Category Archives: Police Watch

A Song and Open Letter to a President Who is “No Stranger to the Bong”

Thank you, President Obama, for keeping your campaign pledge to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state laws in California and elsewhere.

Thank you for reversing an inhumane policy established by the Clinton administration and continued by the Bush administration.

Given the experience you and other elected officials have had with illegal drugs and your willingness to challenge the status quo, now is the time to reconsider decades of prohibitionist drug policies that have succeeded only in massively increasing the toll of human misery, violence, and hypocrisy. As with alcohol prohibition, the drug war intensifies and exacerbates every negative outcome it is ostensibly designed to combat.

President Obama, do the right thing and end the war on drugs.

“Obama, You’re No Stranger to the Bong” was written, performed, and edited by Paul Feine; special thanks to Alex Manning.

I couldn’t agree more! As this song points out, Obama is hardly the first politician on the national stage to experiment with drugs. Despite these youthful indiscretions , most of these very people want to ratchet up the War on (Some) Drugs.

Despite my many disagreements with President Obama, I believe that his decision to call the DEA dogs off the medical marijuana dispensaries is a good first step in the right direction. Pardoning Charlie Lynch (back story here and here) seems like the next logical step.

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The Root of the Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spillover Into the U.S.

For those of you who believe that Libertarians focus too much on the War on (Some) Drugs, perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the escalating violence in Mexico which is spilling over into the U.S.

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Hit men dressed in fake police tactical gear burst into a home in Phoenix, rake it with gunfire and execute a man.

Armed kidnappers snatch victims from cars and even a local shopping mall across the Phoenix valley for ransom, turning the sun-baked city into the “kidnap capital” of the United States.

Violence of this kind is common in Mexico where drug cartel abductions and executions are a daily feature of a raging drug war that claimed 6,000 lives south of the border last year.

But U.S. authorities now fear that violent crime is beginning to bleed over the porous Mexico border and take hold here.

“The fight in Mexico is about domination of the smuggling corridors and those corridors don’t stop at the border,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said.

Execution style murders, violent home invasions, and a spiraling kidnap rate in Phoenix — where police reported an average of one abduction a day last year linked to Mexican crime — are not the only examples along the border.

This is so disturbing on so many levels. In a time when SWAT teams conduct midnight no-knock raids (sometimes on the wrong home) on unsuspecting occupants, its especially distressing to think that even if the occupants comprehend an announcement and see that the intruders are wearing police gear that the occupants must then determine if the intruders are in-fact who they say they are. Either way, all parties involved are placed in a dangerous situation.

What is a resident to do?

To surrender is to take the chance that the intruders are the police. If s/he is wrong, s/he risks kidnapping, robbery, raping, torture, and/or death.

To stand one’s ground and take the chance that the intruders are not the police escalates the situation which can result in death and/or loss of freedom (imprisonment).

This potential for confusion in itself suggests to me that all SWAT drug raids should be immediately halted at least until this spillover along the Mexican border is under control. The question is: how?

Conservatives suggest building a fence or wall along the border. While this approach might slow down the flow of drug and people trafficking, this in itself does not deal with the root problems and would not stop the spillover. If drugs can get past the walls of a maximum security prison, how is it possible to believe that a wall would prevent drugs from making their way into our country?

Some on the Left believe that greater gun control measures would make acquiring firearms more difficult for the drug cartels. Besides the obvious infringements against the Second Amendment, the bad guys always manage to get their weapons of choice. This approach also does not deal with the root of the problem.

This brings me to the root of the problem:

While some Americans may feel victimized by the spillover of violence, others are contributing to it. Americans provide 95 percent of the weapons used by the cartel, according to U.S. authorities. And Americans are the cartels’ best customers, sending an estimated $28.5 billion in drug-sale proceeds across the Mexico border each year.

As long as there is a demand for these drugs, there will be someone willing to supply these drugs. In the days of Prohibition, Al Capone supplied a particular demand; today this demand is supplied by Jack Daniels, Anheuser-Busch, and many thousands of others. When Anheuser-Busch has a dispute with competitors or customers, the dispute is settled in a court of law rather than the streets. There is every reason to believe that lifting drug prohibition would work the same way.

Live Chat With Mayor Cheye Calvo Tonight @ 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) @ The Agitator

Check in this Thursday night at 8pm ET with your questions for Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who was subject to a violent, botched drug raid last year.

Calvo’s pushing legislation that would bring transparency to how Maryland’s police departments use their SWAT teams.

I’m hoping to be home in time to participate in this chat because I am very interested in what Mayor Calvo has to say. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the mayor spoke at a Cato Policy Forum on September 12, 2008. The full 90 minute podcast can be downloaded here; the podcast below is a much shorter (just under 9 minutes) interview with the mayor following the Cato event.

Post Chat Report:
The chat with Mayor Calvo ended just a few minutes ago. The mayor stayed about a half hour over the scheduled chat to answer more questions from participants. I managed to have a couple of questions answered and the other questions which were asked were also very good. The chat was very informative and worthwhile. Readers who would like to read the full chat can click here.

The mayor answered questions about his ordeal with the SWAT team raiding his home as well as some legislation he is pushing in the State of Maryland. The proposed legislation would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the Attorney General, local officials and the general public. These reports would provide the number of raids, general locations, purpose, authorization, and results of raids. The overall goal is to provide additional oversight.

For more information about this legislation and how you can help, go to MakeMarylandGreat.com.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished by Government

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

He may have saved three lives, but RTD bus driver Jim Moffett got a jaywalking ticket anyway, along with broken bones and internal bleeding.

Moffett, 58, was driving an RTD bus southbound on Federal Boulevard at 62nd Avenue about 9 Friday night, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

A couple of elderly women exited the bus and tried to walk across Federal to their trailer home on the east side, Moffett’s stepson, Ken McDonald said today.

“With that light snowstorm, my stepdad didn’t think they could cross the street safely,” McDonald said. “There’s a six- or seven-block area where there’s really no place to cross.

“So he got off the bus with another passenger and they helped the ladies cross,” he said.
The four people had made it about halfway across Federal, and most of the northbound traffic had slowed to let them go the rest of the way, McDonald said.

“But one pick-up driver got impatient and passed in the left hand turn lane,” McDonald said. “He plowed right into my stepdad — but not before he pushed the old ladies and the other guy out of the way.”

Moffett is at St. Anthony Central Medical Center with bleeding in the brain, broken bones in his face, a dislocated shoulder, a broken wrist and possible ruptured spleen and liver, McDonald said. His right knee needs a complete rebuild.

[…]

Moffett can’t believe he got a jaywalking ticket for his trouble. His stepson calls it “absolutely obscene.”

McDonald said his stepfather didn’t choose the route across the road, the elderly women had already started across. “And there’s not a safe place to cross the road anyway on that whole stretch.”

I cannot tell how many times I have seen people illegally cross this very street after dark; I have never seen a police officer stop someone or issue a citation for jaywalking. But now when an individual puts himself at risk and possibly saves the lives of three people? Well obviously, this man needs to pay a fine…can’t you see he broke the law!

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper: “Legalize All Drugs”

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper recently appeared on Fox News’ Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld. Stamper belongs to an organization of current and former police officers called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

A Few Thoughts About the Ryan Fredrick Case

The long and short of the case is that three days after his home was broken into, Fredrick fatally shot an intruder who turned out to be a police officer. Fredrick promptly surrendered to the police once he realized the intruders were in-fact a SWAT team serving a warrant (a very small amount of marijuana was found in Fredrick’s home). The jury considered several charges including capital murder but ultimately decided Fredrick’s actions amounted to voluntary manslaughter and recommended a 10 year sentence.

Rather than rehashing the Ryan Fredrick case here, I would encourage readers to read the coverage by Hamptonroads.com , Tidewater Liberty and Radley Balko .

The police department did not believe the sentence to be harsh enough:

For the Shivers family and the Police Department, the verdict did not provide closure.

“Closure?” said Jack Crimmins, president of the Chesapeake Coalition of Police. “There’s no closure.”

“Their verdict today has jeopardized the lives of police officers,” Crimmins said. “I think the jury failed. They failed the community. You’ve got a man involved in an illegal enterprise, the police come to his house, and he takes the matter into his own hands.”

Funny that Crimmins chose the term “illegal enterprise.” This description is more appropriate for the way this police department chose to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by allowing a known criminal to break into Fredrick’s home to obtain probable cause to search the home in the first place! Most of the case made against Fredrick was from testimony of jailhouse snitches and informants of very questionable character.

And this notion about a homeowner who “takes the matter into his own hands” when someone breaks into his home is especially infuriating. Mr. Crimmins, it’s called the castle doctrine , perhaps you’ve heard of this concept? It’s not exactly new.

When a civilian makes a mistake and kills a police officer, it’s almost always assumed that s/he must “pay the price” but what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? When a police officer makes a mistake and kills a civilian, the badge worshipers and law enforcement boot lickers come up with a statement like this:

A jury verdict that cleared a police officer in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed woman will allow other officers to do their job without hesitation, police union officials said.

Officers throughout the state closely watched the trial, fearing that a guilty judgment would have changed how they react in the line of fire.

[…]

During the trial, a Columbus SWAT officer and a retired FBI agent both testified that Chavalia had no choice but to shoot because he thought his life was in danger. They also said Chavalia should have fired sooner.

So when a civilian believes his or her life is in danger, he or she must be certain of who s/he is targeting but when a police officer believes s/he is in danger, s/he can “shoot now and ask questions later”? What’s particularly galling about this is that in statements in both cases, the lives of law enforcement are of paramount concern as the lives of civilians is of little or no concern.

This is but another illustration of how the government has the one power the rest of us don’t: the monopoly of the use of force to accomplish its goals. The War on (Some) Drugs is a means to an (impossible) end (eradication of banned drugs). If non-violent individuals are killed in the process, its considered collateral damage. The War on (Some) Drugs must be won at all costs!

With respect to Ryan Fredrick, his fate is in the hands of a judge (the judge will decide whether or not to impose the jury’s recommended sentence), but what now? How can we prevent these tragedies from happening? Tide Water Libertarian Party has offered some excellent suggestions:

In the months since the tragic death of Det. Jarrod Shivers in the course of serving a search warrant at the home of Ryan Frederick, many questions have arisen regarding procedures of the Chesapeake Police Department. These questions have gone unanswered by the department. The Tidewater Libertarian Party asserts that because all powers granted government to use force on the behalf of the people reside ultimately with the people, it is unacceptable for the agents of government force, the police, to deny the people explanations for their actions when there are legitimate questions as to whether that force has been used with due caution and within the powers granted by the people through our Constitution and law.

• The tragic and avoidable death of a law enforcement officer.

• The use of Confidential Informants is an unfortunate necessity in criminal investigations, and particularly so in drug cases, but we question whether it is good public policy to request or issue search warrants based on the unsupported and unsworn allegations of Confidential Informants without some corroboration through independent investigation.

• Forcible entries in serving search warrants are acceptable police practice only when there is evidence subject to rapid destruction, hostages are in peril, or known, armed, and dangerous criminals are judged to be most safely taken by surprise. The recent trial of Chesapeake resident Ryan Frederick has revealed such forced entries to be the standard practice in serving all drug search warrants in Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Police Department has provided no acceptable explanation for choosing an exceptionally dangerous method of serving a warrant on a citizen with no criminal record over numerous safer and more Constitutionally acceptable methods.

• We are further concerned by the lack of transparency and consistency on the part of the Chesapeake Police leadership regarding what policy changes might be made to avoid future tragedy. Because we believe the police have taken the position that they need not explain their actions to the public, we hold this that is unacceptable in a free society.

This is the City of Chesapeake, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States of America. The police are answerable to the people, not only to themselves. Our military and our police are subject to civilian control and review. Citizens are owed the truth. The proper first level of that oversight is through our local elected representatives on city council.

We understand that it may be necessary to withhold some tactical policy from the public at large for the protection of police officers, but what information can and cannot be made public is properly the choice of civilian authority, with expert guidance, and not that of those being overseen.

The Tidewater Libertarian Party therefore requests the City of Chesapeake establish a citizen review board consisting of trustworthy citizens chosen by council, but with no connection to the Police Department or city government, to investigate this matter. This citizen review board should have full access to all evidence, record, reviews, and testimony, and report to the City Council, and ultimately, with council approval of sensitive content, to the public, in order to restore the lost trust of the citizens in our police department and to ensure that our police officers and citizens are no longer placed in unnecessary danger.

I would also like to offer at least one other suggestion: cameras. Each SWAT team member should have a camera attached to his/her helmet. This would provide invaluable insight to a sequence of events and would help ensure that the police follow procedures properly. Police vehicles have cameras installed on dashboards, there is no good reason why cameras should not be used for knock and no knock raids.

Unfortunately, I fully expect to learn of many more of these tragedies before any such reforms are made.

Wisconsin Police Woman Endangers Family

This is another one of those stories that I read and say “this could happen to me!”

More than a month after Sam Salter wound up in the Ramsey County jail for two nights, the 40-year-old adjunct college instructor from Hudson, Wis., is still fuming. “You feel totally helpless,” he said.

At the end of a New Year’s Eve traffic stop on Interstate 94 in St. Paul, State Patrol Sgt. Carrie Rindal rammed Salter’s 2001 Toyota Sienna van, causing $1,500 damage to his vehicle, and arrested him at gunpoint while his three children, ages 2, 3 and 6, sat in the van. His wife had to pick up the kids as he was taken to jail.

Rindal said Salter was attempting to flee. He said he was merely looking for a safe place to pull over.

The county attorney decided that the evidence from the dashboard camera suggests that Salter was not trying to flee but to find a safe place to pull over (just as Salter said). The video of the incident can be viewed here (If I can figure out a way to embed the video, I will post it here later). From what I see, Salter made three mistakes: speeding, changing lanes without signaling, and getting out of his van once the van came to a stop*. If it were me, I would have slowed down, turned on my hazard lights to indicate that I will pull over in a safe location, and wait to give the officer a piece of my mind when she approached the window with my hands in plain view on the steering wheel.

It shouldn’t be unreasonable for a motorist to look for a safer place to pull over than the shoulder of a highway. If I were in Salter’s position, I would have also taken the nearest exit to pull over.

Why?

Watch this video and then tell me how pulling over onto the shoulder is a good idea:

I would rather take my chances being pulled over by Sgt. Rindal but it’s very unsettling the thought that I might have to choose between doing the safe thing and going to jail.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

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Render Unto Caesar Whatever The Hell He Wants

Commit a crime? No? Have a reason to carry a lot of cash? Yes? Don’t expect to hang onto it:

Over at the poker forum Two Plus Two, pro poker player David Peat writes that he was essentially mugged by DEA agents at an airport in Toledo, Ohio.

According to Peat, he and his girlfriend had originally planned to fly back to Las Vegas together after visiting her family. But after purchasing their tickets, Peat decided to fly to L.A. to play in a poker game. He bought a last minute, first-class ticket, and paid in cash. That apparently was enough to set off red flags.

Peat says he was accosted by several DEA agents, who asked him questions about who he was and where he was going. He told them he was a poker player, and had $15,000 in cash in his pocket. They first let him go, but then chased him down, and told him he’d need to come with them for questioning. Peat says the agents then confiscated all of his money, as well as his $50,000 Rolex watch. He says they gave him a receipt, and told him to expect more information in the mail.

There’s no corroboration of the story as of yet, but I see no reason why he would make it up… Further, it doesn’t seem entirely out of character for the Federalis.

Now, I’ll admit that someone traveling with $15K in cash is a bit suspicious. That doesn’t make him a drug dealer, though. It seems to me that he had a pretty simple explanation for carrying so much cash — in his job as a high-stakes poker player, he needs it. And the link Radley Balko found suggests that he could support his story rather easily. Notwithstanding whether the IRS might have an issue with him, the DEA has no reason to. Yet all that didn’t matter. His cash is now in their hands, and he’s likely going to have to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that it’s not drug related. Considering that his poker opponents probably didn’t give him receipts for their losses, that might not be easy to do.

For David Peat, I wish him luck recovering his assets from the DEA. For the agents, I wish upon them a punishment far worse than living in Toledo. Something about losing an extremity in a freak x-ray machine accident sounds about right.

Dumbass and Authoritarians Among Us

Here are a few choice comments in response to a recent post where I argued that Ramos and Compean should not receive presidential pardons. I was aware that this was a very unpopular position to take (even among libertarians) but I was stunned and disturbed by the tone of some of the comments. I’ll let these comments speak for themselves.

It is my hope, to all you ACLU types, that an illegal drug running pimp dosn’t stop at your place of residence. After all the drug lord was only looking to put food on his families table.

Who cares if he was shot in the A$$, once again what does that prove. It proves he was shot in the A$$. So what!!! You insane pot smokin, red diaper doper babies would take the illegals side. After all his culture is far superior to ours. Why wouldn’t we want him and his countries poverty, corruption, sewage fertalizer, rampid drunk driving, rapes, and MS 13 here. It would make things so much better here. We have gone from the melting pot to the chamber pot thanks to all you ilk.

Comment by Michael — January 8, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

oh..and…too bad they didn’t blow the slimeball’s brains out! The ONLY crime Ramos and Campeon are ‘guilty’ of is not being better shots! How about this: Give them raises, Give them promotions, and teach them to shoot STRAIGHTER!

Comment by Petra — January 17, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

WAAAAA Get over it, they should have killed the dam drug dealer, They did make a mistake but with the Green card the DEMOCRAPS gave to Davila to yet again bring drugs to the USA again, not as an illegal but as a resident alien, wich is worse? I dont get you guys. No drug dealer is ever without a weapon of some sort.

In cases where there are drugs in the quantities like this case, “judge, jury, and executioner” is fine with me.

Comment by John — January 19, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

Brian, I’m guessing you work in a very safe, predictable environment, free from any real dangers. I know I do. That is why I can’t imagine what these BP agents go through on a daily basis.

There are very real dangers they face every day, and that certainly colors their world and perception of interfacing with other people. I personally am relieved that Pres Bush has commuted their sentences, and like a previous poster, am saddened only that he did not fully pardon them. They ARE heroes. They protect our country daily from scum bag, law breaking thugs that don’t care one bit for a civilzed society complete with rules and humanity.

Against the law to shoot unarmed criminals?!? So every criminal out there that can outrun the police should be allowed to just “run away” from authority to freedom, just because he doesn’t carry a gun? Ridiculous. That’s ok though, because I know there are BP agents out there along with thousands of other brave soldiers of freedom protecting our borders who continue to do their jobs to keep us safe, despite whiny verbally abusive pansies like you sitting in your safe little world sipping your cosmopolitans and spewing liberal rhetoric around like so much poison.

By the way, if you want to call me to talk politics, you won’t need to “press 1? for English. This is America; English IS OUR LANGUAGE. If you want any other language, go the Hell back to your own country!

Comment by Dennis — January 19, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

I say shoot these lazy bastards [illegal immigrants] BEFORE they infect us. What’s the problem with that? I don’t see any. And YES, pot is illegal. I don’t care how innocuous you think it may be to smoke it – it’s ILLEGAL. And smuggling it into the country is illegal and needs to be answered with any force necessary to stop it. BTW, I think many drugs that are now illegal should be legal, but until they are anyone who knowingly is involved with ANY aspect of drug use or trafficking does not deserve any sympathy or benefit of the doubt. He drove a truck into our country with 750 lbs of marijuana in it. That’s a fact and he’s an idiot. I wish the BP agents would have been a better shot and made a fatal shot.

Comment by Dennis — January 20, 2009 @ 5:26 am

Here was another response, this time to the follow-up post I wrote after President Bush commuted Ramos and Compean’s sentences.

Yet another example of the idiotic media “journalists” who publish opinion as fact. You disgust me. Here’s hoping you also have a “close encounter” with the drug smuggling illegal MY U.S. border patrol agents shot.

Comment by Daphne — January 20, 2009 @ 7:06 am

Apparently I’m not the only one at The Liberty Papers who attracts authoritarian loons. Stephen* Gordon had one commenter who doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the possibility that average Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights were routinely violated during the Bush Administration:

I’m always amused by those who fret over privacy. Just exactly what are these people afraid of? What could the Feds possibly learn that they would even care about? Do people really believe that those overworked surveilance people have the slightest interest in what some yokel in Kansas is doing? Paranoia seems to almost a national disease in this country. No wonder we can’t compete in the world – we’re worried about meaningless crap and ignore what’s important.

Comment by kent beuchert — January 22, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

So you may ask: “So you have some nutty people posting nutty comments on your posts…what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that these people vote in elections and serve on juries! Is it really any wonder we find ourselves losing more and more of our liberties? This is the mentality we are fighting against.

On a more positive note, there were also some very well-reasoned arguments by others who responded to these posts. “Brian” (from the first post) was relentlessly attacked for defending the crazy notion that suspects should be considered “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s my hope that there are a few more Brians out there than this small sample of random, (mostly) anonymous, fools.

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Two Legal Standards in VA: One for the Cops and One for the People

From Pete Eyre of Bureaucrash:

This past Friday afternoon when coming home from work I noticed a cop car parked in a no parking zone. I contemplated just walking by to start enjoying some down time but concluded that if I don’t speak up, even against such trivial law-breaking, who else would?

As you’ll see in the video below, despite having received a complaint by a citizen (me) the responding officer failed to hold his fellow officer to the same standard that he stated he would if a civilian engaged in similar activity. And rather than apologizing for blatantly breaking the law, the officer who parked in the no parking zone thanked me by following me on foot – actions that unsurprisingly made me just a bit uncomfortable.

I share this video to document not just this situation but the mindset that unfortunately is all-too prevalent in policing today. And to hopefully help hold accountability those who swear an oath to uphold the law but who in practice – at least in this case – are willing to not only flaunt that law but intimidate those who question them.

Here’s the video:

Bush Caves, Commutes Sentences for Ramos and Compean

Well, maybe I should say he partially caved. With less than 24 hours left in his presidency, Bush decided to commute Ramos and Compean’s sentences rather than granting full pardons.

The Associated Press reports that the president chose to commute their sentences because he agreed with the court’s finding that the men broke the law but also believed the mandatory minimum sentences were too harsh. They had “suffered enough” from temporarily losing their freedom, their jobs and their reputations. Ramos and Compean’s prison terms will expire on March 20th but will be required to pay their fines and their three-year supervised release term will also remain in effect.

For the reasons I have previously stated, I am very disappointed that President Bush commuted the sentences of these two men. Ramos and Compean deserve to be in prison for at least a decade. It seems to me that President Bush gave in to the pressure to satisfy the last 20% of Americans who otherwise actually approve of how he has governed over the last 8 years.

Having said that, I am pleased that Ramos and Compean’s crimes will remain on their records and am hopeful that neither will ever have the ability to work in law enforcement on any level in the future. Of course there is always the possibility that they will have their own talk shows on talk radio or Fox News Channel.

Let’s just hope that others in law enforcement don’t get the idea that they can shoot first but be forgiven later if the suspect happens to be a criminal.

Supreme Court Takes Middle School Strip Search Case

More than a year ago, I wrote about an Arizona middle school student who was strip searched by school officials after being caught with Advil, a legal non-prescription, over-the-counter pain reliever, in her possession.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and determine whether her parents can pursue a claim against the school district:

The strip-search case was brought by the mother of Savana Redding, who in 2003 was an eighth-grade student at a public middle school in Safford, Ariz. Another student, found with ibuprofen pills in violation of a strict school policy, said Savana had given them to her.

School officials searched Savana’s belongings, made her strip to her bra and underwear, and ordered her, in the words of an appeals court, “to pull her bra out to the side and shake it” and “pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it.” No pills were found. The pills that prompted the search had the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules.

A trial judge dismissed the parent’s case against the school officials, ruling that they were immune from suit. After a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision, the full appeals court agreed to a rehearing. By 6 to 5, a larger panel of the court reversed the decision, saying the suit could go forward against the assistant principal who had ordered the search.

“It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority, quoting a decision in another case. “More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting, said the case was in some ways “a close call,” given the “humiliation and degradation” Savana had endured. But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.”

“I would find this search constitutional,” he wrote, “and would certainly forgive the Safford officials’ mistake as reasonable.”

The more important question, though, is what business school officials had in conducting a strip search to begin with. Isn’t that something that should have been done by a police officer with a search warrant issued on probable cause ?

Former Police Officer to Face Murder Charges in BART Shooting

San Francisco Chronicle:

Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer arrested on suspicion of murdering an unarmed passenger on an Oakland train platform early New Year’s Day, waived extradition at a Nevada hearing and will be returned to Alameda County sometime today…

[…]

The ex-officer is being held in connection with the shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward who was lying facedown after being pulled off a BART train by police investigating a fight.

[…]

The shooting, which was recorded by passengers in videos widely circulated on the Internet and television, prompted public outrage, and some viewers said that the shooting appeared to be an execution. Some city and community leaders have joined protesters in denouncing BART’s handling of the investigation.

The videos below show the shooting in question from two separate vantage points. The first video was taken from a passenger inside the train using a cell phone video camera.

WARNING: This video is disturbing.

This second video, also taken from a cell phone, was taken by someone who was on the platform at the time of the shooting. This perspective does a better job of giving some insight to the chaos surrounding the event. Unfortunately, the camera’s attention is taken by another person being arrested as Johannes Mehserle fatally shoots Oscar Grant.

While I understand that these videos only tell part of the story and that the police officer should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, I can’t for the life of my understand why he felt the need to draw his weapon and fire. Yes, the suspect was apparently resisting arrest but it appears that the officers had control of the situation and at no point does it appear that Grant presented any realistic threat warranting lethal force.

Some speculate that Mehserle intended to reach for his tazer but accidently reached for his sidearm. Even if this were the case, I have difficulty believing that this situation even warranted the use of a tazer.

Soon this case will be in the hands of a jury. Between these very disturbing videos and the number of witnesses just a few feet away, it certainly does not look too good for the former police officer.

Ramos and Compean Should NOT be Pardoned

As the Bush era comes to a close, the list of last minute pardon requests are growing. Perhaps the loudest demand for pardon comes (mostly) from Conservatives who are angry that President Bush has not acted to pardon two Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean. Those who demand the pardon claim that the agents were railroaded by an “overzealous” U.S. Attorney for “just doing their jobs” when the agents fired 15 shots, one of which hit a fleeing “drug smuggling illegal immigrant” Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks. If you Google “Ramos and Compean” you will find an endless number of articles which make some variation of this argument.

If this were a case of two Border Patrol Agents “just doing their jobs” acting in self defense, then I too would be demanding a pardon for these men. Inconvenient facts which are left out of almost all of these articles point to exactly why Ramos and Compean should NOT be pardoned. A January 29, 2007 article written by Andrew McCarthy for The National Review (not what I would consider a left-leaning or open borders type publication) offers a compelling counterpoint challenging the heroic and mythical image being bandied about of the two Border Patrol Agents:

The preponderance of the evidence established that Aldrete-Davila was unarmed. Besides Compean and Ramos, there were several other agents on the scene. None of them believed Aldrete-Davila posed a threat to their safety; none, other than the two defendants drew their weapons; and Compean and Ramos neither took cover nor alerted their fellow agents to do so.

More to the point, Compean admitted to investigators early on that the smuggler had raised his hands, palms open, in an attempt to surrender. This jibed not only with Aldrete-Davila’s account but with that of another Border Patrol agent. Compean opted not to take surrender, not to place the smuggler under arrest so he could be prosecuted.

On that score, for those over-heatedly analogizing the border to a battlefield, it is worth noting that even under the law of war, quarter must be given when it is sought. Compean, to the contrary, tried to strike Aldrete-Davila with the butt of his shotgun. But it turns out the agent was as hapless as he was malevolent. In the assault, he succeeded only in losing his own balance. The smuggler, naturally, took off again, whereupon Compean unleashed an incompetent fuselage — missing Aldrete-Davila with all fourteen shots.

It was only after the surrender attempt that Ramos opened fire as the unarmed smuggler neared the border. Defending his decision to bring the case, U.S. attorney Sutton later explained: “Border Patrol training allows for the use of deadly force when an agent reasonably fears imminent bodily injury or death. An agent is not permitted to shoot an unarmed suspect who is running away.” The fact that Aldrete-Davila was a drug-dealer — something the agents may have suspected but had not yet confirmed at the time they were shooting at him — did not justify the responsive use of potentially deadly force under standard law-enforcement rules of engagement.

Even Ramos and Compean’s supporters acknowledge that the agents shot at a fleeing suspect rather than a suspect trying to cause injury or death. Do they really want to make every law enforcement officer in the country judge, jury, and executioner and grant the right to use lethal force against a fleeing supect*? After all, forcing law enforcement to obey the law makes their jobs “more difficult”!

McCarthy continues to perhaps the most damning part of Ramos and Compean’s actions – the cover-up:

Once Aldrete-Davila was down from Ramos’s shot to the backside, they decided, for a second time, not to grab him so he could face justice for his crimes. As they well knew, an arrest at that point — after 15 shots at a fleeing, unarmed man who had tried to surrender — would have shone a spotlight on their performance. So instead, they exacerbated the already shameful display.

Instead of arresting the wounded smuggler, they put their guns away and left him behind. But not before trying to conceal the improper discharge of their firearms. Compean picked up and hid his shell-casings rather than leaving the scene intact for investigators. Both agents filed false reports, failing to record the firing of their weapons though they were well aware of regulations requiring that they do so. Because the “heroes” put covering their tracks ahead of doing their duty, Aldrete-Davila was eventually able to limp off to a waiting car and escape into Mexico.

Whaaaat? But I thought this “drug smuggling illegal immigrant” was a threat to national security? If the agents’ actions were justified, why would they not arrest the suspect and why would they feel the need to cover-up their actions? Were they afraid that the “overzealous” Sutton had an axe to grind against the Border Patrol?

Toward the beginning of his article, McCarthy points out that Sutton had an impressive record of prosecuting coyotes and drug smugglers and supporting the efforts of the Border Patrol. There have even been other cases on Sutton’s watch where agents used lethal force which resulted in fatalities. Because these agents responded appropriately in these cases – using deadly force when there were legitimate threats to the lives of others on the part of the suspects, Sutton’s office did not pursue charges.

On January 17, 2007, Sutton published a press release on official U.S. Department of Justice Letterhead in an attempt to separate “Myth vs. Reality” regarding this case. Within this document contains perhaps the best argument for why the president should not pardon these men:

These agents were found guilty by a unanimous jury in a United States District Court after a trial that lasted more than two and a half weeks.

The two agents were represented by experienced and aggressive trial attorneys, both of whom vigorously challenged the Government’s evidence through cross examination.

Both agents told their stories from the witness stand and had full opportunities to explain their version of events and to offer their own evidence. The jury heard everything including the defendants’ claims of self defense. The problem for Agents Compean and Ramos is that the jury did not believe their stories because they were not true.

Being government agents, Ramos and Compean probably received a better legal defense than the average criminal defendant. They had their day in court and they lost. Their legal team appealed the convictions and they lost again. This is hardly the miscarriage of justice that the pro pardon people would have us believe; this is an example of the system actually working the way it’s supposed to!

Ramos and Compean’s supporters do have at least a couple of somewhat legitimate gripes though. One being the length of the sentences (11 and 12 years) and the other being use of testimony on the part of a criminal who has something to gain (in this case, Aldrete-Davila himself). But these complaints should not be directed at Sutton or the trial judge.

The blame for the length of the sentence belongs properly to the mandatory minimum sentencing law passed by congress which requires a ten year sentence for unlawful discharge of a firearm while committing a crime (this ten year sentence is in addition to whatever other crimes the defendant is convicted of). While I believe that the sentences are appropriate in this case, I am opposed to mandatory minimum sentencing laws on principle. Judges should have the discretion to decide the appropriate punishment not a one-size-fits-all penalty regardless of any unique circumstances in a unique event.

And allowing Aldrete-Dalvia to testify against Ramos and Compean with full immunity? This is standard operating procedure. Prosecutors use informants who have a motive to testify against defendants every day in this country. Why should we be surprised that Sutton would use Aldrete-Dalvia as his star witness? If this approach is appropriate for the average defendant then it is certainly appropriate when those sworn to serve and protect abuse the public’s trust.

But don’t expect Conservatives to start demanding a repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing laws nor expect them to consider criminal justice reform. To them this case is not about two rogue law enforcement agents but about immigration and drug policy. The facts do not matter because the guys with the badges are always the good guys and their judgment is better than due process of law.

Certainly there are many miscarriages of justice which could be rectified with a presidential pardon (*cough* *cough* Cory Maye *cough* *cough*) but the case of Ramos and Compean is not such a case…no matter where one stands on immigration and drug policy. Hopefully neither President Bush nor President-Elect Barack Obama will give in to the mindless demands of this misguided and vocal mob.

***CORRECTION***

Quincy pointed out that the president cannot pardon individuals who have been convicted of crimes in violation of state or local laws but only federal laws. Cory Maye was found guilty under Mississippi law, not federal law. My understanding has always been that the president could pardon anyone for committing any crime in the U.S.

A careful reading of Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, however; seems to say otherwise:

[The president] shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

I also decided to do some additional research on the topic of presidential pardons to determine if the phrase “against the United States” applied to state and local law. HowStuffWorks? has a very informative article which explains how presidential pardons work. In chapter 5 “What a Pardon Does Not Do” I found my answer:

One limitation is that a pardon cannot be issued for a crime that has not yet been committed. Pardons also don’t affect civil cases, or state or local cases. Pardons are meant to dismiss sentences stemming from affronts to the United States through the breaking of laws.

Unfortunately, this means that Quincy is right: the president couldn’t pardon Cory Maye even if he wanted to.

* Think about it: if you surrendered to law enforcement and one of the officers try to hit you with the butt of a shotgun, do you think you might try to run away?

25 More Reasons for Criminal Justice Reform

20 months ago I wrote a post (click here) to recognize the successful efforts of The Innocence Project in exonerating 200 wrongly convicted (14 of which were on death row). In the time between that post and this one, the Innocence Project has helped 25 more wrongfully convicted regain their freedom! If this trend continues, we could see 275+ wrongfully convicted set free by the organization’s 20th anniversary in 2012. While this is all very good news for these individuals and their families, much more needs to be done to prevent others from being victimized by the state.

Many states offer nothing with regard to compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Of those which do, the IRS insists on collecting taxes from this compensation (a complete moral outrage). The Innocence Project is working to correct this injustice.

25 states do not have laws which require forensic evidence to be preserved post conviction. For those who wish to appeal and challenge their convictions, the chances of proving their innocence are much dimmer. One of the main reasons these states refuse to preserve biological evidence is the costs associated with storage.*

There are many other reforms which need to be made with regard to the use of informants (who have an incentive to tell the authorities what they want to hear to shorten their sentences), government fraud and misconduct, and unsound science (among other needed reforms).

I would also submit that it is time to revisit the issue of the death penalty. We now have 225** reasons to demand a national moratorium on the death penalty; 225 cases where the system failed, convicted the wrong person, and allowed the real perpetrators walk free. Even one innocent person killed by the state is too many.

In closing, the following is statistical data about the 225 exonerations In the Innocence Project’s winter 2008 Newsletter: The Innocence Project in Print.

Innocence by the Numbers: Eyewitness Misidentification

Percentage of wrongful convictions cases later overturned through DNA testing that involved eyewitness misidentifications 76%

Percentage of those misidentifications that were cross-racial 51%

Percentage of those cross-racial misidentification cases where a Caucasian witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of an African-American or Latino defendant 90%

Percentage where an African-American or Latino witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of a Caucasian defendant 1%

Percentage of all the misidentification cases where eyewitness testimony was the central evidence used against the defendant (without other contributing evidence like false confessions, invalid or improper forensic science, or snitch testimony) 20%

Percentage where more than one eyewitness misidentified the same innocent defendant 37%

Highest number of eyewitnesses misidentifying the same innocent defendant 10

States where eyewitness misidentifications have contributed to a wrongful conviction 32

States that have passed reforms to improve eyewitness identification procedures 7

States Legislatures considering eyewitness identification reforms for 2009 12 and the District of Columbia

» Read more

ABC Shows Us Just How Little Anti-Terrorism The Homeland Security Apparatus Does

Reality TV junkie? Also a State-worshipper? Then you’re in luck!

Every day the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security patrol more than 100,000 miles of America’s borders. This territory includes airports, seaports, land borders, international mail centers, the open seas, mountains, deserts and even cyberspace. Now viewers will get an unprecedented look at the work of these men and women while they use the newest technology to safeguard our country and enforce our laws, in “Homeland Security USA,” which debuts with the episode “This is Your Car on Drugs,”

How much of this “epic” TV show will actually have to do with terrorism? Will this finally belie the claim that the Department of Homeland Security was created with purely “keeping us safe from evildoers” as it’s mandate, or will it be another dose of soma “reality television” for the unquestioning masses. Bear in mind, that’s a rhetorical question, we all know the answer is the latter.

California Taking All The Fun Out Of Driving

First, no phone calls unless they’re hands-free. Now, no texts or emails on my Crackberry…

Starting January 1, 2009 a new law will go into effect where writing, sending, or reading a text-based communication while driving will be against the law for all drivers in California.

This new law applies to electronic wireless communications devices used to manually communicate with any person using text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail.

Violating this law is punishable by a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. With the addition of penalty assessments, fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

I suppose this won’t apply to those enforcing the law, though.

Government Reefer Madness Update: Lynch Receives 100 Year Sentence

This is an update to a post I wrote in late June. Maybe its time to propose some sort of “fully informed jury” legislation and demand a return to federalism?

Barr Weighs in on No-Knock Raids

I didn’t see the press release from the Bob Barr campaign when I wrote yesterday’s post so I thought I would pass along some of his thoughts on the issue today. The case Barr is specifically referring to is the recent raid in Berwyn Heights, Maryland. Here are a few excerpts:

“Absent exigent circumstances, not present here, so-called no-knock raids are an affront to the Constitution,” explains Barr. “So is a shoot first, ask questions later philosophy by the police. Yet the Prince George’s police have done this before—last fall they invaded a house at the wrong address and shot the family dog. All Americans are at risk when the police behave this way. Just ask yourself what might happen if a suspicious package is delivered to your home and the cops bust in,” says Barr.

“But there is an even larger point. Law enforcement agencies have become more arrogant and less accountable in cases other than those involving drugs. Most people are aware of well-publicized examples like Waco and Ruby Ridge, but similar abuses are common across the country, though they usually receive little or no public notice,” notes Barr. “We all want police to do their jobs well, but part of doing their job well is respecting the people’s constitutional liberties.”

“As president I will ensure that federal law enforcement agencies set a good example for the rest of the country,” says Barr. “In a Barr administration, government officials will never forget that it is a free people they are protecting.”

It’s nice to see a presidential candidate address this issue. Clearly, the phenomenon of no-knock raids isn’t on John McCain’s or Barack Obama’s radar at this time.

A Tale of Two Drug Raids

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For those who wore the badge, they could do no wrong. For the “badge-nots,” they could do no right.

I only wish this was a work of fiction but it is not. When it comes to drug raids (often no-knock raids), suspects (whether guilty or innocent) are treated with a different standard when a life is taken by mistake. Cory Maye was convicted for defending his home whenever the slain intruder turned out to be Officer Ron Jones who was serving a warrant.

But what happens when the police shoot the wrong person?

The AP reported on August 5, 2008 that Sgt. Joseph Chavalia was found “not guilty” on counts of negligent homicide and negligent assault which resulted in the death of Tarika Wilson and the loss of a finger of her year-old son. Wilson was carrying her son and was unarmed.

Wilson’s boyfriend was the target of the raid as he was a suspected drug dealer.

The AP article Officers cheer police shooting verdict in Lima* demonstrates this double standard and is ripe for a thorough fisking.

A jury verdict that cleared a police officer in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed woman will allow other officers to do their job without hesitation, police union officials said.

Is the police union advocating a “shoot now, ask questions later” policy? If this is the lesson the Lima Police Department is getting from this verdict, then I am very frightened for the residents of Lima (or residents anywhere in the U.S. for that matter). I thought that the police were supposed to identify their target before shooting; this would necessarily require some hesitation.

Officers throughout the state closely watched the trial, fearing that a guilty judgment would have changed how they react in the line of fire.

If police officers are afraid of being in this situation here’s an idea: how about not raiding a person’s home whenever there is no immediate threat of danger to others? (such as a hostage situation). Also, before police officers “react in the line of fire” there ought to be “a line of fire.” In this instance, no shots were ever fired by anyone other than the police.

Jurors on Monday acquitted Sgt. Joseph Chavalia on charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault in the death of Tarika Wilson seven months ago. Her year-old son also was injured.

Compare the charges against Sgt. Joseph Chavalia versus the charges against Cory Maye**. For the police officer, the death penalty or life in prison wasn’t even on the table. Had Chavalia been convicted on both counts, he would have served a maximum of eight months in jail. For Cory Maye (a civilian), a person who just as Sgt. Chavalia did, shot someone who he thought was a threat when he pulled the trigger, received the death penalty!***

According to the prosecution in Maye’s case, an individual cannot claim self defense unless s/he has identified the target. Here’s an excerpt from the State’s closing argument in the case:

“If you take everything he [Cory Maye] said as being true, he’s at least guilty of murder. He just shoots in the direction of the noise without looking, without calling out, without doing anything. I submit to you that’s totally unreasonable. But if you take what he says to be true, he’s at the very least guilty of murder.”

When a citizen “just shoots” “without looking” its murder but when a police officer shoots because s/he is “reacting in the line of fire” its “Oh well, shit happens” (as his/her fellow police officer cheer when the verdict reads “not guilty.”)

The article continues:

Chavalia had testified that he thought his life was in danger when he fired the shots. He said he saw a shadow coming from behind the partially open bedroom door and heard gunshots that he thought were aimed at him.

It turned out that Wilson didn’t have a weapon and that the gunfire Chavalia heard was coming from downstairs, where officers shot two charging pit bulls.

I wonder what would happen if a citizen shot a police dog if s/he were threatened?

Prosecutor Jeffrey Strausbaugh repeatedly pointed out during the trial that Wilson was shot even though she didn’t have a gun.

But jurors were told by visiting Judge Richard Knepper during jury instructions that they could not consider the fact that she was unarmed because that was known only after the shooting.

Citing a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that set guidelines for use of force by police, the jurors were told they could only judge Chavalia’s actions based on what he was aware of when he fired into the bedroom where Wilson was with her six children.

Once again: one standard for the police and one for the citizen. If the Judge in Cory Maye’s case had given similar instructions to that jury, we probably wouldn’t even know Cory Maye’s name.

“It was an important distinction and one that had to be upheld,” said Michael Watkins, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Lima.

“If the rules are changed, officers are going to react later,” Watkins said. “You’re going to have them hesitating, and there are more who are going to be injured or killed.”

Ugh. What can I say that I haven’t already? All I am asking is that the rules are the same for the citizen as the police. Is that really too much to ask?

During the trial, a Columbus SWAT officer and a retired FBI agent both testified that Chavalia had no choice but to shoot because he thought his life was in danger. They also said Chavalia should have fired sooner.

“Thank God it wasn’t me there and every officer feels the same way,” said James Scanlon, who has been with the Columbus police since 1978.

Watkins, who joined the Lima department a year before Chavalia in 1976, said he understands why Chavalia shot after hearing the gunfire.

“I knew there had to be more to it,” he said. “Joe isn’t a trigger happy officer.”

And I am sure that those who shoot police officers attempting to defend their homes aren’t trigger happy either. It seems to me that it doesn’t much matter if the intruder is a police officer or a violent criminal busting down your door. Either way, your life is in grave danger.

The verdict further angered Wilson’s family and others in Lima’s black community.

“The message I got out of all this is that it’s OK for police to go and kill in a drug raid,” said Arnold Manley, pastor of Pilgrim Rescue Missionary Baptist Church.

That message couldn’t be clearer if it was up in neon lights in Times Square.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Toledo, Wilson’s mother said police could have waited until the woman and her children were out of the house to try and arrest Wilson’s boyfriend, Anthony Terry, the target of the raid.

No they couldn’t. That would make too much sense. If they would have chosen a more peaceful method, they wouldn’t have been able to wear their spiffy paramilitary SWAT gear.

The shooting on Jan. 4 led to protests about how police treat minorities in the city where one in four residents is black. Chavalia is white and Wilson was black.

Chavalia’s lead attorney, Bill Kluge, said he thinks the only reason the officer was charged was because of the reaction within the community.

I’m not quite sure what to do with that. I’m not one to play the race card but how in the hell did Chavalia get a jury in 2008 without a single black person serving?

“Had this case waited two or three months going to the grand jury, it might have been different,” he said.

I know that the public has a short attention span but this is insulting. The citizens of Lima are outraged because of this double standard I’ve described here.

Chavalia’s career with the city’s police department is essentially over despite the verdict, Kluge said. He would not say what the officer planned to do next.

I should hope so! Whatever Chavalia decides to do next, it shouldn’t have anything at all to do with law enforcement.

Related by others:

Reason TV’s Drew Carey Project “Mississippi Drug War Blues

The Agitator “Police Militarization

» Read more

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