Monday, August 29, 2016

Baltimore: Big Brother “is finally here.”

Since the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Police Department had been using a plane to investigate all sorts of crimes, from property thefts to shootings. The Cessna is equipped with the equivalent of 800 video cameras and surveils an area roughly 30 square miles. The public was never informed of the surveillance.
A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made.
Outside the courthouse, several of the protesters began marching around the building, chanting for justice. The plane continued to circle overhead, unseen.
A half block from the city’s central police station, in a spare office suite above a parking garage, Ross McNutt, the founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, monitored the city’s reaction to the Goodson verdict by staring at a bank of computer monitors. “It’s pretty quiet out there,” he said. The riots that convulsed the city after Gray was killed wouldn’t be repeated. “A few protesters on the corner, and not much else. The police want us to keep flying, but the clouds are getting in the way.”
McNutt said something about not being able to control the weather, pretending to shrug it off, but he was frustrated. He wanted to please the cops. Since this discreet arrangement began in January, it had felt like a make-or-break opportunity for McNutt. His company had been trying for years to snag a long-term contract with an American metropolitan police department. Baltimore seemed like his best shot to date, one that could lead to more work. He’s told police departments that his system might help them reduce crime by as much as 20 percent in their cities, and he was hoping this Baltimore job would allow him to back up the claim. “I don’t have good statistical data yet, but that’s part of the reason we’re here,” he said. McNutt believes the technology would be most effective if used in a transparent, publicly acknowledged manner; part of the system’s effectiveness, he said, rests in its potential to deter criminal activity.
McNutt is an Air Force Academy graduate, physicist, and MIT-trained astronautical engineer who in 2004 founded the Air Force’s Center for Rapid Product Development. The Pentagon asked him if he could develop something to figure out who was planting the roadside bombs that were killing and maiming American soldiers in Iraq. In 2006 he gave the military Angel Fire, a wide-area, live-feed surveillance system that could cast an unblinking eye on an entire city.
The system was built around an assembly of four to six commercially available industrial imaging cameras, synchronized and positioned at different angles, then attached to the bottom of a plane. As the plane flew, computers stabilized the images from the cameras, stitched them together and transmitted them to the ground at a rate of one per second. This produced a searchable, constantly updating photographic map that was stored on hard drives. His elevator pitch was irresistible: “Imagine Google Earth with TiVo capability.”
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Is the death penalty "too broken to fix"?

The imposition of the death penalty — from prosecution to sentencing — has become a rarity mostly confined to a very small number of counties in America, reported
This point about counties was highlighted by Justice Stephen Breyer — with maps — in a 2015 dissenting opinion he wrote in a death penalty challenge relating to execution drugs.
“Geography also plays an important role in determining who is sentenced to death. And that is not simply because some States permit the death penalty while others do not. Rather within a death penalty State, the imposition of the death penalty heavily de­pends on the county in which a defendant is tried,” he wrote at the time.
Now, a project out of Harvard Law School is attempting to explain why those counties exist — and how those counties exemplify larger problems that critics of the death penalty have described regarding the punishment.
The Fair Punishment Project has begun analyzing the 16 counties that imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015 and, on Tuesday, is releasing its first of two reports on its research. “Too Broken to Fix: Part I,” about half of those counties, details the common problems it has found throughout the eight counties. Those problems — as detailed and defined by the Fair Punishment Project include: overzealous prosecution, inadequate defense, racial bias and exclusion, excessive punishments, and innocence.
Notably, this county-level diminishment of the death penalty across much of the nation has happened on the front end of the death penalty process while the end of the process — the pace of executions in America — has slowed nearly to a standstill: Only one execution has taken place in the entire country since May 11.
At the other extreme, one county in Arizona — Maricopa County — had 28 death sentences imposed between 2010 and 2015.
The county, according to the Fair Punishment Project’s findings, stands out for its stark examples of the problems found across the counties that most often sentence people to death. The county, which includes Phoenix, is one of the largest in the nation and is perhaps best known for its chief law enforcement officer, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio’s harsh tactics against undocumented immigrants and other groups and support for racial profiling — policies often challenged successfully in court — have kept the county’s law enforcement efforts in the national news in recent years.
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Saturday, August 27, 2016

GateHouse:Another Pennsylvania prosecutor on the hot seat

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News
August 26, 2016

Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement officer was convicted, resigned and faces a jail sentence. This week, we learn the top prosecutor in the state’s largest jurisdiction is the subject of an expanding FBI probe. Philadelphia’s district attorney, Seth Williams, is on the hot seat.

Williams defeated 14-year incumbent Lynn Abraham in 2009. Abraham had been much maligned for her fierce pursuit of the death penalty, but as a public servant she never ended up on the other side of the law.

Pennsylvania has a dubious history of political corruption. Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane just resigned in disgrace. Former Treasurer Rob McCord resigned under federal indictment in 2015. Another former Treasurer, Barbara Hafer, was recently indicted — not to mention two Supreme Court Justices who recently resigned after being embroiled in the Kane/Porngate scandal.

Now it is Seth Williams’ turn. He has done nothing to endear himself to leaders in his own party.

When Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty to complete a study on its operation, Williams filed a King’s Bench action before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging the governor’s constitutional authority to grant reprieves.

The first case the governor chose to exercise his authority was that of Terry Williams, a case that gained national attention regarding his guilt. Seth Williams argued that Governor Wolf’s reprieve was inconsistent with the historical use of the constitutional power.

Then Seth Williams chose to hire former attorney general prosecutor Frank Fina. Fina was a prominent figure in the Kane prosecution. Fina was irked by Kane’s reinvestigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal, a case he investigated while in the attorney general’s office. Fina is alleged to have leaked embarrassing information about Kane that ultimately led to her self-destruction.

Later when it was revealed that Fina was involved in the distribution of racist and pornographic emails while in the AG’s office, pressure began to mount on Williams to fire Fina, reported The Legal Intelligencer.

Although Williams decided to transfer Fina out of the special investigations unit, Williams was warned that the scandal was likely to continue and could affect some prosecutions being brought by his office.

Williams decided that Fina and two other staffers would get sensitivity training but keep their jobs. Williams said in a statement that Fina, and the others, had regret and remorse. Fina has since left the office. The problems for Williams have taken on more serious tone. This week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015. Gifts that were not previously included on his mandatory annual financial interests statements.

Williams failed to report receiving a free $45,000 roof repair on his home from a New Jersey builder, cash gifts of $1,500 and $10,000 from friends, and $20,800 in free airfare and lodging for vacations to Key West, Las Vegas, Virginia, and the Dominican Republic.

Williams also received $10,000 in travel expenses for an Eisenhower Fellowship program in Australia and South Africa, $5,000 from the Ministry of Justice of Thailand to travel there to teach leadership classes, and free trips to several state and national prosecutorial forums, reported the Inquirer.

Also it was revealed this week that a federal probe into the Williams’ political and personal finances has expanded to include a nonprofit he founded.

According to the Inquirer, a foundation, which Williams started in 2011, received a federal subpoena for financial documents. That’s a new phase of an ongoing probe, which for more than a year has been exploring whether Williams misspent political funds on personal expenses.

Williams was defiant in the face of reasonable action on the part of the governor and obstinate when it was revealed that some of his controversial new staff did not have “clean hands.” He now faces even greater challenges to his political survival. Late this week, Bill Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “Philadelphia desperately needs a new district attorney.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Death sentences on the decline nationwide

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment, reported the New York Times. Four more have imposed a moratorium on executions. Of the 26 remaining states, only 14 handed down any death sentences last year, for a total of 50 across the country — less than half the number six years before. California, which issued more than one-quarter of last year’s death sentences, hasn’t actu­ally executed anyone since 2006. A new geography of capital punishment is taking shape, with just 2 percent of the nation’s counties now accounting for a majority of the people sitting on death row.
An small fraction of counties still imposes death sentences regularly. In June 2015, in the Supreme Court case Glossip v. Gross, which involved lethal injection, Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a dissent that only 15 counties — out of more than 3,000 across the United States — had imposed five or more new death sentences since 2010.
Breyer wrote that there is “convincing evidence” that innocent people have been executed in three states, and he described near-misses, with more than 100 exonerations on death row. He also laid out the proof that race affects who is selected for execution. The seminal study in the field,conducted in Georgia in the 1970s, found after controlling for many other factors that the death penalty was far more likely if a victim was white, especially if a defendant was black. Research since then has confirmed the disparity in states across the country. “Racism is the historical force that has most deeply marked the American death pen­alty,” says Carol Steiker, a Harvard law professor and an author of the forthcoming book “Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment From Colonial Days to the Present.”
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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

GateHouse: In Rio: The crime of the century?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
August 19, 2016

Last week, Ryan Lochte faced off against his teammate and friend Michael Phelps in the 200 meter medley. Phelps is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Lochte is no slouch, but he has toiled in the shadow of Phelps his entire career.

This race was going to be different. Lochte is the world record holder in the 200 medley. Phelps was vulnerable and Lochte was going to go out with a bang. Not only did Lochte fail to beat Phelps — he didn’t even win a medal coming in fourth behind Kosuke Hagino of Japan and Wang Shun of China.

So who could blame Lochte if he went out Saturday night to blow off some steam? What happened next rocked the Rio games and will cast a shadow over Lochte and the entire men’s swimming team.

The U.S. Olympic swim team had unprecedented moments of accomplishment. Phelps and Katie Ledecky were brilliant. The team won 19 gold medals and 33 medals overall. However, as the Rio games wind down the Lochte investigation has dominated the headlines, and according to the Washington Post, even the Rio 2016 organizers seem to wish it would simply go away.

Lochte, along with teammates James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz apparently fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. The story began to unravel when Brazilian authorities — sensitive to their country’s reputation for crime, violence and murder — began to investigate the alleged robbery.

Brazil should be sensitive when it comes to their reputation, a new report out this month has Brazilian cities dominating a list of the 50 murder capitals of the world, according to Forbes.

The report by Mexico City based Center for Public Security and Criminal Justice shows clearly that no country in the world has more cities plagued by violent crime than Brazil.

Yet Rio’s finest spent the better part of a week trying to refute an alleged robbery. The authorities went so far as to pull the passports of three of the athletes as they attempted to return to the United States.

Lochte and his teammates’ conduct should not be applauded or ignored. As the Washington Post put it, “Is there anything worse, in any country, than a bunch of entitled young drunks who break the furniture and pee on a wall?”

At a triumphant press conference yesterday, Civil Police chief Fernando Veloso rolled out his week long investigation. He suggested this was not a case of robbery it was a case of vandalism. The athletes were not robbed at gun point they were merely made to pay restitution for the vandalism at gun point.

“The surveillance tapes show that there was no violence against the athletes at the gas station,” Veloso said. “Their claim that they are a victim of an assault or robbery or any kind of violence is not true.”

He said the athletes could face potential charges including false communication of a crime and damaging private assets, those charges were unlikely because the athletes had paid for the damages that night — at gun point — and the owner of the gas station was not pressing charges, reported CNN.

“This kind of crime will not lead to their arrest,” Veloso said. Last night, Lochte and Feigen were indicted.

While this absurd investigation rolls on, how about the athlete from Great Britain who was robbed or the Australian athletes robbed after a fire drill or the athlete robbed by an Olympic village worker. Could the resources used to investigate the false report have been better spent on investigating these violent crimes?

Should the murder capital of the world be so invested in setting the record straight on a false report punishable by, at most, six months in jail? This has become nothing more than PR by the Rio PD.

The only sanity emanating from Rio came from a Rio 2016 spokesperson who tried to make light of the case.
“These kids tried to have fun, they tried to represent their country to the best of their abilities,” Mario Andrada told the BBC. “They competed under gigantic pressure. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometime you take actions that you later regret.

“They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Crime Report: Pennsylvania’s Shakespearean Tragedy

Matthew T. Mangino
The Crime Report
August 19, 2016
The curtain has closed on a Pennsylvania political tragedy of Shakespearian proportion—a drama that included sex, rivalries, secret meetings, corruption, impeachment, a public trial.  and a litany of disgraced leaders.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who resigned this week,was the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general in a state that only began electing its attorney general in 1980. She campaigned as an outsider —a non-politician who had never before run for public office---who could shake up establishment politics in her state.
But her rise and fall offers a  lesson about the importance of experience in running senior criminal justice agencies—not to mention holding high government office.
As we approach a presidential election pitting a self-proclaimed outsider against maybe the ultimate insider, there is something to be said for experience. Although President Obama said “There is nothing that truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office,” understanding compromise that comes with being a U.S. Senator, diplomacy that comes with being secretary of state, and humility that comes with being first lady can be helpful.
Kane’s lack of experience running a large office, dealing with the public scrutiny of high political office, and the failure to understand the nuances of politics proved disastrous for the citizens of Pennsylvania and has struck at the very core of the state’s criminal justice system
A jury of six men and six women took little more than four hours to convict Kane of perjury, conspiracy, official oppression, and false swearing. Her trial began last week and was highlighted by testimony from three insiders: ex-first deputy Bruce Beemer; a former aide and former beau, Adrian King; and political confidant and consultant Josh Morrow.
Her perjury conviction is a felony and can land her in prison.
Kane was a rising star in Pennsylvania politics.  The former assistant county prosecutor won by an unexpectedly large margin when she beat a county prosecutor who was the son-in-law of the state’s first elected attorney general, Leroy Zimmerman.
She gained points during the campaign by attacking the sitting governor, her predecessor, Tom Corbett, and his handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation.  Kane suggested that Corbett slow-walked the investigation so the matter would not come up during his campaign for governor.
She vowed to investigate the investigation.
The investigation of the Sandusky investigation led to nothing. But the special investigator hired by Kane to look into the matter, uncovered the pervasive distribution of pornographic emails within the AG’s office and among other state officials.
In the process, a feud began with the chief prosecutor of the Sandusky investigation, Frank Fina.  Fina left the AG’s office when Kane was sworn in and took a job in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
All fingers pointed to Fina when a story broke that Kane discontinued a Philadelphia political corruption prosecution. In fact, Fina’s new boss, Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, agreed to take over the prosecution.  Kane was incensed and said that Fina’s alleged  action in leaking the story meant “war.”
She retaliated by leaking grand jury documents to the Philadelphia Daily Newsrelating to a 2009 case involving J. Whyatt Mondesire which Fina declined to prosecute. Then Kane lied to a grand jury about ordering the leak.
Kane’s tenure has been tumultuous to say the least.  Her law license has been suspended, and she  survivied an targent  impeachment attempt by the state house.
Kane arrived in office in January 2013 with little or no political experience. A former assistant district attorney for Lackawanna County, her period in office was filled with odd and frankly unbelievable conduct, followed by bluster about being the victim of the “old boys club.”  In the process, she released a series of crude and pornographic emails that cost the jobs of two Supreme Court justices, a member of the former governor’s cabinet and a member of the state board of probation and parole.
At a time when law enforcement, prosecutors and the justice system are being challenged, Kane’s “public service” debacle has done nothing to help. Kane was preoccupied with her own political survival.  She lacked credibility to be a force in law enforcement reform, rooting out corruption or building stronger ties to the community for prosecutors and the court system.
That was a cautionary lesson in itself, but to underline the poiny, Kane’s first deputy (and her appointed replacement) Bruce L. Castor Jr., said at a press conference that some of the mess Kane left behind won't be so easily wiped away. He said his first objective as attorney general will be regaining the trust of the public, which he acknowledged was ­damaged by Kane's tumultuous tenure.
Kane leaves office with a whimper. Although her lawyer suggests she may appeal, her resignation is the beginning of the end of an ugly period in Pennsylvania politics.
We would do well to keep that ugly chapter in mind when we think about our national leadership in the months ahead.

Matthew T. Mangino,  the former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania  is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino). Readers’ comments are welcome.
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Friday, August 19, 2016

Schools are safer than ever, suspensions are up

U.S. schools are safer than they have ever been, reports The Crime Report. Crime in schools has declined during the past two decades, says the recently published federal report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2015." In 2014, students 12 to 18 experienced 33 victimizations per 1,000 students at school, a decline of 82 percent from 181 per 1,000 in 1992. Between the 1999-2000 and 2013-14 school years, the percentage of public school students who reported bullying occurred at school at least once per week decreased from 29 to 16 percent.
The bad news  writes the U.S. Education Department's David Esquith for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, is that large numbers of students are losing precious instructional time because they are suspended or expelled, especially African-American and Hispanic students.
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