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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.           

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Eat Your Heart Out, Mike Tyson

Authorities say a Rochester, New York man bit off part of his brother's ear after they began fighting during a Super Bowl party….Police say 27-year-old Sean Fallon-Nebbia was hosting the party on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at his apartment. A roommate told police the brothers had been drinking before they started roughhousing after the game, and the tussle turned violent. Police say Fallon-Nebbia bit off part of 26-year-old Frank Fallon-Nebbia's right ear and punched him several times in the face, knocking him out….The older brother is being held in Monroe County Jail on $15,000 bail after pleading not guilty to first-degree assault, a felony….

"Cops: NY Man Bites Brother's Ear Off During Party," Associated Press, February 4, 2014 

Writing to O.J.

     I have been accused of the crime of murder, a double murder. The State of California charged me on June 17, 9994 with the deaths of my former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and arrested me later that same day. Since the day of my arrest I have had to defend myself not only in court but in the eyes of the public and the news media. In this book I am speaking publicly for the first time since my arrest, for two reasons.

     First and foremost, I want to respond to the more than 300,000 people who wrote to me. I want to thank you, I want to tell you those letters were a godsend. People wrote not only in the United States but from all over the world. Their letters started coming right after my arrest. Most were supportive, most of them gave me hope--all of the made me feel still part of the world. I first heard about my mail when a female deputy sheriff, on my second day in jail, said, "We've got a problem. We've got too many letters for you." They had received more letters for me in one day than they had for all the other prisoners, some 6,000 prisoners, at the Los Angeles County Jail. [These letters were written before the Simpson murder trial.]

O.J. Simpson, I Want to Tell You, 1994


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Home Alone in Manchester, New Hampshire

     In July 2014, Jerusalem Monday, his wife and three of their children, left their apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire for a one-month visit to Nigeria, Africa. They left their twin 9-year-old boys in the care of Jerusalem's 25-year-old brother, Giobari Atura who, according to the plan, had agreed to temporarily move into the apartment with the boys.

     Giobari Atura, instead of taking up residence with his charges, told his nephews that he'd stop by their apartment three times a week to bring them food and see how they were doing. As it turned out, the uncle didn't even keep that promise. This became a real problem when the parents didn't come home in a month as planned. By November 2014, five months after they left the country, they were still in Nigeria.

     The boys took care of themselves. On school days they got up in time to get on the bus. They ate breakfast and lunch at the school. The kids had no food in the apartment and didn't have access to a phone.

     Someone at the boys' elementary school got wind of their plight and called the State Division of Children, Youth and Families. After a social worker with the agency spoke with the twins, she notified the Manchester Police Department and took the twins into protective custody.

     Detectives reached out to the parents in Nigeria who said they had been delayed in Africa due to illness and passport problems. They promised to return home within a couple of weeks. Mr. Monday said that his brother had been assuring him telephonically that the boys were fine. The father said he had no idea his sons had been living alone in the apartment.

     The abandoned boys told detectives how they had managed to get by on their own. They said they had been lonely, however. And they missed their family.

     In December 2014, Hillsborough County prosecutor Michael Valentine charged Giobari Atura with the misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of a child. The judge set his bail at $500. (I could not find a disposition of the Atura case. He had been scheduled for trial in August 2015.)

     Upon the parents return to the U.S. in December 2014, they gained custody of the twins. The local prosecutor decided not to charge them with a crime.

    

An Bad Way to Avoid a Speeding Ticket

Authorities say a New Mexico woman called in a fake report of a gunman near a convenience store in an effort to avoid a traffic ticket. Roswell police say 22-year-old Savana Jimenez called 911 on Sunday morning, January 26, 2014 hoping the officer who pulled her and her friends over would get dispatched to the fake crime she reported. Authorities say Jimenez called 911 while the officer was checking her driver's information. She later admitted making up the story. Jimenez was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice.

"Police: New Mexico Woman Placed Fake 911 Call to Get Out of Traffic Stop," Fox News, January 28, 2014 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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

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

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

The Ice Cream Truck War

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Catching Drivers on Pot

     Researchers at Washington State University are working on a breath test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana…Law enforcement officers have a test for alcohol, but they don't have a tool to test for marijuana impairment. Right now, officers use blood tests to determine if THC is present in a driver's blood.

     But WSU chemistry professor Herbert Hill said existing technologies like those used by airport security agents to detect drugs and explosives can be altered to test breath for THC. Hill said he hopes to start testing on humans in early 2015. The Washington State Patrol says it welcomes anything that gets impaired drivers off the road. [One might argue that a little pot might lower blood pressure and reduce road rage in America's big city traffic hell. Just kidding, I think.]

"Researchers Developing Pot Breath Test," Associated Press, November 29, 2014 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Raymond Clark: The Panhandler Arsonist

     Thirty-eight-year-old Raymond Sean Clark, a homeless panhandler, regularly loitered outside the 7-eleven store on the Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, California. Clark made a habit of hasseling customers who patronized the convenience store by begging them for money and cigarettes. He had become an unwelcome fixture in the neighborhood. 

     At five in the afternoon of April 12, 2013, as Jerry Payne sat outside the 7-eleven store in his Toyota 4-Runner, the 62-year-old was approached by Clark who asked him for money. (If Mr. Payne was a regular customer of the store, Clark had probably hit him up for money before.)

     When Mr. Payne refused to give Clark a handout, the transient poured a bottle of gasoline into the SUV and tossed in a match. The vehicle and its occupant were immediately engulfed in flames. (The fire was so intense customers and employees in the convenience store had to escape through a back door.)

     After Good Samaritans pulled Mr. Payne out of the burning vehicle, paramedics rushed him to Torrance Memorial Hospital, a medical facility that specialized in burn patients. With third-degree burns on his chest and face, the victim was in critical condition.

     Police officers arrested Raymond Clark around the corner from the fire. Charged with attempted murder, he was held in the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center under $502,200 bail. Upon Mr. Payne's death, the prosecutor elevated the charge against Clark to murder.

     In April 2014, a year after the deadly assault, Jerry Payne's family filed a wrongful death suit against the 7-Eleven convenience store chain and the city of Long Beach. The plaintiffs based the civil action on the theory that the attack had been foreseeable therefore preventable. According to the plaintiffs, both the owner of the store and the police had known that Raymond Clark was aggressive and dangerous.

     Assistant City Attorney Monte H. Machit described Mr. Payne's death as an "absolute tragedy." However, he said, Long Beach could not be held accountable for every "random act of violence that took place in the city."

     In March 2015, the plaintiffs dropped the wrongful death suit against the city of Long Beach.

     Prosecutors, in September 2017, announced they would not seek the death penalty against Raymond Clark. As of November 2018, the murder case has not come to trial. In California, the wheels of justice turn slowly.

The San Francisco Body Parts Case

     At four in the afternoon on Wednesday January 28, 2015, a citizen in the South Market section of downtown San Francisco flagged down a police officer to investigate the source of a bad smell coming from a collection of rat-infested garbage and debris not far from the entrance to a Goodwill store.

     In an abandoned suitcase on 11th Street between Mission and Market Streets, a neighborhood populated by a lot of homeless people, the police officer found in the suitcase what appeared to be human body parts. The gruesome discovery triggered a search of a three-block radius of the suitcase that led to the location of more body parts.

     The San Francisco medical examiner determined that the remains were human. The head, hands and lower arms of the corpse remained unaccounted for. The forensic pathologist, in the initial postmortem report, did not reveal the age or gender of the victim or disclose information regarding the cause of death.

     In the meantime, detectives questioned potential witnesses and suspects, looked at surveillance camera footage, and searched area garbage bins for the missing body parts.

      On Friday evening, January 30, 2015, detectives detained and questioned a suspect in the Tenderloin district. They considered him a person of interest because he was seen near the suitcase and body parts the day before. He was questioned and released.

     According to an update from the medical examiner's office, the body parts belonged to a "light-skinned man." The medical examiner said that a forensic scientist will be conducting DNA tests on the remains in an effort to identify the victim.

     On Saturday January 31, 2015, San Francisco police officer Albie Esparza told a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle that organized criminals--gang activity--might be responsible for the body parts found in and around the downtown suitcase. That morning, officers arrested 59-year-old Mark Andrus and booked him into the county jail on suspicion of murder.

     Helen Andrus, Mark Andrus' sister-in-law, told a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle that he had a history of crime and had drifted from the family. "We haven't heard from him in years. My husband at one point tried to reach and find him. It's been 20 years since we've seen him." In the 1980s and 1990s police in Missoula, Montana arrested Mark Andrus for drug possession, theft, burglary, and bail jumping.

     Mark Keever, a friend of the suspect's, told reporters that the police had arrested the wrong man. Keever insisted that Andrus looked like a transient and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     Homicide investigators, following the Andrus arrest, conceded that the victim could have been cut into pieces somewhere else and dumped near the Goodwill Store. An attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender's Office was representing Mr. Andrus.

     On Tuesday February 3, 2015, the San Francisco District Attorney announced there would be no charges filed against Mark Andrus. The prosecutor said there wasn't enough evidence to hold the suspect.

     The San Francisco medical examiner, on February 11, 2015, revealed that the remains found in the suitcase belonged to 58-year-old Omar Shawan of Vallejo, California. Investigators did not say if Shawan and Mark Andrus had known each other or had any kind of interaction. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, in speaking to reporters about Mr. Andrus, described him as a "kind and engaging" person. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Biographic Hatchet Job

Almost every eminent person leaves behind an abundance of personal data which skillfully manipulated can prove him to have been a fool or a knave. Innocuous personal details and casual episodes, if sufficiently emphasized, described with archness and placed in misleading context, can be as damaging in their effect as plain evidence of dim intellect or villainy.

Richard D. Aftick

Monday, November 19, 2018

Flying Drones into Prison

     On January 20, 2015 a judge in South Carolina sentenced Brandon Lee Doyle to fifteen years for trying  to fly contraband over the fence at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. In April 2014, officials found a crashed drone in the bushes outside the prison fence. Officers also discovered items inmates are not allowed to have such as phones, tobacco products, marijuana and synthetic marijuana.

     The drone never made it over the 12-foot-high razor-ribbon fence. Corrections officials believe this was the first known attempt to use a drone to smuggle contraband into a South Carolina prison.

"15 Years For The Man Who Tried to Fly a Drone Into Prison," Associated Press, January 20, 2015 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

No Presumption of Innocence For John and Patsy Ramsey

     I've [John Ramsey] concluded that three primary factors led to the quick presumption of our guilt when, in fact, the police have never officially labeled either of us as suspects. First, of course, is the police themselves. The difficulties created by an inexperienced police force operating on hunches rather than evidence--and talking freely about those hunches with the media--started the avalanche. Second, the infotainment media were eager for a juicy soap opera-style story, since the O.J. Simpson trial had just ended, and they had lots of talking heads sitting idly by and lots of tabloid talk shows to fill with gossip. I was even less prepared for the third factor resulting in the loss of our presumption of innocence, and that was the new world-class gossip machine: the internet. 

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence. 2000

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Constables Shoot Unarmed Man Over Parking Tickets

     Things turned ugly on July 17, 2014 when two Pennsylvania state constables attempted to serve a man with a warrant because he had accumulated 31 unpaid parking tickets. The two officers approached Kevin McCullers in the garage at his residence in a suburb of Allentown at 7:30 in the morning. McCuller's girlfriend, Hafeezah Muhammad said McCullers was in the car about to leave for Dunkin' Donuts.

     The constables positioned themselves on both sides of McCullers' car. One of them told him to turn off the car, and he did. There was a short conversation. Then, according to Lehigh County district attorney James Martin, one of the constables opened the driver's side door of the vehicle.

     McCullers responded by restarting the car. He began backing out of his garage with the car door ajar. That's when the constables drew their guns and fired. One constable shot the 38-year-old in the back. The other officer shot out the vehicle's left front tire.

     One of the constables told the district attorney he and his partner pulled their guns and fired because they felt threatened while standing in the garage as McCullers tried to back out. McCullers was unarmed.

     McCullers' girlfriend said the constables could have walked up to the front door of their house to serve the warrant. "They never knocked on the door! No nothing," she told a local TV reporter. "I just heard the gunshots. He pulled the car out of the garage and all I heard were gunshots."…

     Muhammad said McCullers may never walk again. "For parking tickets," she said. "It's insane."

     The district attorney expressed concern about the fact a constable--an elected state official--shot a man and possibly left him paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets…The prosecutor said the office of constable--a Pennsylvania oddity--is troubling because people who hold the job are poorly prepared and largely unaccountable. "Although they receive training, they really operate under no one's direct supervision," he said. The district attorney said the shooting would have been avoided had McCullers entered into a payment plan to pay the money he owed.

     [For years law enforcement leaders and lawmakers in Pennsylvania have tried to abolish the position of constable. This is not the first incident of excessive force on the part of one of these officers. And it won't be the last.] 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Free Speech Versus the Crime of Desecrating a Venerated Object

     Authorities in Bedford County, Pennsylvania must not prosecute a teenager for the criminal offense of desecration of a venerated object even though he simulated a sex act with a statute of Jesus, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. In a letter sent on September 22, 2014 to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, Americans United says that prosecuting a teenager solely because of the message conveyed by his actions violates the rights of free speech and the separation of church and state, both of which are protected by the First Amendment.

     "While I don't condone the sort of behavior in which this teen engaged, he didn't do anything that should be considered illegal," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director. "Just because a religious group might find a particular action to be offensive is not a justification for jail time."

     The controversy began when a 14-year-old boy in Everett, Pennsylvania posted on Facebook a photograph of himself simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus. The statue sits on private property in front of an organization called Love in the Name of Christ, and the photo leaves no doubt that the boy climbed on the statue and engaged in behavior many would consider offensive.

     The boy faces up to two years in a juvenile facility under a 1972 state law that makes "desecration, theft, or sale of a venerated object" a second-degree misdemeanor. An act constitutes desecration if it "will outrange the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." He does not currently face charges of trespassing or destruction of property.

     Americans United's letter notes that the motivation for prosecution of the teen seems rooted in religious belief with intent to protect Christians who may have been offended by the photograph. Recent news reports quoted District Attorney Higgins as saying: "This troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of our community" and that if the prosecution "tends to upset the 'anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-the-display-of-Ten Commandments' crowd, I make no apologies."…

"Law Regarding 'Desecration of a Venerated Object' Conflict Conflicts With First Amendment, Church-State Watchdog Says," au.org.media/press-releases, September 22, 2014 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Perfect Crime

In Oxford, England sometime in the 1950s, a unpopular professor named Dr. Regis C. Hogg assigned a class of psychology students to come up with a plan for the perfect crime. Three days later, Professor Hogg didn't show up for class. A year later the local police were still looking for him. He had simply vanished, and to this day [1975] remains missing. Perhaps someone in that class deserved but never received an A for that assignment.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Criminal Justice in an Aging Society

     It's become common knowledge that elderly people are prolific shoplifters. But it's still surprising when an old person commits a serious crime such as assault or criminal homicide. In recent years, due to mental illness and dementia, dozens of eighty and ninety-year-olds have been shot to death by the police. While these police-involved shootings were found to be justified, many of the fatal shootings were the result of the modern era's hair-trigger, militaristic form of policing. While perhaps legally justified, many of these deadly encounters were arguably unnecessary. But in a zero-tolerant police culture, age and dementia are no longer factors in the shoot-don't shoot equation. Gender doesn't figure in either.

Pearlie Golden

     Pearlie Golden, a 93-year-old resident of Hearne, Texas, a town of 4,500 in the east-central part of the state, didn't like it when the Texas Department of Public Safety declined to renew her driver's license on Tuesday May 6, 2014. Back at her house after failing the test, Pearlie, an African-American known in the community as "Miss Sulie," got into an argument with her nephew, Roy Jones. She demanded that he return the keys to her car. He refused. She got up from her chair on the front porch and entered the house. When she returned, she had a .38-caliber revolver in her hand. Roy Jones ran into the house and called 911.

     Officer Stephen Stem with the Hearne Police Department responded to the 911 call. In 2012, officer Stem had shot a man to death in the line of duty. He was cleared of wrongdoing in that case by a local grand jury and remained on the force.

    Officer Stem, in responding to the call at the old woman's house, shot Pearlie Golden three times. She died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. In justifying the deadly use of force on a 93-year-old woman, a police spokesperson said the deceased had "brandished a gun."(According to the Associated Press, Golden, prior to being shot by officer Stem, had actually fired her gun. It is not clear if she took aim at the officer. If she had fired at officer Stem, or at anyone else in his presence, this use of deadly force was clearly justified. If she shot into the air, or the gun discharged accidentally, the issue will be more complicated.) The official spokesperson said, "The officer asked her to put the handgun down, and when she would not, shots were fired." According to the spokesperson, officer Stem ordered her to drop the weapon three times.

     Many citizens of Hearne, outraged by the shooting, protested outside the police department. Ruben Gomez, the town's mayor, said he would recommend that officer Stem be fired from the department. On Saturday, May 10, the city council voted 6-0 to discharge officer Stem. To determine if the officer had committed a form of criminal homicide, the shooting was under investigation by the Texas Ranger's Office.

     On September 10, 2014, a local grand jury declined to indict the former police officer.

     Stephen Stem filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Hearne city council. On February 10, 2015, a federal judge dismissed the case.

Leo Sharp

     In 2014, Leo Sharp, a 90-yar-old decorated World War II veteran, resided in Michigan City, Indiana, a town of 30,000 fifty miles east of Chicago. In the fall of 2013, a federal prosecutor charged Sharp and eighteen others in connection with their involvement with a Mexican drug cartel. Mr. Sharp confessed to hauling more than a ton of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico. He had earned, during his tenure as a drug courier, more than $1 million. (In 2011, police stopped Sharp on a traffic violation on Interstate 94 west of Detroit. The arresting officer recovered a large quantity of cocaine.)

     On May 7, 2014, following his guilty plea, Leo Sharp appeared before a federal judge in Detroit for his sentencing. Sharp's attorney, in arguing for leniency, focused on his client's past, particularly his being awarded the Bronze Star for  his combat in the Battle of Mount Battaglia in Italy. Attorney Darryl Goldberg also informed the court that Mr. Sharp's dementia would place a burden on federal prison personnel.

      When it came time for the defendant to speak, Mr. Sharp, dressed in a suit and tie, said he wanted to spend his few remaining years in Hawaii growing papayas on land he owned in that state. (He had probably purchased the property with his drug income.) "All I can tell you, your honor, is I'm really heartbroken I did what I did. But it's done."

     U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds sentenced Leo Sharp to three years in prison, and fined him $500,000. The judge said, "I don't doubt that prison will be difficult for you, but respect for the law requires there be some custody in this case." In all probability, this judge sentenced the old man to life behind bars.
   
      

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Militarization of American Law Enforcement

     About half of the nation's SWAT officers are trained by active-duty commandos from Navy Seal and Army Ranger units. Police officers with special operation backgrounds in the military train the rest. When fully outfitted in Kevlar helmets, goggles, "ninja" style hoods, combat boots, body armor, and black or camouflage fatigues, and carrying fully automatic rifles and machine guns, these police officers not only look like military troops geared up for battle, they feel that way.

     These elite paramilitary teams--composed of commanders, tactical team leaders, scouts, rearguards, snipers, flashbang grenade officers, and paramedics--are organized like combat units and are just as lethal. But unlike troops in battle, SWAT police don't encounter mortar fire, granade-propelled rockets, homemade bombs, land mines, and highly trained enemy soldiers.

     A vast majority of SWAT raids, conducted after midnight, are targeted against private homes inhabited by unarmed people who are either asleep or watching television. When a SWAT team encounters resistance, it's usually from a family dog who often gets shot. Given the hair-trigger intensity of these drug operations, unarmed civilians who move furtively or are slow to comply with orders get manhandled and sometimes fired at.

     In a landmark study of police paramilitary units published in February 1997, Eastern Kentucky University professors Peter B. Kraska and Victor Kappeler found that by 1990 every state police agency and half the country's sheriff's officers (about 1,500 agencies) had SWAT units. Thirty-eight percent of the nation's police departments were also SWAT team-ready. Five years later, in cities with populations more than 50,000--about 700 municipalities--90 percent of the police departments were deploying SWAT teams.

     At the dawn of the 21st century, according to Kraska and Kappeler, federal, state, and local police were making 50,000 SWAT raids a year. Twenty-five years earlier, there were 3,000 SWAT call-outs annually. According to the best estimates of experts in the field--counting federal, regional, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies--there are now at least 3,500 paramilitary police units operating throughout the country.

     The 1,300 percent jump in SWAT team deployments in less than twenty years does not reflect a concomitant increase in armed hostage taking, sniper cases, or other high-risk incidents requiring heavily armed, combat-trained SWAT teams.

     Since the mid-1990s, the country's largest police agencies have used armored personnel carriers--APCs--to patrol high-crime districts, transport SWAT officers, and function as drug raid-site operations centers. In recent years, medium-and small-sized law enforcement agencies have been acquiring these military transporters. Although they come in various sizes and designs, APCs are full-tracked, armored, amphibious vehicles capable of traveling over rough terrain at relatively high speeds. Many are equipped with high-caliber, fully automatic turret weapons.

     In the summer of 2013, under a national military surplus give-away program, the Department of Defense gave Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected combat vehicles--MRAPs--to 165 police agencies. The 18-ton fighting vehicles built at the height of the Iraq war, cost the military $500,000 apiece.

     These military behemoths, too big for many bridges and roads, come equipped with bullet-proof glass and machine gun turrets. A MRAP can carry six officers and travel up to 65 miles per hour. Because these huge machines only get five miles per gallon, fuel costs are high. Moreover, each recipient of one of these combat vehicles will spend $70,000 to retrofit the MRAP for civilian use.

     And how will law enforcement agencies use these Army surplus MRAPs? At Ohio State University, campus police are using their MRAP to show force at home football games. (No kidding.) In Boise, Idaho, hardly a place of high crime and civil unrest, the police department uses its MRAP to serve arrest and search warrants.

     A reporter asked one law enforcement administrator if the police department had a use for the mounted machine gun. The chief of police assured the reporter that the department had no plans to remove the machine gun turret. "The whole idea," he said, "is to protect the occupants of the vehicle But from what? The officers are inside a bullet-proof vehicle that can withstand a land mine.

     These military surplus vehicles, designed for war, are intimidating and out of place in a civilian setting. The fact that so many police agencies possess them is one sign of how inappropriately militarized American law enforcement has become.

The Murder Trial as High Drama

For sheer human interest, the ability to catch public attention and cleave to it from start to finish, nothing else in real life equals a good murder trial. A prominent victim, or, even better, a prominent defendant; a bit of mystery surrounding the facts of the case; two camps of  high-powered attorneys facing each other across the courtroom; a cluster of witnesses, each contributing a few tantalizing facts to a tale of human fallibility; a bevy of expert witnesses to explain the unexplainable; a man's or woman's life or freedom hanging in the balance--these are the makings of high drama.

Michael Kurland, How to Try a Murder, 1997

Friday, November 2, 2018

Goddard College Students Chose Cop Killer as Commencement Speaker

     Goddard College's selection of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as a commencement speaker is a "despicable" decision that should be reversed, his victim's widow told reporters with Fox News. Maureen Faulkner, whose husband Daniel was gunned down by Abu-Jamal in 1981, was shocked to learn of the selection by undergraduate students at tiny Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. Abu-Jamal, who will not attend the event and whose speech will be pre-recorded, received a bachelor of arts degree from the 245-student liberal arts college in 1996 through a correspondence program…

     Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, was sentenced to death following a high-profile trial in Philadelphia. His sentence was later reduced to life in prison without parole for killing Faulkner, a 25-year-old patrolman who scuffled with Abu-Jamal's brother during an early morning traffic stop. Abu-Jamal, a member of the Black Panther Party, was wounded by a round from Faulkner's gun and a .38-caliber revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings…

     The October 7, 2014 commencement event will mark the third time Abu-Jamal, 60, has given commencement speeches at colleges. He spoke [by recording] at Evergreen State College in Washington and Antioch College in Ohio. Both of these events prompted widespread protests on behalf of law enforcement officers and Faulkner's relatives…

     A spokesperson for the Vermont State Police condemned Goddard College's decision, saying its students and teachers are showing "blatant indifference" toward law enforcement. [A better explanation: these teachers and students are ivory tower idiots.]