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Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

The NRA Is Part of the Trump–Russia Scandal Now

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign has a number of complex threads. But the latest development is simple and old-fashioned. McClatchy reports that the FBI is investigating whether a Kremlin-linked Russian banker funneled money through the National Rifle Association to help elect Donald Trump. American law prohibits foreign campaign donations.

The banker, Alexsandr Torshin, has close ties to Vladimir Putin, and the sort of shady connections one expects from an oligarch in the Putin circle. (He has been charged with money laundering overseas and links to mobsters.) Torshin is also a lifetime member of the NRA, hosted NRA delegations visiting Russia, has attended several NRA conventions, and has spoken with gun enthusiast Donald Trump Jr.

Torshin is not the only link between the NRA and Putin. Last February, Tim Mak profiled Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist who has worked in American right-wing politics. At one Washington party immediately after the election, Butina “brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim,” Mak reported.

Both Butina and Torshin have also worked with Paul Erickson, a veteran Republican operative and gun rights activist who has cultivated close ties to Russia. Erickson has called the alliance between the NRA and “Right to Bear Arms,” its Russian counterpart, a “moral-support operation both ways.” There is a genuine ideological connection between the right-wing ideology of the NRA and of many Russian nationalists, a strand of violence-obsessed authoritarian pan-European nationalism. Of course, if the support given Trump by Russians was not merely moral but also financial, it would violate the law.

It is also worth contemplating the effect any legal trouble for the NRA would have upon the Republican Congress.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2018 at 12:20 pm

Law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Some of the links Radley Balko posted in the Washington Post:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2018 at 10:45 am

City says white jury was motivated by racial bias when ruling against cops who killed unarmed black man

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

This is quite the excerpt from a recent opinion written by federal district court judge Barbara Rothstein:

“Zaro and Wiley orchestrated an operation, executed in critical part by Markert, whereby an unarmed man who was negotiating the temporary release of his four-year-old son to the boy’s grandmother was subject to an explosive breach of his back door, shot in his abdomen, and then repeatedly punched in the face while he died, despite having never threatened violence to anyone that night.”

Police Chief Mike Zaro, Officer Mike Wiley and Sgt. Brian Markert are officers in Lakewood, Wash. The man they killed was Leonard Thomas. They were at his home on that night in 2013 because Thomas’s mother called police after the two had an argument about where Thomas’s son would spend the night. Thomas had been drinking and was apparently despondent over the recent death of a friend. His mother called the police out of fear for his safety. They did what you’d think would be unimaginable at a time when someone was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis: They sent a SWAT team. There was no reason to believe Thomas was armed. He said he wasn’t. And he was telling the truth. As Rothstein points out, he also hadn’t threatened violence against anyone, save for slapping a cellphone out of his mother’s hand.

But SWAT teams aren’t psychiatrists. SWAT teams are groups of police officers who are trained to use overwhelming force and violence to subdue a threat. Predictably, this SWAT team did not do what a psychiatrist would do; they did what SWAT teams do.

A hostage negotiator had persuaded him to let the child go home with his mother and was standing on the front porch with the boy, a car seat and a backpack full of clothes when Zaro told the SWAT team not to allow him to go back inside with the child and gave Wiley approval to breach the back door with explosives.

The blast startled Thomas, and when he reached for the child, Markert shot him.

Later, Markert would file a report — with the help of an attorney — that referred to the child as a hostage more than 100 times and insisted Thomas was trying to strangle the child.

Rothstein said the jury clearly concluded otherwise.

“But [the child] was not a hostage, and Markert and the other officers here were not attempting to separate him from a kidnapper,” she said. “Rather, they were attempting to remove a child from his parent without the parent’s consent” and at the cost of the parent’s life.

And now that child has no father. A jury recently awarded Thomas’s family $15.1 million.

But that passage isn’t the most outrageous part of the story. Thomas, it turns out, was black. The attorneys for the city argued that the jury’s verdict should be set aside because it was motivated by racial prejudice. Specifically, they argued that the jury, which had no black members, was afraid to rule against cops accused of killing a black man. The Seattle Times quotes city attorney Richard Jolley, who at a court hearing said of the jurors, “they weren’t going to go back to their individual communities and tell the people that they associate with, we found in favor of cops that shot an unarmed black man.”

So just to be clear, the city attorney is arguing that a white jury was acting with racial prejudice when it ruled against police officers who killed a black man. Here are some facts from the real world: Juries almost never rule against police officers. Juries also tend to be biased against black people. Juries with no black members tend to be especially problematic on both counts.

Rothstein was not impressed with the city’s argument. From the Seattle Times article:

“Without any evidence — without any factual foundation whatsoever — defendants have chosen to malign one of this country’s most sacred civic institutions, the impartially selected petit jury,” she said.

“The suggestion that this jury flouted its charge and colluded to hold government officials liable merely to advance the jurors’ individual reputations is not simply frivolous; it is insulting to our constitutional order,” she wrote.

“And the notion that the American justice system can be characterized by an illegitimate solicitude for black victims of alleged police misconduct is so painfully ahistorical that one wonders whether Defendants advance this argument seriously,” she said.

She found the argument particularly vexing, she said, since it was the defense that successfully persuaded her to preclude showing prospective jurors a video about unconscious bias, that they helped pick and approved the jury, and “notwithstanding the fact, should it even matter, that none of the jurors were African American.”

There is a case to be made that

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2018 at 10:10 am

Using marijuana to fight the opioid crisis

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Margery Eagan writes in the Boston Globe:

IN WASHINGTON, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed Obama administration policies and freed US attorneys to prosecute the marijuana business, even where it’s legal.

In Boston, US Attorney Andrew Lelling has given no assurances that he won’t.

Meanwhile, in a nondescript Natick strip mall, in a physician’s office above a pizza joint and dance school, and down the hall from the Ebenezer Assembly of God ministry, Dr. Uma Dhanabalan helps patients use marijuana to wean themselves from an actual drug menace. That would be opioids, legally prescribed, government approved, a drug that’s made billions for the politically wired pharmaceutical industry and now kills nearly 100 Americans every day.

“I hated them,” said Beth, one of Dhanabalan’s patients, a 52-year-old wife and mother, about the Hydromorphone and Oxycodone she was prescribed for pain from a herniated disc and osteoarthritis.

On opioids, she couldn’t work. Her job involves money. She couldn’t misplace a decimal point. The drugs made her “cotton-ball headed, like a hangover mixed with a cold. I couldn’t think.”

On opioids, she couldn’t work. Her job involves money. She couldn’t misplace a decimal point. The drugs made her “cotton-ball headed, like a hangover mixed with a cold. I couldn’t think.”

She also endured the indignities of another notorious opioid side effect: constipation. For that, physicians routinely prescribe yet another drug with side effects almost as horrifying as those of opioids. Opiod side effects include not just dizziness, drowsiness, mood swings, and confusion, but also addiction, accidental overdose, and death.

“The nerve pain used to be unrelenting, like pushing out at the front of your consciousness,” she said. But the marijuana “put a barrier between conscious awareness and the pain. It’s still there, but like a shadow. It’s not banging. And I am clear-headed.

“I used to drink two glasses of wine a day. Now I’ve stopped drinking almost entirely. Now I do errands and walk the dog.” She stood up and showed me her loose pants. “And I’ve lost 30 pounds.”

Beth did not want her last name used. She has a teenage son. Stigma and unease remain. And both became worse when prosecutor Lelling called marijuana a “dangerous” drug he may, or may not, crack down on.

The irony, said Dr. Dhanabalan, is that “nobody in the world has ever died from a cannabis overdose.” She calls cannabis “the exit drug” from opioid addiction, a controversial claim but one that is fast gaining traction.

Sitting in blue scrubs, pictures of a marijuana plant on one wall and her medical degrees and a plaque from the Veterans of Foreign Wars on another, the former family physician said it’s hard to fathom the continued hostility toward, and ignorance about, cannabis. She said it’s helped not only patients kicking opioids but also those with cancer, PTSD, or common maladies like insomnia. “It changes lives,” she said.

Surely it changed Daniel Snyder’s. A 64-year-old Stoneham mechanic badly injured in a tractor rollover, he said opioids helped his pain tremendously — at first.

“The reason people get addicted is this stuff makes them feel so good, it’s like you could have a good time watching paint dry,” he says. “Then you want more, and you end up in a deep dark hole.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2018 at 11:40 am

Have They No Sense of Decency?

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James Fallows has a powerful column in the Atlantic:

“Have you no sense of decency?” It’s the question that the members of the Republican majority in the Congress—51 senators, 239 representatives—might bear in mind, in the “shithole” era.

If only two of those senators would stand up against Donald Trump, with their votes rather than just their tweets or concerned statements, they would constitute an effective majority.

With the 49 Democratic and independent senators, these two would make 51 votes, which in turn would be enough to authorize real investigations. They could pass a formal resolution of censure. They could call for tax returns and financial disclosure. They could begin hearings, on the model of the nationally televised Watergate hearings of 45 years ago.

They could behave as if they took seriously their duties to hold the executive branch accountable. They could make a choice they know will be to their credit when this era enters history — as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own party’s President Nixon during the Watergate drama, as did the Democrats who finally turned against their own party’s President Johnson over the Vietnam war, as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own poisonous Senator McCarthy in the episode that gave rise to “Have you no sense of decency?” more than 60 years ago. They could spare themselves the shame that history attaches to people who did the wrong thing, or nothing, or kept looking the other way during those decisive periods.

(I’m not even talking about the House, where the GOP has a larger majority, where there’s never been as much talk about “world’s greatest deliberative body,” and where the main outlet for Republican concerns about this era in politics has been the rapidly growing list of incumbents deciding to retire rather than run again.)

Even without the House, just two senators could make an enormous difference.

  • Two like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker who are not running for re-election and have no primary-challenge consequences to fear;
  • Two like Orrin Hatch and John McCain who mainly have their places in history to think about;
  • Two like the young Ben Sasse and the veteran Lamar Alexander who pride themselves on being “thoughtful”;
  • Two like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who pride themselves on being “independent”;
  • Two like Rand Paul and Mike Lee who pride themselves on their own kind of independence;
  • Two like Rob Portman and John Barrasso who pride themselves on being decent;
  • Two like Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton with conceivable long-term higher-office hopes;
  • Two like Tim Scott and James Lankford who jointly wrote a statement on the need for broad-minded inclusion;
  • Two like Chuck Grassley and Richard Shelby, who like Hatch and McCain are in their 80s and conceivably have “legacy” on their minds (remember that in the Alabama Senate race Shelby took a stand against his party’s odious nominee, Roy Moore);
  • One like Dean Heller, facing a tough re-election race, plus maybe Lindsey Graham, who used to be among the leaders in blunt talk about Trump’s excesses;

If any of these two, or some other pair from the thirty-plus remaining Republicans, decided to take a stand, they would not change everything about  this perilous moment in politics. But they would do something, about the open secret of a destructive presidency that nearly all of their colleagues are aware of and virtually none is doing anything about.

They could remind their colleagues of the Senate’s appropriate check-and-balance function.

And they could spare themselves, in history’s perspective, the question Joseph Welch so memorably asked the rampaging Senator Joe McCarthy, during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.

From the Senate’s own historical  site: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2018 at 1:56 pm

Native Americans Say They’re Targets Of Shootings And Jailhouse Rapes By White Law Enforcement

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John Stanton reports from Wisconsin for Buzzfeed:

Hours after seeing her 14-year-old grandson, Jason, lying in the street just feet from her home, with police and EMS hovering over his motionless body, Cheryl Pero found herself in the cavernous gymnasium of the Bad River Reservation community center.

Cheryl and her husband, Al, couldn’t go home — where they’d raised Jason since infancy — because it was a crime scene.

So the family awaited word in the local gym about why an Ashland County Sheriff’s deputy had just fired two shots into the chest of Jason, who friends and family say was a relatively normal, happy child. With news of the shooting spreading rapidly via text message and Facebook, members of their tight-knit tribal community soon joined them.

Tracy Bigboy, a neighbor and victim services coordinator for the tribal government, was dispatched to take care of the Peros’ needs. She stood in the cold air outside of the community center, quietly smoking a cigarette, until Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan pulled off Highway 2 and into the parking lot.

With his squared-off shoulders, neatly cropped silver hair, and mustache, the 62-year-old Brennan has a carefully crafted by-the-book reputation and looks every inch the small-town sheriff. As he and one of his investigators approached, Bigboy stopped them, warning the sheriff that emotions were running high inside the gym and urging him to talk to the family privately.

As the Peros huddled in private with Brennan, it seemed to the family that the sheriff hadn’t come with answers, or even condolences. His main message, as the grieving Peros remember it: Let him control the public narrative of Jason’s death.

“Don’t talk to the media,” Bigboy and the Peros remember Brennan telling them. “Let us go first so we can tell you what to say.” And they say he had a warning for the community: Settle down and don’t riot.

Now, two months after Jason took two bullets to the chest on Nov. 8, his family still doesn’t know exactly what happened the morning that Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot him dead. Jason’s family says the sheriff has told them nothing, and Brennan did not respond to multiple requests to speak to BuzzFeed News about the shooting and about local law enforcement’s relationship with the Bad River community. Michael Nieskes, the St. Croix County District Attorney who has been appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the case, declined to comment.

The feeling of sadness and loss is palpable among members of the Bad River Band. But there’s also a deep sense of numbness and fatalism here that manifests in the nonchalant ways people talk about other violent encounters involving law enforcement and Native Americans. Jason’s death was at least the second time in as many months that a member of the Bad River Reservation had been killed by uniformed officers: On Oct. 28, a Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 27-year-old Lucas DeFord in nearby Black River Falls.

Locals have long complained about being pulled over for what they consider no good reason. “Driving while Indian,” they call it. And then there’s “the women,” a sort of shorthand that refers to allegations detailed in federal lawsuits that Sheriff Brennan did nothing as one of his jailers repeatedly raped and assaulted Native American women. “You’ve heard about the women, right?” locals say almost between thoughts.

The lack of information since Jason’s shooting has only compounded tensions here, laying bare the deep-rooted, systemic racial divisions between the Bad River tribe and the white community of Ashland.

“This has been going on for generations and generations,and it’s not going to stop,” Bigboy said.

In April 2013, a Native American woman with the initials J.L. arrived in the Ashland County Jail.

It didn’t take long for J.L., then in her early twenties, to catch the eye of Ashland County correctional officer Christopher J. Bond. The women’s showers, with their waist-high walls and central location in the jail, gave Bond — and anybody else who happened to walk by — a perfect view to ogle female inmates as they bathed.

According to a federal lawsuit filed in March by J.L., Bond would leeringly comment on her “pretty mouth” and simulate ejaculating into it when she ate jail-issued meals of hot dogs or kielbasa. He’d regularly corner her in areas of the county jail without cameras, forcing her to open her jumpsuit so he could grope her, said the lawsuit, one of five filed since January 2017 against the county and sheriff’s department alleging violation of the women’s civil rights. On nights he was on watch, Bond would direct J.L. to lie naked on her bed and masturbate while he watched on the jail’s surveillance cameras, the 25-year-old woman alleges. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2018 at 1:42 pm

Law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Here are some from this morning’s column:

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 11:06 am

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