Watch my appearance on WFMJ-TV21 News discussing the developments in the Alec Baldwin manslaughter charges in New Mexico.
To watch the interview CLICK HERE
* Criminal Defense Attorney * Former Prosecutor * Former Parole Board Member * 724-658-8535
Watch my appearance on WFMJ-TV21 News discussing the developments in the Alec Baldwin manslaughter charges in New Mexico.
To watch the interview CLICK HERE
The 7th Execution of 2023
Florida executed Donald Dillbeck on February 23, 2023 for murdering a woman in 1990 after he escaped from prison, stabbing her to death in a shopping mall parking lot in an attempted carjacking, reported The Associated Press.
Dillbeck, 59, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, the governor’s office said. He had been convicted in the murder of Faye Vann, 44, in Tallahassee near the state Capitol.
The execution was Florida’s first in nearly four years and the third under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. By comparison, his immediate predecessor, current U.S. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, oversaw 28 executions.
Vann’s children, Tony and Laura, released a statement after the execution: “11,932 days ago, Donald Dillbeck brutally killed our Mother. We were robbed of years of memories with her, and it has been very painful ever since.”
They thanked DeSantis for carrying out the execution, saying it “has given us some closure.”
The curtain between the death chamber and the viewing room opened at 6 p.m. Thursday. When asked if he had any last words, Dillbeck said: “I know I hurt people when I was young. I really messed up.” He also criticized DeSantis.
The execution began at 6:02 p.m., and Dillbeck closed his eyes shortly thereafter. He breathed deeply for a few minutes while his body shook. By 6:07 p.m., his mouth hung open, and he appeared to stop breathing.
Dillbeck was 15 when he stabbed a man in Indiana while trying to steal a CB radio, court records show. He fled to Florida, where Lee County Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall found him in a Fort Myers Beach parking lot. While Hall was searching him, Dillbeck hit the deputy in the groin and ran. Hall tackled him and, as the two wrestled, Dillbeck took Hall’s gun and shot him twice.
Dillbeck was 11 years into a life sentence for killing the deputy when he walked away from a work release assignment catering a meal for a seniors event, according to court records. He then bought a paring knife and walked to Tallahassee.
Vann was waiting for her family when Dillbeck approached her car with the knife and demanded a ride, saying he’d forgotten how to drive, court records show.
Vann honked the horn, tried to drive off and fought back that Sunday afternoon, but Dillbeck stabbed her more than 20 times and slit her throat, court records show. He crashed the car a short time later and was captured after running from the scene.
Despite a prior escape attempt and an assault on another prisoner, Dillbeck had been placed in a minimum security facility. A furious Republican Gov. Bob Martinez fired three corrections officials and sought to implement rules to ensure prisoners with life sentences would be held in more secure settings.
Florida’s Supreme Court earlier this month denied appeals claiming he shouldn’t be put to death because he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and it was cruel and unusual to keep him on death row for more than 30 years before his death warrant was signed. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeals Wednesday.
DeSantis, who was reelected last November and who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, was quiet on the death penalty during his first term. His office refused to answer repeated phone calls and emails about the lack of warrants signed since 2019. DeSantis also cut off an Associated Press reporter who asked about the long pause in executions and didn’t answer the question.
But DeSantis criticized a Broward County jury’s failure to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death for fatally shooting 17 students and faculty at a Parkland high school, and has since said he wants to change a 2017 state law that requires a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death penalty so that one or two jurors can’t affect the sentence.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Florida has been one of the most active states in carrying out executions.
Democratic Gov. Bob Graham oversaw 16 executions between 1979 and 1987. Martinez oversaw nine in his one term in office, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles oversaw 18, and 21 prisoners were executed under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Gov. Charlie Crist oversaw five executions in his single term in office.
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Watch my interview on Court TV discussing the trial of Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced attorney accused of killing his wife and son in South Carolina.
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According to Axios, antisemitic hate crimes are trending higher this year in several major cities, and could surpass 2021 numbers — a possible record year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Why it matters: The White House has expressed alarm about rising antisemitic violence across the U.S. and a jump in racist and antisemitic social media posts, but collecting data is difficult because many police departments are failing to report hate crimes.
By the numbers:
· New York saw a preliminary count of 260 antisemitic crimes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found. The city experienced 170 cases during the same period in 2021.
· Los Angeles faced 80 antisemitic cases from January to Oct. 31, 2022, the center said. The nation's second-largest city experienced 71 during the same period in 2021.
· Chicago saw 30 antisemitic episodes from January to Oct. 31, 2022, compared to eight in the same period last year.
· Cases appear flat in Boston, Denver, Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon.
The center collects hate crime stats from police data, state reports and open records requests.
Zoom out: The FBI said this week that anti-Jewish hate crimes declined significantly, with 396 incidents in 2021 compared to 959 in 2020.
Yes, but: The FBI hate crime report was based on data received from just 11,883 of the 18,812 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and excludes many large cities with high numbers of Jewish residents.
"Excluded in this report were cities you wouldn't exclude from major sports leagues," Brian Levin, director of the center, told Axios.
Levin said when you include antisemitic hate crimes in New York and Los Angeles, for example, the number of antisemitic hate crimes nationally in 2021 is around a record level. And 2022 could surpass that.
Zoom in: Antisemitic hate crimes have been rising in recent years, even in smaller states.
Wisconsin saw between 2015 and 2021 an almost a 500% increase in antisemitic episodes, Samantha Abramson, executive director of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee, told Axios.
Flashback: October marked the four-year anniversary of the attack at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, the deadliest assault on Jewish people in U.S. history.
Eleven people were killed and six were injured at the Pittsburgh synagogue on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, when a gunman stormed the building in the attack that brought more attention to the nation's rising antisemitic violence.
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The head of Alabama’s prison system said recently that a protocol for using nitrogen gas to carry out executions should be finished this year, reported The Associated Press.
“We’re close. We’re close,” Alabama Commissioner John Hamm said of the new execution method that the state has been working to develop for several years.
He said the protocol “should be” finished by the end of the year. Hamm made the comment in response to a question from The Associated Press about the status of the new execution method. Once the protocol is finished, there would be litigation over the untested execution method before the state attempts to use it.
Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed execution method in which death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving them of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions. Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi have authorized the use of nitrogen hypoxia, but it has never been used to carry out a death sentence.
Alabama lawmakers in 2018 approved legislation that authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an alternate execution method. Supporters said the state needed a new method as lethal injection drugs became difficult to obtain. Lawmakers theorized that death by nitrogen hypoxia could be a simpler and more humane execution method. But critics have likened the untested method to human experimentation.
The state has disclosed little information about the new execution method. The Alabama Department of Corrections told a federal judge in 2021 that it had completed a “system” to use nitrogen gas but did not describe it.
Although lethal injection remains the primary method for carrying out death sentences, the legislation gave inmates a brief window to select nitrogen as their execution method. A number of inmates selected nitrogen.
Hamm also said a review of the state’s execution procedures should be completed, “probably within the next month.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey requested a pause in executions to review procedures after lethal injections were halted. Ivey cited concerns for the victims and their families in ordering the review in Alabama.
“For the sake of the victims and their families, we’ve got to get this right,” Ivey said.
A group of faith leaders last week urged Ivey to authorize an independent review of execution procedures, as Oklahoma and Tennessee did after a series of failed lethal injections in those states.
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In the US, an estimated one in 20 gun homicides are committed by police, as law enforcement killings have failed to decrease despite years of nationwide protests, reports The Guardian.
Law enforcement officers killed at least 1,192 people in 2022, the highest number recorded in a decade, according to Mapping Police Violence, a prominent non-profit database of police killings. More than 1,100 people were killed by the police in both 2020 and 2021. The vast majority of these deaths were police shootings.
There were more than 25,000 total homicides in the US in 2020 and 26,000 in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National data for 2022 is not yet available.
Police shooting deaths represented 5% of all gun homicides in 2020 and 2021, and total police killings represented nearly 5% of all homicides, according to the best available public data.
Because only a small number of deadly incidents each year receive wide media attention, many Americans may not realize that “a meaningful fraction of homicides in the US are police killings”, said Justin Feldman, a researcher at the Center for Policing Equity.
The number of US homicide victims who die in mass shootings each year, for instance, is smaller than the number killed by police. While definitions of “mass shooting” vary, the estimated number of people killed in these incidents have ranged from a few dozen to 700 people a year in recent years.
“There is a lot of fear, with mass shootings and gun violence in general, that some stranger will show up wherever you are and kill you,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, the founder of Mapping Police Violence. “But police contribute a large part to those numbers.”
The circumstances for many murders are listed as unknown in the FBI’s incomplete national crime statistics database, but in 2020 nearly 4,000 people were listed as being killed by a friend or an acquaintance, and about 1,800 were known to be killed by a stranger.
Some police departments have much higher rates of police killings than others. In Vallejo, California, which is known for police violence, the police department was responsible for 30% of the city’s homicides in 2012. Police killed six people that year; a single officer killed three people in three different incidents, and was later promoted.
More than 32,000 Americans have been killed by police since 1980, but official public health statistics have undercounted the number of killings for decades, according to a 2021 study from University of Washington researchers published in the Lancet, a prominent medical journal. Over the past four decades, US police have killed Black people at a rate 3.5 times higher than white people, and have also killed Hispanic and Indigenous people at higher rates, the study estimated.
The rate of fatalities from police violence rose even when the nation’s overall homicide rate sharply declined, with the rate of deaths from police violence rising 38% from the 1980s to the 2010s, the study found.
The US has much higher rates of both police killings and overall homicides than other wealthy countries. In Europe, the combined number of police killings and state executions remains in the single digits each year in many countries, according to data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The US’s annual rate of police killings and state executions, with more than 1,000 deaths a year, is more comparable to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Cameroon, Libya and Sudan, according to IHME data.
At least one international study has found the rate of police killings “strongly correlates” with overall homicide rates across multiple countries, but also noted that data on police violence is likely to be less reliable in countries where police kill more frequently.
A 2018 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “police were responsible for about 8% of all homicides with adult male victims between 2012 and 2018”, or about one in 12. Frank Edwards, a Rutgers University sociologist and the lead author of that study, said it was not surprising that the current percentage of police homicides would be somewhat lower than 8% when factoring in the killings of women and well as men, and as the national total number of homicides had also increased sharply since 2020.
Public databases from news outlets and non-profits still offer more complete and reliable data on police killings than the US government, more than seven years after the nation’s FBI director called it “embarrassing and ridiculous” that newspapers produced a more accurate national count of US police shootings than the Department of Justice. Mapping Police Violence, for instance, tracks police killings using a combination of state law enforcement data and incident data drawn from media reports and public records requests.
It’s not only national crime data that’s flawed when it comes to homicides by police. For decades, more than half of police killings have been mislabeled as generic homicides or suicides in the CDC’s official death statistics database, said Eve Wool and Mohsen Naghavi, two of the authors of the Lancet paper on police killings.
The undercounting of police killings in public health data is a result of coding failures by coroners, medical examiners and other public health officials, many of whom “work for or are embedded within police departments”, the researchers found.
Because of the lack of official statistics, Feldman and Edwards said, comparing the count of police killings in non-profit databases like Mapping Police Violence with the CDC’s total homicide numbers is the most accurate way to estimate the percentage of homicides committed by police.
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Watch my appearance on Law and Crime Network to discuss the trial of disgraced lawyer Alex Murdaugh accused of murdering his wife and son.
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Anthony Lowe was clearly trying to get away; there was no chance, really, that he would succeed, wrote Bill Lueders for The Bulwark.
The 36-year-old California man can be seen on cell phone video leaving his wheelchair behind and hobbling along on the stumps that constituted, as one news account put it, “what remained of his legs.” He can be seen waving a large knife, pursued by police with guns drawn. As other video seems to show, he had just used the knife to stab another man from behind.
Lowe, a black man, was a double amputee, having lost both legs below the knees last year. I use the past tense “was” because two of the officers, in a part of the videotaped encounter that was obscured from view by a parked vehicle, shot him 11 times in the torso, killing him.
This happened in Huntington Park, a city in Los Angeles County, on January 26, one day before the anticipated release of what was accurately described as “horrific” video of police in Memphis delivering a fatal beating to Tyre Nichols.
Yet while Nichols’s killing drew worldwide outrage and protests, Lowe’s death went largely unnoticed, as have three other police killings in California in recent weeks. The five officers in the Nichols beating were fired from their jobs and charged with second-degree murder and other offenses, seven others were disciplined, and three fire department employees lost their jobs for failing to provide aid on the scene. The officers involved in Lowe’s death have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
From the perspective of Lowe’s family, the officers who killed him are as blameworthy as those who killed Nichols. “They murdered my son, in a wheelchair with no legs,” Lowe’s mother, Dorothy Lowe, said through tears at a news conference. Shouted Lowe’s cousin, Ellakenyada Gorum, “How coldhearted could they be?” The family says Lowe was experiencing a mental health crisis.
Perhaps we can all agree: This was a killing that did not need to happen, one that could and should have been avoided.
“Here we see an individual that, by definition, appears to be physically incapable of resisting officers,” Ed Obayashi, a national policing expert specializing in use-of-force investigations, told NBC News. “Even if he is armed with a knife, his mobility is severely restricted. He’s an amputee. He appears to be at a distinct physical disadvantage, lessening the apparent threat to officers.”
Yet the officers who deployed deadly force against Lowe have two things going in their favor. First, the law, at least arguably, allows them to do what they did. Second, they quite likely did what they did because they were trained to do it.
These two things together go a long way toward explaining why police in the United States kill about 1,000 people a year and are almost never criminally charged, much less convicted.
In California, law enforcement officers are allowed to use lethal force “only when they reasonably believe, based on the totality of circumstances, that such force is necessary in defense of human life.” The factors that may be taken into consideration here, as for police throughout the country, are established by a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor.
That ruling says the use of deadly force must be “objectively reasonable” based on a non-exhaustive list of factors “including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”
Severity of the crime? Check. Lowe had apparently just used a knife to attack another man, a complete stranger, causing serious injury. Attempting to evade arrest? Check. Lowe was definitely trying to get away from the cops, however futilely. Immediate threat? That one is debatable.
As the Guardian reported, “The video does not show any civilians near Lowe as he tries to hobble away, and he also appears to be at a distance from the officers.” The Huntington Park Police Department said in a statement released four days after the killing that Lowe “ignored the officer’s verbal commands and threatened to advance or throw the knife at the officers.” He was tased twice but “continued to threaten officers with the butcher knife,” until he was shot. None of this was captured on the cell phone video. Huntington Park police do not wear body cameras. Surveillance video from a nearby vantage point captured the final confrontation; that footage appears to show Lowe fleeing while gesturing back at the pursuing officers with his knife before being shot.
The Los Angeles sheriff’s department, which is investigating the matter, initially claimed in a statement that Lowe attempted to “throw the knife at the officers,” but later clarified that he “did not throw the knife ultimately, but he made the motion multiple times over his head like he was going to throw the knife.”
To some, this is simply not justification enough for the use of deadly force.
“There was absolutely no reason to shoot a double amputee . . . 11 times, who was hobbling away from officers,” said Annee Della Donna, an attorney representing several members of Lowe’s family, at a news conference. “Both the officers and the public were not at threat. He was a handicapped person suffering from a mental crisis.”
But in fact, officers throughout the country are routinely taught that they should respond to a possible knife threat with deadly force. There’s even a name for it. It’s called the “21-foot rule.”
The rule holds that an individual with a knife is posing an immediate threat to officers if he is within 21 feet. That purportedly is how far a person armed with a knife or blunt instrument can travel before an officer can unholster his weapon, aim, and fire, according to a 1983 SWAT magazine article titled “How Close Is Too Close?,” by Dennis Tueller, a retired lieutenant and firearms instructor with the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Now, one might quibble with the application of this rule to a situation in which the person holding a knife has legs that end just below the knees. One might also note that the officers involved in Lowe’s death clearly had their guns drawn well before he allegedly began making motions over his head. But the 21-foot rule is deeply hardwired into cops’ heads through their training.
A 2015 article in Mother Jones quotes former cop and forensic criminologist Ron Martinelli lamenting that this rule established by Tueller’s article “spread throughout the law enforcement community almost like a virus,” to where it “would eventually become a police doctrine that is taught and testified to hundreds of times a year.”
While it has not been formally tested or studied (except during one episode of the show MythBusters) and is not usually part of the required training at police academies, the 21-foot rule, Mother Jones said, “remains widely cited and taught as part of informal training seminars.” Former cop Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said the rule “remains one of the persistent and frustrating urban myths of law enforcement training.”
I’ve seen it myself.
In May 2007, I was invited by the police department in Madison, Wisconsin, to join a group of media reps and city council members at a police training facility just outside the city limits. We all got to fire a Glock 9 and a Glock 40. We were shown, through various exercises and simulations, how police are trained to respond to various situations.
One officer present, Jason Freedman, explained how police must factor in the “reactionary gap” between when something happens and when an officer can take effective action in response. Police are trained to beat this curve by acting quickly and making the best call they can given the circumstances presented.
“Police are not required to make the right choice,” Freedman, now a captain with the Madison Police Department, told the group, citing Graham v. Connor. Rather, they must make an “objectively reasonable” decision based on the officer’s perception “at the time.”
A few years before that, I had attended a demonstration on how Tasers fit into the use-of-force continuum. There I learned, as I later wrote:
Police are trained to always take an encounter to the next level to protect themselves and gain control of a situation. If a suspect raises his fists, you pull your club. If he has a knife, you draw your gun. If he points a weapon, you don’t wait around wondering if he’s serious; you fire to take him down.
Police are often asked, Why didn’t you shoot him in the leg? The answer is that they are trained not to do so. Here’s what former Madison Police Chief David Couper had to say about police training under Graham v. Connor in a 2015 article for The Progressive.
They are taught that a person armed with an edged weapon and within a twenty-one-foot distance can kill them before they can discharge their firearm. And police, when confronted with situations they believe merit the use of deadly force, are taught to shoot and keep shooting multiple times at a person’s “center mass”—the chest and heart.
Couper was Madison’s top cop from 1972 to 1993 and he remains a national voice for police reform in his post-chief role as an Episcopal priest. He’s urged on his blog for police to “design and train on the use of less-than-deadly methods of using force” and for the public to “demand that police do this and develop these non-deadly methods to contain emotionally disturbed people who are brandishing knives or blunt objects without taking their lives.”
Last year, police in the United States shot 1,096 people, a record since the Washington Post’s police shootings database began keeping track in 2015. Of this group, 897 were said to be armed, 27 with a blunt object and an astonishing 184 with knives. That means 201 of the fatal shootings—18 percent of the total, almost one in five—involve a person armed with a blunt.
In fact, of the 6,675 people the database has tallied as having been shot to death by police while armed from 2015 through 2022, nearly 1,600 of them, or 24 percent, were armed with just a blunt object or knife. And, of these, more than 500 involved people showing signs mental illness.
Knives are dangerous, sometimes deadly. On New Year’s Eve, three New York city police officers were injured when a man with a machete attacked two of them. But can we agree that knives and blunt objects are significantly less lethal than guns, and perhaps a bit less deserving of being met with lethal force?
Data maintained by Officer Down Memorial Page, a national nonprofit devoted to honoring fallen cops, shows that 2,225 officers died in the line of duty from all causes, including auto crashes and COVID, between 2015 and 2022. Of these, 440 were fatally shot, and six were fatally stabbed. Six in eight years. There were no line-of-duty deaths attributed specifically to blunt objects, although 27 officers are listed as having died from assaults.
The fatal shooting of Anthony Lowe is not necessarily the product of bad police morality or even bad police culture, except in an overarching sense. It is the product of prevailing legal standards and the way that police are trained to work within them. The cops very well may have done exactly as they were taught. They can be taught to do things differently.
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The gun reform law Congress passed after two mass shootings by teenagers last year has begun blocking some firearm sales to people under 21, reported the Huffington Post.
So far, more stringent background checks for younger gun buyers have resulted in 64 denied transactions, an FBI spokesperson told HuffPost on Wednesday.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed by President Joe Biden in June, expanded criminal background checks for sales at licensed gun dealers to include searches of juvenile records for prospective buyers ages 18 to 20.
The new law requires the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to look for potentially disqualifying information at local law enforcement agencies, state criminal juvenile justice repositories, and state custodians of mental health records. Previously, the system generally looked only at adult court records.
The expanded checks were phased in with just one state participating in October and a national rollout on Jan. 3. Since the law’s enactment, the system has denied 425 transactions involving buyers ages 18 to 20, the FBI said, with 64 of those a direct result of the new law’s juvenile background checks. It’s possible that firearm dealers refused additional transactions and that some sales went through without a timely response from the system.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the lead authors of the law, said Justice Department officials told him during an early January congressional visit to a background check facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia, that the new policy had blocked 27 firearm sales to people under 21.
“They’re starting to actually deny gun purchases based on juvenile mental health and criminal records,” Cornyn told HuffPost. “It’s just the beginning, and hopefully as the bill’s being implemented it will have a bigger impact.”
There’s no doubt 64 rejected transactions represent a small impact, given the overall volume of gun purchases. People with felony criminal records or restraining orders have long been barred from gun ownership, and in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, the national background check system ran nearly 10 million checks, denying more than 153,000 transactions, according to the FBI’s latest report.
But the blocked sales represent a momentous political change after decades of congressional inaction on rising gun violence, which in 2020 became the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Some kids today have personally experienced multiple mass shootings in their short lifetimes, including Jackie Matthews, a Michigan State University senior present for the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 and another mass shooting at her current campus this week.
Peter Ambler, director of the gun control group Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, said the fact that the new law has already prevented several dozen under-21 gun sales shows there’s plenty of opportunity for Congress to make people safer from gun violence.
“Even the most cursory of investigations and examinations are going to uncover people whose histories show that it would be irresponsible for any society to allow them to purchase or carry a gun,” Ambler said in an interview.
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Gov. Josh Shapiro called on the state legislature to end the death penalty in Pennsylvania on Thursday, marking the first time a governor has formally asked the General Assembly to abolish the controversial sentence, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Inside a West Philadelphia church, Shapiro also reiterated what he told reporters last month: That he would extend the execution moratorium put in place by former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf eight years ago.
“The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death, period,” Shapiro said. “At its core, for me, this is a fundamental statement of morality, of what’s right and wrong in my humble opinion. And I believe as governor that Pennsylvanians must be on the right side of this issue.”
Pennsylvania’s last execution was the 1999 lethal injection of Gary Heidnik, who raped and tortured six women he kept chained in the basement of his Franklinville home, then killed and dismembered two of them.
Shapiro, a Democrat and the former Attorney General, previously supported the death penalty “for some of the most heinous cases,” he said. But after recent conversations with advocacy groups and victims’ families who opposed the measure, he said, his stance has shifted.
After the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in 2018, Shapiro said he believed the killer “deserved to be put to death.”
But some of the victims’ families didn’t want that.
“I was truly moved by their courage and by their grace,” Shapiro said. “That has stayed with me, all of these conversations have stayed with me.”
He also recalled speaking with Lorraine “Ms. DeeDee” Haw, an organizer with the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, last year, and how she told him she did not believe her brother’s killer should be put to death.
Thursday’s announcement is the “first step” in ending the death penalty in Pennsylvania, Shapiro and lawmakers said. No specific bill to end the death penalty has been introduced yet this session. Once legislation is introduced, it would need to pass the razor-thin Democratic majority in the House and the GOP-controlled Senate before it reaches Shapiro’s desk.
Until state law is changed, Shapiro said he would not sign any death warrants. There are 101 people on death row in Pennsylvania, according to state corrections data.
Pennsylvania once performed the third-highest number of executions in the country, and had the nation’s fourth-largest death row for two decades, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In recent years, though, its use has declined.
Since 1976, the Commonwealth has only carried out three executions, all under former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge.
Still, State House Republicans signaled Thursday that they were not yet ready to join Shapiro’s call for an end to the death penalty, saying “now is not the time to stop holding criminals to the highest levels of accountability for the most heinous crimes.
“Removing this measure of accountability and deterrence from prosecutorial discretion is at best tone deaf to the concerns of Pennsylvanians, and at worst, disrespectful to the victims of the most serious crimes in our society,” GOP House members said in a statement.
Shapiro’s announcement came just days after he declined to sign his first death warrant — for 27-year-old Rahmael Sal Holt, who shot and killed a police officer near Pittsburgh in 2017.
The legal history of the death penalty in Pennsylvania is complex. In 1972, the State Supreme Court ruled that the Commonwealth’s death penalty sentencing procedures were unconstitutional, and death row sentences were judicially reduced to life.
The legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1974, but three years later, that law was also found unconstitutional. In 1978, the legislature passed a revised version of the law allowing executions. But in 2015, Wolf placed a moratorium on executions, citing concerns about wrongful convictions and racial bias.
For those same reasons, Civil Rights groups have long called for an end to the death penalty. According to the ACLU, people of color have accounted for 43% of all executions since 1976, and represent 55% of those currently awaiting execution.
Racial bias was cited as a factor in what prosecutors now say was the wrongful conviction of Alexander McClay Williams, a Black Pennsylvania teenager who at 16 became the youngest person in Pennsylvania history to be put to death.
In 1931, an all-white jury convicted Williams in the stabbing death of a white woman. But a Delaware County judge overturned his conviction after prosecutors raised questions about his guilt, and he was posthumously vindicated last year.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has said he would never seek the death penalty, and has fiercely advocated for its abolition, though his spokesperson, Jane Roh, said the office has no blanket policy on the issue.
In 2019, Krasner’s office filed a brief with the Commonwealth Supreme Court, asking it to invoke its King Bench power to declare the death penalty unconstitutional. The Attorney General’s Office, under Shapiro, filed a brief opposing Krasner’s petition, Roh said, and ultimately, the high court effectively kicked the issue back to the General Assembly.
Several states have changed their capital punishment laws over the last 10 years, including Maryland and Virginia. New Jersey was the first state to abolish executions in 1965.
Twenty-seven states, including Pennsylvania, still have capital punishment on the books.
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New York City police officers made more than 673,000 traffic stops last year, the majority involving Black and Latino motorists. Only 2% of those stops led to arrests, raising the specter of the stop-and-frisk tactics that were ruled unconstitutional a decade ago, reported Bloomberg.
New York Police Department officers also stopped nearly 15,000 pedestrians — most Black or Latino — in 2022, the highest number in any year since 2015, according to an analysis of police department data by the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Most were released without any arrest or citation issued.
“We're very concerned about a department that's going back to a regime where it's engaging in very aggressive stop and frisk,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director for the NYCLU. “It's a program that does very little to produce public safety.”
The numbers are concerning, advocates say, because such encounters can become violent. Last year 7% of all police killings in the US began with a traffic stop, according to Mapping Police Violence. Studies have also shown that frequent encounters with police can have negative effects on communities’ mental and physical health and lead to unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system. One survey of New York men found that those stopped experienced elevated anxiety and trauma as a result.
This is the first year the NYPD has published vehicle stop data. The department said it is still analyzing and understanding its traffic stop activity. In a statement, the NYPD also defended the increase in pedestrian stops, calling it an “essential tool in helping to reduce violence,” and noting that its officers are expected to follow department guidelines when carrying them out.
It isn’t just New York. Nationwide, police stop and search Black people at higher rates than their White counterparts. For example, in Los Angeles, Black motorists are stopped at a rate of 32 per 100, compared with 11 per 100 for White drivers, according to a Stanford University analysis of 200 million traffic stops. However, those searches aren’t more likely to turn up contraband, research shows.
Those disparities are clear in the New York City data for both vehicle and pedestrian stops, raising “red flags” about racial profiling, Dunn said. “Police officers can pretty much stop anyone for any reason,” Dunn added. “That opens the door to racial profiling.”
In New York City, pedestrian stops last year increased 61% over the previous year, according to the NYCLU analysis. NYPD guidelines ask officers to report formal stops, which occur when there is suspicion that a crime was committed or is in progress, regardless of outcome. The department is also required to publish that data publicly, a reform that came after four plainclothes NYPD officers shot and killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Black man, in 1999.
Almost 90% of the pedestrians stopped by NYPD officers in 2022 were Black or Latino, and in more than two-thirds of the encounters the person was let go without arrest or a ticket, according to the NYCLU data. There are likely more pedestrian stops than the data show, since officers don’t always record encounters, Dunn said.
Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD during the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013, who found that the way the department deployed the tactic was racially biased. That ruling didn’t bar its use, but required the department to create and follow guidelines for stops. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The number of stops in the city has dropped substantially since the court ruling, from a high of 685,000 pedestrian stops in 2011. But the 2022 figures represent a reversal of that trend.
“The numbers are really astonishing,” Dunn said. “We're talking about 675,000 vehicle stops, almost the same number of stops as the highest point of pedestrian stop and frisk.”
The NYPD pointed to a 22% increase in major felony crimes and a 26% jump in low-level infractions in 2022 as part of the reason for the uptick in stops. However, the stop data show that in 2022 the outcomes of the stops increasingly resulted individuals being let go. In the last quarter of the year, 67.4% of stops resulted in a person being released with no enforcement action taken, the highest level since 2019.
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Watch my interview with WFMJ-TV21 discussing Ohio's proposed Social Media Parental Notification Act.
Each morning, at around 6am, the crowd starts to gather, a loose line forming outside the Colleton County Courthouse for the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, reports the BBC.
Mr Murdaugh, scion of a legal dynasty, has pleaded not guilty in the fatal shootings of his wife and son.
The trial in Walterboro, South Carolina - which has ended its third week - is just one piece of his stunning downfall, which features accusations of corruption and a faked assassination.
The case has captivated the state.
"It's the only thing happening in Walterboro - the only thing that's ever happened in Walterboro," said Cassie Headden, as she waited in line on Friday morning.
Spectators say they were fascinated by both the alleged crimes and the dramatic downfall of a storied southern family. From 1920 to 2006, three generations of Murdaughs served consecutively as chief prosecutors for the area, while their private family litigation firm earned them a small fortune.
"They ruled this area for years and years, and now that's starting to crumble - at least it looks like it," said Wally Pregnall, who travelled from Charleston to watch the trial.
Others have come in from across the country - California, Idaho, Wisconsin and Maine - turning this small city in the southern part of the state into a true-crime tourist destination.
One group of friends carpooled an hour's drive from Hilton Head Island to watch together; another family drove two hours from Aiken, South Carolina, and took the day off work. Earlier this week, a local middle school teacher brought her class of teenagers in as a field trip.
"I feel like it's being a part of history and we just wanted to be here to witness it," said Monica Petersen outside the court on Friday.
The regulars carried snacks and water in clear plastic purses - the only type of bag allowed in court - and packed coats and scarves to stay warm inside the heavily air conditioned courtroom. Some brought notebooks, scribbling along to the proceedings, after willingly giving up their mobile phones, which are banned for spectators.
"We've joked that if John Grisham wrote this novel that people would have said he's lost it, because it's too unbelievable," said Walt Flowers, also from Charleston.
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American policing is violent, humiliating, and dehumanizing, reports Lawfare. It has led to thousands of avoidable deaths. Since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, police killings have only continued, at a rate of over 1,000 people per year. Black people are much more likely to be the victims of these governmental extrajudicial killings. Rather than treat Black and Brown Americans as members of the public they are supposed to serve, the culture and practices of policing treat them as a less-than-human enemy.
Police are occupying forces in many urban Black and Brown communities. People of color too poor to live in a middle class or wealthy neighborhood because of decades of segregation, disinvestment, redlining, and mass incarceration are subjected to heavy and disproportionate surveillance and violence by police. With police helicopters overhead, more police precincts per capita, and plainclothes and uniformed police on patrol in these communities, this occupation sends a message to the public and to police themselves that the people being policed are dangerous. Notably, these militaristic police tactics have not been shown to reduce violent crime.
But police are not in these neighborhoods to keep the peace or to respond to calls for service. If it wasn’t enough to subject people to their constant presence and scrutiny, law enforcement officers stop and search people in these communities on a regular basis. The impact is enormous. Police keep thousands of Americans from going about their daily routines, followed by manual invasions of their bodies, penetrations of their waistbands and pockets, and lifts of their garments often in public. In New York City, innocent people going about their everyday lives have been stopped by police over 5 million times since 2002. In 2011, over 685,000 New Yorkers were stopped in a single year. Police in California stopped 1.8 million people in just a six-month period. In 2018, the Metropolitan Police Department, one of many Washington, D.C., police departments, stopped more than 200,000 people in a city of just over 700,000. Police in all three places were most likely to stop or use violence against Black people, the overwhelming number of whom were innocent of any crime. While perhaps these involuntary interactions between police and civilians might seem utilitarian, safe, and brief in the abstract, in practice these experiences can be violent, terrifying, and traumatic. While pointless from a public safety standpoint, these interactions send a message to police officers that Black and Brown people can be harassed and degraded with impunity.
Police across the country are authorized to stop people for pretextual reasons. As long as law enforcement officers have a legal justification to make a stop, they can use a hunch, caprice, or any other motivation to conduct this contact with a fellow citizen. Police can even stop someone because that person would rather decline the interaction. The ability of the police to stop anyone for whatever reason they want makes many people of color perceive police officers less as public servants and more as abusive stalkers.
It is no secret that during these stops and other interactions, police officers sometimes speak to citizens in unprofessional, disrespectful, and offensive ways. The Department of Justice reports in Chicago, Ferguson, and Baltimore made plain that police commonly used offensive language and even racial slurs in those cities when describing or addressing people of color. My own research documented well over a hundred instances of explicit racial bias by law enforcement officers on social media, text messages, and emails. The Plainview Project proved that thousands of police officers posted racist, homophobic, and misogynistic comments on a single social media platform. Police culture and practice tolerates officers disparaging the people paying their salaries. No other profession would allow its staff to treat its customers in the way the police treat the residents of many communities.
Heavy militaristic police presence, disparaging language, frequent stops and searches based on pretexts, and disparaging language are all evidence that police view Black and Brown people with suspicion and fear. These groups of people are not served by police—they are subjugated by them.
Some laws and policies incentivize the police to engage in these terrifying interactions. For example, some police departments have quotas for arrests, and so contacts with civilians like stop and frisks help officers make their quotas. There are other incentives to stop motorists beyond quotas. Federal funds subsidize highway traffic stops. If police departments do not write tickets or make arrests on highways, then their departments risk losing those monies.
Civil asset forfeiture, and other revenue-generating activity, is another law enforcement policy that drives dangerous interactions between police and American citizens. Stops of people give police an opportunity to seize their property without ever charging anyone with a crime or traffic infraction. In fact, in some years police have taken more from civilians than actual burglars. Memphis’s Scorpion unit—the unit at the center of the Tyre Nichols murder—was lauded recently by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland for seizing “$103,000 in cash and 270 vehicles” just between October 2021 and January 2022. Civil asset forfeiture encourages officers to see citizens as a source of revenue for their department and incentivizes police officers to come into contact with individuals in case there are items they can seize from them. And in some jurisdictions, the revenue from tickets for traffic violations further motivates police to come into contact with Americans who are simply living their lives. For example, the Department of Justice reported that the fines and fees collected in relation to traffic enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police, subsidized much of the city government there.
But it’s not just police policies and practices—the culture of police officer hiring also puts Americans in danger. Police officers are overwhelmingly male and young, and current hiring only perpetuates these demographics. While America is diverse in terms of gender, age, and race, its police departments are not. This is concerning—the presence of even a single woman police officer on a scene reduces the chance for violence. Women are less likely to use force and more likely to deescalate an encounter. But women make up less than 13 percent of American police departments’ staff. In addition to gender, age plays a role in the violence inflicted on civilians. Young people in their teens and twenties are often more violent, impulsive, and susceptible to peer pressure, yet police departments hire people as young as 18–21, making those officers a more dangerous cohort. The police officers charged with killing Nichols are all men between the ages of 24 and 32.
The aftermath of the homicide of Nichols also shows that police officers will fabricate their version of events in order to justify their actions or avoid any penalties. The initial police report about Nichols’s interaction with police, written while he was still alive, is riddled with inaccuracies. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of officers lying, and they usually face no consequences for their mendacity. For example, the report about the botched raid that caused Breonna Taylor’s death falsely asserted that she had no injuries. When Buffalo police pushed an elderly man at a protest in 2020, the first police report falsely claimed that he tripped—until video showed he was violently pushed. The police report on the George Floyd case described his death as a medical event and omitted any mention of the officer pressing his knee down on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Police misrepresentations are not limited to their police reports. Testifying falsely is so common for police that there is even a term for it: “testilying.” Despite a troubling number of instances of police being exposed for lying, they continue to do it because they have little fear that they will be caught. In fact, in New York City, some officers who lied received promotions.
One well-documented aspect of police culture that protects officers’ misrepresentations, misbehavior, and violence is known as the “blue wall of silence.” This means they do not typically report their fellow officers when they transgress. Even when citizens file complaints and civilian review boards recommend punishment for officers, police departments often lessen the severity of the discipline or ignore it altogether. For example, one study found that only 3 percent of complaints against Chicago police officers resulted in any discipline.
On the rare occasion that police are disciplined, police culture and practice is for problem officers to stay on the force in positions where they interact with civilians. Four of the five officers accused of killing Nichols had previous complaints against them. The officer who killed George Floyd had 18 complaints against him and received discipline for two. The New York Police Department officer who was responsible for Eric Garner’s death had 17 misconduct complaints at the time of Garner’s murder. The officer who shot Walter Scott in the back on videotape had previously been in trouble with his department for using his stun gun on an unarmed person. And the officer who was convicted of killing Laquan McDonald had 29 complaints against him, many for excessive force. The officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s killing had prior complaints against them as well. Police management and supervision practices fail to hold police accountable and instead embolden them and place them back in a position to harm.
Police culture and practices too often lead the police to harm the people they are supposed to be serving. Police violence is a leading cause of death of young Black men. While many of these deaths, like the tragic death of Tyre Nichols, make headlines, many other injuries are caused by police. For every death caused by police, at least 50 individuals are sent to hospitals due to police brutality. There are many more bruises, bumps, scrapes, and psychological traumas that are never documented.
Nichols’s killing was tragic and avoidable. While police officers have been arrested for his killing, their prosecution will not solve the much broader problem within police policies, practices, and culture that contributed to Nichols’s death. Fundamental and drastic changes to policing—and the criminal legal system more broadly—are needed in order to stop government-funded violence against the people the government is supposed to protect.
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