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Morning links: Oklahoma City cops shoot, kill deaf man despite warnings

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Again, Radley Balko reports law-enforcement activity:

More items at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:43 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

The sex-offender panic is destroying lives

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

The video below tells the story of Shawna, an Oklahoma woman who is still in mandatory treatment because 15 years ago, when she was 19, she had sex with a boy who was 14. Over at the Marshall Project, David Feige has more about the unlikely people swept up in the sex-offender panic for offenses most of us wouldn’t associate with a typical sexual predator. Take the case of Adrian:

Adrian was a junior at North Dakota State majoring in business management, when he travelled to Miami for spring break. There, he met a girl at an 18-and-over club. They flirted and danced, then walked to the beach where they had sex. They spent about five days together, hanging out on and off and occasionally hooking up.

Adrian returned to college after the trip and all seemed well, until seven months later when he got a call from a detective with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As it turns out, the girl had used a fake ID to get into the club. She was actually 15 years old at the time. Her mom filed a complaint when she found out what had happened.

Asked to return to Miami to answer some questions, Adrian took a bus back to Florida. He explained to the detective that everything was consensual, and that he’d assumed the girl must have been 18 or older since she was in the club. Officers recorded his statement, thanked him for his co-operation, handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. Unable to post the $40,000 bond set by a judge, Adrian remained in jail for nearly eight months. It was the first and only time he’d ever been arrested.

In Florida, as in most other states, the fact that the girl was a willing participant was not a defense. Having admitted to the affair and facing some twenty years in prison, Adrian had no choice but to plead guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a person under 16. That guilty plea guaranteed he’d spend the rest of his life listed on Florida’s sex offender registry . . .

Five years after his guilty plea, Adrian had been rejected from more jobs than he could count. Unable to find housing that complied with a Miami ordinance that prevents registrants from living within 2,500 feet of any public or private school, daycare center or playground, Adrian was was forced into homelessness. He slept in a car parked in a lot — one of the few places sex offenders are actually allowed to reside. His college career was over, as was any hope he ever harbored of having a productive life. Then, two years ago, almost a decade after his conviction, Adrian failed to properly register his whereabouts with the police. As a result, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Yes, we should discourage 19-year-olds from having sex with 14-year-olds, and 21-year-olds from having sex with 15-year-olds. But these people aren’t predators. They aren’t pedophiles. They showed poor judgment and had non-coercive sex with partners who were physically mature. (Yes, the law says any sex with a minor is de facto coercive.) Perhaps we should punish them, but we shouldn’t seek to utterly destroy them. And in Adrian’s case, the lack of intent makes what happened to him all the more unjust. It’s all the worse when you consider how little evidence there is that these laws do anything to protect society from actual predators.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Supreme Court has just upheld a state law allowing prosecutors to charge minors who send nude photos of themselves to other people …. as child pornographers. If convicted, that means mandatory prison time and a lifetime on the sex-offender list. . .

Continue reading.

The video to which he refers:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:37 am

A Tennessee man could remain in prison for years, even though a judge and prosecutor have dismissed the charges against him

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Radley Balko describes a Kafkaesque quirk of the American criminal “justice” system:

From the Tennessean, here’s a crazy story about a man who looks to be doomed to years in prison, despite the fact that the charges that put him there have been dropped. You can thank the state’s parole board.

A judge and prosecutor dismissed the criminal allegations against John Leon Smith, but in the eyes of the Tennessee Board of Parole he’s still guilty.

The man will remain in prison until next year at least — maybe until 2026 …

… Smith served about half of a 40-year prison sentence for a violent armed robbery and threatening to kill workers at a Nashville restaurant in 1992. Smith fired several shots, which wounded one worker, and as he fled from police, fired shots at officers, according to appeals court records.

“I was drinking and drugging and it cost me my life,” he said. “I threw it away in 30 minutes.”

He was released on parole in October 2013, according to state records.

Seventeen months later he was arrested on two felonies, alleging possession of marijuana and a weapon, court records show. At the time, Smith lived at a North Nashville home with two other people.

Because of his criminal history, Smith wasn’t supposed to have guns.

Court records and transcripts say undercover police intercepted a UPS package with nearly 8 pounds of marijuana inside and delivered it to the home, where Smith answered the door. About 30 minutes later, another man arrived and tried to leave with the package before he was arrested, according to a transcript of one detective’s testimony.

Officers later found a handgun in furniture in Smith’s bedroom and three rifles and a shotgun in a separate closet, records say.

A Nashville judge dismissed the gun charge two weeks later after hearing testimony from the homeowner that Smith did not know the guns were in the home and the handgun belonged to someone else, according to a court transcript.

In March 2016, a year after Smith’s arrest, prosecutors dismissed the other charge against Smith — the drug crime — after the man who claimed the package of pot pleaded guilty, court records show.

“Your case is dismissed,” a judge told Smith, according to the transcript. “That’s the end of that, so, for you.”

The problem: Smith’s arrest was a violation of his parole. Such violations can send him back to prison. It doesn’t matter that the charges were dropped. And the ultimate arbiter of whether Smith violated his parole isn’t the judge or prosecutor, but the Tennessee Board of Parole. And that group of seven people, all appointed by the governor, has decided to keep Smith in prison. Bizarrely, the Tennessee legislature has even passed a law that should apply to cases like Smith’s. But the parole board decided, unilaterally, that the law isn’t retroactive.

This isn’t the first time the Tennessee Board of Parole has come under criticism. Here’s an op-ed, also in the Tennessean, from May:

In 1978, Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 100 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

He could have expected to serve every bit of it, if not for the work of Memphis attorney Lorna McClusky and the Innocence Project, among others.

He was released after serving 31 years and given $75.

Mr. McKinney didn’t commit the crime and pled not guilty to it. He maintained his innocence and turned down offers for a plea bargain.

Yet, after 31 years of wrongful incarceration, the Tennessee Board of Parole has the gall to want us to believe that it was Mr. McKinney’s release that was the mistake.

Media reports described a Board of Parole hearing to discuss McKinney’s case, after he had been released, that had the feel of a trial. McKinney was grilled about his conviction, which, again, had already been vacated and charges dismissed.

One board member seemed to reject conclusive DNA evidence. To add insult to injury, the same board member flat-out declared that McKinney committed the rape in 1977.

“[W]hen you look at the record in its entirety…what is clear and convincing to me is that Mr. McKinney did commit…the crime of rape in 1977,” he said.

What’s more, arguably this kind of alternative reality seems to be par for the course for the leadership of the Board of Parole.

When recently asked about another case of Robert Polk — a prisoner wrongfully held in prison for two years partly because the Board of Parole did not hold a timely hearing — the leader of the board reportedly said that the wrongful incarceration had nothing to do with the board or his leadership.

As noted, the board considers clemency and exoneration petitions in addition to parole. Exonerees must be declared innocent by the governor in order to be compensated, and most governors won’t exonerate without the board’s recommendation. Tennessee has exonerated just two people since 2000, and only one received compensation.

Members of the parole board are appointed to six-year terms and make around $100,000 per year. It isn’t made up of judges or retired judges. The appointees are largely political. Last year, for example, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed two new members to the board. Both are best knownfor being related to prominent state Republicans. One, Zane Duncan, is a former lobbyist for a Kentucky railroad company … and son of a GOP congressman.  The other, Roberta Kustoff, is a former tax attorney and wife of Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.).

The makeup of the rest of the board is just as puzzling. The current chairman, Richard Montgomery,  is a former state legislator with no criminal justice background. Gary Faulcon is a 25-year police officer. Tim Gobble is a former cop, Secret Service agent and chief deputy of a sheriff’s department. Finally, Barrett Rich is a former state trooper and three-term Republican in the state legislature. Gay Gregson is at least from outside of law enforcement. She worked for more than 20 years in special education and has won community service awards in West Tennessee. She was also an outspoken supporter of Haslam during his campaign.

These are the people who decide the fate of Tennessee prisoners up for parole — and who advise the governor on clemency, pardons and exonerations. They’re mostly former cops and former politicians. There are no psychiatrists or social workers. There are no criminal justice academics, experts in prisoner rehabilitation, or — God forbid — defense attorneys.  According to the board’s annual report for fiscal year 2015-2016, it considered a whopping 16,338 parole hearings that year. Among its “accomplishments” for that year, the board notes that it …

  • “Planned the 13th annual Tennessee Season to Remember event honoring homicide victims, in cooperation with other state criminal justice agencies.”
  • “Honored 12 members of the [Board of Parole] staff with awards for reaching milestones in state service.”
  • “Planted eleven trees in cities across the state to honor victims of crime, and honored victim advocates for their work.”

There’s nothing wrong with honoring victims of crime, of course. But there are also no “accomplishments” listed as prominently to suggest that the parole board puts an equal value on redemption, rehabilitation or reentry. . .

Continue reading.

Words fail me.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:30 am

The secret sharer

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Thomas Drake’s unwarranted persecution provides an important indication of the direction the American government government is going, one in which citizens are not free to criticize or to expose government wrongdoing. Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker:

On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state. According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs. [Emphasis added. This is the actual reason Drake is being prosecuted: he exposed incompetency in an authoritarian bureaucracy, which makes him an enemy of the state in the eyes of authoritarians. For authoritarians, the state can do no wrong, and those who point out when something is done wrong are enemies—cf. Donald Trump. – LG] Drake is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law-enforcement agents. If he is convicted on all counts, he could receive a prison term of thirty-five years.

The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.”

Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department’s criminal division, told me, “You don’t get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to.” He added, “Politics should play no role in it whatsoever.”

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

One afternoon in January, Drake met with me, giving his first public interview about this case. He is tall, with thinning sandy hair framing a domed forehead, and he has the erect bearing of a member of the Air Force, where he served before joining the N.S.A., in 2001. Obsessive, dramatic, and emotional, he has an unwavering belief in his own rectitude. Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

The Justice Department’s indictment narrows the frame around Drake’s actions, focussing almost exclusively on his handling of what it claims are five classified documents. But Drake sees his story as a larger tale of political reprisal, one that he fears the government will never allow him to air fully in court. “I’m a target,” he said. “I’ve got a bull’s-eye on my back.” He continued, “I did not tell secrets. I am facing prison for having raised an alarm, period. I went to a reporter with a few key things: fraud, waste, and abuse, and the fact that there were legal alternatives to the Bush Administration’s ‘dark side’ ”—in particular, warrantless domestic spying by the N.S.A.

The indictment portrays him not as a hero but as a treacherous man who violated “the government trust.” Drake said of the prosecutors, “They can say what they want. But the F.B.I. can find something on anyone.”

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says of the Drake case, “The government wants this to be about unlawfully retained information. The defense, meanwhile, is painting a picture of a public-interested whistle-blower who struggled to bring attention to what he saw as multibillion-dollar mismanagement.” Because Drake is not a spy, Aftergood says, the case will “test whether intelligence officers can be convicted of violating the Espionage Act even if their intent is pure.” He believes that the trial may also test whether the nation’s expanding secret intelligence bureaucracy is beyond meaningful accountability. “It’s a much larger debate than whether a piece of paper was at a certain place at a certain time,” he says.

Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.”

On March 28th, Obama held a meeting in the White House with five advocates for greater transparency in government. During the discussion, the President drew a sharp distinction between whistle-blowers who exclusively reveal wrongdoing and those who jeopardize national security. The importance of maintaining secrecy about the impending raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was likely on Obama’s mind. The White House has been particularly bedevilled by the ongoing release of classified documents by WikiLeaks, the group led by Julian Assange. Last year, WikiLeaks began releasing a vast trove of sensitive government documents allegedly leaked by a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning; the documents included references to a courier for bin Laden who had moved his family to Abbottabad—the town where bin Laden was hiding out. Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy.”

Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, attended the meeting, and said that Obama’s tone was generally supportive of transparency. But when the subject of national-security leaks came up, Brian said, “the President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He said this may be where we have some differences. He said he doesn’t want to protect the people who leak to the media war plans that could impact the troops.” Though Brian was impressed with Obama’s over-all stance on transparency, she felt that he might be misinformed about some of the current leak cases. She warned Obama that prosecuting whistle-blowers would undermine his legacy. Brian had been told by the White House to avoid any “ask”s on specific issues, but she told the President that, according to his own logic, Drake was exactly the kind of whistle-blower who deserved protection.

As Drake tells it, his problems began on September 11, 2001. “The next seven weeks were crucial,” he said. “It’s foundational to why I am a criminal defendant today.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2017 at 12:37 pm

Protests erupt in St. Louis after former police officer acquitted on murder charge

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From the report by Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery in the Washington Post:

. . . Prosecutors charged Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer, with murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. According to the probable cause statement, Stockley was caught saying he was “going to kill this motherf‑‑‑er, don’t you know it” and was heard telling another officer to drive into Smith’s slowing car.

The court document, submitted by the St. Louis circuit attorney, said Stockley then approached Smith’s window and fired five times into the car, hitting Smith “with each shot” and killing him. In addition, prosecutors say, there was a gun found in Smith’s car, but it was later determined to only have DNA from Stockley.

Judge Timothy Wilson, the circuit judge who heard the case in a bench trial, acquitted Stockley on the murder charge as well as a charge of armed criminal action in a 30-page order released Friday morning. . .

The judge’s comments, reported later in the story, explain how he arrived at his verdict of “Not Guilty.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 7:14 pm

The criminalization of poverty, continued

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Radley Balko has examined several times the strenuous efforts by some politicians to make being poor a crime. In the Washington Post today, he writes:

From the Marshall Project, here’s a stark illustration of how traffic fines can be particularly pernicious and debilitating for poor people:

To visit someone in a Michigan state prison, you have to fill out an application and send it to the Department of Corrections with a self-addressed envelope. A couple of months after I mailed mine in, they sent me a sheet of paper saying that I was not approved to see either of my two sons, Harvey and Antwan, who are incarcerated.

You can’t see your child, they told me, because you have outstanding debt.

I have never committed a crime. The only thing on my record is tickets: parking tickets, license plate registration tickets, one for not having proof of insurance, and a couple of others—all of which are more than four years old. I don’t have any moving violations, like speeding.

But I do owe $1,485.

I’m 64 and have lived in Detroit my whole life. I was a receptionist at the city social services department, and an attendance lady at the high school, and helped wash patients at a hospice care facility. I also worked at a poultry shop once. I’ve worked for a long time.

Read the whole thing here. At the very least, let’s hope the publicity helps get this woman’s record cleared so she can visit her sons. But the larger problem remains. Yes, you should follow the law. You shouldn’t park illegally. But as we’ve explained here before, it’s more complicated than that. When cities and states become as reliant on the debt that people like Joyce Davis owe as people like Joyce Davis are reliant on that same money, you have a system where local governments need people such as Joyce Davis to park illegally, to speed and to accumulate fines. That is a terribly unhealthy relationship between the government and the governed.

In the end, debt to the state shouldn’t ever preclude someone from working, commuting or maintaining bonds to family. When it gets in the way of basic life needs and functions, it becomes a crippling weight that traps people in a cycle of despair.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 11:49 am

Facebook Enabled Advertisers to Reach ‘Jew Haters’

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Julia Angwin, Madeleine Varner, and Ariana Tobin report in ProPublica:

Want to market Nazi memorabilia, or recruit marchers for a far-right rally? Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform had the right audience for you.

Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”

To test if these ad categories were real, we paid $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts” — in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook approved all three ads within 15 minutes.

After we contacted Facebook, it removed the anti-Semitic categories — which were created by an algorithm rather than by people — and said it would explore ways to fix the problem, such as limiting the number of categories available or scrutinizing them before they are displayed to buyers.

“There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards,” said Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook. “In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

Facebook’s advertising has become a focus of national attention since it disclosed last week that it had discovered $100,000 worth of ads placed during the 2016 presidential election season by “inauthentic” accounts that appeared to be affiliated with Russia.

Like many tech companies, Facebook has long taken a hands off approach to its advertising business. Unlike traditional media companies that select the audiences they offer advertisers, Facebook generates its ad categories automatically based both on what users explicitly share with Facebook and what they implicitly convey through their online activity.

Traditionally, tech companies have contended that it’s not their role to censor the Internet or to discourage legitimate political expression. In the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville by right-wing groups that included self-described Nazis, Facebook and other tech companies vowed to strengthen their monitoring of hate speech.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote at the time that “there is no place for hate in our community,” and pledged to keep a closer eye on hateful posts and threats of violence on Facebook. “It’s a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong — as if this is somehow not obvious,” he wrote.

But Facebook apparently did not intensify its scrutiny of its ad buying platform. In all likelihood, the ad categories that we spotted were automatically generated because people had listed those anti-Semitic themes on their Facebook profiles as an interest, an employer or a “field of study.” Facebook’s algorithm automatically transforms people’s declared interests into advertising categories.

Here is a screenshot of our ad buying process on the company’s advertising portal: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2017 at 2:40 pm

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