Thursday, May 23, 2019

Furor continues over SFPD raid of journalist's home

San Francisco police chief  William Scott addressed reporters hours after police agreed in court to return property seized from journalist Bryan Carmody in raids aimed at uncovering the source of a leaked police report into the unexpected death of the city’s former elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, reported The Associated Press.
Tensions are high in the case, which has alarmed journalism advocates and put pressure on elected leaders in the politically liberal city to defend the press.
Authorities believe a police department employee was involved and had contact with Carmody.
“We believe that that contact and that interaction went across the line. It went past just doing your job as a journalist,” Scott said.
He added: “This is a big deal to us, as well it should be. It’s a big deal to the public. It’s a big deal to you all.”
Media organizations across the country criticized the May 10 raids as a violation of California’s shield law, which specifically protects journalists from search warrants. The Associated Press is among dozens of news organizations siding with Carmody and seeking to submit a friend-of-the-court brief.
The case will soon return to court. Carmody’s attorney and media organizations have asked to unseal warrant materials and revoke the search warrants. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng has not ruled yet on those requests, but he set deadlines for further filings.
The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle has joined other publications in criticizing city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, for failing to quickly condemn the police actions. A Chronicle report published Monday named supervisors who have not returned messages for comment on the raids.
When they arrived at Carmody’s home, police had a sledgehammer, and they cuffed him for hours. The police chief said Carmody was cuffed because of the possibility he might have firearms in the house.
Breed initially defended the raids but on Sunday posted messages on Twitter saying she was “not okay” with raids on reporters.
District Attorney George Gascon, whose office would normally be responsible for possibly prosecuting Carmody, condemned the police. He said he has not seen the warrants, which are sealed, but he could not imagine a situation where warrants would be appropriate.
“Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report,” he said in a Monday tweet.
The police chief acknowledged the uproar, saying that in hindsight the department could have done things differently and will strive to learn from its mistakes.
“We respect the news media,” he said. “We have to own what we own and move forward, and try to get better at what we do.”
In court documents, Carmody has said he is a veteran journalist who is often the first on the scene of breaking news. He provides video news packages to outlets in return for payment.
He said a source gave him a preliminary police report on Adachi’s death that contained unsavory details. Carmody went on to sell copies of the report along with video footage from the scene of the death and information obtained from interviews to three news stations.
The leak infuriated city supervisors. They scolded police for anonymously releasing the report to the press, saying it was an attempt to smear the legacy of Adachi, who was an outspoken critic of police. An autopsy blamed Adachi’s Feb. 22 death on a mixture of cocaine and alcohol that compromised an already bad heart.
People who want to crack down on journalists come in all political stripes, said Jim Wheaton, founder of the First Amendment Project, a public interest law firm.
“They went after him because he’s all by himself,” Wheaton said. “And the fact that he sells the materials that he packages. He puts together a journalism report including documents and sells it. That’s what journalism is.”
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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Trump considers pardoning war criminals

President Donald Trump’s reported plans to pardon several U.S. servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes elicited bipartisan criticism in the Senate on Tuesday, reported the Huffington Post.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to pardon someone who is legitimately convicted of committing war crimes. It’s unthinkable,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost when asked about the New York Times report.
According to the Times, the White House over the weekend requested the necessary paperwork to issue a pardon for a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes who was turned in by the men who served with him.
Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is charged with firing on civilians in Iraq in 2017 and fatally stabbing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter. He allegedly bragged about racking up civilian kills and threatened members of his SEAL team if they reported him. He has pleaded not guilty.
Others who are reportedly up for a pardon include a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis and an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010.
The Trump administration asked for pardon paperwork on the men by the Memorial Day weekend, according to the Times.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she “would have some issues” about the potential pardons when asked about the Times report.
“I just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for servicemembers as well,” added Ernst, an Army National Guard combat veteran who served in Iraq.
Earlier this month, Trump issued a pardon for former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert in 2008, stripped him and fatally shot him. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder and was already serving a reduced sentence when the president pardoned him.
Critics say that presidential pardons of accused war criminals can undermine the military’s ethical code against atrocities and threaten current U.S. servicemembers abroad who could face retaliation.
“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us,” retired U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey tweeted. Dempsey served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Barack Obama.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, accused Trump of abusing his pardon power.
“I don’t think presidential pardon powers and especially something as egregious as war crimes should be something done as a political ploy, and that seems like what he’s doing,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who also served in the Army during the Iraq War.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

One man sits on New Hampshire's death row as the death penalty teeters on the brink of extinction

Michael Addison is the only man on death row in New Hampshire. He spends his days alone in a concrete cell with a mattress, a sink, a toilet, and a tall, narrow window. His visitors are members of his legal team, who file the court documents that constitute his only communication with the wider world, reported the Boston Globe.
But as the state grapples with the likelihood that the Legislature will vote this month to override a gubernatorial veto and repeal the death penalty, Addison looms large on both sides of the debate. He is a black man in an almost all-white state who killed a police officer and father of two, and who was sentenced to death weeks after a white millionaire also facing the death penalty was given life in prison. In the philosophical clash over ethics and justice, Addison is a brutal fact.
 “When we talk about the death penalty in the abstract, there’s a growing movement toward abolition because of concerns about fairness, accuracy, discrimination, and cruelty,” Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed said. “But on a granular level, in an individual case, it gets complicated.”
Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs was an hour from the end of his shift in the early morning of Oct. 16, 2006, patrolling the east side of the city on his bike, when the call came in: a gunshot fired during a domestic incident in an apartment. He and his partner pedaled to the scene.
The outcry over Briggs’s death swept New Hampshire. His funeral procession wound for miles through downtown Manchester, thousands of police officers escorting a hearse and a riderless horse into a baseball stadium filled with hundreds of civilians, where, according to local media, his casket was laid on home plate.
His killing sparked heated debate over capital punishment. Then-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte announced she’d seek the death penalty, and legislators earmarked a budget for the case bigger than her office’s entire litigation budget for that fiscal year, legislators said at the time. Then-Governor John Lynch called the killing of Briggs a crime that “strikes at the very heart and fabric of our society.”
The state hadn’t executed anyone since 1939. Two men were sentenced to death in 1959, but their lives were spared when the US Supreme Court struck down state death penalty laws in 1972. The last time the death penalty was sought before Addison was in a 1997 killing of an Epsom police officer, but that case ended in a plea arrangement that allowed the defendant to avoid execution. Execution was rarely pursued and hotly contested when it was.
New Hampshire’s death penalty statute can only be applied to certain types of murders, including the murder of an on-duty police officer or judge, murder for hire, murder connected to a kidnapping, and murder during a rape. Bills aiming to abolish capital punishment have come before the Legislature nearly every session for the past two decades, and at times, repeal advocates have come close to success.
In 2000, the House and Senate both passed legislation to end the death penalty, only to see it vetoed by then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen. In 2014, repeal legislation failed on a tie vote in the state Senate. Last year, current Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a bill identical to House Bill 455.
Today, though, the death penalty seems poised to fall. The House and Senate both passed the current bill, and while Sununu vetoed it May 3, the Legislature appears for the first time to have enough votes to override the veto. The House is expected to vote on it Thursday. If that override passes, the Senate is expected to vote the following week.
The repeal would not be retroactive, and so it would not directly affect Addison’s case, though legal experts and precedent suggest the courts would not allow him to be executed if New Hampshire no longer had the death penalty.
Still, Addison has figured prominently in the public dialogue. When Sununu vetoed the repeal bill, he did so from inside the Manchester Police Athletic League Officer Michael Briggs Community Center, blocks from where Briggs was killed, flanked by police officers and Briggs’s family.
“This is common sense,” Sununu said. “New Hampshire has always exercised great prudence, great responsibility, in its application of the death penalty. I firmly see, along with many folks across this state, this bill is an injustice. Not just to Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and other victims of violent crime across the state.”
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Monday, May 20, 2019

George Kelling of "Broken Window" fame has died

“Consider a building with a few broken windows,” wrote James Q. Wilson, a government professor at Harvard University, and George L. Kelling, a criminal-justice professor at Rutgers University, in a 1982 article for The Atlantic. “If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.” Disorder, in other words, led to serious crime.
Wilson and Kelling posed a revolutionary theory: If the original windows were repaired, the escalating string of crimes that followed might be checked before it began. Kelling died this week; Wilson, in 2012. 
Their theory has been celebrated by some, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former NYPD Chief William Bratton, as the driving force behind a historic reduction in crime in New York City in the 1990s. It’s also been questioned by many sociologists and criminologists, and associated with controversial policing practices such as New York’s “stop and frisk” program. For years, Kelling participated in the debate his work had sparked, clarifying his and Wilson’s reasoning and criticizing some of the ways others applied it. 
, that debate will continue without him. Kelling described their thinking while writing the original article in a 2015 essay titled “An Author’s Brief History of an Idea.” “Although we believed that police should do something about disorder,” he wrote, “at that time we were not sure what—concerned as we were about issues of justice, equity, and racism and limited by the state of police thinking of the time.” They knew that the history of policing in America was rife with abuses of African American communities, he added in a follow-up piece, including the arrests and convictions of black men for minor crimes under the Black Codes. They also knew that their theory would likely ignite controversy, and could lead to accusations of racial profiling, or worse.
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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Facial recognition under scrutiny in some cities

Facial recognition technology raises fears of a dystopian surveillance state, with vanishing privacy and a high potential for abuse, reports The New York Times. Such concerns led San Francisco this week to ban any use of facial recognition by the police and other city agencies.
But it is also a powerful and efficient tool that, much like DNA analysis, offers a way to bring policing into the modern age and help catch wrongdoers or solve crimes that have gone cold.
It has been used to arrest men accused of child sex abuse, including a fugitive who had fled to Nepal and a man in Oklahoma who had been at large for two decades. It has helped nab a trio of jewel thief suspects and people who the authorities said were trying to enter the country under fake names.
It is difficult to say exactly how many of the nation’s 18,000 police departments use facial recognition or how they deploy it. Some departments have been caught using it without the public’s knowledge, or to search crowds of protesters for people with outstanding warrants.
But since the San Francisco ban, several agencies have come forward to argue that it is counterproductive to forbid any use of what they call a valuable tool that generates investigative leads.
Some departments, including the New York Police Department, have policies that say that a possible match found by facial recognition does not constitute an identification or probable cause for an arrest.
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Saturday, May 18, 2019

GateHouse: The NRA’s greatest fraud

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 17, 2019
In 1991, retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, being interviewed on PBS News Hour, described the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment like this, “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
The NRA has taken fraud to a whole new level.
In a battle to take control of the NRA, the organization’s president Oliver North and Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre began to publicly air the NRA’s dirty (and expensive) laundry. For starters, according to the New York Times, LaPierre billed to the NRA $275,000.00 for purchases at the Zegna luxury men’s wear boutique in Beverly Hills. North, who was going to serve without pay, had a contract worth millions of dollars a year. Other payments included $60,000 for advertising on a TV show featuring the rock musician and NRA board member Ted Nugent.
All this while gun deaths of school-age children in the United States have increased at an alarming rate, with 38,942 fatalities among 5- to 18-year-olds from 1999 to 2017, according to a new study by Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine, reported CNN.
Dr. Charles Hennekens, the study’s senior author said, “It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms,”
No one will challenge the gun lobby, even though much of what is touted is based on a false premise. The Second Amendment provides, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
In an excerpt from former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ forthcoming memoir he writes, “Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms.” He went on to write, when he was appointed in 1975 to the Court, ”(B)oth state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia.”
In Miller, the National Firearms Act was used to convict a man for transporting a 12-gauge shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches long across state lines. The man neither registered the gun nor had a written order for it, as required by the Act.
The Supreme Court found that the National Firearms Act did not violate the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Court could not find that a sawed-off shotgun had any reasonable relation to the preservation of a well-regulated militia, and “therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.”
Miller remained the law until 2008, when by a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court recognized an individual’s right to possess a firearm under the Constitution. Justice Stevens calls the decision “unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench.”
E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post says the NRA’s overzealous support of the Second Amendment is about more than guns, it’s about politics. “The anti-government right knows it can’t sell Americans of modest incomes on its opposition to minimum wages, corporate regulation or more progressive taxes. So they channel their arguments through the gun issue and pretend that this is really a culture war ... ”
It is unquestionably the NRA’s greatest fraud.
Matthew T. Mangino 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 at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, May 17, 2019

Alabama and Tennessee inmates executed within four minutes of each other

The 6th and 7th Executions of 2019
Michael Brandon Samra and Donnie Edward Johnson were executed within four minutes of each other on May 16, 2019, in Alabama and Tennessee, respectively, reported The Marshall Project.  Samra was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to death for his role in the 1997 killings of Randy Duke, his fiancĂ©e, Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two daughters, 6-year-old Chelisa Nicole Hunt and 7-year-old Chelsea Marie Hunt. Randy Duke was the father of Samra's friend and co-defendant, 16-year-old Mark Duke.
The adults were shot to death, but court records state Mark Duke and Samra, then 19, slit the girls' throats with kitchen knives after they ran out of bullets.
According to court records, Mark Duke planned the murders after he got into a fight with his father over using a pickup truck. Mark Duke was also convicted and sentenced to death, but that sentence was later changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole because of Mark Duke's age at the time of the crime.
Johnson was sentenced to death for the Dec. 8, 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson, in Memphis.
He suffocated his wife by stuffing a large plastic bag down her mouth in the offices of a camping equipment center where he worked, according to court documents. Johnson then asked an inmate on work-release at the camping center to help him move Connie Johnson’s body into her van.
They moved the body and left the van in a mall parking lot, where it was found the next day.
Donnie Johnson initially told police he was not involved in the murder, but he no longer contests his guilt. Instead, Johnson, now 68, says he should be spared because of how much he’s changed over the course of three decades behind bars.
In a clemency application submitted to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Johnson’s lawyers said he had gone from "a liar, a cheat, a con man and a murderer" to an ordained elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church "with a flock in prison."
Johnson’s appeal for mercy leans heavily on his Christian faith and his relationship with his stepdaughter, Cynthia Vaughn, the victim’s daughter.
Vaughn initially condemned Johnson for killing her mother, at one point saying, "I want the freak to burn." But after meeting with Johnson in 2012, she forgave him and became the most compelling advocate in his fight to avoid execution. Vaughn has requested a meeting with the governor to make the case for mercy. Lee's Christian faith played a central role in his campaign for governor.
Johnson can decide if he will be executed by lethal injection or electric chair. His attorneys say he is postponing that choice until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending challenge to Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol.
Johnson was initially set to die by electrocution in 2006, but a federal appeals court delayed it days beforehand in order to vet a complaint about the main witness against him. Johnson’s legal team has said they don’t plan to make any other attempts to delay or block his execution aside from the petition for clemency.
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