When Cops Invoke

The killing of Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams in a hail of 137 bullets at the end of a car chase gave rise to a generic question, why do car chases so often end with death, even after the chase is over?  But now that Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, a new question is raised: why won’t the other cops present testify against him?

A seventh police officer invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Thursday in the voluntary manslaughter trial of fellow Cleveland officer Michael Brelo.

Officer Erin O’Donnell, who participated in the Nov. 29, 2012 police chase and shootings that resulted in charges against Brelo, entered the courtroom with her attorney, Mark Stanton. Prosecutors asked her if she had told investigators the “whole story” of what happened on the night of Nov. 29, 2012, at which point O’Donnell invoked her Fifth Amendment right.

The answer puts the question back in the court of the prosecutors, as it raises the question of why they didn’t indict the other officers as well, or why they won’t confer immunity on the witnesses, thus taking away their right to invoke the Fifth. Continue reading

Crazy Force On Crazy People

Jails have become de facto repositories for people suffering mental illness, both because there is nowhere else to warehouse them and, well, they tend to break laws because they lack the ability to control their conduct.

Sure, their conduct may be harmful, and those who are on the receiving end may well appreciate that there are means to deal with the harm, but most of us would concede they need help rather than punishment if public safety and rationality are the goals. Except in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the Sheriff, Stacey Kincaid, was far more concerned with the rat on her team who revealed how they killed 37-year-old Natasha McKenna.

Natasha McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.

Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair, the reports show.

Continue reading

Fast And Furious Is No Way To Run A Courthouse

When the New Yorker published the travesty of Kalief Browder, an innocent youth lost to a system that couldn’t have cared less about him, it made an impact on those whose job it’s supposed to be to prevent this from happening.  And after wringing their hands, they put together a scheme to make a rusty, broken machine run again.

The justice system plan announced this week by Mr. de Blasio and Judge Lippmann calls for judges to prioritize the cases of the 1,500 or so people who have been held for more than a year without being convicted. The goal is to resolve half of those cases within six months. Cases that cannot be disposed of by plea bargain will be assigned a fixed trial date.

Well, baby steps at least.  That there are 1500 people in custody for more than a year who are innocent is a problem, though not as much as it would be if they had been detained for three years, like Browder.  And they are innocent, because under our jurisprudence, everyone is innocent until they have been convicted.

And that number doesn’t touch those who are out on bail or their own recognizance, but laboring under the threat of conviction and imprisonment.  Think about applying for a new job with a monthly court appearance hanging over your head, not to mention trial should the day ever finally come, and, worse still, incarceration afterward.  Unsurprisingly, many employers are less than sympathetic to such circumstances. But I digress. Continue reading

David Aylor’s Deep Hole Just Got Deeper (Video Update!)

Following his agreement to be interviewed about his very public announcement that he was no longer Michael Slager’s lawyer, David Aylor was taken to task for his “artful” attempt to claim he wasn’t condemning his client while throwing him under the bus.  A few lawyers didn’t grasp why this wasn’t cool, but most found the conduct outrageous.

Bad enough? Sure, but as subsequent reports demonstrate, it was only the beginning.

SLED agents arrived at the scene at 10:29 a.m. April 4, about 51 minutes after Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager fatally shot Scott in the back as Scott ran away. They later asked Slager to answer some questions.

“When our investigators spoke with … Slager at the scene, he said he was represented by an attorney,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Tuesday. “We stopped questioning him and contacted his attorney.”

Continue reading

Blame The Booze, Not The Age

The argument back in the 1960s and early 1970s was that if a young man was old enough to die for his country in the rice paddies of Vietnam, he was old enough to sip a beer before they buried him.  And indeed, the argument had sufficient appeal that most states reduced the drinking age, as well as the voting age and age of majority, to 18.

When I arrived at college, a brash 17-year-old who had long since gotten a ridiculously bad fake ID in Times Square showing I was of the requisite age, there was a bar in the student union.  A bunch of us from my freshman dorm headed straight over after dinner, and bonded.  We were not, at first, particularly responsible drinkers, but then, we were mere steps away from home.  And so night after night, we stumbled and survived to drink another day.

In due time, the novelty wore off and we became more responsible drinkers, though I suspect a great many happy times for all occurred in the interim.  At the very least, we all had a great time and nobody died of alcohol poisoning or was accused of rape.

At Reason, Robby Soave argues that the 1986 change in law, where states were coerced to raise the drinking age to 21 or lose federal highway funds, has given rise to a plethora of terribles today. Continue reading

The Walter Scott Murder: Not Even The Stop Was “Righteous” (Update)

Edit: What follows is, I regret to say, wrong. As reflected in the update below, my commentary was premised on a mistake of law, for which I apologize.  Unlike police officers, my mistake is not worthy of forgiveness, and I do not want any reader to be made stupider by my error.


To the extent those who seek to trivialize North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager’s killing of Walter Scott can find some comfort, it was that Slager was justified in stopping Scott for a broken tail light.  First out of the box on this claim was former criminal defense lawyer turned shameless TV slut, Geraldo, who argued that this “righteous stop” somehow diminishes the crime of murder:

Putting aside the pandering stupidity of Gerry’s point, it suffers from one huge flaw. He’s wrong.  At Slate, Cristian Farias does what Geraldo failed to do. He did what a good lawyer should do, and looked at the law. Continue reading

Cernovich’s Dangerous Play

I’ve known Mike Cernovich for years, long before he chose to take a stand in Gamergate and became a primary object of hatred for Social Justice Warriors.  His law blog, Crime & Federalism, has been on my blogroll since 2007, and he brought many strong and illuminating points to the fore.  That said, he’s also made clear that he was not ashamed of being a man, or being the man he was.

Not being a gamer, I never became embroiled in Gamergate.  It wasn’t that I shrugged it off out of some reluctance to join in battle, but that I didn’t know or understand enough about the issues to bring anything useful to the discussion.  I had nothing illuminating to offer, and there were others who were far more knowledgeable and involved.  I chose not to be that dilettante.

Cerno, on the other hand, leaped into the middle of it, mostly under his twitter handle of @PlayDangerously, and at his other blog, Danger & Play.  As he did before, he owned his opinions, for better or worse, and became a target for hatred and revulsion by SJWs.  As the target, he gets cool twits from random people like this: Continue reading

Parents Walk On The Wild Side

Lenore Skenazy, who has been called the “World’s Worst Mom” for believing, and acting upon the belief, that children shouldn’t be bubble-wrapped, and instead should be given the freedom to do kid stuff even if there is a one in ten million chance that space aliens might zoom down and snatch ‘em, brought attention to the plight of Danielle and Sasha Meitivs’ two children, ages 6 and 10.

It seems the Meitivs’ kids were snatched. No, not by child predators. Not even by space aliens. But by the police.  Again. Radley Balko explains:

Meanwhile, the Maryland couple harassed by Child Protective Services earlier this year for letting their kids walk home alone just had another frightening encounter with the agency.

Danielle and Sasha Meitiv’s children, ages 6 and 10, were picked up by police on Sunday at around 5 p.m., and taken to Child Protective Services. A neighbor apparently saw the children walking alone and called 911 to report it.

Continue reading

An Old Man Playing Fantasy Cop With A Real Gun (Update X2)

Just because he was 73 years of age doesn’t mean Bob Bates was beyond playing dress up.  In his case, the fantasy was to pretend he was a cop, and the Tulsa Sheriff’s department offered a guy who just happened to donate enough stuff the chance to strap on a really cool uniform.

But not just a uniform. It came with a gun. A real, working, gun.  A gun with which a guy like Bob Bates, an older fellow who might be scrutinized to determine whether he should be allowed behind the wheel of a car, was provided the chance to shoot and kill another human being.  Via Tulsa World:

Robert Bates, the reserve Tulsa County deputy who fatally shot a man who was in a physical altercation with another deputy last week, has donated thousands of dollars worth of items to the Sheriff’s Office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.

Bates, 73, accidentally shot Eric Harris on Thursday, according to Maj. Shannon Clark, after Harris — the subject of an undercover gun and ammunition buy by the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force — fled from arrest and then fought with a deputy who tackled him. Bates, Clark said, thought he was holding a stun gun when he pulled the trigger.

Continue reading

Garbage In, Garbage Out

The New York Times offers one of its occasional editorials decrying the death penalty by pointing out that nobody wants innocent people executed.

And yet, far too often, people end up on death row after being convicted of horrific crimes they did not commit. The lucky ones are exonerated while they are still alive — a macabre club that has grown to include 152 members since 1973.

The rest remain locked up for life in closet-size cells. Some die there of natural causes; in at least two documented cases, inmates who were almost certainly innocent were put to death.

If the innocent on death row are a macabre club, what about its auxiliary, the tens of thousands of people convicted and imprisoned shy of death by the same system? Continue reading

Big Fish, Small Fish and Sting Rays

Not that anyone paying even a modicum of attention is unaware that there’s a cool box around that mimics cell sites so that it picks up your cellular communications, colloquially referred to as the Sting Ray, but that law enforcement has been using it with reckless abandon and without judicial approval. Ah, good times.

The excuse proffered is that Harris Corp., maker of the cell site simulator, required a non-disclosure agreement of law enforcement, and you know how law enforcement feels so strongly about its duty to uphold the law.  Unfortunately, some judges haven’t gotten with the program, and compelled the disclosure of both the NDA and the technology, causing sad cop tears at the idea that the bad guys will learn about the tradecraft.

Bad news for the cops is good news for the bad dudes?  Ironically, yes, but not for the reason one might expect.  It’s not that the gangsters are busy pouring over the schematics of Sting Rays to figure out how to elude detection, but that the feds are so bent on keeping their spyware from judges and public scrutiny that they would rather cut criminals loose than reveal their voodoo. Continue reading

New York Court of Appeals Abandons The Law

Among the few saving graces of the New York Court of Appeals was its stand-alone protection of constitutional rights.  Not that it was some long-haired hippie throw-back to the Warren Court, but that there was a long tradition of the top court refusing to trot in lock-step with the United States Supreme Court when it came to finding novel excuses to ignore the Bill of Rights, or the local flavor, Article I, § 12 of the New York Constitution.

Say bah-bye, as the Court of Appeals, in an opinion by one of its newest judges, Leslie Stein, capitulated to one of the most doctrinally bizarre and incomprehensible decisions ever issued by the Supremes, Heien v. North Carolina.  So much for New York protecting constitutional rights. So much for New York defending its own Constitution. And reason? Be damned.

Lest anyone forget the brilliance of Heien, the Supreme Court held that a police officer can possess probable cause not only for a mistake of fact, which is disturbing enough, but for a “reasonable” mistake of law. Continue reading