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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Gun, Badge, Mental Illness: A Dangerous Mix

     A frustrated cop with a short fuse and a gun can be dangerous. Being threatened at gun-point by an out-of-control police officer isn't any less frightening than being mugged by an armed robber. It may even be worse because if you're killed by a cop, people will assume you were doing something wrong. If you're not killed, and complain, who's going to take your word over a police officers? That's when it's helpful to have credible witnesses, and better yet, surveillance camera footage.

     Eighteen-year-old Ryan Mash, on April 9, 2013, was in his pickup truck with two friends at a McDonald's in Forsyth County, Georgia. As he waited at the take-out window for his order, Scott Biumi, a sergeant with the Dekalb County  Police Department, got out of the vehicle idling behind the pickup. Biumi approached the truck and stationed himself between Mash and the McDonald's service window. The young men in the truck noticed a police badge attached to the belt of the angry McDonald's customer yelling at Mash.

     "Stop holding up the drive-thru," the officer screamed. As the stunned young men tried to comprehend what was happening, a berserk Biumi continued to chew-out Mash. At one point in the tirade, he said, "You never know who you're dealing with."

     "No sir, I don't," Mash replied.

     "Keep you're mouth shut!" Buimi warned.

     "I'm sorry for the inconvenience," Mash replied.

     The 48-year-old officer returned to his vehicle, but before the McDonald's food came out of the window, Buimi came steaming back to the driver's side of the pickup. (Mash must have felt like he was in a horror movie.) This time the officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the terrified driver. "You don't want to mess with me!" Biumi shouted. After dishing out another thirty seconds of verbal abuse, the gun-wielding cop returned to his vehicle.

     Before pulling out of McDonald's (on this day not a happy place), one of Mash's passengers jotted down the license number to the gunman's car. The entire confrontation was also recorded by a McDonald's surveillance camera.

     Later in the day of the McDonald's drive-thru blowup, deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office took officer Biumi into custody on the charge of aggravated assault. The following day, the Dekalb County police officer was released from jail on a $22,000 bond.

     Sergeant Biumi was placed on administrative leave with pay. The incident, in addition to an investigation by the Dekalb County Internal Affairs Office, was looked into by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

     The  Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council suspended Biumi's law enforcement certification which denied him employment as a police officer in the state. In December 2013, after Biumi's guilty plea, a judge sentenced the ex-cop to ten years probation.

     In March 2014, a year after officer Biumi's meltdown in the McDonald's drive-through, an Atlanta television station aired an update on the case. According to the piece, officer Biumi had struggled with mental illness, serious depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety for 25 years while he was on the force. During this time he also had suicidal tendencies.

     Buimi's McDonald's incident victim, Ryan Mash, told the TV reporter that, "I was terrified. The second I saw the gun I blacked out. If it had been me that pulled a gun on somebody, I would be in jail right now.

     To the reporter, Mark Bullman, Mash's attorney, sarcastically asked, "Someone who disassociates himself from reality is a person you give a gun to and expect to enforce the law? I believe the county bears a significant responsibility."

    

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Packing Heat in High School

     Bullying victims are sneaking hundreds of thousands of firearms, knives and clubs into U.S. high schools, according to a new analysis that carries the echoes of one recent mass school assault and two potential near misses.

     Extrapolating from a survey of American high school students by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that bullied students who are threatened or injured by a weapon on school property were eight times more likely to choose, themselves, to carry a weapon to campus. More alarming: Bullying episodes have a cumulative effect, vastly boosting the likelihood that a chronically harassed student will pack a weapon before returning to a high school….

     Specifically, bullied students who have endured four types of aggressive clashes at school--being verbally tormented, sustaining a physical assault, suffering personal property theft or damage, and cutting school due to safety concerns--are nearly 49 times more likely to have recently carried a weapon to school and 34 more times more likely to have recently smuggled a gun into school….

     By examining the responses of high school students in a biannual, national survey conducted by the CDC, the researchers estimated that more than 200,000 victims of bullies had secretly lugged weapons such as firearms, knives, or clubs into their high schools at least once during a previous month….

Bill Briggs, "Bullied Victims Take Weapons Into High School," NBC News, May 4, 2014 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Conspiracy Nuts and Bombs: The Kevin Harris Case

     Kevin Harris lived by himself in a modest, one-story house in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southern California city of Costa Mesa. The 52-year-old, by covering his home in aluminum foil, attaching copies of his anti-government newsletters to a front yard tree, and videotaping his neighbors, revealed that he was strange, and probably mentally ill. He had also established himself as an anti-social loner with his Internet writings that included the statement: "I am the only one who can get into my house. I think it may be dangerous for you to come to my house alone."

     In America, we have more than our share of oddballs. Most of these people, usually men, are harmless eccentrics. Some of them, however, are psychotic, paranoid, and dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, fell into this category. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire way to distinguish the Ted Kaczynski types from the common garden variety conspiracy kooks. When the distinction becomes clear, it's usually too late.

     Mr. Harris, in a 17,000-word Internet-published manifesto called, "The Picker: A True Story of Assassination, Terrorism, and High Treason," described the nefarious and clandestine activities of government agents. The author of this rambling manifesto had obviously convinced himself that secret government operatives were using a weapon called a "picker," a device that deposited germs on a victim's skin on contact. Government agents armed with these secret devices were infecting dissenters with illnesses like cancer and AIDS. According to Harris, government agents also used the deadly tool to cause various enemies of the state to die in freak accidents.

     The Costa Mesa conspiracy theorizer, in his manifesto, said: "I have had personal experience with both domestic and foreign operatives using pickers within the U. S. at the request of the U. S. Government. The rationale stated here should give you a reasonable indication that pickers are used in this country, but it is not absolute proof. The diseases of the ex-spouses, which I will describe, provide a proof so strong that some of these attacks will have to stop....

     "Many years ago I met a woman who had just divorced a government agent. She had also just had a radical mastectomy. She was afraid of her ex-husband, afraid for her life. That a woman should have to live (and die) in fear of this 'public servant' struck me as very wrong. Since then I have met a couple of other women who have broken off marriages with government agents. In each case the woman was diagnosed with cancer within a year of breaking up....

     "These women didn't get cancer because divorce and mortal fear are stressful. Emotional stress as a factor in carcinogenesis can account for a few percentage points at most. That is too small an influence to be reliably detectable. This is a cancer rate that is thousands of percent too high. Among other things, several attempts on my own life have confirmed to me that these cancers are intentional assaults...."

     At six-fifteen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 2013, several of Kevin Harris' neighbors called 911 to report  that he was sprawled out on his front lawn. After the ambulance rolled up to the aluminum-wrapped house, Mr. Harris refused treatment. The paramedics drove off, and Mr. Harris disappeared inside his strange looking dwelling.

     Ninety minutes following the medical emergency, neighbors called 911 again to report a powerful explosion at the Harris house. Police arrived to find the front entrance to Harris' dwelling shattered from an explosion. The resident of the home lay dead in the doorway. Near his corpse Costa Mesa police officers saw an unexploded pipe bomb.

     Dozens of homes in the neighborhood were evacuated as FBI agents, the Orange County Bomb Squad, and a Huntington Beach hazardous materials team searched the Harris dwelling for additional bombs and explosive substances. They found three more pipe bombs on the premises.

     Because Kevin Harris was alone in the house when one of his pipe bombs detonated, the authorities had way of knowing if he had killed himself intentionally, or had accidentally triggered one of his explosive devices. Perhaps he had mistakenly set-off a booby-trap of his own making.

     One of Mr. Harris' brothers told a reporter that Kevin was the youngest of five boys. Although all of his siblings were highly educated professionals, Kevin was the smartest one in the family. (His manifesto suggested that Kevin had been well-educated as well, possibly in the hard sciences.)

     The day after the Costa Mesa house explosion, terrorists detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon. 

Bomb in Aile 9!

     A judge sentenced a former employee at the Home Depot store in Huntington, New York to 30 years for planting a pipe bomb in the lighting department and threatening three other stores in 2012…David Sheehan tried to extort $2 million from the company…He had sent an anonymous letter saying he'd put a bomb in the store to show that he could plant one without being detected, and that he would set off  bombs in three other Long Island Home Depot stores on Black Friday that year if not paid…

     Prosecutors said the company spent $1.5 million for additional security guards and other security measures…

     Police found the device in the Huntington store, took it away and detonated it. After Sheehan sent a second extortion letter, lowering the demand to $1 million, investigators identified and arrested him…Sheehan's defense attorney argued the device at the Huntington store was not really a bomb because it didn't have a detonator. [Another example of how trial lawyers are paid to embarrass themselves.] The jury found the defendant guilty in 2013.

     Speaking before his sentencing, Sheehan noted that no one was injured and he had abandoned the plot before his arrest. His lawyer said he will appeal the sentence.

"Former Home Depot Employee Gets 30 Years For Bomb Scare," Associated Press, February 7, 2015 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Maryville, Missouri Rape Scandal

     Two girls, 14 and 13 years old, sneaked out to join a group of older football players at a party last year [2012] in Maryville, Missouri, the Nodaway County Seat. After the girls became drunk, a 17-year-old boy had sex with the 14-year-old, while another boy stood by with an iPhone video camera running. Afterward, the boys left the girl on her front porch, nearly unconscious in subfreezing temperatures. The 13-year-old told police that she too had been assaulted by another older boy.

     Nodaway Sheriff Darren White told the Kansas City Star that his [investigators] swiftly compiled the evidence and he expected to see the boys in court. But county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The 17-year-old--the grandson of a former state representative--went to college rather than to prison.

David Von Drehle, Time, October 28, 2013 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The NumChuck Panic of 1974: Legislative Stupidity in New York State

     Legislators in New York State, in 1974, passed a ban on a weapon made famous in movies starring Bruce Lee. These martial arts devices are called NumChucks. The law also made it illegal to possess electric dart guns, switchblades, brass knuckles, stun guns, and cane swords. These legislative mental giants, for some reason, failed to ban sawed-off  baseball bats. throwing stars, roller pins, and iron frying pans.

     The New York state lawmakers, concerned that the popularity of "Kung Fu" films would cause young people in the state to turn into bands of marauding, murderous barbarians. So, to prevent this dystopia before it started, they declared NumChucks contraband. Brilliant.

     In 2000, a New York state resident named James Maloney was charged with possessing NumChucks in his home. As an amateur martial arts athlete, practicing attorney, and adjunct professor at the State University of Maritime College, this man was an obvious threat to the peace and stability of the Empire State. After police officers seized this dangerous contraband, Maloney's neighbors could retire at night with unlocked doors.

     In 2003, Maloney challenged the NumChuck ban on grounds it violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

     United States District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen, in December 2018, in a 32-page opinion laying out her legal rationale, ruled that the New York state NumChuck ban was indeed unconstitutional.  The decision probably stunned the state's media and academic elites who braced themselves for a historic wave of NumChuck violence perpetrated by mobs of aging Bruce Lee fans.

     

Classroom Meltdown

     In December 2018, police in Visalia, California responded to reports of a teacher gone mad at the University Preparatory High School. Chemistry teacher Margaret Gieszlinger, 52, was caught on video ordering a student to take a seat in the front of her classroom. While singing her version of "The Star Spangled Banner," the teacher started cutting off chunks of a female student's hair. After the student jumped out of the chair, Gieszlinger, still singing the national anthem, walked around the room waving the scissors. Frantic students fled the classroom.

     Police officers booked Margaret Gieszlinger into the Tulare County Jail on the charge of child endangerment. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     In 2007 and 2016, Gieszlinger's teaching credentials were suspended for 14 days. School administrators did not reveal the basis for these suspensions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for visiting the Jim Fisher True Crime blog. Over the past seven years it has been a pleasure and honor writing for you. I also appreciate all of your comments.

Bad Mall Santa?

     Imagine what it must be like sweating under a fake beard and Santa costume in a loud, brightly lit shopping mall listening to other people's children babbling into your ear about things they want for Christmas. These I-want lists range from the ordinary stuff to asking Santa to use his powers to get dad out of jail. A little girl once asked Santa to bring her boobs as big as mommy's. Another kid wanted a real gun so he could shoot the bad guys who broke into his mother's car and stole his basketball. (This kid wanted revenge more than he wanted a new basketball.)

     There are hundreds of shopping malls in the country and every year almost every one of them hires two full-time Santa fakes. A mall Santa, on average, sees 4,000 children during the holiday season. Rookies earn about $10,000 which comes to a little over two bucks a kid. A veteran mall Santa Claus makes a little more.

     It's amazing that mall managers can find enough men for the job who aren't drug addicts, alcoholics, mental cases, or registered sex offenders. And what about job candidates who simply can't stand being around kids?

     According to the standards of professionalism that comes with the job, these holiday employees have to maintain a jolly disposition. They must also abstain from alcohol just before suiting up. Drinking on the job, of course, will send a mall Santa packing. (Booze might help a Santa meet the jolly disposition requirement.) A mall Santa is not supposed to promise a kid anything. Instead, he is taught to say something like, "I'll see what I can do." In other words, a mall Santa has to talk like a politician.

     Besides the basic job standards, the jolly mall Santa must get along with his Santa helper dressed like an elf. (A mall Santa without an elf is like a singing cowboy without a sidekick.) Elf impersonators are usually little people or small women. (What would be more creepy than a six-foot elf with a deep voice? I have no idea if mall elves make as much as their red-suited partners. I would hope the pay is equal because that job must be just as unpleasant.)

     At 5:30 PM on Saturday, November 23, 2013, police officers in Hanover, Massachusetts arrested a mall Santa named Herbert G. Jones. The 62-year-old Santa impersonator and his elf partner worked at the Hanover Mall where parents brought their kids to have them photographed with the great giver of gifts. Jones and his elf, an 18-year-old girl, worked for a New Jersey company called Cherry Hill Photos.

     According to the elf, Mr. Jones pinched her buttocks and made suggestive comments while the pair worked at the North Pole photo booth. Police officers hauled Santa out of the mall in handcuffs. (Try explaining that scene to a kid waiting in line to speak with Santa.)

     Charged with indecent assault and battery, a judge released Jones on $1,000 bond. But he couldn't return to the scene of the alleged crime because the magistrate barred him from performing Santa gigs until his case was resolved.

     Mr. Jones strongly denied the elf's allegations. According to his employer, Mr. Jones had no arrest or conviction record. The suspect was due back in court on Christmas eve.

     In August 2014, following several continuances, the judge set Jones' indecent assault and battery trial for May 4, 2015. (I have been unable to determine the outcome of this "he said, she said" case. I suspect it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. However, the charge alone probably took Mr. Jones out of the mall Santa business.)
      

Monday, December 24, 2018

Judge Throws Book At High Altitude Sex Offender

     In January 2018, 35-year-old Prabu Ramamoothy, an Indian living in the U.S. on a work Visa, was on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Ramamoothy sat in the middle seat between his wife and a 23-year-old model.

     During the flight, the model sitting next to Ramamoothy woke up from a nap to find her neighbor fondling her with his hand inside her pants.

     On December 12, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg sentenced Ramamoothy to nine years in federal prison. The judge hoped the severe sentence would serve to deter other airline passengers from similar offenses. (Over the past few years a rash of airline passenger sexual assault cases involving sleeping women had been committed.)

     After completing his prison sentence in the U.S., Ramamoothy will be deported back to India, a country much friendlier to sex offenders.

Calling the Cops on Disruptive School Kids

     There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the principal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

     Melodee Hanes, of the U. S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, describes the school-to-prison pipeline as "the pervasive use of court referrals as a means of discipling kids at school."

     According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from schools across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that more than 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

     The school-to-prison pipeline is being fueled by "zero-tolerant" policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary practices….The results, at times, have been ridiculous.

Matthew T. Mangino, GateHouse News Service, December 19, 2013.  

Crowded Prisons

     Nebraska's prisons are bursting at the seams, and the state's legislature is struggling to fix the problem. Law makers held hearings on a series of bills on February 13, 2015 to address the overcrowded prison population. One proposed law would limit mandatory minimum sentences for several mid-level felonies such as distribution of cocaine or heroin. Another bill would limit the "three strikes and you're out" rule to violent crimes. [Whenever politicians "fix" prison overcrowding, it never involves building more lockups. It's always letting inmates out or reducing sentences. This may fix the overcrowding problem, but it doesn't fix the crime problem.]

     Nebraska's prisons are at 155 percent capacity with some facilities much higher according to a March 2014 ACLU report. The report points to the Nebraska State Penitentiary at 183 percent capacity and the Omaha Correctional Center at 190 percent capacity, suggesting that Nebraska's correctional system may be operating unconstitutionally…

     The ACLU report points to similar legislation that was successful in California, where prisons were at roughly 200 percent capacity. [Successful in returning rapists, killers and pedophiles to the streets. California is such a dysfunctional state, the rule should be to do just the opposite of what politicians in that state have done.]

Casey Harper, "Nebraska Has More Prisoners Than It Knows What To Do With," The Daily Caller, February 18, 2015


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The "Master Bob" Sex Club Bondage Case

     A Detroit area man was convicted on December 18, 2014 of murder in a plot to kill his wife so he could devote himself to a life of bondage and domination in an upper-class suburb with women who called him "Master Bob." The salacious trial of Bob Bashara revealed his secret life in Grosse Pointe Park: a former Rotary Club president who used cocaine and hosted men and women at a sex dungeon under a bar called the Hard Luck Lounge.

     Jane Bashara was strangled by a handyman in the couple's garage in 2012 before her body was discovered in her Mercedes-Benz in a Detroit alley…She was a marketing executive with a long record of service to her church and her community…

     Handyman Joe Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and said Bob Bashara had coerced him into committing the crime. In the weeks after his wife's death, Bashara professed his innocence and even attended a candlelight vigil…

     Jurors convicted the 57-year-old of first-degree murder and four lesser charges. He did not take the stand on his own behalf. Joe Gentz, the handyman killer, did not testify at Bashara's trial…

     In Michigan, first-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole….

"Bondage 'Master' Convicted in Plot to Kill His Wife," Associated Press, December 19, 2014

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles on The Sylvia Plath Death Wish

I've heard writers living their lives in literary obscurity say they hope to become famous after they kick the bucket. You know, like Sylvia Plath. Why? You're dead, fame will not bring you back. What good did it do Sylvia Plath? She's still dead.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, December 21, 2018

Hands-On Sex Education at Destrehan High

     Destrehan, Louisiana is located 25 miles east of New Orleans on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Destrehan High School, part of the St. Charles Parish School District, consists of grades 9 through 12.

     Shelly S. Dufresne, a 32-year-old 11th-grade English teacher, graduated from the high school in 2000. In 2005, she graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) with a BS Degree in secondary education. The daughter of 29th Judicial Judge Emile St. Pierre, she began teaching at Destrehan High in 2006. Dufresne resided in Montz, Louisiana with her husband and three children.

     Destrehan High's 10th-grade English teacher, 23-year-old Rachel Respess, graduated from the high school in 2008. Shortly after earning her education degree from LSU in 2012, she joined the faculty of her Alma Mater. Respess lived in Kenner, Louisiana.

     On September 26, 2014, school officials were informed that a 16-year-old Destrehan male student had bragged to his friends that he and the two English teachers, on two occasions, had engaged in threesome sex. Deputies with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, after receiving the complaint from the school, questioned the boy.

     According to the student, the first three-way tryst took place in early September in Kenner at Rachel Respess' apartment. The second episode occurred after a Friday night football game on September 12, 2014 at Shelly Dufrense's house in Montz. Deputies reportedly acquired videotapes of the sexual encounters.

     On September 30, 2014, officers booked Dufresne and Respess into the Jefferson Parish Jail on felony charges of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. The teachers posted their bonds, but were under house arrest except for mental health counseling, doctor visits, and church attendance. The school district suspended the suspects without pay.

     In August 2016, the parents of the student sued the two teachers and the St. Charles Parish School District.

     Dufresne, following her confession to the police, pleaded guilty in December 2016 to the minor offense of obscenity. In exchange for the plea, the judge sentenced Dufresne to 90 days at an inpatient mental health facility. The former teacher also received three years probation and was fined $1,000. According to Dufresne, she had instigated the sexual encounters with the student.

     Shelly Repass pleaded guilty to the minor offense of failing to report the commission of a felony. For this she received one year of probation.

     Several questions come to mind in cases like this. How stupid or desperate must a teacher be to place her career, marriage, reputation, and freedom into the hands of a 16-year-old boy who can be counted on to spill the beans to his friends? Why would these teachers consent to being videotaped committing sex offenses? Are these teachers basket cases or simply stupid? If they are not very bright, do they reflect the caliber of people entering the teaching field? These are important questions because cases of female teachers having sex with male students has become quite common. 

Arming School Teachers

     In 2014, legislators in South Dakota passed a law authorizing public school teachers to carry concealed firearms while on the job. This is surprising since South Dakota is not a high-crime place. It's also stupid, and dangerous.

     Trained and experienced police officers struggle with the responsibility of having the power of life and death, and knowing when to use deadly force. But that responsibility comes with being in law enforcement. School teachers, I hope, acquire their positions because they are educated and suited to teach. That is their burden. Asking school teachers to make on the spot life and death decisions is far beyond the scope of their jobs and profession.

     Since the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, several school guards have accidentally discharged their guns. While schools have never been perfectly safe, they are about to become much more dangerous. A student's chance of being accidentally shot by a armed teacher or security guard will be far greater than being shot by a crazed intruder.

     With politicians you simply can't overestimate their stupidity. If I may quote Napoleon Bonaparte: "In politics, stupidity is not a disadvantage." Indeed, in politics stupidity is often rewarded. The public will eventually pay the price for this political idiocy and demagoguing. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Cost of Free Speech

     A sickening combination of political correctness, cultural touchiness, and the profit motive has killed the kind of rough and tumble journalism once practiced by H. L. Mencken and the more recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. It's been replaced by the kind of feel-good public relations slop you see on morning TV. Today, a journalist takes a risk attacking anyone other than conservative men, President Trump, and mainstream religion. Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, said some unflattering things about certain lower class Iowans. It was the kind of writing you rarely see anymore, especially from a professor. (If free speech has an arch enemy, it's the university.) The professor from Iowa paid a price for speaking his mind in print. (While personally I consider Bloom's writing a good example of an elite academic attacking the lower middle class from his ivory tower bubble, I don't believe he deserved the treatment he received for expressing his opinion.)

     In an essay Stephen Bloom wrote called, "Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life," published on December 9 2011 on "The Atlantic" magazine website, Bloom, in questioning whether Iowa was worthy of being the nation's first caucus state, portrayed certain Iowans in a pretty bad light. For example, he said the rural citizens of the state "...are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Anne, that 'the sun'll come out tomorrow.' Bloom described the municipality of Keokuk as a "depressed, crime-infested slum town," and other Iowa communities as "skuzzy" and "slummy." Ouch.

     As could be expected, Bloom's opinions and observations angered and offended many people, including some of his fellow journalism professors; current and former students (particularly those from Keokuk I'd imagine); the university administration; local politicians ( pandering idiots who I am sure share Bloom's opinion of these "hard-working Americans"); and of course, rural Iowans with bad teeth and a drug habit.

       In response to his description of the lower rung of Iowa's socio-economic ladder, Professor Bloom received threatening emails which sent him into hiding until the firestorm of indignation burned itself out. (The following fall he was scheduled to teach a semester at the University of Michigan.) In discussing his situation to a media blogger, Bloom said, "...I don't want some of those crazy people who are reading everything they want into my story to know where I am." To avoid adding fuel to the fire, Professor Bloom turned down offers to appear on several cable TV news shows. (In reality, a couple cable news networks would have given him a hero's welcome.)

     Bloom's incendiary essay came at a time when the University of Iowa's master's degree program in journalism was in trouble. (Not to be confused with Iowa's famous Writer's Workshop.) The program lost its accreditation the previous year because it lacked a sufficient number of students. The undergraduate program, not doing well either, operated on provisional accreditation. David Perlmutter, the director of the journalism school, was worried that the Bloom flap would dissuade prospective journalism majors from applying to the program.

     To his credit, Perlmutter said this to the "Des Moines Register," "I'm nobody's editor. I'm nobody's publisher. We don't want the kind of system where somebody has to send me something before it gets published, and I'm supposed to censor it...."

     The president of the university, Sally Mason, apparently not a big fan of fee speech, sent an open letter to "The Atlantic" disowning Professor Bloom and his essay. "Please know that he does not speak for the University of Iowa. What defines Iowans are their deeds and actions and not some caricature." If such a piece of public relations crap had been written by a graduate of the school's journalism program, the program wouldn't deserve to be accredited.

     Professor Bloom attributed all the fuss to the state's need to protect its first-in-the-nation caucuses. "There's a financial incentive for the Iowa media not to rock the caucuses' boat," he said. "Political advertising means revenue for newspapers, TV and radio stations."

     Fortunately for Professor Bloom, he was tenured. Still, I image he will think twice before writing something like this again.
       

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Kurt Myers Killing Spree

     Over the past few years there have been several spree-shootings involving elderly white men. Generally, this is not a demographic associated with criminal homicide. Are these cases an anomaly, or is there something driving older men to mass murder?

     At nine-thirty in the morning of Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 64-year-old Kurt Myers started a fire in his apartment building in the upstate New York village of Mohawk 65 miles east of Syracuse. The tense, jittery loner with the full white beard was not married, and seldom spoke to his neighbors. Other than an old DUI arrest, he did not have a history with the police.

     After starting the fire, Myers walked around the corner to John's Barber Shop. He entered the place carrying a shotgun. Speaking to the  owner, John Seymour, Myers said, "Hi John, do you remember me?"

     Yes, Kurt, how are you?"

     Without saying more, Myers raised his shotgun and shot the barber, wounding him severely but not killing him. Myers then fired on the three customers in the shop. Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, were killed on the spot. Ransear had been a retired corrections officer. Dan Haslauer, the third customer, was shot in the hand and hip. He survived the shotgun blasts.

     Having murdered two men and injuring two others, Myers climbed into his red Jeep and drove to Herkimer, a town of 7,770 one mile from Mohawk. At Gaffey's Fast Lube, he shot and killed employee Thomas Stefka, and a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections named Michael Renshaw. All of the shootings appeared random.

     By Wednesday afternoon, a small army of police officers had Myers trapped inside an abandoned building in downtown Herkimer. At one point Myers fired at the police from a window. The stand-off dragged on through Wednesday and into Thursday. Joseph Malone, the chief of police of both Mohawk Valley towns, told reporters that Myers "...had come out of nowhere. He was not on our radar and hasn't caused any problems." A woman who for the past ten years has waited on Myers at a local bar said that "He wasn't a people person, and he would never talk to anyone."

     Myers worked as a machine operator in the early 1980s at Waterbury Felt, a manufacturer of industrial textiles. The Waterbury Felt executive who had hired him, Steve Copperwheat, ran into Myers three months ago in a Walmart parking lot. The two men had not seen each other in ten years. Copperwheat described the encounter to a reporter with The Washington Post: "I yelled over to him, and he looked at me and said my name, said he was retired and just went booking away. It was almost like he didn't want anybody to know where he was. He was trying to be very distant, which surprised me." According to Copperwheat, Myers, who had never married, had been an exemplary employee who worked twice as fast as he fellow workers.

    Late Thursday morning, March 14, police officers stormed the abandoned building on Main Street. As the SWAT team entered the structure, Myers fired on the officers. The police returned fire, killing the 64-year-old mass murderer. An FBI dog was shot and killed in the exchange.

     While things are quiet again in Herkimer and Mohawk, citizens of these communities are left with six shooting victims, and the mystery of what turned Kurt Myers into a mass murderer at the age of sixty-four.
     

Condom Possession As Evidence Against Prostitutes

     One of the key justifications for the criminalization of prostitution is public health, to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. In New York City alone the government spends $1 million a year distributing free condoms with this very purpose in mind.

     Every year, New York City vice officers make 2,500 prostitution arrests. In a few cases, the fact that the sex trade suspect possessed more condoms than what is considered customary has been used as evidence of prostitution.

     Among sex workers, rumor has it that cops will arrest anyone in possession of more than three condoms. While there is not a three-condom rule, a lot of prostitutes no longer carry them in fear of being incriminated by this evidence. What can a prostitute say when the vice officer asks, "What are you doing with all of those condoms?"

     The New York City Department of Health conducted a study in 2010 that revealed that a third of the city's hookers didn't carry condoms as a measure to avoid incriminating themselves.

     Since more than 90 percent of prostitution arrests lead to plea bargained sentences, vice officers rarely need to make their cases using this type of evidence. In suburban New York's Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said that the evidentiary value of condoms does not outweigh the negative public health effect associated with the use of this prosecutorial technique. According to this prosecutor, "condom evidence is rarely of any value to a prosecution. If you need condom possession so badly in a case against a trafficker, you don't have a good case." Prosecutors in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, New York no longer use excessive condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases.

     In 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill banning the introduction of condom possession into evidence at sex trafficking trials. A supporter of this first-of-its-kind legislation, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, told a reporter with the New York Times that "Sex workers are not a politically appealing constituency to most lawmakers."  (It's perhaps a bit ironic that politicians, who are whores themselves, aren't more attuned to the needs of these constituents.) 

The Meth Cook's Dog

     Edwin Henderson ran from officers with the Prattville, Alabama police who were serving a drug search warrant on October 29, 2014. The suspected meth manufacturer jumped into a ravine behind his house and was followed by his dog, Bo and two Prattville Drug Enforcement Unit investigators.

     Bo found Henderson lying in tall grass. He was arrested when the officers saw the dog had stopped to wag his tail. Henderson was charged with failure to obey police, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

"Dog Helps Alabama Police Arrest Owner During Chase," Associated Press, October 30, 2014 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Large Talking Head Syndrome

I've noticed that male TV news anchors tend to have physically enormous heads, with egos to match. Based on the fact they do nothing but read what others have written for them, their brains, due to underuse, must be tiny organs within those huge skulls. I can't think of any profession where the practitioners are so overpaid, and over-respected. We live in strange times.

Thornton P. Knowles

Homicidal Schizophrenics: Individual Rights Versus Public Safety

     In February 2009, Joseph Hagerman III, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, stopped taking his antipsychotic medication. He had stopped taking his medicine twice in the past and had experienced psychotic episodes. This time, however, he decapitated his 5-year-old son and injured his wife who tried in vain to protect the boy.

     Following his arrest, Hagerman, in a jailhouse interview with a local TV reporter, said he had killed his son because he believed the boy had become the antichrist.

     A few months after the homicide, a jury in Virginia Beach, Virginia found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Virginia law, this meant that Hagerman would be sent to a mental institution instead of prison. He would remain at the hospital until his doctors, and a judge, declared him sane enough to rejoin society.

     In late 2016, doctors at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, recommended to the court that Joseph Hagerman be granted conditional release from the institution. According to the psychiatrist, this patient, over the past few years, had been given 48-hour passes that had not caused any problems. He had been, according to the hospital staff, a model patient.

     A Virginia circuit judge, acting upon the psychiatric recommendation, ordered that Mr. Hagerman be given two independent mental health evaluations.

     On May 9, 2017, following the testimony of two psychiatrists and Mr. Hagerman's father, the judge ordered the patient's conditional release from the hospital. Pursuant to this decree, Mr. Hagerman was required to live at an adult foster care facility during the week. On weekends, he was allowed to reside with his parents.

     Under the judge's order, Mr. Hagerman would also receive periodic visits from social workers and psychiatrists who would check to make sure he was still taking his antipsychotic medication.

    At the conclusion of the sanity hearing, Mr. Hagerman's sister told a local television correspondent that, "I just want to let the community know that my brother is a very loving, generous, Christian man. He had a wonderful family, and it was an unfortunate incident. [Italics mine.] Everyone needs to get educated on mental illness."

     The fact that a child had died because his mentally ill father, for the third time, had stopped taking his medication, was perhaps cause for concern. Compassion for the mentally ill is all well and good, but so is the need to protect people who will, knowingly and unknowingly, cross this man's path. One doesn't need to be highly educated on the subject of mental illness to know that the behavior of a homicidal schizophrenic is extremely unpredictable. 

Kids Who Kill

Nationwide, there are more than 2,000 inmates in 43 states serving life sentences without the chance of parole for murders they committed when they were juveniles. These child and early teen killers make up a fraction of those kids who have committed murder but received lighter sentences. This is not a good sign for our society. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Lance Mason Triple Murder Case: In America The Law Is Not Evenly Applied

     In 1985, Lance T. Mason graduated from Shaker Heights High School in upscale suburban Cleveland, Ohio. After earning his B.A. from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, Mason received a law degree from the University of Michigan. Not long out of law school, Mason became an assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County, Ohio. From 2002 to 2006, he served as an elected representative in the Ohio House of Representatives. He was an intelligent, well-educated young black man with a promising future in law and politics.

     Lance Mason, in 2007, advanced his political career by being elected to Ohio's 25th State Senate District. A year later, Ohio governor Ted Strickland appointed him to fill a judicial vacancy on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. After seven years on the bench, the arc of Judge Mason's career in law took a sudden downward turn.

     On August 2, 2014, police officers took the judge into custody after he punched his wife Aisha Fraser twenty times and bashed her head five times against the dashboard of their vehicle. During the attack, he also bit her and threatened to kill her. The couple's children, four and six, witnessed the prolonged assault.

     Aisha Fraser, a sixth grade teacher in the Shaker Heights School District, was so badly injured she had to undergo reconstructive surgery on her face. Following Judge Mason's arrest, detectives searched his home and found an array of handguns, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest, smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, and a sword.

     Two days after the assault, Aisha Fraser filed for divorce. (She later sued her ex-husband and won $150,000 in damages.)

     On August 13, 2015, Lance Mason was allowed to plead guilty to attempted felonious assault and domestic violence in return for a sentence of just two years. Following his sentencing, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty told reporters that "I am confident he [Mason] will leave prison rehabilitated and will again be an asset to our community." (I wonder how many times the prosecutor said the same thing about other wife beaters on their way to prison.)

     On September 3, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Lance Mason from practicing law. The convicted felon, a couple of weeks later, resigned from his seat on the bench.

      While sentenced lightly for two years, the man who severely beat his wife walked out of prison after serving only nine months behind bars. As a condition of his early release, Mason was ordered to write his ex-wife a letter of apology.

     Shortly following the ex-judge's early--most would say premature--release from prison, Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson hired the convicted wife beater as a minority business development director.

     On Saturday, November 17, 2018, the dispatcher with the Shaker Heights Police Department received a frantic call from Lance Mason's sister who reported that her brother had just stabbed his ex-wife Aisha Fraser to death in his home. The victim had arrived at Mason's house to drop off their children for a visit.

     As police officers rolled up to the murder scene, Mason, in his attempt to avoid custody, stole his ex-wife's car and drove into a police vehicle, seriously injuring the officer. Police arrested Mason after he ran back to his house after crashing into the police car. The injured officer was rushed to the hospital.

     On November 29, 2018, a grand jury sitting in Cleveland indicted Lance Mason on charges of felonious assault, violating a protection order, and grand theft of his 45-year-old ex-wife's car. A week later, the grand jury indicted the 51-year-old former judge on the charge of aggravated murder. At his arraignment hearing, Lance Mason pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail on $5 million bond.

The Henry Mapps Triple Murder Case

     Reggie Tuttle and his wife Kim lived in Rye, a southern Colorado town not far from Pueblo. The 51-year-old owner of a trucking company and his wife had three children at home and a 33-year-old daughter, Dawn Roderick, who lived with her husband and three children in Pueblo. Kim Tuttle worked on the culinary staff at the Parkview Medical Center.

     Henry Carl Mapps, a former long distance truck driver, resided in the Tuttle's mountainside home where he worked as an in-house handyman. The 59-year-old had once lived in Dimmitt, a town of 4,000 in the Texas panhandle. Prior to being taken in by the Tuttles, Mapps had lived out of his 2004 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

     On November 27, 2013, a fire broke out at the Tuttle house. After extinguishing the blaze firefighters discovered the bodies of three adults in the fire-damaged dwelling. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, the three victims--Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle and their adult daughter Dawn Roderick--had been shot to death.

     Investigators determined that the killer had set the fire after committing the triple murder.

     When the killings occurred, three of the Tuttle children were visiting a relative. Handyman Mapps and his minivan had disappeared.

     A few days after the murders, investigators learned that Henry Mapps had passed checks drawn on the Tuttle's bank account. This made him a prime suspect in the case. A Pueblo County prosecutor charged Mapps with three counts of first-degree murder as well as arson, identify theft, and forgery.

     After the U.S. Marshals Office acquired a federal warrant for Mapp's arrest, police launched a nationwide manhunt for the six foot tall, 125 pound fugitive with red hair.

     On Saturday night, December 28, 2013, 700 miles from Rye, Colorado, U.S. Marshals and police officers arrested Mapps at a motel in Roland, Oklahoma. When taken into custody the suspect was not in possession of a gun. (The murder weapon had not been recovered.)

     Homicide investigators believed that Mapps murdered Reggie and Kim Tuttle for financial gain. They suspected he had killed Dawn Roderick simply because she happened to be in the house. If this were true, it was one of those instances in which decent, successful people brought a degenerate lowlife into their lives, a loser who secretly hated them and resented their material wealth.

     It was also possible that Mapps killed these three innocent victims out of a sense of entitlement to their money. If this were the case, Mapps was fortunate that the authorities in Colorado had only executed one person since 1977.

     In May 2014, following his guilty plea to triple murder and arson after the death penalty had been taken off the table, District Court Judge William Alexander sentenced Mapps to three consecutive life sentences.
     

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Bo Xilai Case: China and the Politics of Murder

     In the Republic of China, a socialist nation of 1.4 billion run by the Communist Party, crime is often inseparable from politics. With about 30,000 criminal homicides a year (if you can trust their statistics), China has a much lower murder rate than the United States with 314 million citizens, and roughly 1,700 unlawful killings every year. The homicide solution rate in China last year was almost 90 percent compared to 63 percent in the U.S. Of course crime is a lot easier to solve in a country with a criminal justice system without the criminal justice.

     Although the Chinese legislature recently reformed China's criminal procedure code to provide legal representation, and protection against forced confessions, the police routinely ignore these civil rights protections. Political dissidents can be detained indefinitely on vague charges of endangering national security (Critics of the recent passage of America's National Defense Authorization Act think we are, in this regard, impersonating China.), and in criminal cases, the militaristic police still use torture as a means of acquiring confessions. (Citizens of China, due to traditional Chinese values, tend to tolerate the torture of criminal suspects. Chinese crime fiction is mostly about catching the bad guy, then torturing the hell out of him.) Unlike in the United States and other western democracies, criminal suspects in China are not presumed innocent, and have no protection against self-incrimination or unreasonable searches and seizures. There is no due process, freedom of the press, or human rights in the Republic of China.

     The top law enforcement agency in China is the National Police Agency (NPA) which is under the Ministry of the Interior. Departments within the NPA include the National Highway Police, the Harbor Police, and the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Subunits within the Criminal Investigation Bureau include the investigation section, the anti-hoodlum unit, the criminal records office, and the forensic science center. On the city and county level, day-to-day law enforcement is carried out by local authorities who answer to the NPA whose leaders appoint the local police chiefs.

The Bo Xilai Case (The Chinese place the surname first.)

     On November 15, 2011, 41-year-old Neil Heywood, a British businessman who worked and lived in Beijing with his Chinese wife Lulu and their two children, was found dead in a hotel room in the southwestern city of Chonquing. According to Heywood's death certificate, he had died of cardiac arrest from the overconsumption of alcohol. This cause of death stunned his family and friends because he was known as a teetotler. Shortly after his death, Chinese officials cremated his body without his family's consent. (Heywood's wife had initially been told that her husband had simply died of a heart attack.)

     In early April 2012, Chinese police arrested Gu Kailai, a prominent Chinese attorney and businesswoman married to Bo Xilai, a high-ranking Chinese leader with a seat on the 25-member Politburo. Mr. Bo's wife was in police custody under suspicion that she and an accomplice had poisoned Mr. Heywood to death (potassium cyanide) over a business dispute. Following Ms. Gu's arrest, ranking members of the Communist Party removed Mr. Bo from the Politburo on grounds he had interfered with the criminal investigation of his wife.

     The Bo family/Heywood case has created the biggest political scandal and shakeup in China since the 1989 protests and massacre in Beijing. Since the ruling elite in China control the news, it was hard to know how much the Chinese people know about the scandal. Back in Great Britain, the story was headline news. In the United States, most of the in-depth reporting was by journalists with The New York Times.

     Neil Heywood, the British businessman found dead in the Chongquing hotel room, attended Harrow, the exclusive boarding school in London before enrolling at Oxford University. Fancying himself as a dashing young adventurer, Heywood, in the late 1980s, crossed the Atlantic in a yacht, and spent a year working for wages along the Florida coast. In the early 1990s, he moved to Dalian, China where he established himself as a business consultant, advising U.S. and British clients on how to do business in China.

     After meeting Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kalai, Heywood moved to Beijing where he took up residence at Le Leman Lake, one of the capital's suburban gated communities. His children, George and Oliva, attended school on the Chinese campus of Britain's Dulwich College.

     Heywood, who drove a S-type Jaguar with a Union Jack bumper sticker, was proud of his native country's empirical history, monarchy, and culture. And he didn't hide his contempt for socialism. To his friends and business associates, he liked to hint that he was a spy in the British Secret Intelligence Service (M-16). (The Foreign Office in London denied any connection to Heywood.) The consensus among those who knew Heywood, on the issue of him being a spy, believed he was a dilettante living a fantasy life.

     Heywood had ingratiated himself with Bo Xilai and his wife by getting their son, Bo Guagua, into Harrow, the $55,000 a year boarding school in London. The now 24-year-old, who has lived more than half his life outside of China, was a graduate student at Harvard University in the United States.

     Bo Xilai, the charismatic 62-year-old son of the legendary revolutionary leader Bo Yibo, had been the party chief of Chongquing, the sprawling metropolitan region in southwest China. Mr. Bo rose to national prominence by successfully cracking down on organized crime. A member of the Central Committee Politburo, Mr. Bo, at the time of his fall from grace, was angling for a promotion to the 9-member Standing Committee, the Communist Party's highest ranking body.

     While Mr. Bo was an extremely popular politician, he had powerful enemies among China's ruling elite who objected to his favoring a larger governmental role in guiding China's growing economy. Certain party leaders were also questioning the source of Bo Xilai's wealth, and suspected he was, through false identities, friends, and relatives (he had an older, very wealthy brother) transferring money to banks and investment houses in Britain and the U.S. When asked how he could afford to sent his son to an expensive school like Harrow, Mr. Bo claimed that his son had been granted a full scholarship. (Bo Guagua's playboy antics at Harrow and Oxford had caused a certain amount of resentment, and embarrassment for his parents.)

     In the Communist Party's upcoming 18th Congress, Bo Xilia had expected to be in the middle of a power struggle over the leadership and control of the Communist Party. Mr. Bo's supporters suspect that the arrest of his wife, and Bo's alleged role in the attempted cover-up, was nothing more than hardball politics, China style.

     Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kalai, through a firm called Horas Consultancy & Investment, advised foreign clients how to do business in China. She had also been director of eight privately held companies in Hong Kong, and worked closely with Neil Heywood. According to some of her colleagues, Ms. Gu had recently become depressed, neurotic, and paranoid, accusing close business associates of betrayal. She had come under investigation for corruption in 2007, and had allegedly asked Neil Heywood to divorce his wife to show his loyalty to the Bo family. In 2010, she and her husband had a falling-out with Heywood over some business deal. (According to sources close to the Chinese investigation, Heywood had threatened to expose Gu's plan to move large sums of money oversees after a dispute over his cut from the transaction.) Heywood told a few friends that he was concerned for his life, and considered leaving China. The day before he died, Heywood told a friend that he was "in trouble," and had been summoned by the Bo family to Chongquing.

     Wang Lijun, handpicked by Bo Xilia, was Chongquing's chief of police. Following Neil Heywood's death, under pressure from the British government, Wang launched an investigation that revealed how the British businessman had really died. According to Chief Wang, Gu Kailai and a household employee named Zhang Xiaojun, had poisoned Mr. Heywood to death. In February 2012, party leaders in Beijing summoned Chief Wang to give evidence against Gu Kalai. Later, when the chief of police informed Bo Xilai that his wife was under suspicion of murder, Mr. Bo became angry and demoted Mr. Wang.

     In mid-March, high-ranking communist leaders, accusing Bo Xilia of "serious disciplinary violations," removed him from the Politburo, and confined him to house arrest. Fearing for his life, former chief Wang Lijun sought asylum at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, a city 200 miles from Chongquing. During his 36-hour stay inside the consulate, Mr. Wang told American officials that Ms. Gu had plotted to poison Mr. Heywood. He turned the entire police file over to the Americans, and gave them a treasure trove of information regarding the internal Chinese power struggle. Denied asylum, Mr. Wang, after leaving the consulate, was taken into custody. He was under investigation for treason. (According to Chongquing officials, Mr. Wang was suffering from stress, and was receiving "holiday-style medical treatment.")

     In early April 2012, the Chinese police arrested Gu Kailai on the charge of "intentional homicide." According to Chinese homicide investigators, Ms. Gu had poisoned the victim over "a conflict over economic interest."

     On April 12, 2012, the 24-year-old Bo Guagua was seen being escorted out of his luxury apartment near the Harvard University campus by FBI agents.

     The former police chief, Wang Jijun, was convicted in September 2012 on charges of abuse of power, bribery, and defection. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison on the promise he would testify against Bo Xilai.
   
     In November 2012, Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering Neil Heywood. The judge sentenced her to death.
 
   In July 2013, the Chinese authorities charged Bo Xilai with corruption, bribery, and abuse of power. In September of that year a jury found Bo guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life behind bars.

     A judge, in December 2015, commuted Gu Kailai's death sentence to life in prison.

Thornton P. Knowles on Morons

Someone once said that the universe was made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Oh, and don't forget the morons. I wouldn't know a proton if it grabbed me by the lips. However, I usually don't have any problem recognizing a moron. I guess it's because so many of them are on television.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Suicide by Self-Immolation

     At noon on Sunday, March 24, 2013, a 46-year-old Vietnamese man walked into the Creative Nails & Spa salon in the Orange County town of Costa Masa, California. He carried a bucket and began screaming at his estranged wife Lina who worked in the shop as a nail technician.

     Five months earlier, Lina had moved out of the house with the couple's three sons. She had filed a restraining order against her spouse after he had threatened and harassed her with phone calls.

     The angry, drug-addled husband sat cross-legged in the center of the salon. He lifted the bucket and soaked his body in gasoline. Using a lighter, he set himself on fire. As he sat on the floor engulfed in flames, one of the horrified onlookers threw towels on him. A bystander doused the burning man with a fire extinguisher. Another employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed the charred man to the Western Medical Center where he was treated for third degree burns over 70 percent of his body. He did not survive.

     In the United States, self-immolation by fire is an extremely rare form of suicide. It is also rare for a person to take his life in public.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Guma Aguiar Missing Person Case

     Guma Aguiar's parents immigrated to the United States from Brazil in 1979 when he was two-years-old. The family, from Rio deJaneiro, settled in Pompano Beach, Florida. After college, Guma, a born-again Christian, moved to Texas where, working with his uncle in the oil and gas business, he made a fortune.

     In 2012, the 35-year-old millionaire was living in Fort Lauderdale with his wife Jamie and their four children. The family resided in a $5 million, six-bedroom mansion located in the exclusive oceanside  neighborhood called Rio Vista.

     Aguiar, after converting to Orthodox Judaism, began donating millions of dollars to charitable causes in Jerusalem where he was considered a hero philanthropist. Others considered Aguiar a rich, eccentric man who was losing touch with reality. (Aguiar, according to reports, had spent some time in mental wards. I do not know the extent or nature of his mental health problem.) His marriage to Jamie, whom he'd met in high school, had become a tumultuous relationship. On one occasion he had sued Jamie for divorce, then later withdrew the petition. In April 2012, Jamie Aguiar's attorney challenged the prenuptial agreement she had signed. The following month, Guma transferred guardianship of his $100 million estate ("in the event of my incapacity") from his wife Jamie to his mother, Ellen Aguiar. This, too, was challenged by Jamie's legal representatives.

     On June 18, 2012, Jamie Aguiar informed Guma that she intended to file for divorce. An hour later, at 8:30 in the evening, Guma was seen driving his twin-engine, fiberglass powerboat "T.T. Zion" through Port Everglades toward the Atlantic Ocean. Just after midnight, employees of a beachfront bar called Elbo Room spotted a boat in rough seas drifting toward the beach. The craft came to rest on shore with its navigation lights still on, the shifter in gear, and the keys in the ignition. Guma Aguiar was not in the boat.

     That morning, while investigators searched Aguiar's boat, the Coast Guard launched a search-and-rescue operation. Inside the abandoned craft, officers recovered the owner's wallet, his iPhone, a black T-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops. According to the boat's GPS system, Aguilar had traveled at high speeds two miles northeast of his house before the craft turned around and started drifting back to the shore. Aguiar had left his wedding ring at home.

     After three days, the Coast Guard called off the search-and-rescue mission. Several weeks after Guma's disappearance, Jamie, engaged in a battle against her mother-in-law for control of the $100 million estate, fired her missing husband's chief financial officer. At this point in the case, everybody had a lawyer which was costing the family $1 million a month in legal fees. (In big money disputes like this, the lawyers are always the big winners. When they're finished with the case, there usually isn't much left for anyone else.) The Rio Vista mansion has been put on the market along with Aguiar's 75-foot yacht, and his twin-engine powerboat.

     So, what happened to Guma Aguiar? Did he go out for a quick swim and drown? (Did taking an evening swim in the ocean by himself conform to past behavior?) Did mental illness and a hatred for his wife drive Guma to suicide? Assuming he went into the sea, was it unusual that the Coast Guard searchers didn't find his body? Why hadn't his corpse washed up on shore somewhere in this populated area?  Could he be alive?

     Jamie Aguiar's attorney told reporters that he believed that Guma, after faking his own death, fled to the Netherlands where he was hiding out, or living under a false identity. The attorney suspected that Guma was in the Netherlands because a close business associate of his had recently relocated there.

     On December 29, 2015, a judge in Broward County declared Guma Aguiar legally deceased. This paved the way for the settlement of his estate. A court in Israel where Aguiar owned property would decide whether to accept the Florida court ruling.
 
      I think it's unlikely that Guma Aguiar faked his own death, then disappeared into thin air. It seems the money trail would lead investigators right to him. I believe he either downed accidentally or committed suicide. The history of mental illness points to suicide, but statistics suggest a downing accident. (Eighty percent of all drownings are accidental.) I'm sure there are some who believe this Florida millionaire was murdered. There doesn't seem to be evidence of foul play in this case--blood on the boat and so on-- but anything is possible when a lot of money is involved.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Ex-Police Chief Guilty of Child Pornography

     The police chief of Mount Pleasant, New York was arrested Thursday, January 23, 2014 on charges of possession of child pornography….Brian Fanelli, 54, was arrested at his home in upstate Mahopac after a months-long investigation by federal officials….The chief allegedly used a peer-to-peer file sharing program to download more than 120 images and videos of child pornography….

     As police executed a search warrant at his home, Fanelli voluntarily told investigators that he began viewing child pornography about one year ago….He said he had first started collecting the child porn as research for a sexual abuse awareness program he taught to elementary and middle-school students. But he said he later continued downloading it for personal interest….

     Fanelli had worked for the police department in Mount Pleasant, a town about 30 miles north of New York City, since November 1981….He has been suspended as chief, a position he took in November 2013….

     [In January 2016, following his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Fanelli to 18 months in prison followed by five years on probation.]

Leigh Remizowski and Pamela Brown, "Police Chief of New York Town Arrested on Child Pornography Charges," CNN, January 24, 2014

The Randall and Mary Vaughn Murder Case

     An east Tennessee couple is charged with murder in the death of the man's 5-year-old daughter after an autopsy revealed the girl died from being forced to drink more than 2 liters of grape soda and water….Alexis Linboom was brought in to the emergency room on January 1, 2012 by her father, Randall Vaughn, and his wife, Mary Vaughn….

     The girl was blue and not responding. She had severe brain damage. An investigation revealed the girl had been forced to drink the water and soda over one to two hours of punishment. The massive intake of fluid caused her brain to swell and herniate….The couple was held at the Hawkins County Jail on a $500,000 bond each.

     [In December 2014, following guilty pleas, the judge sentenced Randall and MaryVaughn to 35 years in prison.]

"Tennessee Couple Charged After Girl Dies From Drinking 2 Liters of Soda, Water," Fox News and Associated Press, February 6, 2014  

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act And The Federal Bird Feather Cops

The Illegal Possession of Feathers

     Because, in the early 20 century, birds were slaughtered to feather women's hats, congress, in 1918, passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to protect every bird in America except the house sparrow, feral pigeon, common starling, and non-migratory game birds such as pheasants, gray partridges, and the sage grouse. The MBTA prohibits the hunting, capture or killing of the protected birds. Moreover, one cannot legally purchase, sell, or even possess any feather, body part, nest, or egg of any bird covered by the act. (The  MBTA covers 83 percent of all birds that live in the United States.)

Chuck Smith and the Federal Bird Cops

     Chuck Smith (not his real name), is a friend who, in the early 1990s, innocently got caught up in a petty MBTA case that scared the hell out of him. Chuck, a respected and popular high school anthropology teacher specializing in the history of the American Indian, answered a bargain bulletin ad placed by a man selling Indian relics. From this seller, a man named Phil (not really), Chuck purchased a 1920s era white, buckskin outfit that had been worn ceremonially by members of the Blackfoot tribe. He paid $1,500 for the full-dress, beaded, Indian outfit. Two days after the sale, Phil called and offered to give Chuck the headdress that went with the buckskin apparel. The war bonnet contained 25 white, dark-tipped feathers from a bald eagle. Chuck accepted the offer. He planned to exhibit these items as teaching aids, and had no idea that by accepting the eagle-feathered Blackfoot headdress, he had broken a federal law. Had Chuck known it was against the law to possess bald eagle feathers, he would not have taken the bonnet home. (A vast majority of Americans have no idea that most bird feathers are federal contraband.)

     Not long after Chuck made the Blackfoot buckskin purchase, and accepted the bonnet as a gift, a pair of undercover agents with the Department of Interior visited the seller, Phil. The agents said they were responding to Phil's Indian relics ad. After buying an Indian neckless made of eagle claws, the feds flashed their badges and arrested Phil for violation of the MBTA. When the agents asked Phil if he had sold items containing feathers to anyone else, he told them about Chuck's Blackfoot headdress.

     Phil's information brought the federal agents, unannounced, to Chuck's house. They identified themselves, then asked if he still possessed the eagle feathered bonnet. Chuck said yes, it had been a gift from Phil. The agents informed Chuck that he had committed a federal crime under the MBTA, an offense that could cost him ten of thousands of dollars in fines, and even some time in prison. Terrified, and worried that the fines and a prison stretch would bankrupt him, and ruin his career as a high school teacher, Chuck volunteered the information that he possessed other Indian artifacts that contained bird feathers.

     The shaken school teacher led the federal agents to an upstairs bedroom where they seized a rawhide Indian shield bearing a clump of crow feathers, and a shaman's rattle with screech owl feathers. In his garage, Chuck turned over two owl feathers he had found along a road after the bird had been hit by a car. In addition to the general MBTA fine, Chuck could be fined an extra $500 for each feather type he had possessed. The additional fines would add up to $2,000. Before leaving Chuck's house that day, the agents said they would tell the assistant United States attorney (AUSA) handling the case that he had been very cooperative. This did not ease Chuck's anxiety. He envisioned himself in prison stripes.

     The next several weeks Chuck went through hell as he waited to find out what would happen to him. Finally, one of the agents called him with the news that the AUSA was so thrilled to be handling a case that did not involve drugs, she was giving him a huge break. If he paid a fine of just $500, the case would be history. Chuck mailed in the money, and went on with his life. But memories of his ordeal lingered for years.

Bald Eagles: A License to Kill

     In 1995, the federal government classified the bald eagle an endangered species. Twelve years later, the bird was re-classified as a threatened species. Even so, the bald eagle has remained under the protection of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Under this law it is a crime, without a government permit, to capture, kill, and/or possess a bald or golden eagle, or any part of the bird. Violators face a maximum fine of $100,000, and two years in prison.

     In 2011, the 9,600-member Arapaho tribe on the Wind River Indian reservation in west-central Wyoming, after being refused a permit to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes, filed a federal lawsuit. (Native Americans can legally acquire eagle feathers and carcasses from a federal repository of such items.) On March 9, 2012, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service granted the permit.

     The reaction to the permit decision from the National Autobon Society, conservation groups, and animal rights activists, was muted. Because they were afraid to criticize Native Americans, politicians were also quiet. Over the years, dozens of non-Native Americans have gone to prison for killing bald and golden eagles. My friend Chuck could have gone to prison for merely possessing eagle feathers. He was not happy with the decision to allow members of the Arapaho tribe to kill a pair of these protected birds. But like most people, he kept his opinion to himself. Perhaps Chuck was worried that criticizing Native Americans might be a federal crime. The retired high school teacher was not taking any chances with the enormous prosecution power of the federal government. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Murdered Jessica Chambers?

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball player, hoped to start college soon. She had just started working at Goody's Department Store in nearby Batesville.

     At six in the evening of Saturday December 10, 2014, Jessica drove to a gas station and convenience store on Highway 51 not far from her home where she pumped $14 worth of gasoline into her car. Inside the store, a cashier asked Chambers why she had bought more than her usual $5 in gas. Chambers said she was going somewhere and needed the fuel. About that time she called her mother to inform her she was on her way to Batesville to clean her car.

     Before walking out of the convenience store, Chambers purchased a pack of cigarettes and received a call on her cellphone. A few minutes later, just before six-thirty, she climbed into her vehicle and drove off. Surveillance camera footage revealed that she wore a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats.

     At eight o'clock that night, local firefighters responded to a call regarding a burning vehicle along Herron Road in a remote part of Panola County not far from the gas station. The emergency responders came upon a person walking down the road near the car. Jessica Chambers had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

     Chambers was airlifted to a hospital in Memphis where, a short time later, she died from burns on 98 percent of her body. Only the bottoms of her feet were not charred.

     At a law enforcement press conference the next day, the local district attorney labeled Chamber's death a criminal homicide. The Panola County sheriff told reporters that before she died, Chambers had spoken to firefighters. "She told them who had done it," he said.

     According to some media reports, the murder victim had also been bludgeoned on the top of her head with a hard object. There were also reports that the killer had squirted lighter fluid down her throat, a detail not confirmed by the authorities.

     While the victim's older sister informed reporters that she didn't know of anyone who had a grudge against Jessica, friends of the murdered girl posted online messages about a former, abusive boyfriend.

     At the press conference, law enforcement authorities said they had questioned several people but didn't have a suspect in the murder.

     The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chamber's killer. The local Crime Stoppers group posted a separate reward of $1,000.

    The Chambers case remained unsolved. Investigation had revealed, however, that the victim had been hanging out with a rough crowd that included local drug dealers. Her latest boyfriend, Travis Sanford, had been in jail on a burglary charge at the time of her murder. In the weeks before she died, Jessica Chambers told her father, a mechanic with the sheriff's office, that "Everybody thinks I'm snitching because you work for the police."

     In February 2016, police arrested 27-year-old Quinton Tellis after deleted data from his cell phone possibly placed him with Chambers just before her murder. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and he didn't confess. His attorney contested the accuracy of the cell phone evidence.

     In October 2017, a jury sitting in Batesville, Mississippi failed to reach a verdict in the Tellis case. The judge declared a mistrial.

     Quinton Tellis was tried again in October 2018. The jury, split 50-50, was unable to declare a verdict after 12 hours of deliberation. After the judge declared another mistrial, District Attorney John Champion said he was not sure if he'd try the case for the third time.

     Tellis, having been indicted for the August 8, 2015 murder of Meing-Chen Hsaio in Monroe, Louisiana, remained in custody following the Chambers mistrial. Tellis had been linked to the Louisiana murder after being caught with the victim's debit cards.

     

Chinese Mom Sued For Having an Ugly Baby

     In China, the old gag that goes, "At birth I was so ugly, the doctor slapped my mother," may be more reality than humor.

     Jian Feng married a beautiful woman who didn't tell him that she had been made attractive by a plastic surgeon in South Korea. Mr. Jian's bride had spent $100,000 for cosmetic surgery on her eyes, nose, and lips. Prior to the work done on her face, Mrs. Jian had been physically ordinary, and at best, plain. She would not have landed the superficial Mr. Jian without the surgery, and had he known that her beauty was not genetic, he wouldn't have married her. Mr. Jian assumed that his wife's beauty had been a gift of nature, and not the work of a gifted surgeon.

     On 2011, Mrs. Jian gave birth to a baby girl. The father, expecting the infant to reflect his own good looks and his wife's radiant beauty, was handed a child he considered downright ugly. He found the baby so unattractive, Mr. Jian was certain he couldn't have been the father. He not only accused his wife of having extramarital sex with another man, he accused her of having illicit sex with an ugly man. There was no way Mr. Jian was going to raise and support someone else's homely child. The infuriated husband demanded a DNA paternity test.

     Mrs. Jian found herself in a lose-lose situation. She could falsely confess to having sex with an unattractive lover, or tell her husband about the cosmetic surgery. The hapless, but faithful wife came clean about her past facial enhancement.

     Mr. Jian's spirits were not lifted by the fact his wife had not cheated on him, and that the baby in question was his own flesh and blood. He not only divorced his wife, he filed a civil suit against her on the grounds that their marriage had been based on false pretense. (She should have counter-sued on grounds that she had married him under the pretense he was a decent person.) In November 2012, the judge (presumably a man), by essentially declaring the baby a defective product purchased as a result of false advertising, awarded Mr. Jian the U.S. equivalent of $120,000 in damages.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Decline of America's Middle Class Quality of Life

In 2017, 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, 47,000 committed suicide, and 17,284 were victims of criminal homicide. For the third year in a row, life expectancy in America declined. In general, the American middle class is growing poor; obese; and more stressed, unhealthy, and unhappy while the nation's upper class grows more powerful, privileged, and wealthy. Moreover, our politicians, elites we have entrusted with power and wealth, when they are not feathering their own nests, obsess over the plight of nonAmericans. We are in desperate need of leaders who will concern themselves with the declining  quality of life of the average American. When did the notion of America First become a shameful concept laced with racism and bigotry?

Shoplifters Can Be Dangerous

     A heroin-addicted shoplifter stabbed a Home Depot security guard with a dirty syringe during a fight outside Detroit on Monday night, March 24, 2014…."It was a knock-down, drag-out, full-scale brawl," Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said. "In the course of this fight he [the suspected shoplifter] took out several syringes from his pocket."

     Joshua Joseph Silva, 26, of Eastpointe, Michigan, was arrested on one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, a felony, and one count of retail fraud, a misdemeanor. The scuffle stemmed from Silva's attempt to leave the 13 Mile Home Depot in Roseville, about 20 miles north of Detroit, with a power saw hidden under his coat….

     He violently attacked two unarmed security guards who stopped him outside the store and swung the dirty syringes at them in a slashing motion, according to Chief Berlin. The admitted drug user's grimy needles hit one of the guard's hands several times….

     "A customer with a license to carry a pistol saw this," Chief Berlin said. "He drew the gun, ordered him to drop the needles and get on the ground."…Silva complied and sat down in the parking lot but attempted to flee on foot when he heard the sound of approaching police sirens….Roseville officers managed to run Silva down [not literally] and take him into custody….

Michael Walsh,  "Home Depot Shoplifter Attacks Guards With Dirty Syringes," New York Daily News, March 25, 2014

The "Bukowski Man" Shoplifter

In the age of the memoir, some writers confess to shoplifting in order to advance themselves, and others profess to be aghast at the crime. Ron Rosenbaum, the author of provocative books on Hitler and Shakespeare, once wrote a column for the New York Observer lampooning the white, middle-class shoplifter he labeled "Bukowski Man" [Charles Bukowski, LA underground, noir poet and novelist], whom he described as a "drunk, suburban" poseur "likely to shoplift the Beats, Kerouac's On The Road, Ginsberg's Howl, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, anything by Paul Auster and William S. Burroughs, some French writers, Kafka, Bukowski, and books about sex and marriage." Rosenbaum pointed out that "Bukowski Man" was laboring under the delusion that by stealing he was embracing writers who wallowed in the "lower depths." He said, "Petty and debased ideas of liberation" drive Bukowski Man to shoplift. [To the extent that I have been an avid Bukowski reader, I am a "Bukowski Man." I paid for my books, however.]

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

The Five-Finger Discount

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2015, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2009 to 2015, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Rape, Poor Policing, and Vigilantism in Detroit


     In the summer of 2013, Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome, worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17, Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, at 3:35, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood to her place of employment. Not long after Mr. Carbonell made the call, Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late, Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress, and raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big, puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012, a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her, July 17, 2013. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis. (I'm not sure when this evidence was gathered.) Because of the complainant's limited communication skills, a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. Finally, on July 29, police officers took Bill into custody for investigation. When they questioned him at the police department he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail, an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 2013, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge, had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket, and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013, Mary's guardian and members of the community who were following the case with great interest, were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, had just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation, detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case, the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community, the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence critics of the police department. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned, a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. Rape, in the Detroit Police Department, was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, Bill, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, was attacked by five men who, as a group, punched and kicked him. By the time the Detroit Police rolled up to the scene, Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An officer called for an ambulance that took Bill to a nearby hospital.
     Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings, someone broke into his apartment. It was this person who spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make his nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Criminalization Of Vice

Sure, certain types of drug taking, gambling, and use of prostitutes can be harmful. But so can a lot of other things such as eating too many chocolate bars and smoking. Why make these particular forms of human weakness crimes? While it helps keep people in law enforcement employed, it's destroying the criminal justice system. For everyone else, the criminalization of vice makes life a lot more difficult than it already is.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Youth Football: A Contact Sport For Adults

Wickenburg, Arizona

     On Saturday afternoon on September 29, 2012, in the northern Arizona town of Wickenburg, the Wickenburg Wranglers were playing the Prescott Valley Panthers in a Northern Arizona Youth Football League game. (Players in youth football are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.)

     A man and a woman who were Wickenburg parents, approached a Prescott Valley father who was videotaping the game, and told him he couldn't do that. When the video-taper asked why, the opposing male parent said, "If you don't pack up [the camera] I'm going to pack up for you."

     To this, the man with the camera replied, "Don't touch me, bro." (I guess some people really talk this way.)

     When the Wrangler fan hit the Panther guy in the arm twice, the video-man socked him in the jaw. At this point, the attention shifted from the kids and their football game to the adults on the sideline. (After all, isn't this what organized sports for kids is really all about--the adults?)

     A woman watching the game tried to break-up the fight between the video-taper and the arm-puncher. (The police haven't released the names of these people.) Davis Coughanour, an off-duty Department of Public Safety officer, presumably a Wrangler parent and probably an ex-high school football player, tackled the video-man, then got into a scuffle with the woman who had tried to break-up the fight in the first place. (She claimed that Coughanour never identified himself as a police officer.)

     During this Saturday afternoon youth football melee in northern Arizona, four children were struck by adults. Another off-duty cop tossed a boy to the ground so hard they rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance. The nature and seriousness of the boy's injuries were not reported.

     A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety told reporters his agency was not investigating the brawl. Moreover, Officer Coughanour was not disciplined for his role in the youth league disturbance.

     Nine adults with the Prescott Valley Youth Football and Cheer Association were suspended from the organization. No criminal charges were filed against any of the sideline brawlers. Fortunately for people like this, it is not a crime to be a flaming jerk. There is a help group for people like this--AA--Assholes Anonymous.

Sacramento, California

     On Saturday, October 6, 2012, at the Grant High School football stadium in Sacramento, the San Francisco Junior 49'ers were playing the Grant Chargers Junior Midgets (I thought we weren't supposed to use that word) in a NorCal Youth Football League game. (Grant Chargers Junior Midgets--try using that in a cheer.)

     Either during or just after the game, the opposing coaches exchanged angry words. But it didn't stop there. The 49'ers' coach bull-rushed the Chargers' coach, and in the process, knocked down several people standing on the sideline. When the charging coach reached the Chargers coach, he tackled him to the ground. With some of the kids looking on, and others hustling to get out of the way, the two beefy, gone-to-seed, ex-jocks rolled around on the ground throwing punches. After a few moments, other ex-football players pulled them apart, ending this embarrassing display of adult adolescence.

     No one was seriously injured in the fight, and no criminal charges were filed. The raging bull who lost control of himself was suspended from the league, but I'm sure he'll be back. These guys never go away. A parent at the game caught the youth league disturbance on video that she posted on YouTube the next day for all the world to see.