August 15th, 2014

Cops in Tanks vs. Cops on Bikes

Police Shooting MissouriThe juxtaposition of the pictures couldn’t be more stark.  Out in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of  an unarmed teen being shot dead by a cop, we see a militarized police force racing in to use all their toys of crowd control: Tear gas, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers and, of course, the military-style uniforms with riot armor. Everything about it screams, “Stay the hell away from us.”

And the other picture is one I noted on the Gothamist a couple weeks back: A cop on a bike. The article is ostensibly about being caught riding on the sidewalk, but that isn’t what captured my eye. No, I looked and saw an extremely approachable human.

073014nypdbikeWhich cop do you want on your street? The one that says stay away, or the one that waves hello?

Which cop is more likely to be a calming effective?

Which cop is more likely to antagonize and make a situation worse?

Which one is more likely to infringe on the rights of others?

Which one will cost the taxpayers more money, both in hardware and lawsuits?

Which cop is the one that people would most likely to approach with important information?

Do we pay the cops to protect us, or protect themselves?

And now, the local cops are gone from Ferguson and the highway patrol cops have come in. And what did they do? They walked around in regular cop uniforms without all the toys and chatted with the protestors and worked to calm things down. Some protestors got hugs.

The Ferguson cops seem to have done everything they could to make the situation worse, though this is helped with the dumping of excess military hardware into our police departments. Hey, if you have toys, don’t those toys have to get used?  (See, Rise of the Warrior Cop, The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko.)

One can only hope that police departments around the country are taking studious notes on crowd control, and leaning what not to do.  The use of military weapons in civilian areas is a horrible trend, and the fall-out from it can affect any one of us.


May 2nd, 2014

A Botched Execution (And A Good Lawsuit?)

lethalinjectionYou’d have to be living under a rock not to know about the botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett. Oklahoma, in its infinite wisdom, figured it would be just fine to give an experimental combination of drugs to its death row inmate.

It didn’t work out so well, as a vein apparently burst, he didn’t get the first drug that was supposed to knock him out, and he suffered mightily before having a heart attack and dying. Or at least that is what they are claiming.

But the part that really jumped off the pages of the stories was this: When it became evident that Lockett hadn’t been rendered unconscious by the first drug, and was in pain, prison officials lowered the shades between the witnesses and the condemned. They didn’t want anyone to see what The State was doing.

And anytime The State acts in secret, people should be alarmed. Especially when there is absolutely no reason for secrecy.

It is that very secrecy, in fact, that allows elected officials and their prison appointees to claim that the condemned don’t suffer when given various drug cocktails. Because if they suffered, then there would be an Eighth Amendment problem regarding cruel and unusual punishment.

The official timeline — or at least the first iteration of one, as none of the real witnesses in the execution chamber have actually testified — goes like this:

18:23  —  The drug midazolam was administered intravenously.

18:30 —  A doctor said Lockett was still conscious.

18:33  —  Lockett was unconscious, and vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride were administered.

18:42 — The shades for the witnesses were lowered. The official timeline does not say why, but there are accounts elsewhere that Lockett had appeared to be conscious in the previous few minutes.  From the New York Times: “Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.”

18:44 – 18:56  “The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to the timeline.  The director of the corrections department then asked whether Lockett had been given enough of the drug combination to kill him, and the doctor said “no.”  “Is another vein available? And if so, are there enough drugs remaining?” the doctor was asked, according to the timeline. The doctor’s answer to both questions: “No.”

18:56 Execution called off

19:06 Lockett pronounced dead.

Missing from the timeline? Any acknowledgment that Lockett was in pain, contrary to the claimed protocol.

I know, you are shocked, just shocked, that the official timeline whitewashed what the condemned man was doing or trying to say.

Secrecy. It has surrounded the death penalty since we stopped public hangings. It now consists primarily of trying to make an inherently violent act — killing — antiseptic, and therefore palatable to the public. A firing squad would be quicker and more efficient, but then the killing becomes more real.

But the veil of secrecy, I think, can now be broken. Dropping the shades in front of the witnesses won’t work this time, despite wiping it from the official timeline.

Because he suffered in a way that was unintended, as others have  before him, the Estate of Clayton Lockett now has a simple claim for personal injury due to the negligence of prison officials, in addition to a civil rights claim for cruel and unusual punishment. This would be for the 24 minutes between 18:42 – 19:06.

Such a lawsuit, of course, really wouldn’t be about the money. It’s about lifting that veil of secrecy. Because of the suffering, the estate lawyers, if they brought such a suit, would be able to question each and every person in that execution room. And all of the people that ordered the drugs, devised the drug protocol, medically supervised the procedure and delve into all the ways it was tested (or that it wasn’t).

And so much more.

No, it really wouldn’t be about the money at all. It would be about ripping down the veil and using the disinfecting qualities of sunlight so that people can actually see how The State’s machinery of death works, to see what happened and why it happened.

And citizens can see exactly what they voted for and paid for.


November 19th, 2011

UC Davis Cop Assaults Peaceful Protesters (Looks Like 1963 Birmingham) (Updated)

Lt. John Pike pepper sprays peaceful protesters

When I saw the photo at right, my eyes almost popped out of my head. The scene is from one of the many Occupy protests that have sprung up out of Occupy Wall Street, this one at the campus of UC Davis. The cop pepper spraying the peaceful, sitting protestors yesterday is reported to be  Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis police. If he hasn’t been fired yet, the question to ask is “why?”

And, before I go any further, yes, there is video. You can see in the background all the cameras out there. This is one of the videos from YouTube, and you can be sure many more will come up. Much will be written on this.

It matters not one lick whether you agree or not with the Occupy protests. We have the First Amendment and people are allowed to protest to their heart’s content. And if they were tresspassing or peacefully violating some ordinance, well, the cops have had decades of practice with how to peacefully arrest people.

High school students get fire hosed in 1963 in Birmingham

The appalling conduct of Lt. John Pike reminds me of another iconic image from another era. And this is when the police turned the fire hoses on the peaceful civil rights protestors of Birmingham.

There must be accountability. The job of the police is to protect us from goons, not be the goons.

The United States has a long history of advocating for human rights around the globe. Had we seen  this image come out of Iran, we would have howled in protest.

Some of us have been accustomed to watching police videos of people getting beaten. It started with Rodney King, and has accelerated in recent years with the ubiquity of the cell phone camera as well as cop car cameras. You can see many such videos of police abusing people displayed and discussed by people such as Scott Greenfield or  Radley Balko.

But this one is so striking given its brazenness. This didn’t happen in a back alley, or at night, or someplace where the cop thought he could tell any story he wanted to justify his conduct. No. This happened because the cop actually thought he was entitled to assault peaceful protesters.

The unprovoked assault by Lt. Pike raises many questions, but the most immediate ones have to do with making sure he is stripped of his badge and gun and fired from the force. When the press release comes out, it should not say that he was “let go” or “dismissed” or any other kind of namby pamby euphemism. It should say he was fired.

And if he is not fired by his immediate supervisor right away, that person should be fired for not doing it. There are no excuses for allowing a thug to remain on a police force. Then he must be prosecuted. There are no excuses for a failure to prosecute. And when he is convicted, as surely me must be for such a naked assault, he should be jailed.

And yes, there should be an investigation. Because it is critical to know if Pike is a lone wolf goon or if he was directed by others to commit his assault. Accountability. All the way up the line. This is not about Occupy and it is not about student and it is not about California. It is about the rights of the citizenry.

Once upon a time, I had an office in the Woolworth Building downtown, overlooking Broadway and City Hall Park. And from my perch on the 8th floor, I would routinely hear protests down in the street and park below. Sometimes it made it hard to work, but it was nevertheless music to my ears. This was the mighty First Amendment in action, and I loved regardless of whether I agreed with the points of view being chanted toward the the mayor or not.

A couple other thoughts, since it is my understanding that some of the victims have been hospitalized. Every one of them should be getting an immediate visit from the Governor and an immediate apology, if that has not already happened.

Unless there is some immunity that I don’t know about, Lt. Pike will be sued as will his employers, which I assume is the state. As they should be. There needs to be accountability. Both criminal and civil.

One final visual for you. This one comes to me courtesy of Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Adam Fine who saw me tweet this subject earlier today (and a former guest blogger here). He sent me this image of a mural in the library of the Justice Department, where he used to work in the 60s.

The mural is by John Steuart Curry, portraying a terrified man on the courthouse steps. A judge stands between the man and a lynch mob; the man at the front of the mob holds a rope; a raging flame burns in the background (story on the murals here).

The job of the justice system is to protect society from the mobs. And when the mob turns out to be the police, the system of justice must not cower.


Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

The Davis Enterprise (images)

Turning My Disgust into Action – Everyone in CA needs to know John Pike’s Name (Daily Kos)

Update, August 1, 2012: Nine months after this incident, Pike has finally been fired.



October 24th, 2011

New York State Settles Prison Death Case for $1.2M

Brandon Jackson (photo undated)

A little bird chirped in my ear: Psst. I got a scoop. And so I do.

This past April the New York Daily News wrote up the story of 29-year-old Brandon Jackson who was sent to Summit Shock Correctional Facility, a state run, boot camp style, detention center about 50 miles west of Albany. Two weeks later, after a forced two-mile run, he was dead of heat stroke.

Would a two mile run kill me? Nope. But then, I don’t weigh 270 pounds, have asthma and an enlarged heart. All of which Jackson had, and which should have disqualified him from the boot camp program:

“[Jackson] was not physically or medically suited for the DOCS Shock Incarceration program and should have been excluded,” the State Commission of Correction ruled in a June 2010 report.

And now the state has ponied up $1.2 million to settle the matter.

Jackson had been sent to the camp after pleading to a drug charge that earned him two years, in the hopes he could be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation is, after all, the hope of many in the correctional biz. Recidivism sucks.

The camp was a politically popular program and the program’s commissioner was trying to find more bodies to fill it. Potential prisoners were told that medical issues would be taken care of in the harsh environment.

Despite Jackson’s history of hospitalization for asthma, his obesity and his enlarged heart, he was approved for the program. His medical file noted that he was prescribed an albuterol inhaler for the asthma. But the asthma inhaler was taken by a guard because it wasn’t properly marked, and they refused to give him new medicine. The camp, it’s worth noting, had two nurses but no doctor or  nearby hospital.

Jackson, during his brief stay at the facility, was singled out for abuse because he was unable to complete many exercises due to his physical condition. After it was over, inmates gave detailed statements to the Inspector General’s Office detailing that abuse. He’d made repeated complaints as to his health, including severe shortness of breath, and he made numerous visits to infirmaries. At one point respiratory tests were done that showed he had a severely restricted airflow. Despite this, he was taunted and threatened by the drill instructors who told him that he would be “arrested”, and that he should just “drop dead” as he was pushed to do that which he was medically incapable of doing. He was struck numerous times, mostly slaps to the back of the head.

After the gross incompetence of the staff, the asthmatic Jackson, without medication available, was forced out on the run that would end his life:

“His obesity, history of asthma and [enlarged heart] should have disqualified him from being forced to participate in strenuous activity in the heat of August,” a pathologist wrote in Jackson’s autopsy report. “Such individuals should not be candidates for ‘boot camp’ or ‘shock camp.'”

The action was brought as a federal civil rights claim, for violating the 8th and 14th Amendments.

According to the family’s attorney, Eric Buckvar, all of the money after litigation expenses will go to Mr. Jackson’s two children, who live in the Bronx. They were ages 7 and 9 at the time of his death. But it won’t come as cash, to be squandered in youth. Rather, it will be part of annuities that will start paying out when the children are of college age, and will be structured so that college and graduate school will be easily attainable. The exact amount is not yet known as the court must still approve the settlement and distribution of funds (including legal fees and expenses).

While such a settlement is no substitute for a father, at least the money might be used to help break a potential cycle of poverty. Depending on what these two kids do with their lives and their education, the taxpayers might, quite ironically, see a return on the funds paid out for the state having negligently killing Mr. Jackson.

The case settled after mediation with Magistrate Judge Maas in the Southern District of New York, who worked to close the gap between the two sides. It settled shortly after the mediation ended.