Another Saturday Night In Ferguson

Thursday night saw a calm return to the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.  It didn’t last long.

Hours after Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri imposed a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew on Saturday in this small city, a group of protesters defied the order and violence flared briefly on Sunday morning, after a week of demonstrations over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

A clash between the protesters and dozens of police officers in riot gear began less than 30 minutes after the curfew took effect and ended about 45 minutes later with the arrest of seven people, all charged with “failure to disperse.”

The justification was that there were some people engaged in violence:

Protesters tossed at least one bottle rocket, the police said, and at the sound of apparent gunshots from a restaurant down the street, demonstrators scrambled to safety.

So the rights of all were terminated with extreme prejudice. Continue reading

The Militarization of Movie Theaters

Perhaps the defining feature of crazy people is that they’re unpredictable.  Except in Aurora, Colorado, where United States District Court  Judge R. Brooke Jackson held that the Cinemark Theater where James Holmes committed “madman’s mass murder” during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

From the Denver Post:

Noting “the grim history of mass shootings and mass killings that have occurred in more recent times,” U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that Cinemark — owner of the Century Aurora 16 theater — could have predicted that movie patrons might be targeted for an attack.

What “grim history” would that be?  Are there crazies slaughtering people in theaters all the time?  Is it just Batman movies, just midnight screenings, or does Bambi count?  Regardless, holding that the theater “could have predicted” the act of a madman is akin to saying they could have predicted a meteor shower or abduction by space aliens.  Far more people are harmed by being struck by lightning than by a crazy with a gun, which the judge apparently recognized:

“Although theaters had theretofore been spared a mass shooting incident, the patrons of a movie theater are, perhaps even more than students in a school or shoppers in a mall, ‘sitting ducks,’ ” Jackson wrote.

Continue reading

Putting Their Life On The Line (for minimum wage)

At Law Enforcement Today, Eric Aguiar makes an eminently reasonable, and very scary, proposal:  Arm and properly train TSA officers.  For now, they’re the joke of law enforcement, recruited from pizza boxes, given enough training to be unaware that a driver’s license from the District of Columbia is ‘merican, and paid worse than the gal at the Dairy Queen counter.

And they are on the front line of Terrorist Theater.

Even so, they are out in public, wearing uniforms, giving orders, molesting children, taking a risk.

On November 1, 2013 a TSA officer was shot and killed at point blank range by a rifle at a Los Angeles airport.

If we had to venture and propose a reason as to why TSA was targeted we would surmise that, tactically, it is because they are the only unarmed law enforcement division at the airport and arguably the least trained. Does it make sense to give an unarmed officer an assignment as sensitive as checking for weapons and contraband?

Well no, it doesn’t.  But then, they aren’t there to play junior DEA agent, even though every jerk with a shield dreams of being a hero.  But I digress. Continue reading

The Constitution in Bo Burk’s Hands

It’s a truism that we get the government we deserve, and that’s proven again by the election of Bo Burk as Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District of Tennessee.  Bo who?


Via Gideon at A Public Defender:

Now, who won the election for Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District?

Yep, it’s pro-death penalty, 7-year prosecutor Bo Burk, who, if you zoom in on the image, touts his membership in the NRA as a plus to be the champion of individual rights for the poor and disenfranchised.

But as if that wasn’t enough, he is also a fiscal conservative who will use all resources available to save taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps since he’s never represented a criminal defendant in his life, he might be confused as to where the government largesse in the criminal justice system comes from: it is from over-criminalization and vindictive prosecutions, excessive prison sentences and lengthy terms of probation.

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The Smearing of Michael Brown (Update x2)

There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.

–Sir Joshua Reynolds

The only thing surprising about the press conference held by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson was that it took so long to happen.  It was nearly a week before they pulled the standard tactic that has traditionally held great sway over the hard-of-thinking: Smear the victim.

Maybe it took them that long to come up with “strong-arm robbery” instead of shoplifting, which didn’t sound at all menacing?  Perhaps it was because their initial failure to play the taint card left the Ferguson PD no explanation for why they were pulling it out so late, well after it made any sense to go for the smear, and they couldn’t come up with a story that passed the laugh test?  Maybe they weren’t that shameless?  Nah.

The story is that before Michael Brown was gunned down in the street by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, he and Dorian Johnson shoplifted a box of baby cigars, Swisher Sweets, from a convenience store.  Based on the store’s video, Brown used his size when doing so, giving rise to the “strong arm” language as a show of force.  The kids shoplifted. Bad kids.

But here’s where we need to put this logical and legal trash to the curb.  The taint tactic must die. Continue reading

Just Too Lenient

On September 12, 2008, Erin Evans and her boyfriend, Octavius Bonds, went on a date.

A sweet start to the statement of facts in United States v. Mersed Dautovic, a Des Moines police officer.   The night ended with Bonds hospitalized, head split open, bones protruding through the skin, after being pepper-sprayed and beaten by Dautovic and his partner, John Mailander.

The 8th Circuit’s description of what happened after Evans didn’t move out of the way quickly enough is too vivid to  be captured in summary.  The sweet start to the evening offered little hint that the nightmare to follow wouldn’t end until Evans and Bonds were acquitted at trial.

Curiously, the scenario flipped, as it almost never does, so that a federal prosecution of the police, for the use of excessive force under color of law, and their perjury in the state court trial that obstructed justice, followed.  There is no explanation for how a case that was deemed strong enough to take to trial in state court turned into a prosecution of the police in federal court.  Not that I’m complaining, but the incongruity is astounding.

Mersed Dautovic was convicted after trial.  The sentencing guidelines calculations were unforgiving. Continue reading

Better to be Sentenced by Ostrich or Pigeon? (Update)

Fresh back from trademarking the Sentence-O-Matic 1000, Jake DiMare proudly advised me that this idea wasn’t dead yet, as demonstrated by Judge Richard Kopf’s continued push toward sentencing empiricism.  Oh, that Jake. Oh, that judge.

While yanking Attorney General Eric Holder’s chain for wanting his cake and eating it too, by decrying the use of race as a predictor of recidivism while prisons are filled to the brim with men of color put there on Holder’s watch for living the lifestyle of poor black rather than Attorney General (or president) elite black, the judge proffers an alternative list of factors as predictors.  Notably, race is crossed off the list.

Let’s face it friends, “race” is low-hanging fruit. It is too easy to attack, although the social science data on race when used as a predictive metric for sentencing is not really about genetics (“race”) as a causative factor in crime. It is about being correlated with crime, and there is a huge difference between the two (causation and correlation). But the word “race” is too freighted with the notion of “discrimination,” so let’s just agree for the sake of argument that empirical data on “race” will never be used at sentencing.

And indeed, race is certainly a flash point, despite its utility in what passes as empiricism these days.  So here’s the balance of the list, taken from James C. Oleson’s article on data-driven sentencing. Continue reading

Losing Michael Brown

A black man did something in Ferguson, Missouri, that so many others were incapable of doing.  Someone took a photo of it so we won’t forget.


The man stood there in a police uniform. The normal style, without camouflage, body armor and a helmet and facemask. He carried no heavy armaments. Instead, he held a photograph of a young man, Michael Brown.  The man is Missouri state police Captain Ronald Johnson.  Continue reading

The Constitution? Not In This Court

Subject matter is the sort of thing that doesn’t make it onto the plate of non-lawyers, who properly assume that if they have an argument in support of their own defense, a court will hear and consider it.  This makes perfect sense, so naturally the government has come up with a way to screw with it.

Via Eugene Volokh at WaPo Conspiracy, the 9th Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Szabo:

William J. Szabo was prosecuted for violating a Veterans Administration regulation banning “disturbances” at VA facilities. The panel unanimously found that the regulation was constitutional as applied to Szabo’s speech, “because his conduct involved a ‘true threat’ of violence.” But Szabo also claimed that the speech restriction was unconstitutionally overbroad — something that is generally allowed in First Amendment cases.

Yet the majority held that Szabo couldn’t bring this challenge, because a federal statute expressly provided that such regulations could only be challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Szabo was arguing that the regulation was unconstitutionally overbroad before the federal district court that tried him, and then before the Ninth Circuit; that, the court held, was impermissible. “‘[So long as] Congress provides for a ‘special statutory review proceeding’ in one specific court, challenges to the administrative action must take place in the designated forum.’”

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How Nice That You Don’t Grasp Mental Illness (Update)

The suicide of Robin Williams struck this country hard.  First, because he was so beloved. Second, that his suffering from depression, to the extent that he would take his own live, was unimaginable.  The latter reason isn’t a reflection on Robin Williams, but on us.  When it comes to mental illness, things like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bi-polar disorder, we have maintained a national stupidity bordering on disgrace.

Robin Williams suffered from his own private demons.  That we don’t get it is because we suffer from ignorance.  And to be frank, it’s outrageous and unacceptable that we can perpetuate this national disgrace.  It’s time to grow up.

We persist in this inexplicable image of people who suffer from mental illness balled up in a corner, shaking, maybe drooling, with wild unkempt hair and crazy eyes, until they finally drop dead.  We do this because it gives us a visual image of how those people look, so we can distinguish them from the rest of us who aren’t crazy.

It comforts us to know that we’re not drooling, and our hair is combed, so that we can believe we’re not crazy.  We grasp as tightly as possible to this image born of ignorance so we can sleep at night. We do a lot of things for that reason. Continue reading

Show Me, Ferguson

Missouri’s nickname is the “Show Me” state, an ironic message to the police in Ferguson. Oh yes, they are showing who they are, in vivid combat colors.


They are showing plenty of force, but they are not showing the pieces of Michael Brown’s killing to show they haven’t brought this anger on themselves.  Continue reading

Question For Judge Kopf: Why Are Some Violations of Law More Important Than Others?

For those who have waded through posts at SJ recently, you may have noticed a bit of a secondary theme developing, nipping the edges of police and prosecutors violating the laws that constrain them with abandon.

Some are gross violations, say murdering a guy for no particularly good reason except that it happens in the usual course, which tend to catch people’s attention.  But these are rare, despite the fact that they make the headlines and give the misimpression that it happens constantly.  The conduct may happen constantly, like a chokehold, for instance, but the outcome, fortunately, does not.

The focus here, however, is on a very different type of violation of the law.  The government, and those individuals who act on its behalf, has no rights.  Yes, judges and prosecutors write about the rights of the government, but they’re screwing up the words. The government has authority, and that authority is derived from laws that grant the government authority.  The exercise of that authority is both granted and restrained by the law. They have neither more nor less than the law allows. Continue reading