in the Milpitas (a town of 70,000 north of San Jose) Unified School System. In 2012, the popular 42-year-old principal of Montague Elementary lived by himself in a San Francisco apartment.

     In early September 2012, a member of a multi-agency drug task force received a tip that Lewis was selling drugs. An undercover agent with the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team, using the name "Anthony," made contact with Lewis on a dating site for gay men. In an email to the undercover cop, Lewis suggested that they get together and "blow some clouds," meaning smoke methamphetamine. The principal also promised to bring Anthony a "bomb," slang for meth.

     On September 20, Eric Lewis and the undercover agent met at a Caltrain station in San Francisco. After the agent purchased a quantity of drugs from the elementary school principal, Lewis was taken into custody and transported to Santa Clara County's Elmwood Jail where he was held in lieu of $25,000 bail. Officials in the Santa Clara school district placed Dean on unpaid administrative leave.

     If the drug arrest of an elementary school principal wasn't bad enough, the case took an even more disturbing turn when the police searched Lewis' San Francisco apartment. Members of the task force seized seven ecstasy pills, a small amount of meth, and four vials of GHB, a liquid date rape drug. Lewis also possessed a syringe without a needle, a device commonly used to dole out precise doses of a drug. Police officers also discovered miniature surveillance cameras hidden in a watch, a cigarette lighter, and a teddy bear. The searchers also seized three of the principal's computers.

     At his September 24 arraignment, Eric Dean Lewis was charged with drug-related offenses that exposed him to a maximum of eight years in prison. It's quite possible that the drug aspect of the case will turn out to be the least of the principal's problems. Those covert cameras and the date rape drug suggest something even more disturbing. What the investigators might find on this man's computers may end up defining the nature of this case.