Archive for the ‘Police and Prosecutorial Abuse’ Category.

Police Officers and Patents of Nobility

I read this today in our local paper.  It is written by a local police sergeant and is entitled "Safety tips: How to talk to an officer if you're pulled over"

First, be polite. No good will come of the situation if you are immediately argumentative or uncooperative. Tell your passengers to do the same. You may not agree with the reason for the stop or the outcome, but the side of the road is not the place to debate this. If issued a ticket, you will have your time in court to present your case to a judge or hearing officer....

Do not address the officer with any slang terms or comments. Treat the officer as you would like to be treated, with respect.

Being polite is a nice thing to do.   But no one would write a "safety tip" article about being polite to your Starbuck's server.  Everyone knows the above guidelines are good safety tips (though Chris Rock said it better), but no one mentions the real elephant in the room:  That if you are not polite or not obeisant or somehow "disrespect" an officer, he may well arrest you on a trumped up charge or even physically abuse you.  The stories of this are ubiquitous, and everyone has heard them.  Essentially, the officer writing this is saying to the rest of us that "beware, some police officers are thin-skinned, short-tempered jerks and will abuse you if you do not kowtow to them like some Mandarin emperor."

I guess there is something to be said for the truth in advertising here.  Next week I suppose the DMV will write an article on getting a drivers license that emphasizes bringing a book because their process is so slow and horrible that you are likely to be there all day.

Things I Did Not Know About Compelled Testimony

Ken White at Popehat offers some useful insight to non-lawyers among us about compelled testimony (in the context of the Louis Lerner/IRS saga)

Some people have argued that Lois Lerner should be compelled to testify, either by court order or by grant of immunity. Lerner and her lawyers would love that, as it would make prosecuting her for any suspected wrongdoing incredibly difficult.

Compelled testimony is radioactive. If a witness is compelled to testify, in any subsequent proceeding against them the government has a heavy burden to prove that no part of the prosecution is derived from the compelled testimony, which is treated as immunized. This is called theKastigar doctrine:

"Once a defendant demonstrates that he has testified, under a state grant of immunity, to matters related to the federal prosecution, the federal authorities have the burden of showing that their evidence is not tainted by establishing that they had an independent, legitimate source for the disputed evidence." 378 U.S. at 378 U. S. 79 n. 18. This burden of proof, which we reaffirm as appropriate, is not limited to a negation of taint; rather, it imposes on the prosecution the affirmative duty to prove that the evidence it proposes to use is derived from a legitimate source wholly independent of the compelled testimony.

If I read this right, if the House were to compel her to testify, they might as well grant her immunity and be done with it.

Further on in the post, Ken points out an issue that I have been wondering about myself -- Those who want Lerner to testify are concerned with government arbitrary abuse of power for political purposes.  Given that, how can these same folks have any doubt as to why Lerner might plead the Fifth in front of a hostile and partisan House committee

I've been seeing a lot of comments to the effect of "why should Lois Lerner take the Fifth if she has nothing to hide?" Ironically these comments often come from people who profess to oppose expansive government power, and from people who accept the proposition that Lerner was part of wrongdoing in the first place — in other words, that there was a government conspiracy to target people with the machinery of the IRS for holding unpopular political views. Such people do not seem to grasp how their predicate assumptions answer their own question.

You take the Fifth because the government can't be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn't do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks indishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.

Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like "why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide", then you're either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.

If you want to get bent out of shape about something, you are welcome to wonder why Lerner is being investigated, apparently, by the hyper-partisan civil rights division of Justice rather than the public integrity section.  That, combined with President Obama's pre-judging of the DOJ's conclusions, is more of a red flag than Lerner's taking the Fifth.

Remember, Martha Stewart did not go to jail for securities fraud of any sort.  She went to jail for statements she made during the government investigation.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Bad Precisely Because Prosecutors Love Them

Apparently, hundreds of US prosecutors have written Eric Holder opposing his support for reduced mandatory minimum sentences.    Their letter to Holder illustrates exactly why these mandatory minimums need to be reduced:

As you know, mandatory minimum sentences are a critical tool in persuading defendants to cooperate, thereby enabling law enforcement to dismantle large drug organizations and violent gangs. Present law provides numerous opportunities for deserving defendants to avoid mandatory sentences through: cooperation in providing information about other criminals and criminal enterprises; plea bargaining, which resolves the vast majority of federal cases; the “Safety Valve,” which has allowed tens of thousands of defendants to receive lower sentences; and executive clemency, which President Obama recently employed.

The last of these is of course a joke, since Obama plays more rounds of golf in two weeks than he has commuted sentences.  But this does illustrate exactly why prosecutors all love mandatory minimums and why we should hate them.  Read what they are saying in this paragraph.  Basically it says that mandatory minimums take sentencing out of the hands of judges and juries and puts it in the hands of ... federal prosecutors.

The problem is that very high mandatory minimums raise the stakes so high that even the innocent are often forced to cut a deal.  People sometimes wonder how the innocent could ever plead guilty to something.  Well, think of it this way.  Can you stand on one foot for 10 seconds without losing your balance?  Are you sure?   Would you bet $100 on it?  You would?  OK, would you bet 20 years of your life on it?

How sure of something would you have to be to bet your life on it?  And no matter how innocent you are, can you ever be that sure that a jury will see it your way when the federal government is sending everything it has at you?

Mandatory minimum sentences raise the stakes of trusting the judicial process so high that few people can tolerate that much risk.  They cannot afford to risk going to a jury.  So with this threat in hand, prosecutors gain 1) a slave that will basically do or say whatever they demand and 2) total control of the outcome of cases that should be going to trial.

I was not aware Eric Holder had supported this change but despite having my issues in the past with Holder I have to give him Kudos.

Update:  Ken White at Popehat (writing about a different story) says, "As I often say here, the criminal justice system is full of people who believe that its purpose is to deliver convictions and any other result shows a malfunction."  By the way, read the Popehat article at the link, it will horrify you.

Are Police Beyond Accountability?

After the Rodney King verdict, the general conclusion was that a jury would not convict police for crimes against minorities.  Now we know better.  Apparently, juries will not convict police of any crimes whatsoever.  Add to this the fact that police departments themselves are so successful covering-up crimes and prevent most from coming to trial, and I wonder if police are beyond accountability.

I know there are a lot of folks who fetishize the police, but in my mind if we give police special powers, then they should have more accountability, not less.  I think police should be on camera, for example, every minute of their work day.

In New Mexico, Forced Government Anal Probes are Way Better than Having Even One Person Smoke A Joint

Or so I am led to believe by the fine folks in Deming, New Mexico, who forced a man to undergo two forced X-rays, two anal probes, three enemas, and a colonoscopy under anesthesia because they worried that he might be hiding a smidge of illegal narcotics in his nether regions.  Oh, and they made him pay the hospital bills for these procedures as well, sort of like billing someone's estate for the electricity used to execute them in the electric chair.

Details here.

Update:  Orin Kerr has a legal anal-ysis of the case (sorry, couldn't resist).   His conclusion seems to be that the victim may be sh*t out of luck (sorry again) in seeking compensation.  From reading it, he may even be stuck with the medical bills.  I have come to expect cops to display this kind of excessive behavior.  What is particularly disappointing is to see a doctor so eagerly cooperate and even, apparently, take the lead in escalating the intrusiveness of the search.  It is depressing that Kerr believes the doctor may well enjoy qualified immunity for his actions.  Thousands of doctors every day are successfully sued for malpractice over honest mistakes and differences in judgement, but this guy is going to walk?

Blood Test Check Points

I was in Houston the other day and they were talking about "no-refusal" weekends on the radio.  I had no idea what this was so I had to look it up.  Apparently, the police are setting up the usual extra-Constitutional DWI checkpoints.  If at these checkpoints you refuse the breathalyzer tests, they now are set up on site with a nurse, a notary, and a fax to a judge's office to obtain a warrant right in the field to take your blood.

I found this astounding but the local media seems to treat it as unexceptional, and it was almost impossible to find any real news stories about it that were not just rah rah support your local police.  The best resource seems to be attorney web sites.

Wow, This Element of Law Sure Has Gotten Screwed Up

From the awesome Ken White at Popehat:

NYPD Officer Craig Matthews complained about an illegal quota system for stops and arrests. As anyone familiar with NYPD culture could predict, he experienced retaliation from his superiors for doing so. When he sued, the NYPD hit him with an argument that's outrageous but very likely legally correct: it's your job to report misconduct, so the First Amendment doesn't prohibit us from retaliating against you for doing so.

Wait, what?

The Association of Lawless Broomstick-Fetishist Brown-Person-Groping Can't-Shoot-Straight Thugs has a point. Because their employer is the government, public employees have limited First Amendment rights to be free of employer retaliation for their speech. But in in Garcetti v. Ceballos the Supreme Court said that right protects speech on matters of public concern unless the speech is part of a job duty:

We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.

Thus in Garcetti the Court said a Deputy DA had no right to be free of retaliation for pointing out perjury in an arrest warrant application because doing so was his job. I explained how this doctrine works — and how courts have made an exception for professors at public colleges — in this post.

The result is that an entity like the NYPD can argue that its officers are required by their job to report unlawful activity by their superiors and fellow officers, and that therefore their act of reporting such misconduct enjoys no First Amendment protection.

Let's Not Forget Martha Coakley's Crimes

Martha Coakley, former Massachusetts Attorney General, is apparently running for Governor of that state after her failed bid to be Senator.

Walter Olson has a round-up of Coakley's various abuses of power, which start with her shameful hounding of the Amirault family against all reason and facts, apparently for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement.  Unfortunately, all too frequently AG's are rewarded for prosecutorial abuse in the form of media attention and often election to higher offices (Janet Reno rode witch hunts of day care operators very similar to Coakley's into the White House).

The day care worker witch hunt was one of the more bizarre events to occur in my lifetime.  I even sat on a jury of such a case, the only jury I have ever been on.  You have heard of copycat murders?  This turned out to be a copycat false accusation.  It eventually became clear that the teenage babysitter who made the main accusations really wanted to be on the Oprah show, and saw how other day care and child abuse whistle blowers had been interviewed by Oprah.   I kid you not.   By the time of this case, defense lawyers had become wise to the prosecutors' game of using brainwashing techniques to try to get small children to make bizarre sexual allegations against adults in the case.  So the defense was able to highlight the extremes that a couple of state psychologists had gone through to effectively break one poor 6 year old girl.  It was sickening, and it took us about 15 minutes to acquit.   But this is the type of behavior Ms. Coakley and her staff were engaging in.

Arkansas Sets 30-minute Statute of Limitations for Crimes Committed by Police

Seriously, I am not joking.  The Arkansas State Police apparently reserve the right not to consider any complaints of police brutality or mis-use of force if they are not filed within a half hour of the incident:

The killing led to a town hall meeting Monday, and the city prosecutor, Kyle Hunter, was assigned to investigate, saying his job was to determine whether the actions were justified. Hunter requested an investigation by the state police, who were not called in following the killing of the 107-year-old Isadore, but, theArkansas Times reports, state police declined Hunter’s request:

With the lapse in time, [Arkansas State Police’s Bill] Sadler said, the crime scene has been compromised, the local law enforcement agency (the Pine Bluff PD) has already processed the evidence, and the witnesses were (long since) no longer sequestered. "It's a credibility issue and a forensic issue," he said.

"APB routinely responds to those requests when they come in in a timely matter," he said. He said that requests typically come within 30 to 40 minutes after deadly force was used.  Sadler said that there was no law or protocol requiring local authorities to call in the state police in a situation in which an officer uses deadly force. "That is the choice of the local jurisdiction," he said. If called, they could have arrived within half an hour, he said. "We would have immediately responded."

Is Arpaio Running a Protection Racket?

This weekend the Feds raided the Phoenix-area's largest car wash chain "Danny's" for a variety of unspecified immigration issues, and carried a number of folks off to jail or away for deportation.   This is a very high profile and upscale business (I am looking at one outside my office window).  These are not your father's car washes -- they are large and well-appointed and tailored to an upscale crowd.

Given that this is easily the highest profile car wash chain in town and each location is staffed with scores of folks of Hispanic origin**, my first thought on reading this story was to wonder why Sheriff Joe Arpaio had not conducted the raid.  After all, he has practically made a career of immigration raids on car washes (here is just one raid, note by the way the horrific comments saying things like "God bless Arpaio" just under a video of normal, regular human beings being hauled off in handcuffs for ... working.)

Well, other folks in the Phoenix area wondered the same thing, and have observed that by some odd coincidence, the most obvious immigration target not raided by Sheriff Arpaio is also the largest donor to Arpaio's Sheriff's charities, and its founder can often be seen palling around with Arpaio at public events.   Note Danny's prominently displayed on Arpaio's web site.

From our local sheriff all the way up to the President, we are increasingly a country of arbitrary laws and special crony exemptions.  If you are not friends with Wesley Mouch, good luck to you.

 

** Not trying to profile here, just trying to think like the Sheriff

Government Removes Another Dire Threat to the Republic

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This is, or was, Giggles.  She was turned in to an animal shelter in Wisconsin.  The shelter arranged to send her to a wildlife preserve in Illinois that helps reintroduce such deer to the wild.  The day before she was to be moved, state officials with military-style weaponry descended on the shelter and eventually took Giggles out in a body bag, having killed her as a matter of state policy.  When asked why they did not just call and discuss the matter with the shelter, which would have duly informed them Giggles was bound for a wildlife preserve, the head agent said:

"If a sheriff's department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don't call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,"

That is how the government sees all of us, as criminals and not as citizens.   Fortunately, the state has some restraint

The DNR told WISN 12 News despite the allegations outlined in its search warrant, it will file no charges against the shelter.

Gee, thank you master.  Apparently, the shelter did not have the proper permit.  Gasp.

Hat Tip, so to speak, to Popehat

PS- Left unsaid, of course, is why the DNR needs a paramilitary group and weaponry.  I sense a Radley Balko post coming.

How To End New York's Stop and Frisk Tomorrow

Mayor Bloomberg in New York seems to think he has his own personal army he can order to do whatever he wishes, irregardless of Constitutional protections.  Case in point is the egregiously unconstitutional stop and frisk program.  The only way this program survives is that it is generally applied only to the powerless.  I would love to see the policy applied randomly, rather than just to poor blacks, with officers tomorrow performing random stop and frisk at, say, the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street.  The outcry from the not-so-powerless would be so incredible that the program likely would not survive another 24 hours.

Message to Obama: Respecting the Rule of Law includes respecting the Constitution

I have been on the road with business, and working on a fairly big announcement for next week, so I have been slow in keeping up with the emerging NSA scandal.  I want to give a few brief thoughts on Obama's defense of extensive NSA data gathering.  Obama said:

That’s not to suggest that, you know, you just say, trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

  1. I don't trust any of the three branches of government.  You know what, neither did many of the folks who wrote the Constitution
  2. The involvement of the three branches of government in this issue boil down to less than two dozen people:  the President, a subset of the 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a subset of the 11 judges (3?) on the FISA court, which has demonstrated pretty conclusively that they will approve any warrant no matter how absurdly broad
  3. Non-specific warrants that basically cover open-ended data gathering on every single person in the country, with no particular suspect or target named, are clearly un-Constitutional.  "and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  I would love to know what probable cause the NSA cited to seized Warren Meyer's Verizon call records.  20 Washington insiders cannot change the Constitution -- that requires a vote of 3/4 of the states.
  4. Obama has stopped even pretending to care about the Constitution, an amazing fact given that he is nominally a Constitutional professor
  5. Partisan hypocrisy has never been clearer, as traditional defenders of civil liberties and opponents of the Patriot Act like Al Franken rush to defend the NSA spying (thank God for Linsey Graham, who can be counted on to be a consistent authoritarian).  Democrats and Republicans have basically switched sides on the issue.

When assessing any new government power, imagine your worst political enemy wielding the power and make your judgement of the powers' appropriateness based on that worst-case scenario.  Clearly, though, no one can see past the occupant of the White House. with Coke party members backing powers for Coke Presidents but opposing them for Pepsi Presidents and vice-versa.

New York Attempting to Make Contempt of Cop a Felony

One of the great revolutions in civil liberties has been the handheld video camera.  Time and again police that have taken individuals to jail and charged them with things like resisting arrest have been shown, through video evidence, to be lying their asses off.  It is depressing to see how many cases exist where video evidence directly contradicts the police story, and to think how many people have ended up in jail before such video evidence simply because the cops wanted them there and manufactured an incident.

One thing that accumulated video evidence shows is that many police officers seem to think the law makes them the dictator of the everything in a hundred yard radius around them, and they tend to get incensed when any citizen does not immediately respect this made-up authority and follow their every order, legal or not.  Further, it is clear that there are many officers who have absolutely no qualm about beating the crap out of someone with no immediate justification and then blaming the victim, knowing that their fellow officers will back them no matter what outrageous facts they make up.  Only video evidence is slowly breaking through this practice, which is why the police tend to fight back so hard against photography of their public actions, and why in-dash cameras so often happen to be turned off just when they are needed.

Having watched numerous videos of police encounters at sites like PINAC, I have no doubt that this proposed New York law making it a felony to annoy police officers will be shamelessly abused by police (the law requires some sort of body contact but that is extraordinarily easy for the police to manufacture, and the text of the law does not even require the contact to be initiated by the citizen so accused).

Arpaio Busted For Crime Sweeps

I am a little late to this, via the Washington Post

A federal judge ruled on Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops here and throughout Maricopa County...

The ruling prohibits the sheriff’s office from using “race or Latino ancestry” as a factor in deciding to stop any vehicle with Latino occupants, or as a factor in deciding whether they may be in the country without authorization.

It also prohibits deputies from reporting a vehicle’s Latino occupants to federal immigration authorities or detaining, holding or arresting them, unless there is more than just a “reasonable belief” that they are in the country illegally. To detain them, the ruling said, the deputies must also have reasonable suspicion that the occupants are violating the state’s human-trafficking and employment laws or committing other crimes.

Good.  Phoenix residents, even those who support Arpaio, all know people are routinely busted here for "driving while brown."    I remember one time Arpaio made one of his famous "crime sweeps" through the tony suburb of Fountain Hills (where he lives) and managed to arrest dozens of Hispanics -- more Hispanics than I thought one could even find in that neighborhood, much less find committing crimes.  Seriously, I don't think I could have found that many on a bet.

This was one of his more execrable raids

Deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided a Mesa landscaping company early Wednesday morning, arresting nearly three dozen people suspected of being in the country illegally.

The raid on offices of Artistic Land Management, on Main Street just west of Dobson Road, happened about 4:30 a.m., according to one workerwho was handcuffed and detained before being released when he produced documentation that he was in the country legally....

Juarez estimated about 35 workers were handcuffed with plastic zip-ties while deputies checked for documents. Those who could provide proof they were in the country legally were released, while others were put on buses and taken away.

Basically his deputies zip tied everyone with brown skin, releasing them only when they could produce their papers.  It has become a common occurrence in the Hispanic community here to have family members racing to work with identity documents to free loved ones from Arpaio captivity.

Here is just a partial roundup of links on Arpaio here.

Taking the Fifth, Because No One Can Pledge Confidentiality any More

Teacher John Dryden was absolutely correct in counseling his students to take the fifth rather than fill out a school drug use survey.  Three cheers for him

Yesterday John Dryden, the Illinois teacher who warned his students that they did not have to answer questions about alcohol and drug use on a survey distributed by their high school, got a warning of his own. The Kane County Chronicle reports that the Batavia School Board voted to issue "a written warning of improper conduct" to Dryden, who also was docked a day's pay. Batavia School Superintendent Jack Barshinger explained Dryden's offense this way:

In this case, district teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists and others worked together for over a year to select a data-gathering instrument that could be used to determine what social or emotional issues our high school students are experiencing, and whether individual students could benefit from new or increased supportive intervention by our staff. These purposes were shared with our parents and our teachers.

The issue before the board was whether one employee has the right to mischaracterize the efforts of our teachers, counselors, social workers and others; and tell our students, in effect, that the adults are not here to help, but that they are trying to get you to "incriminate" yourselves.

Barshinger seems to think it is inconceivable that there could be anything wrong with the survey, since people with good intentions worked on it for "over a year." Yet the survey forms that Dryden picked up from his mailbox 10 minutes before his first class on April 18 not only asked about illegal behavior; they had students' names on them, thereby destroying any assurance of confidentiality.

Forget for a minute whether or not the public school employees were trustworthy (which is a heroic assumption in and of itself).  But consider local law enforcement.  They get a tip that kids have admitted drug use on these forms.  What do they do?  Well in many jurisdictions (imagine our own Joe Arpaio in action here) the police would immediately pull out every legal stop (and a few illegal ones likely) to seize these surveys.

Don't believe me?   Back in 2003 Major League Baseball asked its players to take a super-confidential drug test whose results would never be released for the purpose of assessing the extent of steroid use in baseball (almost exactly the same purpose the school is claiming).  Eventually, the FBI, Congress, and every other government agency tried, and were eventually mostly successful, in obtaining these supposedly secret confidential tests.

Several years later, Frank Mitchell was asked by MLB to investigate the steroid issue.  He asked for players to speak to him "confidentially" about steroid use.  The Players Association took better care of its members than this particular school does of its students, counseling players:

...while Senator Mitchell pledges in his memo that he will honor any player request for confidentiality in his report, he does not pledge, because he cannot pledge, that any information you provide will actually remain confidential and not be disclosed without your consent. For example, Senator Mitchell cannot promise that information you disclose will not be given to a federal or state prosecutor, a Congressional committee, or perhaps turned over in a private lawsuit in response to a request or a subpoena.

This is EXACTLY the statement that could and should have been made to students about this drug survey -- three cheers for one brave teacher willing to do so.  Shame on the rest of the school for its naivete (at best) and callous disregard for the students (at worst).

Curbing Prosecutorial Abuse in Texas

This is good news.  I hope it passes.  And the related law setting up stricter rules for eye-witness testimony may the first law named for a victim I can remember ever supporting

With more than 300 exonerations across the nation of people convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, we all have witnessed the limits of a criminal justice system flawed by human error — be that unintentional or intentional.

Nowhere more than in Texas has the weight of those imperfections been felt in cases that have tested public confidence in the criminal justice system and spurred big changes at the Legislature. That was true in the Timothy Cole case and is proving true in the Michael Morton case.

Morton’s testimony last week before the Texas Senate helped steer Senate Bill 825, prompted by his case, over a crucial hurdle. The bill aims to hold prosecutors accountable if they hide or suppress evidence from defendants. Morton’s lawyers claim prosecutors failed to turn over key evidence supporting Morton’s claim of innocence. Clearly, current laws are too lenient in punishing such practices, which not only are unethical, but illegal. The Legislature should pass the bill.

Puppycide

From the AZ Republic

A Flagstaff police officer who used his baton, boot and a cable to kill an injured dog after a fellow officer accidentally hit the animal with his car in August will not face criminal charges, according to the Navajo County Attorney’s Office.

...

Tewes was called after another officer hit a loose dog with his car Aug. 19. Tewes and the other officer decided the dog needed to be euthanized, but Tewes was concerned about using his gun in the neighborhood.

According to a Coconino County sheriff’s investigative report, Tewes repeatedly tried to bludgeon the dog to death, but it didn’t die. He then tried to jump on the dog’s head and cave in its skull, but that also didn’t kill the animal. Eventually, after some 20 to 30 minutes of trying to kill the dog, he used a hobble, which is like a metal cable, to try to strangle the dog. It took several tries before the dog died.

We give police officers unique and dangerous powers and authority.  It is amazing the poor judgement of the people we so entrust.

My Current Favorite Non-Profit

The Institute for Justice, or IJ.  The do great work.  What the ACLU should have been if it wasn't founded by Stalinists.  Check out this aggravating example:

Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.”

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

The most contentious civil forfeiture fight in the nation will be the subject of a week-long trial starting Monday, November 5, 2012, in Boston. Throughout the week, the Institute for Justice, which represents the property owners in the case, will expose the ugly practice of civil forfeiture—where law enforcement agencies can pad their budgets by taking property from innocent owners who have never been convicted or even charged with a crime.

 

Dictator of Their Immediate Area

I have argued before that police often behave as if they are legally dictator of their immediate area, and frequently assume they can issue orders, however asinine, to anyone in their visual range.  Of course this is legally not true (though I suppose it is legally true if you take into account that courts and the minimal accountability processes that exist for cops never punish them for such behavior).

Here is a great example.  The 2-minute TSA freeze drill, with the TSA yelling at people -- already through security -- within their visual range for moving.  I think they are ripping off Heinlein - was this in Starship Troopers?

Shot Trying to Escape

It's become a joke of totalitarian states that prisoners killed by the state are all "shot trying to escape."  I can't get that phrase out of my head when I read this

A state crime lab report claims Chavis Carter, the man shot to death while handcuffed in the back of a Jonesboro, Arkansas police cruiser, committed suicide.

The left-handed Carter, the report claims, retrieved a 380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic, which he had managed to conceal from officers during two searches, and used his right hand to shoot himself in the head.

Drug Enforcement Outrage of the Day

The government commandeers a company's driver and truck for a drug smuggling operation without the company's knowledge or permission (and without any compensation).  The innocent and apparently overly helpful driver then dies in a hail of bullets that also riddle the truck as authorities screw up the bust.  In the process, police are wounded when they end up shooting at each other.  What a mess.

Two Views of the Police

Radley Balko has this amazing comparison of two different citys' police recruitment videos, which paired together give great insight into really different ways these departments see themselves and their mission.  As Balko asks, which town do you want to live in?

Police Don't Like It When The Shoe Is On The Other Foot

Via Radley Balko, certain Dallas residents are upset that they are getting "nitpicked" for speeding and other traffic violations caught by camera.  Normally, I would be quite sympathetic.  But not in this case.  You see, those who are upset about getting punished for violating traffic laws are Dallas police:

The Dallas Police Department has suspended a special unit’s regular reviews of dash-cam video from patrol cars because officers felt they were being nitpicked with disciplinary action for minor infractions such as speeding.

The recordings and the reviews are meant to provide evidence when patrol officers go renegade, and they are especially helpful in excessive-force cases. They’re also crucial for protecting officers falsely accused of wrongdoing.

In 11 months of operation, the unit reviewing the video found numerous examples of officers exceeding the department’s speed requirements, failing to turn on their lights and sirens or failing to stop at stop signs or red lights during chases or when responding to other emergency calls.

While in many cases these actions are against department policy, police commanders say they became concerned that some supervisors were taking a heavy-handed approach to routine problems, meting out discipline rather than finding ways to change behavior.

“The folklore among officers is, ‘I’m afraid to go five miles over the speed limit because I’ll be disciplined,’” said Chief David Brown. He ordered a cooling-off period for the review process while the department takes a look at what can be done to ensure that it is fair and reasonable.

As someone who has gotten a ticket from a police officer for going less than five miles over the speed limit, I can think of a two word response:  Equal protection.

While some supervisors informed of violations have simply counseled officers to be more cautious, Dallas Police Association officials say at least a couple of dozen officers were disciplined, mostly with minor write-ups, for speeding violations.

Well, since police officers like all public officials are impossible to fire, this does not mean squat.  I don't see any fine here, or points on their license, penalties absolutely everyone else would face.  A better spin for this article would be "police violations of traffic law treated far more leniently than those by anyone else."  And even with this lenient treatment, they still shut it down as too onerous.

All that being said, the video review program Dallas was doing is a good idea.  It should continue, and if traffic law enforcement is getting in the way of the program continuing, I would be willing to let the officers slide if only to catch more substantial violations in how they interact with the public.

 

Interesting Analysis of Trayvon Martin Probably Cause Affidavit

I have not really posted on Trayvon Martin (except to comment on NBC's corrupt editing of the 911 tape) because a) high-profile criminal cases don't really have the hold on me they seem to have for many other Americans**; b) I have nothing to add; c) I have a bias that would make my commentary suspect.

But since I am about to post on the case, and may in the future, I should explain the bias.  We have a problem from time to time with campground workers we call the "badge-heavy" syndrome.  They get obsessive about rooting our rules violations.  They stalk campers.  They follow people around.  The spy on campers, looking for violations or crimes to report.  The folks they pick out for such treatment are often chosen because they are somehow different from the employee.

This is just awful for customer service.   It drives me crazy.  It is the absolute first thing we discuss at every training session.  Employees who demonstrate that they have this mentality are generally shown the door as fast as possible.  Government-run recreation facilities actually have this problem much worse, because 1) they give all their park staff a law enforcement title, a badge, and a gun, which tends to just encourage this kind of over-zealous harassment and 2) it is almost impossible for them to fire someone for this type of thing (because in the government employee heirarchy of values, enforcement of and consistency with rules is far more important than customer service or visitor satisfaction).

So this is a hot button issue for me.  And my first thought in this case was that Zimmerman's actions seemed just like those of my badge-heavy employees that I frequently have to fire.  So I am not very predisposed to by sympathetic to him, so thus my bias.

Anyway, keeping with my habit in this case of commenting more on issues at the periphery rather than of the case itself, this post from Ken at Popehat (I believe a former US attorney and current defense lawyer) is quite interesting.  Here is the bottom line:

I'm in a rush, but I can't avoid commenting on the affidavit of probable cause submitted in the matter of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin.

It's a piece of crap....

This is not the worst affidavit I've ever seen — but it's damn close, and the decision to proceed based on it in such a high-profile case is stunning. Cynics may say that I've been spoiled by federal practice, where affidavits are on average considerably more careful and well-drafted, particularly in some districts. But if it takes a high-profile case to highlight shoddy practices in everyday cases, so be it. An affidavit like this makes a mockery of the probable cause process. There's no way that a judge reading this affidavit can make an intelligent or informed decision about the sufficiency of the evidence — even for the low hurdle of probable cause.

** footnote:  I lived in Boulder through the whole Jon Benet Ramsey case.  I believe this was like aversion therapy, the equivalent of your dad forcing you to sit in a closet and smoke three cigars to put you off smoking, which has turned me off high profile criminal cases forever.