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Monday, July 29, 2019

The Ashley Newton Murder Case

     Police in Livermore, California, a suburban community 45 miles east of San Francisco, received calls, at ten-thirty on the morning of Saturday, April 26, 2014 regarding a disturbed woman in the 4,400-acre Del Valle Regional Park. The woman, according to the callers, was screaming as she repeatedly rammed her Honda Civil into a rock wall at the end of Arroyo Road in the remote Camp Arroyo section of the sprawling park.

     Officers with the Livermore Police Department, accompanied by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, responded to the badly damaged Honda which sat in a ditch off Arroyo Road. The female driver had left the scene and her whereabouts at the time were unknown. Officers noticed an empty car seat in the back of the damaged vehicle.

     Two hours after the police calls, off-duty Livermore Chief of Police Mike Harris, his wife and their two daughters, returned to their car after a hike in the Camp Arroyo section of the park. Earlier that morning Harris and his family had driven past the wrecked Honda. The chief didn't stop because there were several officers already at the scene.

     Shortly after the chief's daughters climbed into the family vehicle, a young woman wearing a sweatshirt and jeans caked in blood approached the Harris family. In her arms she carried a blond-haired, 7-month-old boy dressed in Cookie Monster diapers and a blue striped pullover. The child was also covered in blood. The distraught woman handed the boy to the chief. "Take him! Take him!" she yelled before climbing into the car with the chief's daughters.

     The police chief assumed that the woman and her son had been injured in the nearby wrecked Honda. He alerted officers and paramedic personnel who were down the road investigating the accident. A member of the emergency crew, shortly after starting CPR on the boy, realized that he was dead. The child had been stabbed to death.

     Police officers escorted the woman, 23-year-old Ashley Newton, to the Santa Rita Jail where she was booked on suspicion of murder. Originally from North Carolina, Newton resided in San Jose. Before moving to San Jose she had lived in the bay area town of Fremont, California.

     On Sunday, April 27, 2014, detectives questioned Newton at the Santa Rita Jail. She said she had stabbed her son with a pocket knife. (The bloody weapon had been recovered from the park.) Sounding paranoid and detached from reality, Newton was unable to articulate a motive for killing her son.

     On the day of Ashley Newton's police interview, detectives in San Jose interviewed the dead child's father. He said he had last spoken to Newton the day before she stabbed their son to death. She had been suffering from depression, he said. A police spokesperson announced that toxicology tests would determine if drugs or alcohol had played a role in the killing.

     On Monday, April 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged Ashley Newton with first-degree murder. The judge denied her bail and ordered psychiatric tests.

     As of July 2019, Ashley Newton has not been tried or convicted for the murder of her child. [At least I couldn't find any reportage of this. I'm guessing that she hasn't been tried because the court has ruled that she is not mentally competent to stand trial.].

     Numerous studies have shown that while women commit only 14 percent of violent crimes in the United States, they are responsible for about half of the parental murders. A vast majority of women who kill their children are extremely mentally ill.

Fake News In The JonBenet Ramsey Case

     We believe some prosecutors [in the JonBenet Ramsey case] thought their job was to "get the indictment," and tabloid media published unverified sensational accusations, first for profit and then in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from prosecution by us [John and Patsy Ramsey] for libel and slander, which only an indictment of us would stop.

     In mid-Novembver 1999, we held one of those tabloids accountable by filing a lawsuit against the Star in federal court in Atlanta for their blaring headline "JonBenet was killed by brother Burke," long after the police had officially and publicly cleared our son. The tabloids had figured out that "Burke sells," so they embarked on a smear campaign against a twelve-year-old child.
     On May 25, 1999, the Star had run a story with a front-page photograph of JonBenet and Burke and this headline. The article said that Burke was being looked at as the prime suspect. They told how JonBenet had wet her bed on Christmas night and crawled into bed with our son. Then Burke, they said, let loose his pent-up resentment of his sister and killed her. They cited the "fact" that Burke's Swiss army knife was found next to JonBenet's body, as evidence. 
     After that, the Star ran two other articles, one entitled, "Sad Twisted Life of JonBenet's Brother" on June 1, and the other, "What Burke Saw on the Night of JonBenet's Murder" on June 8. Obviously, these articles also subjected our son to public hatred, contempt, and ridicule. 
     Almost a month later, on June 22, after our attorney had written to the Star, the tabloid ran a small retraction, saying oops, our sources were wrong, and admitting that the district attorney's office had unequivocally stated that Burke was not a suspect in the murder. But they never said that the facts about him were untrue. 
     We as a society may let these tabloid organizations attack movie stars without retribution, but our children? I hope not. 
John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

Crime in America

There will always be a great deal of crime in America. As the American crime novelist Raymond Chandler has written, "Crime isn't a symptom, it's a disease….We're a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it…."

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Botched SWAT Raid

     Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona from 1993 to 2017, became a TV and news celebrity. The controversial, combative, and flamboyant law enforcement officer, billed as America's toughest cop, was the subject of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation. He was accused of practicing systematic discrimination against Hispanics. Arpaio called this investigation a political witch hunt. On the local level, he feuded with other sheriffs, police chiefs, and state law enforcement administrators. The highly political sheriff was also accused of public corruption, selective law enforcement, and poor job performance. Over the years, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and Arpaio were involved in numerous controversial cases and law enforcement scandals.

     In March 2012, Sheriff Arpaio announced that his posse of volunteer cold-case investigators uncovered evidence that President Obama's birth certificate, the one made public in 2011, was a computer-generated fake. Several of Arpaio's former supporters asked him not to seek re-election. Although America's toughest cop lost a lot of political support, he shrugged off demands that he resign from office, and insisted that he was ready to battle the federal government in court.

     In August 2017, a federal jury found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt in connection with his tactics in going after illegal aliens. The judge sentenced the 85-year-old former sheriff to a year in jail. Shortly after the conviction, President Donald Trump issued Arpaio a pardon.

The Bungled SWAT Raid

     In July 2004, Sheriff Arpaio's detectives suspected that Gabrial Gordon, a 28-year-old ex-felon on probation for armed robbery, had stolen a cache of automatic weapons and armor-piercing bullets from a gun dealer in Las Vegas. Gordon lived with 26-year-old Eric Kush, and 22-year-old Andrea Barber in a house in Ahwatukee, an upscale bedroom community that had been annexed by the city of Phoenix. Barber's daughter and Kush's 10-month-old puppy also lived in the $250,000 home nestled in the quiet, gated neighborhood called Fairway Hills. Neither Barber nor Kush had criminal records.

     Maricopa County detectives arranged to have Gordon's probation officer lure him to his office, where, on July 23, 2004, they took him into custody. According to Gordon, Kush was the one who possessed the weapons cache. According the a version of the story told by the police, Kush warned them that Mr. Gordon had been acting in an erratic way, and always carried a gun.

     Just before noon on the day of Gordon's arrest, a SWAT tank and an unmarked white GMC Suburban van full of county SWAT officers rolled into the neighborhood and parked on the street in front of the house rented by Gordon and the others. Outfitted in full battle gear, five officers approached the front of the house while another contingent took positions in the back yard. Andrea Barber, at the sound of loud banging coming from the main entrance, started down the stairway to answer the door. But before she got there, officers kicked it open. As they rushed inside, other SWAT officers launched canisters of white tear gas through second-story windows in the front and rear of the house. A few minutes later, a fire broke out in the master bedroom which quickly enveloped the place.

     Eric Kush, who had fled to the attic at the inception of the raid, ran out of the house to escape the fire. A police officer threw him to the ground, and another officer sprayed a fire extinguisher into the face of his dog, driving the pet back into the house. The puppy perished in the fire, which completely destroyed the dwelling. An officer, in pulling the SWAT tank away from the house fire, lost control when the electric brakes disengaged. The massive vehicle rolled down an incline and smashed into a parked car.

      Investigators with the Phoenix Fire Department concluded that a lit candle knocked over in the confusion of the raid had caused the fire. Andrea Barber, however, insisted that a tear gas canister had set the bed ablaze. Either way, had there not been a SWAT raid, there would have not been a fire, and Kush's dog would not have suffered an agonizing death.

     The Maricopa County SWAT team raid that destroyed an expensive home, killed a pet, and traumatized a quiet neighborhood, resulted in the seizure of an antique shotgun and a 9-mm pistol. The police arrested Kush on a misdemeanor warrant for failure to appear in a Tempe municipal court on two traffic tickets. He paid the $1,000 bond and was released from custody. In the week following the botched raid, the neighborhood stank of the fire debris, and the rotting puppy.         

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The Golden Age of detective fiction occurred between the two world wars, when several crucial developments changed the genre forever. The stories became more literate and the detectives more believable--no longer were they persons of super human intellect who could look at someone's shoes and determine where they had just been by the type of dirt collected there. Also, much more emphasis was put on period and character as opposed to merely constructing a clever puzzle.

Jay Pearsal, Mystery & Crime, 1995

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Justice

Our criminal justice system in a nutshell: commit a crime, plead guilty for a light sentence, get out, commit a crime. And around it goes. While there are far more victims in our country than there are criminals, criminals get most of the justice. Why is that? Perhaps it's because our legal system is designed to protect the criminal from overzealous cops and prosecutors. While that protects us from  government abuse, crime victims pay the price for that freedom. Ours is not a victim oriented criminal justice system. That doesn't mean, however, that the genius' who run our country couldn't do a better job of protecting victims of crime.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Charles Bukowski On Democracy

The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Monday, July 22, 2019

Cops Ask Criminals To Cool It

In the midst of the 2019 midwestern heat wave, a spokesperson for the Park Forest, Illinois Police Department issued the following statement: "It is just too hot to be outside committing crimes. We're asking all aspiring criminals, seasoned veterans, and those who find themselves committing crimes out of boredom, to please stay at home." So, I guess a man who is aspiring to murder his wife in their air-conditioned home is free to go ahead with his crime. Moreover, one would hope that in the criminal world most "season veterans" were currently living in air-conditioned prisons. This statement really suggests that it's too hot for crime fighting. Like they say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

The Eric Garner Chokehold Death Case

     In 1983, following a decade of arrestee and inmate deaths in New York City caused by the use of police chokeholds, the commissioner banned this restraining technique in the city's lockups and station houses. Ten years later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prohibited the use of police chokeholds all together.

     On Friday, July 18, 2014, four police officers working in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, New York, confronted 43-year-old Eric Garner as he stood on the sidewalk in front of a store. The officers accused the father of four and grandfather of six of selling so-called "loosies," individual untaxed cigarettes. Several bystanders video-recorded the exchange between the officers and the 350-pound asthmatic.

     Addressing the officers, Garner said, "Every time you see me, you're messing with me. I'm tired of it. I'm minding my own business. Please leave me alone."

     When one of the officers reached out to place the suspect into custody, Garner said, "Don't touch me." At that moment a second officer, from behind, wrapped his arm around the arrestee's neck. Garner collapsed to the pavement. The second Garner hit the ground, the other three officer piled on. With his head pressed hard against the sidewalk, Garner, at least eight times, yelled, "I can't breathe!" He then slipped into unconsciousness.

     Two paramedics and a pair of EMTs from Staten Island's Richmond University Medical Center, in response to the police call for medical assistance, rolled up to the scene. A few minutes later bystanders pleaded with the medical crew to do more for the unresponsive man than just check his vital signs. Ten minutes passed before the ambulance crew lifted Garner onto a gurney and slid him into the emergency vehicle. At the hospital, an hour after the police encounter, Garner died of cardiac arrest.

     A police supervisor placed Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen grabbing Garner from behind, on desk duty pending an internal affairs inquiry into Garner's death. The district attorney of Staten Island announced that investigators in his office would conduct an investigation into the matter.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Garner's death a homicide caused by "compression of neck, chest, and positioning during physical restraint by police." (Death by homicide is not the same thing as death by criminal homicide. Death by homicide means the decedent didn't die accidentally, naturally, or by suicide.)

     Officer Pantaleo was not a stranger to such incidents. Two people, in separate cases, had sued him for excessive force in the past few years. Because Garner was black and the arresting officers were white, the fatality immediately triggered accusations of police racism.

     On July 19, 2014, the day after Mr. Garner's death, Richmond University Medical Center officials suspended the four-member ambulance crew without pay. A hospital spokesperson said an internal investigation was underway.

     Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, told reporters that the union stood behind officer Pantaleo. "This was a police officer that wanted to place this person [Garner] under arrest and bring him to the sidewalk. This was not a chokehold."

     On December 3, 2014, a local grand jury decided not to indict officer Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death. This meant there would be no criminal charges in this case. The officer could still be charged in federal court with a civil rights violation and the city can expect a wrongful death suit.

     The grand jury in this case was made up of 23 residents of Staten Island and led by a foreperson. A true bill requires that at least 13 of the panelists vote for a criminal charge. Fifteen members of this grand jury were white.

     This grand jury no bill involving a white police officer and the death of a a black subject, coming in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, provoked condemnation from legal analysts and triggered a wave of demonstrations in New York City.

     Police officers are trained and equipped to deal with uncooperative people. Eric Garner, while not cooperative, was unarmed and committing a petty crime that could have been dealt with by a summons rather than arrest. Taking him to the ground involved acceptable law enforcement force, but the chokehold and not letting him up when he repeatedly said he couldn't breathe was, in the opinion of most legal analysts, excessive force.

     On July 16, 2019, Richard Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a news conference that the evidence did not support charging police officer Daniel Pantaleo with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

Thornton P. Knowles On America's Great Self-Love Society

I grew up being taught to love others. That didn't take. Kids today are taught to love themselves. That seems to be working. I don't belong to America's massive and growing society of self lovers. I am, however, a member of a much smaller group--The Order of Self Loathers. It's a more exclusive club consisting of members that are at least likable. Since self-lovers hate each other, and why wouldn't they, they are all jerks, these people have no one to love but themselves. It's an expanding circle of victimhood and self pity, a societal black hole that will eventually suck all of us in.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Human Condition

If you're interested in the human condition, don't ask a philosopher, sociologist, psychiatrist or psychologist. These people don't know anything. Talk to a plumber.

Thornton P. Knowles

A Pair of Eyeball Cases

The Eye-Popping Witness

     A fight broke out outside the New Princeton Tavern in northwest Philadelphia during the early morning hours of August 18, 2011. John Huttick, a former bouncer at the drinking establishment, told the police that Matthew Brunelli, the bar's 23-year-old cook, punched him in the left eye with a metal key protruding from his fist. The 48-year-old man lost the eye.

     Matthew Brunelli, who denied hitting Huttick with the key, went on trial for aggravated assault in February 2013. While on the stand testifying for the prosecution, Huttick's $3,000 prosthetic eyeball popped out of his head. The witness was able to snatch the flying eyeball out of the air with his hand. Two jurors seated a few feet away from Huttick gasped at the sight and rose to their feet in horror. The common pleas judge halted the proceeding and declared a mistrial. Mr. Huttick assured the judge that he had not intentionally ejected his glass eye for sympathy.

     On March 13, 2013, as the second jury listened to the prosecution's star witness, his prosthetic eyeball remained in its socket. That jury acquitted the defendant of aggravated assault. (Mr. Hattick has filed a civil suit against Mr. Brunelli.)

The Mystery of the Abandoned Eyeballs

     Just before noon on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, a worker at a Conoco service station in Kansas City, Missouri found something odd in a medical cooler sitting on top of the station's trash bin. In the cooler the employee saw a cardboard box labeled, "keep refrigerated." When he opened the box, the service station worker found a pair of eyeballs staring up at him. (Okay, I made up the staring at him part.)

     A surveillance camera video revealed two men in a blue Toyota with Nebraska license plates leaving the medical cooler on the trash container. There's an eye bank a few miles from the service station, but no eye banks or hospitals in the area reported that they were awaiting an eyeball delivery. The eyes remained in the possession of the Jefferson County Medical Examiner's Office.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Creativity Curse

There are those who create and many more who live off what they create. While there are few who create wealth, there are many who simply count the money, invest it, or simply keep it safe. There are those who create art in all its forms. These works in turn create editors, critics, agents, dealers, producers and publishers. Many creative people consider these noncreative functionaries as parasites who exploit their talent. Some of these support practitioners believe that what they do is more important than the art itself. Like many creative writers, I resent the fact I can't get my manuscripts on the desk of an editor without a literary agent. Moreover, I don't like working with editors, and loath literary critics. And what's more vacuous than a publicity agent? They say that being creative is a gift. I think that being creative is a curse. It's not the editors, agents, and publishers who kill themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles  

Charles Bukowski On Artists

Artists were intolerably dull, and near-sighted. If they made it they believed in their own greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it they still believed in their greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it, it was somebody else's fault. It wasn't because they didn't have talent; no matter how they stank they always believed in their genius. They could always trot out Van Gogh or Mozart or two dozen more who went to their graves before having their little asses lacquered with Fame. But for each Mozart there were 50,000 intolerable idiots who would keep on puking out rotten work. Only the good quit the game.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Man On Fire

     A Glendale, Arizona man walking down a street fully engulfed in flames Thursday evening November 13, 2014 was taken to Maricopa Medical Center with burns over 80 percent of his body…Bystanders attempted to help the man, one of them using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames…

     "The weird thing was, he wasn't making a sound," said Lindsay Riedlinger, manager at the Arby's Restaurant near where the man was walking. "By the time I got there, he was silent." Someone had run into the restaurant screaming about a fire and asking for an extinguisher, she said. Riedlinger, 24, grabbed the extinguisher and went outside. By that time the man was surrounded by eight or nine people…"I aimed and put out the places on fire on his body," Riedlinger said. "The flames took everything. It looked like on his shoulders, his shirt was singed into his skin. He didn't know what was happening. After I put him out, he walked away and went into the Taco Bell. He said he just wanted water."

     Taco Bell employees called 911 and paramedics took the man to the county burn center in extremely critical condition. The man would not tell officials how the fire started….

"Man Survives After Being Found Engulfed in Flames in Street," The Arizona Republic, November 14, 2014.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Show Me The Money

     There are people named Hunter who don't hunt, Fishers who don't fish, and Barbers who don't cut hair. Then there's Reverend Creflo Dollar, a TV preacher who worships money. Now that's a name that fits.

The Money Ministry

     In 1986, Dollar started Creflo Dollar Ministries which today has four parking lot churches in Georgia and one in New York City, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Houston. The 50-year-old televangelist and his wife Taffi are co-pastors of a megachurch in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. Called World Changers Church International, it's housed in the World Dome, a building that's big enough to hold a 8,500-seat sanctuary.

     Creflo and Taffi, the parents of five children, live in a Fayette County mansion in the metro Atlanta area. Noted for his pinstriped suits and charismatic, TV-friendly sermons, Reverend Dollar preaches that prosperity is good, and that God will bless the faithful with earthly riches. If this is gospel, Reverend Dollar and Taffi have been extremely faithful.

     The preacher isn't paid a church salary but derives enormous wealth from his real estate and horse breeding investments. He's authored 30 books and charges as much as $100,000 to give one of his uplifting, motivational speeches. (While he's no Bill or Hilary Clinton in this regard, one-hundred grant per speech puts him in rare company. I once charged $500 for a talk and felt like I had robbed a bank.)

     In 2007, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley launched an investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy megachurch televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for their personal use. In 2010, at the conclusion of the Senate inquiry, investigators found no criminal wrongdoing. Senator Grassley, however, expressed concern regarding the lack of financial oversight at these huge, money-making ministries.

The Assault

     On the home front, things were not going so well for the prosperity evangelist. At one in the morning on Friday, June 8, 2012, Pastor Dollar's 15-year-old daughter called 911 to report a domestic disturbance. Upon the arrival of the Fayette County Sheriff's deputies, Pastor Dollar's daughter said she and her father had been arguing over whether she should go to a party. According to the police report, he choked her, threw her to the floor, punched her, and hit her with his shoe. The deputies noticed fresh scratches on the girl's neck. Pastor Dollar told the officers that his daughter "became very disrespectful," causing him to "restrain" her.

     The deputies slapped on the handcuffs, and hauled the preacher to the Fayette County Jail. Charged with the misdemeanor offenses of simple battery and cruelty to a child, Reverend Dollar made bail later that morning.

     The next day, Creflo Dollar's attorney, Nikki Bonner, released a statement from the pastor that read: "As a father I love my children and I always have their best interest at heart at all times, and I would never use my hand to ever cause bodily harm to my children." According to the lawyer, the pastor intended to preach to his flock this Sunday.

     On Sunday, June 10, 2012, Reverend Dollar told his congregation at the World Changers Church International that he had not punched or choked his daughter. He referred to the police report as a source of "exaggeration and sensationalism." Speaking from the pulpit, he said, "I will say this emphatically: I should not have been arrested. I want you all to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household." The preacher said the mark on his daughter's neck had been there for ten years, caused by a skin condition. As he spoke, members of the congregation applauded and nodded their heads in approval.

     In the disputed police report, Dollar's 19-year-old daughter supposedly told a deputy that her father grabbed her sister's shoulders and slapped her in the face, then choked her for about 5 seconds. According to this family witness, the 15-year-old tried to break free, but did not fight back. When the pastor allegedly threw her to the floor, the older girl ran to get their mother.

    On January 25, 2013, a Fayette County prosecutor, after the pastor had completed an anger management program, dropped the assault and child abuse charges.

Flying High

     In 2014, Reverend Dollar launched a worldwide campaign to raise $65 million for the purchase of a GulfStream G-650 luxury jet that accommodates 18 passengers and a crew of four. Equipped with a pair of Rolls-Royce engines, the aircraft can fly from New York to Los Angeles in less than five hours.

     In a March 2015 video soliciting donations from his "friends from around the world," the preacher lamented the fact he needed to replace his 1984 GulfStream jet. Recently, because the 31-year-old plane had become too dangerous to fly, the pastor and his staff had been reduced to flying commercial.

     In June 2015, the board of World Changers Church International (which also operates as Creflo Dollar Ministries), announced the church had raised enough money to purchase the $65 million private plane. Instead of using this money to feed the poor, the pastor and his staff could travel the world in luxury. 

Hiring Ex-Felons For Government Work

     Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has joined the growing number of state, county and local governments that will no longer have job applications that require people to check a box if they've been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor. A county official said the measure will make it easier for people with criminal records to get a second chance at turning their lives around.

     Because of state and federal laws, applicants will still be asked about their criminal record if they want jobs at the county jail or juvenile detention center, the county police or with the departments of Human Services, or to work at a county-run nursing home.

"County Bans Criminal History Box," Associated Press, November 26, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Cable News Anonymous

I was a TV news junkie and had to break the habit to regain my sanity. Since most TV news is bad, watching it all the time makes you angry, frightened, and eventually depressed. A constant diet of floods, fires, car wrecks, crime, war, earthquakes, mudslides, tornados, hurricanes, plagues, stock market crashes, third world poverty, government corruption and stunning political stupidity eventually produces, even among viewers who have relatively good lives, chronic anxiety. Taking in too much political news, given the idiots running our country and the morons who talk about them on TV, makes one extremely cynical and pessimistic. I've also sworn off social media. Although I can't say I'm happy now, I am at least not suicidal. I'm thinking of forming a support group for recovering news junkies called Cable News Anonymous.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Josh Shaw's Big Lie

     Josh Shaw's fellow football players, just prior to the University of California's opening game of the 2014 season, voted the fifth-year senior cornerback captain of the team. Trogans fans, when they checked the team's website on Monday August 25, 2014, read that the 22-year-old star, over the weekend, had suffered two high ankle sprains that would sideline him for the year. The injuries, however, were not football related.

     Shaw's online account of how he hurt himself comprised a compelling story. On Saturday night, August 23, while attending a family get together in Palmdale, California, he jumped from a second-story balcony when he saw his 7-year-old nephew struggling in the swimming pool. To save the boy he knew couldn't swim, Shaw leaped off the balcony, landing onto the concrete below. In severe pain, he crawled to the pool where he saved the child. That selfless act of heroism had cost him his final football season at USC.

     Not long after the website posting, doubts surfaced regarding the validity of Shaw's story. Too many things just didn't add up. For one, on Saturday August 23, it seemed the football star wasn't anywhere near Palmdale.

     On Tuesday afternoon, August 26, Lieutenant Andy Neiman with the Los Angeles Police Department released a statement that laid waste to Shaw's tale of heroism.

     In downtown Los Angeles that Saturday night, officers responded to reports of a woman screaming from the third floor of an apartment complex. Someone had entered her dwelling by prying open a window facing a balcony. According to the woman, the intruder fled the apartment and jumped off the landing. During the questioning of this victim, the name Joshua Shaw came up. Apparently the victim and the football player had some kind of relationship. He also lived in the complex. Several witnesses saw a man at the apartment complex that night that matched Shaw's description. (A husky black man with dreadlocks.)

     On Wednesday August 27, 2014, Josh Shaw confessed to coach Steve Sarkisian and other USC officials that he had not injured his ankles by jumping off a balcony in Palmdale to save his nephew. Coach Sarkisian suspended Shaw from the football team.

     In a written statement released by Josh Shaw's attorney, Donald Etra, the football player said, "On Saturday August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall. I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong not to tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part."

     Other than to say the injuries were caused by a fall from the downtown apartment complex, neither Shaw nor his attorney explained what he was doing at the time or what had caused the "fall."

     In his statement to the media, coach Sarkisian said, "We are extremely disappointed in Josh. He let us all down…I appreciate that Josh has admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this."

     Perhaps. But in all probability Mr. Shaw came clean when it became obvious that his elaborate lie wouldn't hold water.

     On November 12, 2014, Josh Shaw spoke publicly for the first time about the scandal that ended his football career at USC. To a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "I've seen the dark side, I've hit the bottom. I've learned."

     Shaw admitted jumping off the balcony following an argument with his girlfriend. "We just got into an argument just like every couple does. Was it loud? Yes. Was it overly loud? I don't think so."

     "We were not on good terms when she left," Shaw continued. "I thought she had somebody call the authorities. I was thinking the worst. If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in Ferguson, Missouri in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so the authorities didn't see me."

     If I may, I'm going to leap to the following conclusion: The Ferguson excuse was a load of crap. Shaw was up to no good and he wanted to get out of that apartment. Ferguson, Missouri? 

Distinguishing Truth From Deception in the Interrogation Room

     A truthful suspect will give concise answers because he has no fear of being trapped. The person knows that truth is being told and has no reason to qualify or to delay answers. Furthermore, the truthful suspect is not afraid to say the interrogator is wrong in suspecting him. The truthful suspect is also able, without any difficulty, casually to answer an irrelevant question such as "By the way, where do your children go to school?" and he is more apt to quickly correct an interrogator who makes a mistake about some irrelevant detail. The liar is less likely to do so.

     As a test to discern whether the suspect's mind is free and clear, the interrogator may deliberately err when referring to such matters as the suspect's home or business address. Usually, the truthful person will correct the interrogator, but the liar, due to his concentrated mental concern with deception, may completely miss the error. The lying suspect may be so disorganized that he will even delay giving his own home or business address.

     Truthful suspects will not only respond directly, they also will speak with relative clarity. Liars, however, tend to mumble or talk so softly that they cannot be heard clearly. Perhaps they hope that if they lie softly, they will be misunderstood; then, if later confronted with the falsity of an answer, they can deny it was said or else allege that they did not understand the question. On the other hand, some liars may speak at a rapid pace or may display erratic changes in the tone or pitch of their voices. Similarly, a verbal response coupled with nervous laughter or levity is a common attempt to camouflage deception.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Thornton P. Knowles On The Coming Dystopia

It started with wilderness followed by endless farmland dotted with villages and small towns. Then came the big, dirty cities surrounded by factories. Shopping malls and sprawling suburbia replaced the factories and thousands of small towns. Now the shopping malls are dying. I hate to think of what's next.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Justice Sob Sisters

The quest to humanely execute a condemned criminal is futile. How do you kill someone nicely? Moreover it's disingenuous. People who object to capital punishment know there is no such thing as a humane execution. If the government came up with a method to make executions more fun than sex, opponents of the death sentence would still be against it. After eliminating the death sentence these same people would come out against the life sentence. Other than doing away with criminal incarceration all together, there is no way to placate the criminal justice sob sister.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cash Goes Into the Armored Truck

Nearly $21,000 is missing after a bag of cash fell off the roof of an armored truck that had picked it up from a soon-to-be-closed Atlantic City casino. GardaWorld Armored Car Services picked up the cash at Revel Casino on August 6, 2014…Surveillance video showed the bag holding the cash on the rear driver's side roof as the vehicle left the casino. The bag was still on the roof when the truck pulled away from nearby Resorts Casino Hotel. It is not clear where the bag fell off. [Someone in Atlantic City hit the jackpot.]

"$21 G Falls Off Truck After Pickup From Revel Casino," Associated Press, August 20, 2014 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Charles Bukowski On The Difference Between Poetry And Prose

What's the difference between poetry and prose? Poetry says too much in too short a time; prose says too little and takes too long.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman In Town And Other Stories

Thornton P. Knowles On The Death Of Criminal And Journalistic Investigation

A mother and her child were found dead in the rubble of their burned house. They had been both shot in the head with a semi-automatic pistol. Two days after the discovery, the authorities declared the case a murder-suicide. According to the official version of the case, the mother had shot her child to death, set fire to the house, then killed herself. Case closed; a two day story in the local newspaper. Notwithstanding the fact that women rarely kill their children by shooting them in the head and rarely kill themselves the same way and almost never set highly destructive house fires, the case went into the books without being criminally investigated. Members of this small community were not told why this mother would commit such a crime, if her child had been abused, if there was someone close to the family who wanted this mother and child dead, if the mother had a history of mental illness or if she was abusing drugs. Also left unknown was the history of the handgun or whether or not a child protection agency had failed to its job. The local authorities bundled this case in a neat package and buried it. If the profession of journalism hadn't predeceased these victims, some reporter would have dug into the case to answer these and other questions. No one seemed bothered by this failure of criminal justice and journalism. Perhaps no one cared because these victims were not rich, politically connected, or well known. And the real tragedy: this is not an unusual story. Institutions necessary for the survival of our country are failing us. When our leaders fail us and there is no one to hold them accountable, we are all in trouble.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Angela Kirking SWAT Raid

     In 2013, DEA agents in northern Illinois on the hunt for home marijuana growers regularly surveilled agricultural retailers where cannabis cultivators were known to purchase their botanical supplies. Agents would follow patrons home and the drug investigations would go from there.

     On September 17, 2013, a DEA agent sitting on Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill, Illinois followed a woman from the store to her home in nearby Shorewood. Angela Kirking, 46, had purchased a bag of organic fertilizer she carried out of the store in a green shopping bag. She had no previous arrests for drugs or any other crimes.

     The DEA agent, on suspicion Kirking was growing cannabis in her house, checked her electric bill for February through August 2013. The federal drug investigator discovered that Kirking's electric payments were higher than her neighbors' utility bills. Because people who cultivate cannabis in their homes use relatively large amounts of electricity to power their grow lights, the DEA agent became even more suspicious of Kirking.

      DEA agents, on October 6, 2013, conducted a so-called "investigative garbage pull" at the suspect's house. (In most states and under federal law, a person's trash may be seized without a warrant because it's considered abandoned property that carries no expectation of privacy.) The trash grabbing agent discovered several plant stems that smelled like cannabis.

     Armed with the suspect's relatively high electric bills and the discarded marijuana stems, the DEA agent in charge of Kirking's case acquired a warrant to search her house.

     On October 11, 2013, four DEA agents and five local police officers conducted a pre-dawn SWAT-style raid of Angela Kirking's home. The officers rousted the terrified woman out of bed and at gun-point demanded to know if there were any illegal substances in the dwelling.

     The heavily armed searchers found 9.3 grams of marijuana in one room and a "plant portion" on her patio. The drug cops also discovered three glass pipes, three scales, and two books on how to grow marijuana. The drug raiders also walked off with Kirking's computer and a zip drive.

     Because the raid didn't produce enough evidence to warrant a federal drug charge, a Will County prosecutor charged Kirking with two state misdemeanor drug offenses.

     Nine heavily armed police officers had conducted a pre-dawn, no-knock raid of a home occupied by a middle-aged woman with no history of crime. Moreover, the DEA investigator knew his suspect was not a player in an organized drug operation. In other words, the raiders knew they were not storming a drug lord's house. Predictably, the officers found no guns or a cache of drug money.

     In the Kirking case, an unarmed DEA agent could have knocked on this woman's door in the middle of the day, showed her the search warrant, and conducted a routine, orderly search of the premises. But pursuant to today's militaristic style of policing, that approach never crossed this agent's mind. Pre-dawn SWAT raids are a lot more fun. They are also a lot more dangerous--for the civilians involved. Had Kirking picked up a gun thinking the cops were criminal home invaders, she would have been killed,

     Kirking's attorney, Jeff Tomczak, fighting to get the case thrown out of court, argued that the DEA agent did not present enough probable cause to legally justify the issuance of the warrant. While this may or may not be the case, the bigger policing issue involved the unnecessary and dangerous employment of SWAT tactics to enforce a minor, low-risk offense. (I could find no disposition Kirking misdemeanor drug case.)

The College Roommate From Hell

     A university student stabbed his sleeping roommate in the throat, slashed his forehead and chased him to continue the attack when the victim broke free. The assault took place in the dormitory on a northern California campus. The assailant, Dillon Sang Kim, 19, slashed himself before he was arrested. His mug shot shows a stitched knife wound around his neck. The attacker's hospitalized 19-year-old roommate is expected to recover from the knife assault.

     Kim was charged with attempted murder and assault. The judge denied him bail…

     Police say the attack was unprovoked…The victim awoke early Tuesday February 17, 2015 to find Kim standing over him holding a knife. He stabbed his roommate several times and cut the victim's forehead and shoulder before the victim ran toward a bathroom that connected to an adjoining room occupied by two other students. Kim chased after his wounded roommate and stabbed him in the back when he fell down. The victim made it to the adjoining room where another student called 911. Police arrested Kim outside the dormitory.

     University Student Charged With Stabbing, Slashing Roommate," therepublic.com, February 20, 2015

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Navel-Gazing

For a novelist, a creative writer, I'm not much of a navel gazer. When I gaze at my navel, all I see is lint.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Boy In The Basement

     A suburban Atlanta couple accused of locking their son in the basement of their home for more than a year has surrendered to police…Ricardo Wimbush, 33, and his wife, Therian, 37, turned themselves in to the police Friday evening, June 27, 2014. Police said the couple is accused of confining the 13-year-old to a small room with a mattress and makeshift toilet. They face charges of child cruelty and false imprisonment.

     The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services received an anonymous tip on June 15, 2014. The boy's parents told authorities their son was locked up for disciplinary reasons. Police said the teen didn't appear malnourished, and neither he nor his nine siblings showed signs of physical abuse.

     The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services took custody of all the children...

     "The boy was essentially being treated as a prisoner would be treated," officer Jake Smith said when the warrant was issued for the couple earlier in the week. "The window had been painted over. There was a bucket the child used as bathroom, a mattress and a box spring," Smith said.

     In the arrest warrant, a detective wrote: "Therian and Ricardo justified the treatment of the boy saying he had molested three of the younger siblings. The child stated he was locked in... the basement for taking the family DVD player and lying about it…

     Wimbush played for Georgia Tech from 1999 to 2002 and led the team in tackles for three years. He signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2003 but was cut before the season started.

     [In January 2017, Ricardo and Therian Wimbush were each convicted of second-degree child cruelty. The judge sentenced them to 20 years in prison.]

"Georgia Couple Accused of Locking Son Up Turns Selves In," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 27, 2014  

Hillbilly Restroom

     The district manager of a West Virginia Pizza Hut was fired after video of him urinating in a restaurant sink emerged, prompting the location's shut down. Though the incident took place after the store was closed, it's inexplicable, unacceptable and flat out disgusting. On top of that, it's a health code violation….

     In a statement, Pizza Hut was deeply apologetic for the vile actions of the former employee…."We apologize to our customers of Kermit, West Virginia."… Still, the chain insisted that the ex-manager did not tamper with any food….[Did he wash his hands after using the kitchen sink as a toilet?]

Julian Kimble, "West Virginia Pizza Hut Shut Down After Manager is Caught Urinating in Sink," USA Today, February 19, 2014

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Grade School Kid Exercises His Constitutional Right To Possess Paper

     A little boy, in May 2014,  got himself into big trouble at an exclusive, private school for pointing an object that represented a gun. Eight-year-old Asher Palmer rolled up a piece of paper, called it a gun, and pointed it at other kids….Officials at the special-needs school in New York City then expelled him.

     The Lang School is a ritzy, private institution that specializes in educating students with language difficulties. In 2014, annual tuition was $51,500. [Parents who spend that much a year for a kid's elementary eduction have a special need themselves--common sense.] "Asher is exactly the type of student Lang is supposed to be serving," the boy's frustrated mother, Melina Spadone told The New York Post. "Why they did this doesn't make sense."

     The principal at Lang, Micaela Bracamonte--who called herself the "head of school" reportedly informed school employees that eight-year-old Asher "had a model for physically aggressive behavior in his immediate family." The boy's mother wasn't sure who that model would be, but she said she imagined that Bracamonte was referring to her husband who had been an American soldier during the Gulf War. "I find it offensive and inappropriate," the angry mother told The Post.

     Spadone explained that her son, a first grader, fashioned the rolled-up piece of paper after he talked with his father about weapons in the military. Asher's teachers didn't take the piece of paper away. Instead, they just warned him not to point the menacing piece of paper at anyone. [Remember what they say--there is no such thing as an unloaded, fake toy gun.]

     Eventually the boy pointed the piece of paper at another kid. School officials claimed that Asher declared that he would "kill" a girl, apparently in separate incident. Consequently, Bracamonte alleged that the little boy had a "concrete plan" for killing another student. [Perhaps he had reached out to a second grade hit man armed with an eraser.] The boy's mother suggested that her eight-year-old son wasn't using the word "kill" literally.

     The angry mother said she and her husband, in the past five months, had spent $120,000 for tuition and one-on-one tutoring at Lang School with the understanding that their son would attend the school long-term. 

The Fifth Grade Fake Beer Party

A superintendent says a Michigan teacher on March 6, 2014 gave non-alcoholic beer to a classroom of fifth graders as part of a history lesson. The superintendent says the teacher allowed Hyatt Elementary students in Linden, Michigan to sample O'Doul's that was brought to school by a student to represent ale common in the 1700s and consumed at the time because of the scarcity of clean water. The superintendent said the teacher made an "inappropriate choice." [Yes, the real thing would have been much more authentic.]

"Michigan Teacher Gives Fifth Grade Students O'Doul's Non-Alcoholic Beer," the Flint Journal, March 17, 2014  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Daycare Spiked Sippy Cup Caper

     In college, it doesn't take much to put students to sleep. A good number of them come to class half-drunk or drugged, and a lot of professors are really boring. In preschool, however, kids tend to be wide awake, and in many cases, pains-in-the-neck. So what can a daycare worker do to calm these little buggers down?

     In 2013, at the Morgan Hill Kiddie Academy (sounds prestigious) in Morgan Hill, California, a 59-year-old daycare worker named Debbie Gratz came up with a solution to the hyper-kid problem. She was seen by a colleague spiking kids' Sippy Cups with the sleep aid Sominex. She must have figured that if you lace their little drinks with sleeping pills, they will drop like flies. Night-night sweet princes and princesses.

     Apparently Morgan Hill Kiddie Academy administrators did not approve of Gratz's behavior altering methodology because they called the police. Following a search of the daycare worker's dwelling, officers took her into custody. Charged with felony child endangerment, Gratz waited for her arraignment in the Santa Clara County Jail. According to reports, she confessed to spiking the kiddie drinks with Sominex.

     In September 2013, following her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Gratz to six months in the local jail.

DNA Analysis

     DNA "fingerprinting" has nothing to do with actual fingerprints; the term simply means profiling or identifying….Though it became a byword among the public during the O. J. Simpson trial in 1995, it was first developed a decade earlier, in England.

     The basic principle of DNA testing is that every human being who is now alive, or who has ever lived throughout all time, owns a unique set of genes. Every cell of every human being contains a code unique to that individual, like the bar codes on supermarket products.

     This DNA--deoxyribonucleic acid--is the principal carrier of genetic data in human beings and in almost all other living organisms (with the exception of certain viruses). When studied through an electron microscope, its shape is that of a spiraling rope ladder, scientifically known as a double helix.

     Because each person's DNA is unique, when samples are taken from blood, semen, or other bodily fluids at a crime scene or during an autopsy, and are then compared with the DNA of either the victim or the victim's suspected killer, a match is either made, or not. If it is made, then the degree of certainty that this DNA belongs to this person is authoritative. By that I mean that the standard for most DNA testing is that there be no more than one in a million chances that the test is in error. In practical terms, this means there is little or no chance for error at all. This one-in-a-million standard, moreover, is conservative.

     In DNA tests, possible error is ranked at one in 5 million, or sometimes one in 10 million….

Frederick Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D. and David L. Carroll, Dissecting Death, 2000

Forensic Pathology: A Struggling Profession

     Well-trained forensic pathologists were scarce until a few medical schools began offering formal training in the 1930s. Physicians had testified in trials for decades, but most had seen only a few violent deaths in their careers and did not understand the science of stab angles, poisons, and gunpowder marks.

     Throughout the 20th century, forensic medical training struggled to catch up with other specializations, perhaps because of its idiosyncrasies. First of all, its patients are dead, so instead of studying laboratory slides and live patients, budding forensic pathologists needed to work on bullet-riddled bodies. As a result, they worked in morgues, far from a hospital, a source of the medical profession's power. Even recently, forensic pathologists have complained that textbooks and training cover the medicine--injury patterns and pathologic changes--but not the practical stuff like how to check the lips of an overdose for medication dye or the proper way to mark and preserve a bullet fragment.

John Temple, Deathhouse, 2005

Thornton P. Knowles On A Poet He Knew

A poet I once knew told me he was a genius. Only he knew of his genius, and now I knew it, too. I was not to pass this on because if his fellow poets knew of his gift they would be jealous. He was telling me because, as a pulp fiction writer who knew my place in the literary hierarchy, I wouldn't be envious. He was right about that. Moreover, the last thing I would want to be was a genius who wrote poetry. Any poet who thought he was a genius was, by definition, a nut case. Not long after this unpublished poet let me in on his secret, a passerby found him hanging from a tree in a public park. Don't let your children grow up to be poets. And if you can, for their own sanity, talk them out of becoming novelists as well.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

FBI Undercover Operations

     Although it is not part of the career development program in the FBI, some agents volunteer for service as an undercover agent (UCA). All UCAs are volunteers, and there is no special compensation for performing these duties. Generally, UCAs must have a solid investigative background before being considered for such work and also receive the full support of their superiors. Their undercover activities may take place in the office territory to which they are assigned or another field office. Volunteers for this program are evaluated for their expertise and psychological suitability. Special training programs are also available at [the FBI training complex at Quantico, Virginia] to teach agents the tricks of pulling off an undercover assignment. [Undercover operatives have to be good actors.]

     The vast majority of undercover operations are criminal in nature, but intelligence-directed undercover operations also take place. Generally, undercover assignments fall into one of two categories. Group II operations can be approved by the Special Agent in Charge of the field division, with the concurrence of the local U.S. Attorney. Group IIs, as they are called, still require careful coordination and planning, but generally they are less sensitive, less dangerous, or shorter term, and less costly than other types of operations. 
     Group I undercover operations are the opposite. They may be dangerous, elaborate, lengthy, technically challenging, involve prominent personages, be very costly, or have foreign aspects involved. This group requires painstaking planning, substantial amounts of documentation, a lot of coordination, and minute review by a panel of senior FBI Headquarters and Department of Justice officials. 
     Perhaps the most legendary FBI Group I undercover operation was ABSCAM, a political corruption investigation that resulted in the conviction of members of Congress in the 1980s. Probably the most well known Group I operation was that of Special Agent Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the La Cosa Nostra (Mafia) with devastating results to the mobsters. So successful was Pistone in his role that he carried it out for years and was on the verge of becoming a "made guy" when the operation was terminated. His exploits were recounted in the book and movie that bears his undercover name, Donnie Brasco. 

Joseph W. Koletar, The FBI Career Guide

Thornton P. Knowles On Creating A New Crime Fighting Superhero

I'm creating a new superhero called Passive-Aggressive Man, an anger management advisor by day, a crime fighter by night. Among his other powers, the super crimefighter has an interrogation technique that rarely fails. When a criminal suspect initially refuses to confess, PA Man becomes so emotionally distraught even the most cold-blooded criminal feels his pain and quickly spills his guts. Witnessing a man in a lavender cape weep uncontrollably usually does the trick. Sometimes hardened detectives in the interrogation room also collapse emotionally. Passive-Aggressive Man's arch rival will be Sociopath Man, a politician by day, a ruthless villain by night who runs a criminal enterprise without a hint of human decency, empathy, or regard for his fellow man. When good and evil finally clash, it's not hard to predict who goes down in mortal defeat. Fantasy is no match for reality.

Thornton P. Knowles

Memo To Police Officers: Don't Push Unruly Pregnant Women To The Ground Then Hit Them With A Baton

    After a video posted online showed cops knocking a pregnant woman to the ground and then pushing another woman during a Brooklyn melee, the NYPD opened an internal affairs investigation. The video shows Sandra Amezquita intervening in her teenage son's arrest early Saturday September 20, 2014 in Sunset Park. The pregnant woman is in a scuffle with the officers who are seen pushing her to the ground onto her stomach while they are trying to subdue her. They then shoved another woman when she tried to approach them.

     Cops from the 72nd Precinct were arresting Amezquita's son, 17-year-old Jhohan Lemos, for allegedly having a knife when several of his family members tried to intervene…"Oh, my God, she's pregnant," one onlooker says in the video after Amezquita was thrown to the pavement and handcuffed.

     Jhohan Lemos was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest and harassment…The teen's dad, 50-year-old Ronel Lemos, also got into the tussle with cops and was booked for assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and harassment…A third man, 46-year-old Secundino Payamps, was also busted for assault on a police officer, obstruction of justice, and harassment. Officers issued a summons to Amezquita for her part in the melee…

     "Her belly is now black and blue with bruises," a witness told a TV reporter. "She's bleeding and she's having complications."…[In August 2015, the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board found that the police officer had acted improperly when he pushed the pregnant woman to the ground then hit her with his baton. The review board recommended that this officer be docked up to five days of vacation time. A second officer was placed on modified duty. Critics of the review board's recommendations in this case were outraged at what they considered slaps on the wrist. A federal lawsuit is pending. No one ever said that being a police officer was easy.]

Antonio Antenucci and Aaron Feis, "Cops Wrestle Pregnant Woman to the Ground in Disturbing Clip," The New York Post, September 24, 2014

Monday, July 8, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Geography of Writer's Block

Writer's block is mainly an American syndrome. They don't have it, for example, in Europe. I'm from West Virginia where we don't have it either. Maybe we should, but we don't. I guess that's a good thing.

Thornton P. Knowles

How Societies Deal with Crime

     For thousands of years, human societies have sought to reduce the frequency and severity of such harms as murder, robbery, and rape. Various techniques for dealing with such crimes have evolved over time. Broadly defined, these techniques have had much in common across societies and over time. They may be outlined in the following familiar terms.

     The first technique is to ensure that the potential criminal understands that he has far more to lose than to gain from committing the crime. This serves to disincentivize the act or deter the actor, by sending a clear and unequivocal message: not only will you not benefit from the act, but if you are caught doing it you will be severely disadvantaged. A useful example of this mechanism is the treble or punitive damage remedy, which disgorges all gains from the person who secured them improperly and imposes a punitive fine.

     The second technique is to incapacitate those who would carry out the actions by imprisoning them, killing them, keeping them away from places they wish to target, or otherwise making it impossible for them to be in a position to undertake the undesirable actions. A useful metaphor for incapacitation is the zoo, where wild animals are kept behind bars. We are not seeking the change the animal's propensities but are simply erecting an impermeable barrier between it and us.

     A third technique is to persuade the actor not to undertake the action, by rehabilitating, reeducating, or shaming him, convincing him that the action is wrong. A good example of this mechanism is requiring drunken drivers to attend classes or enter programs designed to influence behavior.

Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Birthday Cake or Your Teacher's Lap Dance?

     A 42-year-old teacher performed a "full contact" lap dance on a middle school student in front of his Texas classmates….Felicia Smith's performance on the boy celebrating his 15th birthday took place in February 2014.

     The teen told investigators that he sat in the chair next to Smith's desk as she moved back and forth on his crotch and touched him over his body. Near the end of the dance, the student said Smith sank to her knees and put her head between his legs. The incident reportedly happened in front of the other students during class.

     The student admitted that he spanked Smith's buttocks a couple of times….As music played, Smith said, "I love you, baby. Happy Birthday."…

     Police claim that Smith said the students persuaded her to grind on the teen….Smith was removed from teaching in the Aldine Independent School District...

Michael McLaughlin, "Teacher Accused of Giving Student a Birthday Lap Dance," The Huffington Post, April 26, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On His Story "Twin Kill"

In my short story "Twin Kill," two awful people get married and soon come to hate each other. They each decide to resolve their marital problem the same way by hiring, unbeknownst to each other, a hit man. Two days before their first anniversary, they unknowingly hire the same guy to do the job. The greedy hit man, after taking upfront money from both murder-for-hire masterminds, carries out his assignments by killing them both. Three days after the double murder, the hit man's girlfriend shoots him dead and runs off with his hit money. A week later, she injects a dose of toxic heroin and dies alone in a shabby hotel room. I liked this story because it had no loose ends and the characters got what was coming to them. Unfortunately, magazine editors disagreed. The story ended up dead and alone in my wastebasket. I guess it got what was coming to it. And no loose ends.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Killing Peyton Strickland

     Shortly before midnight on December 1, 2006, 18-year-old Peyton Strickland, a welding student at Cape Fear Community College, was at home playing a video game with his roommate, a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. When Strickland heard knocking at his front door, he got up with the game controller in his hand to answer it. Outside the house, sixteen police officers--nine SWAT team members from the New Hanover Sheriff's Office, three with the Wilmington Police, and four officers with the University of North Carolina Police Department--were poised to charge into the dwelling.

     Peyton Strickland and a University of North Carolina student who lived elsewhere, had allegedly struck a third student with a blunt object and had stolen two of his Playstation 3 game consoles. (The probable cause underlying the search warrant was based on information from an unreliable informant.) The police were at his door to arrest him for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and breaking and entering.

     Police officers at the front entrance saw Strickland approaching them through the door glass. For some reason, Strickland stopped, turned and walked back into the house. That caused an officer to strike the door with a battering ram. As Strickland turned in response to that noise, a deputy sheriff fired five shots, two of which passed through the door hitting Strickland in the head and chest, killing him on the spot. The officer discharged his weapon because he had confused the sound of the battering ram for gun shots coming from inside the house. Another deputy shot and killed Strickland's two dogs.

     The Hanover County sheriff placed three deputies on paid leave pending the results of the internal investigation of the shooting. The sheriff fired the deputy who had fired the fatal shot.

     A grand jury indicted the former deputy in December 2006 for second-degree murder, but a judge set aside the indictment due to a clerical error. (The grand jury foreman had checked the wrong box on an indictment document.)

     In July 2007, the Hanover County prosecutor presented the case to a second grand jury, but only 12 of the 18 jurors voted to indict the ex-deputy.

     Peyton Strickland's parents sued New Hanover County for the wrongful death of their son. In February 2008, pursuant to an out of court settlement, the county paid the plaintiffs $2.45 million. Nine months later, the family sued the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and their police department for leading the deputies to Peyton's door on the word of an unreliable informant. The defendants in that case, in February 2010, asked the court to dismiss the civil suit out on grounds of sovereign immunity. The judge allowed the case to go forward, and in July 2011, a North Carolina appeals court affirmed that decision. (As of April 2016, this legal action has not been resolved.)

     The Strickland case illustrates one of the hidden costs of militarized policing. Every year, city, county, and state governments pay out millions of dollars in civil damages and court settlements created by bungled SWAT raids and excessive force cases.

Drunk Man Urinates On Waitress

     Even in the freewheeling nightspots of Key West, Florida, a patron is not allowed to urinate onto a waitress…According to police, that is what Orion Jones, 20, did early Saturday morning January 24, 2015 at Ricks Bar. A bar employee flagged down a Key West police officer and told him that a man had urinated on a female member of the staff…

     When officers confronted Jones, he was fighting with club security. They had chased him through the bar and had him pinned down. To subdue him, the officers had to use a Taser on him twice…

     Waitress Tia Cruz, 26, told officers that she was talking with a customer when she felt something wet hitting her body. She initially thought it was rain until a fellow employee pointed out Jones who was urinating on her from a balcony above...

     Jones was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest. His criminal record included two marijuana possession convictions as well as arrests for burglary and trespassing…

     Jones told the authorities that he needed help with his alcohol problem. [If he can't drink without peeing on people, he has a bigger problem than just alcohol.]

"Patron Relieved Himself Onto Waitress," thesmokinggun.com, January 27, 2015 

Talented Novelist Who Can't Pull It Off

No novelist has ever lived who did not at some time get stuck. And for every writer in working trim there may be a dozen persons of great ability who are somehow self-silenced. At long intervals they turn out remarkable fragments--embryo stories--but they cannot seem to pull themselves together and finish anything.

Jacques Barzum, On Writing, Editing and Publishing, 1986 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Get A Room

     A Florida man was arrested for lewd behavior after a 6-year-old girl found him naked in a Walgreens bathroom--where he was having sex with his girlfriend. The little girl went into the restroom of the Winter Haven, Florida drugstore just as a nude Christopher Mahurin, 24, emerged from the stall where he was having sex with Jenna Lynn Frey, 22, about 8 PM….

     Mahurin pushed the girl toward the door when she began to scream….But when her father heard the yelling, he burst into the bathroom and grabbed the girl. Cops arrived a short time later and found Mahurin and Frey sitting in a car parked in the lot outside the drugstore. The couple later admitted that they were having sex in the stall before the little girl walked into the restroom.

     Mahurin was slapped with charges that include lewd exhibition, indecent exposure in public and battery….[I could not find the disposition of this case.]

Joe Kemp, "Naked Florida Man Scares Girl, 6, After Having Sex in Walgreen Bathroom," New York Daily News, March 24, 2014 

A Fatal Case Of Misidentification

 A father in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas is accused of fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy he found in his teenage daughter's bedroom early Thursday morning, March 13, 2014. Harris County investigators said the suspect's 16-year-old daughter let the boy into the house….Her father told investigators he heard noises coming from his daughter's bedroom about 2:30 AM and went to investigate. He found the 17-year-old in the bedroom, and there was an alteration before the boy was shot once….The accused shooter was not arrested or charged with a crime. A Harris County grand jury will decide, what, if any, charges will be filed against him. [When confronted by her father in the bedroom, the girl said she did not know the boy which led the father to believe he had a rapist in the house.]

Phyllis Stark, "Dad Kills Teen Hiding in Daughter's Bedroom," 13 News Houston, March 13, 2014 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Second-Grader's Walk on the Wild Side

     In the fall of 2013, Jason and Damia Dillard enrolled their 7-year-old daughter Samaya in the Jefferson Elementary School not far from their home in the Sacramento suburb of South Natomas, California. Samaya had been a good student at St. Hope Public School 7, a Sacramento charter institution. The Dillards made the change because Jefferson Elementary was much closer to their home.

     At 9:30 AM on December 18, 2013, Samaya did something that upset her second grade teacher, Lupe Rodriguez. When Samaya knocked over a glass of water (I presume on purpose), the teacher flew into a rage. She grabbed the back of Samaya's chair and dragged it and the girl out of the classroom and out of the building. The student, wearing a pink and gray sweatshirt and blue jeans, sat outside where it was 46 degrees.

     After sitting outside for almost an hour, Samaya decided to take a walk. She left the campus through a fence gate and walked down a busy road that crossed over Interstate 80.

     As the 7-year-old walked over the interstate, the teacher who had expelled her from the building realized the student was not where she had left her. When school official didn't find the girl inside the school or on campus, they called her parents and the police.

     While no one from the police department responded to the call, the parents rushed to the school in two cars, and from there began driving around in a frantic search of their daughter.

     As the panicked parents drove around aimlessly looking for their missing daughter, Samaya paid a visit to a Walmart store. At a nearby shopping center, about two miles from the school, she entered the On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina and asked for a glass of water. The restaurant employee, after Samaya drank her water and walked off, called the police and reported a young girl wandering around the area without parental supervision. No one from the police department came to the restaurant to investigate.

     About two and a half hours after Samaya was dragged out of the school by her angry teacher, her father came upon her walking along a street not far from their house. According to Mrs. Dillard, the incident traumatized her daughter who felt that she had been abandoned.

     Samaya's parents enrolled her in another school and have threatened to sue the Natomas United School District. School administrators placed the teacher on paid administrative leave. (I couldn't find an update of this case on the Internet but would be shocked if the school fired her. In California, to qualify for dismissal, a teacher has to do a lot worse than this.)

The Kevin Canty Murder Case

     A former New York City police officer fatally shot his wife in their Queens home on Saturday, April 19, 2014 while their two young children were in the house….Officers responding to a 911 call around 11 AM at the family's home in Ozone Park found a 40-year-old woman who had been shot several times in the torso. The victim, Jessica D. Mera-Canty, was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

     The man, identified as Kevin Canty, 43, a former transit officer, was taken into custody a short time later about a mile from the house….The children, an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, ran from the house, looking for help. A neighbor took them to a nearby deli.

     "The kids were disturbed," Fez Atlas, the owner of Little Casablanca Deli, said. "The little girl knows what happened. And the boy told me that there was blood on the wall." Mr. Atlas said he hid the children behind the counter in an alcove by a wooden door, and kept an eye on the security camera video for their father….

     The police could not yet say whether the children had witnessed the shooting. The boy and girl were taken into police custody and given a medical examination before they were turned over to the city's Administration for Children's Services for questioning.

     Mr. Canty worked for the Police Department between 2008 and 2013….In 2012, he was praised on the department's Facebook page after he and three fellow officers helped save the life of a man who had suffered a heart attack at the Union Square-subway station. [Kevin Canty, in the fall of 2015, pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.]

Ashley Southall, "Ex-Officer Killed Wife, Police Say; Children Ran for Help," The New York Times, April 19, 2014 

Lawsuits Are Important

     It matters how judges decide cases. It matters to people unlucky or litigious or wicked or saintly enough to find themselves in court. Learned Hand, who was one of America's best and most famous judges, said he feared a lawsuit more than death or taxes. Criminal cases are the most frightening of all, and they are also the most fascinating to the public. But civil suits, in which one person asks compensation or protection from another for some past or threatened harm, are sometimes more consequential than all but the most momentous criminal trials. The difference between dignity and ruin may turn on a single argument that might not have struck a judge so forcefully, or even the same judge on another day. People often stand to gain or lose more by one judge's nod than they could by an general act of Congress or Parliament.

     Lawsuits matter in another way that cannot be measured in money or even liberty. There is inevitability a moral dimension to an action at law, and so a standing risk of distinct form of public injustice. A judge must decide not just who shall have what, but who has behaved well, who has met the responsibilities of citizenship, and who by design or greed or insensitivity has ignored his own responsibilities to others or exaggerated theirs to him. If this judgement is unfair, then the community has inflicted a moral injury on one of its members because it has stamped him in some degree or dimension an outlaw. The injury is gravest when an innocent person is convicted of a crime, but it is substantial when a plaintiff with a sound claim is turned away from court or a defendant leaves with an undeserved stigma.

Richard Dworkin, Law's Empire, 1986

Traffic Laws Apply To Everyone

     At three-thirty in the morning of Saturday July 5, 2014, Pennsylvania State Trooper Frederick Schimp, with another officer in the police utility vehicle, ran a stop sign in Fairview Township just west of the lakeside city of Erie. The officers were not responding to an emergency.

     A vehicle driven by 57-year-old Donna Platz from nearby Edinboro, Pennsylvania, plowed into the troopers' 2013 Ford Explorer. An hour later, the Erie County Coroner pronounced Donna Platz dead at the scene.

     Members of the Fairview, Pennsylvania Fire Department cut the officers out of the badly damaged police vehicle. Trooper Schimp, 48, and his Troop E partner, 26-year-old Garrett Padasak, were taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hamot Trauma Unit. After being treated for "moderate" injuries, the officers were released the next day.

     The district attorney of Erie County declined to bring homicide charges against Trooper Schimp. While the officer's actions did violate the legal standard of due care, his behavior did not rise to the criminal standard of recklessness, a degree of negligence needed to justify a charge of homicide. (Reckless behavior involves a knowing disregard for the safety of others.)

     The local prosecutor charged Trooper Schimp with careless driving, a summary offense that imposed a six-month driver's license suspension in cases involving fatalities.

     On November 14, 2014, at a summary trial before Judge Paul Manzi, Trooper Schimp pleaded guilty to carless driving. The conviction placed the officer in danger of losing his job. Because he was just two years shy of the state police retirement age, termination had an enormous impact on this officer's life.

     Pending the results of an internal inquiry into the fatal accident, Trooper Schimp was placed on paid administrative leave. (Although I can find no disposition of this case in the Internet, I believe the trooper was placed on limited duty until his retirement date.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Corpses Don't Count

     In July 2019, a Nevada Highway Patrol Officer pulled over a Chrysler minivan on Interstate 15 for driving solo in the HOV lane. The vehicle, equipped like a hearse, was hauling a gurney containing a recently deceased person. "So," asked the motorist, "he doesn't count?" The state trooper, while amused, informed the driver that in Nevada corpses, mannequins, and pets don't count. Following a warning, the hearse driver and his unresponsive passenger pulled back into traffic.

Judge Says Strippers Barely Make a Living

     Dancers at a strip club are due more than $10 million in back wages and tips, a federal judge in New York City ruled on November 14, 2014 after the dancers sued to be paid at least a minimum wage. And additional claims are headed for trial in the class action case, meaning there ultimately could be further awards to roughly 1,900 women who worked at Rick's Cabaret in Manhattan between 2005 and 2012…

     The dancers got no steady wages, instead paying a fee to the club to perform there and in return getting paid by customers. The customers put up $20 for each personal dance and fees starting at $100 for 15 minutes of entertainment in semi-private rooms. But after paying club fees and required tips to deejays and other club workers, the dancers sometimes ended up in the red…

     According to the plaintiffs' attorney E. Michelle Drake, "there is a real mythology of the wealthy stripper who has made piles of money. People see all the money that the customers give to the dancers. What they don't see is all the money going back from the entertainer to the club."

     The club argued that the dancers were independent contractors. Club lawyers said the wages due to the strippers should be offset by the money they made from customers, called performance fees….

"Court Awards New York Strippers $10 Million in Back Wages," Fox News, November 16, 2014 

The Economics of Taking A Terrorist Alive

     If the Boston terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had robbed a bank and shot a teller instead of setting off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, he probably would, under the same capture circumstances, been shot dead by SWAT officers. Police officers in America shoot and kill at least two people a day. While about a third of these shootings involve subjects who are unarmed, 95 percent of these police involved shootings are ruled justified. That's because the officers had reason to believe the subject had a knife or a gun. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at the time of his capture, was known to be in possession of a gun and several bombs. He had earlier engaged in a gun battle with the police. He was also complicit in the murder of a police officer. To take the Boston Marathon terrorist alive, officers assumed risks they normally would not take against an armed fugitive.

     Police officers risked their lives to capture this 19-year-old killer alive because he may possess valuable terrorist related information. As it turned out, before FBI agents had a chance to complete their interrogation, a federal magistrate judge came into the hospital room and read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. After that, the terrorist clammed up. He now has a lawyer which means there is little chance the FBI will be questioning him further. When all is said and done, the arresting officers probably risked their lives for nothing.

     The taking of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive will, over the years, cost American taxpayers millions of dollars. His medical expenses will be staggering. He will also have to be physically rehabilitated. Moreover, there will be huge legal bills, and if he's convicted, the cost of housing and feeding him for the rest of his life.

     If Tsarnaev is eventually executed, that will cost even more money than housing him until he dies a natural death in prison. Is this terrorist worth all this trouble and money? In my opinion, no. And besides costing more than he's worth, he'll be worshiped as a martyr by terrorists around the world. The mass-murdering bomber, for a very long time, will be one big national pain in the butt. This is also true of his publicity-seeking, American-hating mother. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Mary Wolski: The Up And Down Career Of Erie, Pennsylvania's First Female Firefighter

     In 1997, 34-year-old Mary Wolski became the first female firefighter in Erie, Pennsylvania. From all accounts, she did an excellent job, and all was well until her mother fell ill from a staph infection in 2005. Following her mother's death that year, Wolski became deeply depressed and came under the care of a psychiatrist who prescribed six medications which, according to Wolski, induced thoughts of suicide.

     The firefighter, on December 28, 2006, attempted to kill herself in a vacant house owned by her father. Wolski started a fire in a bathtub by igniting a pile of clothing. When the heat became too intense, she threw a pan of water on the blaze. After dousing the fire, Wolski made shallow cuts (hesitation marks) across her wrists with a knife. She called a family member for help, stating that she had tried to kill herself by smoke inhalation. Four fire department units rushed to the scene where a firefighter added more water to the smoldering clothing. (The vast majority of pathological fire setters are men. Women who set these attention-getting, cry-for-help fires usually ignite pieces of clothing piled on their beds. Wolski, a firefighter, had the good sense to set her fire in the bathtub so the house wouldn't burn to the ground.)

     In April 2007, the district attorney of Erie County decided not to charge Wolski with an arson-related offense. (I've thought about this decision, and believe the prosecutor would have made the same decision even if Wolski had not been a firefighter.) Shortly after the district attorney's decision not to pursue the matter, the fire chief, citing the fire setting as the reason,  fired Wolski. In December of that year, the Erie Civil Service Board upheld the dismissal. Set out in its report, the civil service rationale was: "The act of establishing [setting] a fire in a residence is wholly incompatible with the role of a firefighter, despite the mitigating circumstances of Ms. Wolski's psychological state."

     Wolski's attorney, Paul Susko, in October 2008, filed a wrongful termination suit against the city in federal court. The plaintiff, citing the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), claimed that Wolski had not been fired because she set the fire in the bathtub, but because she suffered from a mental illness. This, according to Susko, was in clear violation of theADA.

     Assistant City Solicitor Gerald Villella defended the city against Wolski's suit. In February 2011, he filed a motion asking federal judge Sean J. McLaughlin to dismiss the action. Villella argued that because the city had fired Wolski for setting the fire, not for being mentally ill, she had no case under the ADA. The judge refused to dismiss the case, ruling that a jury would decide "...whether or not Wolski's disability was a motivating factor in the city's decision to terminate her employment."

     The civil trial got underway on January 30, 2012. Wolski's attorney, Paul Susko, told the panel of eight jurors that the city had no evidence that his client's bout with mental illness posed a threat to her or others. According to Wolski, once city officials learned of her attempted suicide, she was treated "like a pariah." The ADA had been passed, he said, by congress to protect people like his client against unfair treatment by their employers.

     Assistant City Solicitor Villella argued that the ADA was not meant to protect a firefighter who had started a fire in a house. The solicitor denied that Wolski's mental illness per se caused her termination. He said her reinstatement would erode firefighter morale and public trust.

     The jury, on February 6, 2012, found in favor of Wolski. Judge McLaughlin ordered the city to hire her back as soon as a firefighter's retirement provided an opening. The judge said Wolski had "clawed" her way back from death's door, and was ready to serve the city again. He encouraged the community to take pride in the jury's verdict. Solicitor Villella, telling reporters that this was "...the first time a firefighter had started a fire and had gotten her job back," would explore the possibility of an appeal. (That did not happen.)

     In November 2013, Mary Wolski resumed her duties with the Erie Fire Department.

     The firing of this firefighter cost the city of Erie $206,665, $186,624 of it in back wages, plus various other reimbursements.

     When all is said and done, how one feels about the Wolski case depends on one's opinion of the Americans with Disability Act being applied to cases of mental illness. Had Wolski been injured in a car accident that rendered her physically incapable of doing the job, the ADA wouldn't apply. Does the fact Wolski set a pathologically motivated fire, then tried to kill herself, make her unfit to be a firefighter? What if she is confronted with another tragedy, and is given depression medication that induces suicidal thoughts? If she had been a police officer instead of a firefighter, would the results of this case been any different? What if she had been a public school teacher?

     Mary Wolski died in December 2018 at the age of 56. At the time of her death she was still employed as an Erie firefighter. She died of a heart attack. Following her re-hiring, she had been, by all accounts, an outstanding member of the fire department.

Mega Millions Lottery Odds

     [In state mega millions lotteries], the incredibly remote odds [250 million to one] don't really sink in for people. They don't really understand probabilities at all. Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have--one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion….

     When people are desperately sick, there's always a part of the brain that thinks there will be a miracle cure. It you want something to be true, your brain is awfully good at figuring out reasons, magical ones, that there's a good likelihood that it is true. The desire to win does drive a certain kind of frenzied optimism.

Professor George Loewenstein as quoted in an Associated Press article by Sharon Cohen, December 17, 2013

Monday, July 1, 2019

Idiots In Lower Education

Marie Waltherr-Willard's Fear of Kids

     Marie Waltherr-Willard, a Spanish/French teacher, began teaching French in 1976 at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2009, after 33 years at the high school, the language teacher was transferred against her wishes to a middle-school where she had to teach 7th and 8th graders Spanish. The move took place after the high school French program went online.

     In the middle of the 2010-2011 school year, Waltherr-Willard abruptly retired and began receiving her monthly pension payments based on an annual retirement income of $70,000. In June 2012, the retired teacher filed a federal lawsuit against the school district under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her disability: a pathological fear of young children, a phobia she said had been diagnosed in 1991.  The former teacher claimed that by forcing her to teach middle-schoolers, her employers had discriminated against her by refusing to recognize and take into consideration her disability. The plaintiff's attorney claimed that, as a result of her forced early retirement, his client lost $100,000 in potential income.

     According to the plaintiff, being around middle-school school kids had shot her blood pressure up to stroke levels. Moreover, the little buggers pushed her into a state of general anxiety, mental anguish, and gastrointestinal illness. The civil trial was scheduled for February 2014.

     A U.S. District Court judge dismissed Waltherr-Willard's ridiculous lawsuit in June 2014. In February 2015, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision. (Lawsuits like this remind us there are too many lawyers.)

The Red Pen Alert: Abusive Grading

     The idea that marking up a student's test or homework with red ink upsets kids who don't appreciate criticism, isn't new. (Ever since Mister Rogers started telling children that they were all extremely special, most of them can't handle the sad truth that 90 percent of us, on a good day, are ordinary.) Since 2008, hundreds of schools across the country have replaced the insidious red grading pencils and pens with writing instruments that produce colors that are less aggressive and mean. (I can't imagine a kid who got an F on a test feeling better about himself because the F is written in a nice shade of blue.)

     Education researchers at the University of Colorado published a study that confirmed the theory that marking up a kid's work in red as opposed to more neutral colors caused unnecessary anger and embarrassment. Red ink splashed all over a paper supposedly makes the lousy student feel more harshly criticized. Assuming this is true, so what? What's wrong with criticism with a little zip? If students are offended by red ink, they can solve the problem by doing better work. (Maybe the geniuses at the University of Colorado should come up with strategies for that.) I'd like to get my hands on that study, and in red ink, write: "You people are idiots?" (Is that too harsh?)

Radical Anti-Bullying Advice From a Knucklehead

     Gabrielle Jackson was a sixth grader at the Central Middle School in Moline Acres not far from St. Louis, Missouri. Gabrielle complained to her mother, Tammie Jackson, that bullies at school were making lewd and insensitive comments regarding her large bust. Tammie called the school district to report the sexual harassment of her daughter and was not pleased with the response to her complaint. Over the phone, an unidentified employee of the school district suggested that the 13-year-old student have her breasts surgically reduced. Presumably the anti-bullying expert didn't provide this mother specifics regarding just how small the breasts would have to be to disinterest bullies. Moreover, if the plastic surgeon got carried away and made them too small, kids might bully her for being flat chested.

Zero Tolerance for Paper Guns

     On January 22, 2013, Melody Valentin, a fifth grader in a Philadelphia elementary school, inadvertently took a folded piece of paper to school that roughly resembled a handgun. Her grandfather had fashioned the toy weapon. When Melody realized what she had brought to school, she threw the paper gun into a classroom trash can. A fellow student who witnessed Melody's attempt to ditch the contraband, squealed. The teacher seized the evidence, hauled the offender to the front of the class, and gave her hell for being so reckless with all of their lives. Later that night, the distraught girl's mother found her daughter in the bathroom crying. As a result of the negative attention, some of her classmates were calling her a murderer.

     This example of schoolhouse hysteria came on the heels of an incident in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania involving a pre-schooler suspended for threatening to shoot a playmate with her pink Hello Kitty soap bubble gun. School officers called the incident a "terroristic threat."

     I'm afraid these school employees are so stupid they are immune from ridicule and embarrassment. (Still, I try.) Obviously there are bright, competent elementary and middle-school teachers and administrators, but just how outnumbered are they by all the fools and idiots?