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.


September 11th, 2011

September 11. The NYC Marathon. And Vaginas. (Yes, they are related)

I know what you’re  thinking. How can September 11th, the NYC Marathon and vaginas be related? Trust me. They are. And it won’t take long to explain.

When the NYC Marathon was run on the first Sunday in November of  2001, the fires were still burning at the World Trade Center. Rumor and fear filled the headlines, and police reported a potential bomb plot for a bridge that week. And this marathon starts, most famously, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, in a staggering movement of compacted humanity familiar to even the non-runners of the world.

And you know what? Almost 24,000 people ran it anyway. And two million more lined the streets of New York. Every one exposed themselves to the potential for attack, simply so that they could participate in one of the greatest pieces of urban theatre on the planet, at the heart of the place that was just attacked. It was a great, big “up yours” to those who had hoped to alter the fabric of our freedoms.

As we ran the streets that day we saw fire engines by the side, ladders extended, with banners and firegfighters hanging off them. They cheered for us. And we for them.

But not everybody put their fears aside; in towns, parishes and cities across the land fear was palpable, though Peoria isn’t exactly a high profile target. A huge government-security complex was born, the most infamous of which is the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA has a lousy reputation. It should not surprise anyone. When you stick a tin badge on people there are a certain percentage that are incapable of tempering the exercise of the power they are given.

I have mocked them before for incompetence. As have numerous others. The TSA pat down of a 6-year-old girl was a classic. There’s the Michigan man who was forcibly patted down as he tried to explain such conduct might break the seal on his urostomy bag, and spill urine all over him, which it did.  A 24-year-old woman who’s top was pulled down by an agent in public. Lots of gropingThe ACLU catalogues them, including sexual assaults by TSA agents in public.

Which brings me to vaginas. Most particularly, to Amy Alkon’s vagina. She writes the Advice Goddess blog and, oddly enough, I don’t think she’ll mind me writing about it. Because she already has.

You see Alkon shares the sensibilities of many who believe we, as a nation, over-reacted to the September 11 attack by overly restricting our rights, handing our freedoms to extremists. So at an airport she declined to go through the scanner that allows the TSA to look at your naked image.

And guess what? TSA agent Thedala Magee was, according to Alkon, not amused that someone would show disrespect for her authority and decline the invitation to be scanned. I’ll let Alkon tell her story from here:

Basically, I felt it important to make a spectacle of what they are doing to us, to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights, so I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out. Loudly. Very loudly. The entire time the woman was searching me.

Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.

Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, “YOU RAPED ME.” And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.

And if you think that’s bad, don’t worry. It actually gets worse. Realizing a lawsuit against the TSA would likely go nowhere, Alkon did the next best thing. She published it; e-shaming the TSA and the worker she said assaulted her. Because if TSA workers know they might be humiliated on the web after humiliating a passenger, perhaps some would think twice about abusing that tin badge.

Now this is where it gets ugly, because Thedala Magee, the TSA agent at issue, apparently decided that the best defense is a good offense. Big mistake. She hired a lawyer to threaten Alkon. How stupid is that? Well, the answer is, not nearly as stupid as the lawyer, Vicki Roberts of Santa Monica California, who proceeded to write a letter to Alkon demanding she pay her Magee $500,000. In her letter, published on TechDirt, Roberts somehow thought it would be smart to up the ante and subject her client to national infamy, as opposed to local infamy.

Alkon, in turn, hired First Amendment honcho Marc Randazza who promptly told Magee and Roberts to go shit in a hat and pull it down over their ears, though he was actually even more colorful than that. I don’t want to quote the letter. I want you to read it. It doesn’t take long and it’s well worth the time if you have even a tiny care about liberty. (And when you read that letter, you’ll understand why I want Randazza to be my lawyer.)

So why post this story on the 10th anniversary of the attack? Because it’s not enough that we stay vigilant with respect to potential terror attacks by outsiders, for we must also stay vigilant to civil liberties attacks from those who live here. Perhaps those outside New York City should be watching what those in the city do when they consider stripping down the Bill of Rights and subjecting people to unreasonable searches and seizures.

This weekend New York was on a  high terror alert. What did I do? Yesterday I took my kids to a big crowded area in New York City; we went to see the Mets play at Citi Field, which shares subway and parking lots with the on-going US Open. I would no sooner stay home from that arena than I would from that marathon I ran 10 years ago. Today will be spent with family also, but not in front of the television. Which, my friends, is as it should be.


Female Blogger Threatened With Defamation Suit For Writing About TSA ‘Rape’ (Kashmir Hill @ Forbes)

Complain About Being Sexually Assaulted By A TSA Thug? THEY’LL SUE! (Popehat)

TSA Thug Thedala Magee Threatens Suit (Defending People)

What Makes TSA Agent Thedala Magee So Special? (Simple Justice)

TSA Agent/Alleged Rapist, Thedala Magee, Threatens Blogger with $500,000 Lawsuit (Crime and Federalism)

Two Minutes of Terrorist Triumph: Alone With the TSA (Elie Mystal @ Above the Law)




April 17th, 2009

Arrested While Grieving, Their Civil Rights Suit Settles (Updated)

Two years ago, New York City Police arrested 33 teens, six of them minors, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Their crime? They were headed off to a wake for a friend. Unfortunately, they were almost all black and Hispanic, which in many places is enough to get you stopped by the police and/or arrested.

Those arrests were the subject of an op-ed piece by Bob Herbert in the New York Times on May 26, 2007 (Arrested While Grieving). He wrote back then:

No one is paying much attention, but parts of New York City are like a police state for young men, women and children who happen to be black or Hispanic. They are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and, in many cases, arrested for no good reason.

Last Monday in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, about three dozen grieving young people on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered were surrounded by the police, cursed at, handcuffed and ordered into paddy wagons. They were taken to the 83rd precinct station house, where several were thrown into jail.
Children as young as 13 were among those swept up by the cops. Two of them…were the children of police officers. Some of the youngsters were carrying notes from school saying that they were allowed to be absent to attend the wake. There is no evidence that I’ve been able to find, other than uncorroborated statements by the police, that the teenagers were misbehaving in any way.

Everyone was searched, but nothing unlawful was found, no weapons, no marijuana or other drugs. Some of the kids were told at the scene that they were being seized because they had assembled unlawfully.

According to Michael Scolnick, a civil rights attorney that represented 16 settling plaintiffs, an agreement was reached recently in federal court to dispose of those cases. The settlements ranged from $9,000 to $20,000. Scolnick said:

The settlement was on two levels: the 6 boys and girls (under 16 years of age) who either were not charged or were given desk appearance tickets and later dismissed without appearing, but were in custody from two to six hours, cuffed to a pipe or a Snapple machine, each settled for $9,000. The older ones who had formal charges issued against them for unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct settled for $20K.

All of the criminal charges against these 16 were dismissed.

This is a first report. A press conference has been scheduled for Sunday. Expect more press and information on this case in the days to come.

See also:


Bob Herbert followed up today on his original story from two years ago with another op-ed piece (No Cause for Arrest). He adds this priceless quote from Scolnick:

“I can’t imagine that 32 young white people walking down the streets of Scarsdale to pay their respects to a friend would have been arrested that way.”

Also, Scott Greenfield, who had written about the case two years ago, adds more at Simple Justice today (The Wake of a Wake):

The kids got at least something in return for being harassed, arrested and/or held in custody. As for Michael Scolnick, who fought for 16 settling plaintiffs, the fee will likely be scarcely worth the time and effort required by the case. But he did a good thing for some kids from Bushwick who needed someone who cared enough to help.