Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A super idea: A national registry of bad cops

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As we’ve seen, a bad cop can (sometimes) be forced to resign—though police unions fight even that—but then can easily go to another city and get a job as a cop there. Ed Krayewski writes at Reason.com:

This week, the Department of Justice announced new guidelines against racial profiling. The changes don’t actually change all that much. As regular incidents of police brutality get more and more mainstream media attention, it’s time for a bold move from the White House.

There’s a moral obligation to keep bad cops off the streets. A job with a police department is not a right and shouldn’t be treated like one. Police unions that push for permissive rules that end up protecting bad cops pose a serious public safety threat. Nevertheless, dismantling them where they’ve taken root is a difficult prospect even in the long-term. There are other ways to keep bad cops off the streets. The federal government, and state governments, ought to create and encourage the use of a police offender registry list. Such a list would register individuals who while employed as law enforcement officers were found unfit for duty or faced serious disciplinary issues they may have resigned to avoid. Just as any other component of comprehensive police reform, this won’t eliminate excessive police violence, but it’s a start.

When actually identified, a surprising (or not) number of officers involved in controversial, high-profile use of force incidents have previously disciplinary history. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City cop who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, had been previously accused, at least twice, of racially-motivated misconduct, including strip searching a man in the middle of the street and allegedly hitting his testicles. The police union in New York City is among the strongest in the country. When a rookie cop shot Akai Gurley in apparent panic last month, he didn’t think twice to reportedly contact his union rep first. A man lay dying in a stairwell for no other reason that he startled a rookie, and the fact that the officer called his union representative before calling for assistance isn’t shocking enough to lead to the officer’s termination. Even if it were, it would still be impossible to terminate the officer immediately. While all this is happening, the state of New York is on the verge of placing even more of the disciplinary regime that applies to cops under the purview of the police unions.

But not everywhere is the situation as hopeless as in New York City. In other parts of the country, cops can get fired relatively more easily. But it doesn’t stop them from finding jobs elsewhere. Richard Combs, who was the sheriff and only cop in Eutawville, South Carolina, is now facing a murder charge for shooting a resident after an argument at Town Hall, but Combs had been previously terminated from the county sheriff’s office for unspecified “unsatisfactory performance.” In Cleveland, Ohio, the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, mistaking the boy’s toy gun for a real one, had been previously found too emotionally unstable and unfit to carry a firearm for law enforcement. In Georgia, the cop who shot and killed 17-year-old Christopher Roupe after the teen opened the door to his home holding a Wii controller, had been previously fired for multiple disciplinary problems including shooting at an unarmed person. Then there’s guys like “Florida’s worst cop.”

This is just a sampling of stories that received enough local attention to gain some prominence. The situation is unconscionable. Police found unfit for duty in one jurisdiction shouldn’t be employed in another. Cops who resign to avoid disciplinary charges shouldn’t slither their way into another department. Cops who cost taxpayers millions in lawsuit settlements shouldn’t be able to expose taxpayers in other places to the same risk. Insomuch as a police department might actively be seeking out bad cops, there’s not much any government can do, outside of shuttering the police department and starting over. Yet in a lot of these instances, one would hope, the hiring police departments were unaware of the candidate’s previous history. In these situations, the firing police departments may be complicit, or laws protecting the “privacy” of public employees’ records, or the hiring police department’s own inefficiency.

State governments, and the federal government, can help. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Philadelphians Save Homes From Civil Forfeiture Machine But Continue Legal Fight Over City’s Unconstitutional Program

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The Institute for Justice reports:

Today, Philadelphia’s Office of the District Attorney agreed to dismiss its civil-forfeiture proceedings against the family homes of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch. The dismissals mean that both families will no longer have to worry about losing their homes as they head into the holidays.

Since August, Christos and Doila have been embroiled in a legal battle with the city over its unprecedented use of civil forfeiture to seize the homes and personal property of thousands of Philadelphians without ever charging the owners with a crime. Both Christos and Doila are named plaintiffs in the federal, class-action lawsuit that seeks to end Philadelphia’s shocking system of seizing nearly $6 million in property from its citizens each year and using that money to pad law-enforcement budgets.

Although Christos and Doila’s individual, state-level civil-forfeiture proceedings have been dismissed, they will continue to lead the federal, class-action legal challenge to Philadelphia’s entire civil-forfeiture scheme.

“After months of uncertainty, my family can finally rest easy knowing that our home is our home again,” said Christos. “I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years. I never thought it was possible for the police to just show up at my doorstep without notice and take my house when I’ve done nothing wrong. But that’s exactly what happened to me and my family—and we’re not alone. That’s why we’re going to keep fighting for everyone still trapped in Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture nightmare.”

“We are pleased that Christos and Doila’s families will be able to enjoy their homes for the holidays,” said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in their challenge to Philadelphia’s program. “Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other Philadelphia families. Philadelphia law enforcement continues to use its system of robo-forfeitures to pad its budgets with millions in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent people of their rights and property.”

Since the lawsuit challenging Philadelphia’s civil-forfeiture scheme was announced on August 12, the case has garnered national attention and has shed much-needed light on a relatively unknown practice that nets billions every year for law-enforcement agencies nationwide. Philadelphia’s program has received critical coverage from sources ranging from The Wall Street Journal editorial board to Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, who said that “civil forfeiture laws have warped law enforcement priorities and perception and nowhere is that more clear than in Philadelphia.”


The Institute for Justice is leading the fight against civil forfeiture nationwide. To learn more about this case and IJ’s national efforts, visit endforfeiture.com.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:40 pm

F.B.I. Evidence Often Mishandled, Inquiry Finds

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From time to time I make disparaging remarks about the competence and honesty of the FBI. There are obvious big problems in the agency: their finding that a man in Oregon was part of the Madrid bombing (when he had never been to Madrid) based on the FBI’s incompetence in identifying fingerprints. And now Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:

F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed.

The evidence collection and retention system is the backbone of the F.B.I.’s investigative process, and the report said it is beset by problems. It also found that the F.B.I. was storing more weapons, less money and valuables, and two tons more drugs than its records had indicated.

The report’s findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions. Lawyers can use even minor record-keeping discrepancies to get evidence thrown out of court, and the F.B.I. was alerting prosecutors around the country on Friday that they may need to disclose the errors to defendants.

Many of the problems cited in the report appear to be hiccups in the F.B.I.’s transition to a computer system known as Sentinel, which went online in 2012 and was intended to move the bureau away from a case-management system based on paper files. But other problems, including materials that disappeared or were taken from F.B.I. evidence rooms and not returned, are more serious.

“A majority of the errors identified were due in large part to human error, attributable to a lack of training and program management oversight,” auditors wrote in the report, which was obtained by The New York Times.

In a written statement, the bureau said the review had “yielded several valuable proposals to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the F.B.I.’s corporate tracking system for evidence, and the F.B.I. is currently in the process of implementing same.”

The F.B.I. is separately dealing with the fallout from a case at its Washington office, where an agent is under investigation for tampering with evidence. That has led to the dismissal of convictions in some drug cases. Though the internal review is unrelated to that matter, the issues are so entwined that the F.B.I. plans to distribute the report to dozens of lawyers involved whose cases were affected by the Washington investigation, officials said.

The errors cited in the audit range in severity from computer glitches and duplicate bar codes to evidence that could not be located. The investigation found that federal agents had removed 1,600 pieces of evidence from storage and had not returned them for more than four months. One piece of evidence in a drug case has been signed out since 2003. Another piece of evidence has been out since 2006, the report found.

Because the audit was based on a sample, the actual number of items that have been checked out and not returned is probably much higher. One F.B.I. official said the bureau was considering whether to conduct a broader review that would cover all drug evidence held by the F.B.I.

The results also varied by field office. . .

Continue reading.

It’s heartening that the errors were found by an internal investigation (though, obviously, the FBI should be good at investigating). More problematic is whether any changes will be made. Big bureaucracies have a lot of resistance to change: people in positions of power often fight change fiercely. The CIA, for example, is not about to change—indeed, the CIA will not even admit to errors. The FBI is better than that, but let’s see how they deal with the problem they’ve identified.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:36 pm

Colorado’s neighbors say they’re spending too much on minor pot offenses. So maybe they should stop prosecuting them

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Simple answers to difficult problems: If prosecuting people for pot is costing too much, quit it. Pot is harmless compared to (say) liquor and cigarettes, so why the eagerness to prosecute.

Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post:

Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado to put an end to the state’s recreational marijuana market. The 83-page lawsuit complains that “the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

Two central ideas animate the lawsuit. The first is that marijuana is still illegal under federal drug laws, and that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution prohibits states from enacting local laws in violation of federal ones. The second, as Eugene Volokh notes, is that “the lawsuit is basically a public nuisance ‘pot pollution’ lawsuit.” In other words, Colorado’s weed is overflowing the state boundaries into Nebraska and Oklahoma, leaving those states with a mess to clean up.

The Supreme Court may be tempted to take up the case on the basis of the first argument. Justice Antonin Scalia has already tipped his hat on this point, making a coy reference to the Supremacy Clause when asked recently what he thought of Colorado’s laws. There’s no doubt that laws in Colorado, Washington and soon elsewhere are in direct contradiction of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Justice Department has only allowed legalization to proceed on the basis of a sort of gentlemen’s agreement outlined in a 2013 memo, which promises that the Drug Enforcement Administration will look the other way so long as states that legalize weed follow a few common-sense guidelines in doing so.

But on a practical level, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s nuisance argument is a stretch. Cops along those states’ borders with Colorado have beencomplaining about an uptick in marijuana possession arrests all year. It seems that most of these are simple possession arrests stemming from traffic stops. “We don’t go after it,” said a Nebraska sheriff quoted in the Post earlier this year, “but this Colorado marijuana is very potent, very aromatic, and we often trip over it if somebody’s speeding and we pull them over.”

He went on: “Every time we stop somebody, that’s taking up my deputy’s time with your Colorado pot. We have to pay overtime, pay the prosecutor, pay to incarcerate them, pay for their defense if they’re indigent. Colorado’s taxing it, but everybody else is paying the price.”

Writ large, this is the crux of the states’ argument against Colorado: that their justice systems are being strained with the burden of dealing with low-level marijuana offenders coming out of Colorado. But if the states are concerned with the costs of arresting and prosecuting minor pot offenses, there is a simple solution already available to them: they could stop arresting and prosecuting minor pot offenders.

Nebraska has already decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of weed. But bulky edible products that people bring from Colorado often tip the scales well above that threshold. Somebody driving out of Colorado with a few ounces of weed is most certainly not a major drug dealer. But Nebraska, and evidently Oklahoma, continue to prosecute these people as if they were.

Nebraska and Oklahoma are essentially blaming Colorado for their own law enforcement priorities. As Volokh notes, if this argument were upheld by the Supreme Court, then what would stop New York from suing Vermont over the latter’s lax gun laws? Or New Jersey from suing Pennsylvania over fireworks? . . .

Continue reading.

The totally obvious answer: Nebraska and Oklahoma could simply legalize pot. That would solve the problem, plus give the state a new revenue source: win-win. Why won’t they do it?

UPDATE: By all means read Jonathan Adler’s comment on the lawsuit. And Eugene Volokh’s comment is also good.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:29 pm

Best healthcare system in the world: How Nonprofit Hospitals Are Seizing Patients’ Wages

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Paul Kiel (ProPublica) and Chris Arnold (NPR) have an interesting story on how bad the US healthcare system is, compared to healthcare in most Western countries:

On the eastern edge of St. Joseph, Missouri, lies the small city’s only hospital, a landmark of brick and glass. Music from a player piano greets visitors at the main entrance, and inside, the bright hallways seem endless. Long known as Heartland Regional Medical Center, the nonprofit hospital and its system of clinics recently rebranded. Now they’re called Mosaic Life Care, because, their promotional materials say: “We offer much more than health care. We offer life care.”

Two miles away, at the rear of a low-slung building is a key piece of Mosaic—Heartland’s very own for-profit debt collection agency.

When patients receive care at Heartland and don’t or can’t pay, their bills often end up here at Northwest Financial Services. And if those patients don’t meet Northwest’s demands, their debts can make another, final stop: the Buchanan County Courthouse.

From 2009 through 2013, Northwest filed more than 11,000 lawsuits.  When it secured a judgment, as it typically did, Northwest was entitled to seize a hefty portion of a debtor’s paycheck. During those years, the company garnished the pay of about 6,000 people and seized at least $12 million—an average of about $2,000 each, according to a ProPublica analysis of state court data.

Many were uninsured Heartland patients who were eligible for financial aid that would have eliminated or drastically cut their bills. Instead, they were charged full price for their care, without the deep discounts negotiated by insurers, according to court records, interviews and data provided by Heartland. No other Missouri hospital sued more of its patients.

Blue collar workers, Walmart cashiers, nursing home aides, clerical staffers—these types of patients have long been the most vulnerable to unexpected debt. They can’t afford insurance, yet they’re not poor enough for Medicaid. Even after the 2010 Affordable Care Act, about 30 million Americans remain uninsured, in part because some states, like Missouri, have not expanded Medicaid to cover more of the poor.

Earlier this year, ProPublica and NPR reported that the wages of millions of U.S. workers are diverted to pay off a variety of consumer debts. Most states, like Missouri, allow creditors to take a quarter of after-tax wages—an amount that government surveys show is unaffordable for lower-income families.

Consumer advocates say the laws governing wage garnishment are outdated and overly punitive, regardless of the debt’s source. But the consequences are especially dire when garnishment is used to collect unavoidable health care bills—with interest and legal fees piled on.

No one tracks how many hospitals sue their patients and how frequently, but . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing: it’s an in-depth article.

The US could fix this if it wanted, but it’s easier just to screw over poor people.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:23 pm

The costs of fracking

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Read this post by Faith Gardner at Daily Kos. It begins:

Another day, another toxic spill thanks to fracking:

About 25 families in eastern Ohio have been unable to live in their houses for the past three days because of a natural-gas leak at a fracking well that crews cannot stop.Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state agency that regulates oil and gas, said crews lost control of the Monroe County well on Saturday. […]

The well is not on fire, but the gas could be explosive.

Ohio has had its share of fracking accidents this year. In May, a blowout resulted in an oil spill into an Ohio river tributary. And then this happened the following month: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:16 pm

Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the Senior Officer at the Center of the CIA’s Torture Scandals

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Glenn Greenwald and Porter Maas write at The Intercept:

NBC News yesterday called her a “key apologist” for the CIA’s torture program. A follow-up New Yorker article dubbed her “The Unidentified Queen of Torture” and in part “the model for the lead character in ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’” Yet in both articles she was anonymous.

The person described by both NBC and The New Yorker is senior CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. Multiple news outlets have reported that as the result of a long string of significant errors and malfeasance, her competence and integrity are doubted — even by some within the agency.

The Intercept is naming Bikowsky over CIA objections because of her key role in misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture, and her active participation in the torture program (including playing a direct part in the torture of at least one innocent detainee). Moreover, Bikowsky has already been publicly identified by news organizations as the CIA officer responsible for many of these acts.

The executive summary of the torture report released by the Senate last week provides abundant documentation that the CIA repeatedly and deliberately misled Congress about multiple aspects of its interrogation program. Yesterday, NBC News reported that one senior CIA officer in particular was responsible for many of those false claims, describing her as “a top al Qaeda expert who remains in a senior position at the CIA.”

NBC, while withholding her identity, noted that the same unnamed officer “also participated in ‘enhanced interrogations’ of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, witnessed the waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah and ordered the detention of a suspected terrorist who turned out to be unconnected to al Qaeda, according to the report.”

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer, writing yesterday about the NBC article, added that the officer “is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.” This officer, Mayer noted, is the same one who “dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.” Mayer also wrote that the officer is “the same woman” identified in the Senate report who oversaw “the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity.”

Both news outlets withheld the name of this CIA officer even though her identity is widely known among journalists, and her name has been used by various media outlets in connection with her work at the CIA. Both articles cited requests by the CIA not to identify her, even though they provided details making her identity clear.

In fact, earlier this year, The Washington Post identified Bikowsky by name, describing her as a CIA analyst “who was tied to a critical intelligence-sharing failure before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the botched 2003 ‘rendition’ of an innocent German citizen thought to be an al-Qaeda operative.” That Post report led to both McClatchy and independent journalist Marcy Wheeler raising questions about the propriety of Bikowsky’s former personal lawyer, Robert Litt, playing a key role in his current capacity as a top government lawyer in deciding which parts of the torture report should be released.

The McClatchy article identified Bikowsky by name as the officer who “played a central role in the bungled rendition of Khaled el-Masri. El-Masri, who was revealed to be innocent, claimed to have been tortured by the agency.” El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia and tortured by the CIA in Afghanistan, was released in 2003 after it was revealed he was not involved in al Qaeda.

Continue reading. Later in the story:

The Associated Press reported that a “hard-charging CIA analyst [who] had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. war on terrorism” (the rendering for torture of the innocent El-Masri) was repeatedly promoted. Despite internal recommendations that she be punished, the AP reported that she instead “has risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.”

With regard to the last paragraph quoted, read this heart-rending story in McClatchy about how El-Masri’s life is basically ruined. But the US will not apologize or even acknowledge the damage done, and it certainly will not pay any compensation for kidnapping and torturing him. That’s not the kind of country we are. Canada, in contrast, paid

From Wikipedia:

Maher Arar (Arabic: ماهر عرار) (born 1970) is a telecommunications engineer with dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship who has resided in Canada since 1987. Arar’s story is frequently referred to as “extraordinary rendition” but the US government insisted it was a case of deportation.[1][2][3][4][5][6] [Although, oddly, he was not deported to his home country—Canada—but instead shipped off to Syria to be tortured.  – LG]

Arar was detained during a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in September 2002 on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunis.[6] He was held without charges in solitary confinement in the United States for nearly two weeks, questioned, and denied meaningful access to a lawyer.[6] The US government suspected him of being a member of Al Qaeda and deported him, not to Canada, his current home and the passport on which he was travelling, but to Syria, even though its government is known to use torture.[7] He was detained in Syria for almost a year, during which time he was tortured, according to the findings of a commission of inquiry ordered by the Canadian government, until his release to Canada. The Syrian government later stated that Arar was “completely innocent.”[8][9] A Canadian commission publicly cleared Arar of any links to terrorism, and the government of Canada later settled out of court with Arar. He received C$10.5 million and Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to Arar for Canada’s role in his “terrible ordeal”.[10][11]

As of December 2011, Arar and his family remained on the US No Fly List.[12] His US lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit, Arar v. Ashcroft, which sought compensatory damages on Arar’s behalf and also a declaration that the actions of the US government were illegal and violated his constitutional, civil, and international human rights. After the lawsuit was dismissed by the Federal District Court, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal on November 2, 2009. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review the case on June 14, 2010.

You might be interested to read how the “land of the free, home of the brave” decided to deny Arar any justice.

The US might make big mistakes, but we damn sure refuse to own up to them unless we can’t prevent the information from coming out, and we certainly do not compensate the victims of our mistakes. That’s not the US way.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:04 pm

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