of the Day
- November 5, 2009
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Beck's style and strategy are notably different from Bratton's
The LAPD deputy chief picked to run the department says he is rooted in ties to rank-and-file officers rather than to the upper echelon, and plans to make changes from the bottom up.
By Joel Rubin
November 5, 2009
For a man widely seen as the disciple of just-exited LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, Charlie Beck on Wednesday exhibited some notable contrasts in style and strategy from the man he was tapped to replace.
In an interview with Times reporters, editors and editorial board members, Deputy Chief Beck portrayed himself as a leader rooted by his ties to rank-and-file officers, as opposed to Bratton, who reformed the department by focusing on its upper echelon.
The 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department said he would concentrate on pushing down reforms Bratton introduced into the mind-set of the thousands of officers who are the heart of the organization.
"The only way that real change is made is from the bottom up," he said. "You can mandate change from the top . . . but the only way an organization really changes is from the roots up; that's much more powerful. So what you'll see is different with me is I'm going to concentrate on the roots of the organization."
He said Bratton was successful in getting the department's upper management to accept his progressive vision for the LAPD because "that's his wheelhouse. With me, my wheelhouse is much more about the rank-and-file. I think that will be the major difference. . . . I see this as an evolution more than a revolution."
That focus, Beck said, will keep him in Los Angeles far more than Bratton, whose extensive travels to faraway places for conferences, speaking engagements and the like became a running joke for some and a point of contention for others.
"I certainly won't travel as much as [Bratton] did. This is my home. This is where my family is. . . . I'm a local boy, I always have been and that's the way I'll be as chief," he said. "And, again, with my philosophy of driving these changes down internally, I've got to be here to do that. I've got to touch people. I've got to have conversations with the [officers] and I can't do that from out of state."
Beck took a lighthearted jab at Bratton, saying he would continue Bratton's practice of consulting with people with different points of view on subjects, but deadpanned: "I think I have a little more of a common touch, much more of a common touch. I think that maybe at the end of the day you'll think of me more of a cop's chief rather than a leader-manager."
Strategically, Beck said he planned to give greater authority to the captains who run the department's dozens of field stations. Currently, decisions on how to deploy a large segment of the department's force are made by commanders at the LAPD's headquarters. Field captains should have more discretion, Beck said.
Amid an ongoing debate over the size of the force and whether the city should continue to fund a push by the mayor to add 1,000 officers, Beck said he believes the current number of officers, which hovers near 10,000, should be viewed as "a floor, a basement." Any drop in numbers, he said, would make it difficult to continue with gains made under Bratton.
"I think by controlling gang violence, we can be the safest city [in the nation] and we should be," he said. "But it's going to be difficult to do at low deployment levels. So, if you want to solve problems, if you want to get at the core issues that have significant impact on the city, you need to have the resources to do it."
Regarding possible promotions, demotions and reassignments he might make as he assembles his team of deputy and assistant chiefs, Beck tamped down speculation that he plans to make dramatic changes to the cabinet Bratton had put together.
"Nobody is being thrown out. Nobody has told me they are planning on leaving. I plan to use the players we have. I think that people make the mistake of thinking, 'Well, Beck got it, so these other people are going to be minimized.' No. I've known these people my entire career. I know their value."
Beck rose quickly through the ranks under Bratton and won broad praise from officers and LAPD critics alike for his ability to fight crime and pursue progressive ideas on policing championed by Bratton.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday selected Beck to become the 55th chief of the department. The appointment must be ratified by the City Council in a vote expected in the coming weeks.
Charlie Beck vows to focus on gang violence, quality-of-life crimes and more 'transparency' as LAPD chief
November 4, 2009 | 10:07 am
Charlie Beck, who has been tapped by the mayor to be L.A.'s new police chief, has told community activists that he wants to make police misconduct investigations more transparent and will focus on "quality of life" crimes and more community outreach.
Beck also said he wants to build up more programs that combat gang violence.
"If we don't develop ways to save our youth from gang violence, we will go through the cycle this city has gone through for four decades," Beck said at a gathering of community leaders Tuesday night in South Los Angeles.
Beck appeared to call for a continuation of some of the policies championed by outgoing LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, among them cracking down on small crimes as a way of preventing larger ones.
"As businesses thrive, a community becomes safer," Beck said. "It's not just about businesses. It's about family; it's about schools; it's about quality of life."
Beck, currently a deputy LAPD chief, also told the group that the community needs a better understanding of how the department investigates claims of police misconduct. He did not provide specifics about how he would improve "transparency" but said it was a goal.
Beck outlined his philosophy for how the LAPD should work with the community. He said officials need to listen to those people who have opinions different from their own.
"When you do that, you build unlikely partnerships," he said.
Beck said he needs to spread that message through the department. "This can't just be Charlie Beck's philosophy. It needs to be everyone's philosophy."
Some activists at the meeting expressed support for Beck.
Vicky Lindsey of Project Cry No More said, "He is more on the ground, and it's not speculation. He's real."
Sherri Williams, principal of 99th Street Elementary School in Watts, said Beck is a great choice. "It's a big task, but he's going to do well," she said.
Beck, whom Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa picked to be chief Tuesday, faces a confirmation vote from the City Council in the coming weeks.
No bail in Cleveland murder case
A judge cites the 'macabre nature' of the slayings in denying bond to Anthony Sowell, whose home contained 10 bodies and a severed head.
By P.J. Huffstutter
November 5, 2009
A registered sex offender whose Cleveland residence contained the remains of 10 bodies and a human skull stored in a bucket was ordered held without bond Wednesday as police prepared to tear down the walls of his home in search of more bodies.
At the bond hearing, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Brian Murphy told the court that Anthony Sowell, 50, could face the death penalty if convicted of the killings and called him "an incredibly dangerous threat to the public."
Kathleen DeMetz, Sowell's court-appointed defense attorney, argued that he should be granted bond because of medical concerns. Sowell has a pacemaker because of a heart condition, she said.
Judge Ronald Adrine denied bail because of the "macabre nature" of the killings.
Sowell so far has been charged with five counts of aggravated murder in what is being called one of the Midwest's most disturbing serial killer cases.
Even Sowell's attorney acknowledged the sensational nature of the case.
"I've been a public defender for 29 years and a lawyer for 32 years, and I've never had a case like this," DeMetz said after the court hearing. "Cleveland has never had a case like this."
Prosecutors said they expected more charges to be filed in the coming weeks against the unemployed Cleveland resident.
"We are waiting on the coroner's ruling of the manner of death on the remaining bodies and remains found at the property" before pursuing additional charges, said Ryan Miday, a spokesman for the county prosecutor's office.
In addition to the murder counts, Sowell has been charged with rape, felonious assault and kidnapping in connection with an alleged attack against a woman in his home on Sept. 22.
Sowell moved into the duplex's upstairs unit in 2005. He had spent the previous 15 years in state prison in a case where authorities said he lured a 21-year-old woman into his home, then choked and repeatedly raped her, according to the county prosecutor's office. He pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted rape in that case, according to the prosecutor's office.
Last week, when police arrived at Sowell's house to arrest him for the alleged September attack, investigators discovered the bodies of two women lying on the living room floor.
As the days passed, more bodies were discovered. One was in a freshly dug grave underneath a set of stairs in the backyard. Two more were crammed in a crawl space inside the house. The sixth was in a shallow grave in the basement.
Many were decayed beyond recognition. The Cuyahoga County coroner's office has ruled that five of the six women were strangled.
On Tuesday, police said they had located four more bodies buried in the backyard and a skull wrapped in either paper or plastic inside a bucket in the basement.
The coroner's office Wednesday said the skull belonged to someone whose body investigators had not located.
Authorities on Wednesday also identified one of the victims as Tonia Carmichael, 52, a woman who family members say disappeared a year ago, according to the Associated Press.
She is the first victim to be identified.
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath told the Associated Press that her body had been buried in Sowell's backyard and that she appeared to have been strangled.
Two alleged gang members arrested in slaying of Long Beach high school student
November 4, 2009 | 7:54 pm
Two reputed gang members were arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of an honors student after she left a homecoming football game Friday at Wilson High School in Long Beach, police said tonight.
Melody Ross, who was also a track athlete, was gunned down as she and her friends were leaving the game. Two men -- an 18-year-old and 20-year-old -- were wounded in the shooting, which occurred about 10 p.m. as crowds of students gathered near Ximeno Avenue and 10th Street.
Hundreds of people, including residents and students, joined the Ross family tonight for a candlelight vigil at Wilson High.
The suspects are both 16-year-olds, one from the Long Beach, the other from Bellflower, the Long Beach Police Department said. Their names were not released because they are minors.
The shooting shocked faculty and students at the campus, a diverse school that serves some of the city's most affluent communities.
Ross was dressed as Super Girl for the homecoming game against Polytechnic High School, which was attended by a number of students decked out in costumes on the day before Halloween.
The day after the shooting, Ross' classmates gathered at a pedestrian crossing along Ximeno near the football stadium exit to leave flowers and light candles by the curb where she was shot. They hugged each other, and some sat against the school fence or on the grass with their heads down, pondering the loss of a friend they described as polite and well-liked.
Michelle Obama gives Harmony Projects a round of applause
November 4, 2009 | 6:46 pm
At a ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, a Los Angeles music program for at-risk youth received the nation's highest honor for humanities programs.
Together with 18 other projects from around the world, Harmony Projects was awarded the Coming Up Taller Award, which recognizes programs that target children who traditionally lack access to arts and humanities resources.
“These young people don't just become accomplished singers and painters and authors,” Obama said at the ceremony. “They also become better students, they become better leaders and they become better citizens, enriching not just themselves but their communities.”
Harmony Projects provides musical instruments and free music lessons to children from impoverished families. The program aims to enroll students as early as first grade and see them through to high school graduation.
“I'm over the moon,” said founder Margaret Martin as she celebrated with 11 students at the Daily Grill restaurant in Washington.
Of the more than 400 U.S. groups that were nominated, only 15 were finalists. Harmony Projects shared the honor with such groups as the Shakespeare Remix Program of New York City, which helps underserved youth reinterpret and perform the Bard's works, and Keshet Dance Company of New Mexico, whose outreach program uses dance to teach literacy and math to incarcerated youth.
Martin founded the program in 2001 after she said she had a surreal experience at the Hollywood Farmers Market. She watched, astonished, as what she described as a crew of tattooed gangsters approached her 5-year-old son, who was playing Brahms on a tiny violin, and gently placed money in his case. “That was my ‘Aha' moment,” Martin said.
Since then, the program has grown from 36 students (funded by a $9,000 check from the Rotary Club of Hollywood) to a 750-student organization with a 300-deep waiting list and a $1.2-million cash budget.
Seventh-grader Kiana Coronado-Ziadie attended the White House ceremony to accept the award on Harmony Projects' behalf. Five years ago, she, her mother and her sister were living on the streets. She said that she was diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder and that she was forced to repeat a grade. “It was a huge mistake – they had me on meds. I was all drugged up.… I thought I was the stupidest person in the world,” she said.
Then her mother found out about Harmony Projects and enrolled her. Kiana took to the violin. “I learned about beats and sight-reading.… It helped me a lot in math and school work,” she said.
Now a student at Millikan Middle School's performing arts magnet in Sherman Oaks, she takes honors classes this year.
“I'm so thankful Harmony Projects got my confidence back. I have no limits now,” Kiana said.
Shootings leave two former students dead in Venice and Santa Monica
November 4, 2009 | 6:38 pm School officials in Santa Monica and Venice counseled grieving students today and were cautioned to be on alert for suspicious activity after two former students were slain in separate shootings Tuesday.
The two killings occurred several hours apart in Venice's Oakwood neighborhood and in the Pico neighborhood in Santa Monica.
Santa Monica police arrested and booked four people in connection with the shooting in that city. Sgt. Dave Hunscke, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to say what the suspects were booked on or whether the two killings were connected.
Capt. Joe Hilton of the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division said investigators didn't know if the shootings were connected. He said LAPD and Santa Monica detectives were aggressively pursuing the cases in an effort to make sure there was no chance of the violence escalating.
William Charles McKillian Jr., 19, was in the 600 block of Westminster Avenue in Venice when he was confronted by at least one attacker who opened fire about 3:30 p.m. No arrests have been made, the LAPD said.
Shortly before 9 p.m., Richard Manuel Juarez, 20, was at a bus stop with three Santa Monica High students on Pico Boulevard in front of Virginia Avenue Park when two people walked up and began shooting, officials said.
The three students ran away and were not hit, officials said, but Juarez was struck at least once. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
The two assailants, along with two people in a car, were arrested after a patrol officer heard gunshots and saw two people running from the park area, police said.
Juarez was a graduate of Olympic High School, said Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board
"He was a good kid with a bright future," said De la Torre, who knew Juarez because he was involved with the Pico Youth & Family Center, which offers music and education classes to Santa Monica youth. (De la Torre is the center's director.)
A Los Angeles Unified School District memo was sent this afternoon to teachers in Venice, alerting them about the two shootings and asking them to watch for any suspicious activity. The memo said McKillian attended Venice High for a short period.
De la Torre and center staff members, meanwhile, were at Santa Monica High trying to calm students and urging them to let the police investigation take its course. He said students and others in the community were concerned that the two shootings might be connected.
"We're trying to help these young people," he said. "The message is that revenge continues the cycle of violence."
L.A. City Council OKs more pay cuts to help offset budget shortfall
November 4, 2009 | 12:28 pm Still facing a $100-million budget shortfall, the Los Angeles City Council has given the go-ahead to cut the pay of an additional 800 employees, imposing a 5% reduction for city workers who do not belong to a union.
Looking to save $2 million, the council agreed to take four hours of pay out of the 80-hour paychecks of department heads, policy analysts, human resources employees and aides to council members, according to a memo issued Monday by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city's top budget official.
The pay cut, which starts Dec. 6 and remains in effect through June 30, 2010, represents a half-furlough day per pay period. It is only the latest rollback for the city's civilian employees.
Workers with the Coalition of L.A City Unions, which represents 22,000 employees, have already had their pay cut 4.4% through June 30. Employees of the Engineers and Architects Assn. have been told to take 26 unpaid days off over the course of a year.
The temporary pay cuts are part of a larger effort to slash payroll costs. Since Monday, roughly 1,500 city employees have applied for early retirement. Another 400 already planned to depart earlier this year.
Still, not everyone is facing cuts this year. The council voted behind closed doors last Friday to give employees of the Department of Water and Power a 3.25% cash bonus this year and raises of 2% to 4% each of the following four years. Those increases come back for a final vote later this month.
Italy judge convicts 23 Americans in 2003 CIA kidnapping of Egyptian cleric
The Americans were tried in absentia and are unlikely to spend any time in an Italian prison. The trial shed light on the secret world of CIA 'extraordinary renditions' of terrorism suspects.
By Maria De Cristofaro and Sebastian Rotella
November 5, 2009
Reporting from Washington and Rome
An Italian judge on Wednesday convicted 23 Americans of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan in 2003, a sweeping verdict against one of the CIA's most valued anti-terrorism tools -- the practice known as extraordinary rendition.
The decision was a victory for Italian anti-terrorism prosecutors and police who spent six years building a massive case. The two-year trial exposed details of a secretive world and was the first anywhere to challenge the program under which the CIA abducted suspects and spirited them to other countries for interrogation.
A clandestine team of U.S. and Italian operatives abducted Hassan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric suspected of recruiting militants to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was flown to Egypt, where he claims to have undergone months of torture and abuse.
The case sparked an international uproar, and the governments of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his predecessor tried repeatedly to scuttle the trial.
"I think it is very important for everyone that this trial was completed," said Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor, adding: "The message of this important ruling -- to nations, governments, institutions, secret services, etc. -- is that we cannot use illegal instruments in our effort against terrorism. Our democracies, otherwise, would betray their principles."
Judge Oscar Magi acquitted three other Americans, including the former CIA station chief in Italy, because they had diplomatic immunity. Magi also set aside charges against five Italian intelligence officials, including the former chief and deputy chief of Italy's spy agency, ruling they were protected by a state secrets law. But he convicted two other Italians.
The Americans were tried in absentia. Given that the U.S. government has declined to cooperate with the prosecution, it seems unlikely that any will spend time in an Italian prison. However, the convicted Americans may be at risk if they travel to Europe. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants that can be executed in any of the European Union's 27 countries.
The judge issued an eight-year prison sentence for Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan. Testimony indicated that Lady initially opposed abducting Abu Omar as unnecessary and dangerous, but ultimately became the ground-level architect of the operation. The other U.S. operatives were given five-year sentences, and the Italians received three-year terms.
With the help of Lady, Italian police had already been investigating Abu Omar. But Lady was alleged to have orchestrated the kidnapping without their knowledge. The operation on the streets of a closely allied nation caused bad blood among U.S. and Italian anti-terrorism officials and within anti-terrorism agencies in both countries, according to testimony.
Italian intelligence officials testified that then-CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli in Rome and other officials pushed for the rendition, possibly hoping to recruit Abu Omar as an informant. The CIA deployed a paramilitary squad, aided by Italian agents, that stalked the cleric for weeks before snatching him and rushing him to the U.S. military base at Aviano, where he was flown to Egypt via Germany.
In a wiretapped phone call to his wife and later in public statements, the Egyptian alleged that his country's security forces had tortured him and locked him in a rat-infested cell. Egyptian authorities eventually released him but did not allow him to return to Italy to testify.
Probably because they had clearance from Italian spies, the U.S. operatives left a trail of cellphone calls, credit card charges and photo ID documents. The evidence enabled an elite anti-terrorism unit of the Italian police to assemble a detailed case that became an anatomy of a rendition.
"The Milan court sent a powerful message: The CIA can't just abduct people off the streets," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. "It's illegal, unacceptable and unjustified."
The George W. Bush administration aggressively expanded an existing rendition program. Rights advocates believe U.S. agents handed suspects over to countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Libya and Syria.
The exact number of people is unknown. In a 2007 speech, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden said that fewer than 100 people had been targets of the program since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Obama administration has cracked down on what it calls abusive tactics, moving to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; end secret detentions; and investigate harsh interrogation methods.
But U.S. officials have said spy agencies will continue renditions, albeit with more oversight, because it is an effective tool for fighting terrorism, especially in lawless regions. Critics have warned that the combined effect of overseas prosecution and the administration's new policies will damage the morale of CIA agents and impede them from doing an already dangerous job.
On Wednesday, the CIA declined to comment, as it has throughout the case. Other U.S. officials expressed disappointment.
"We are disappointed by the verdicts against the Americans and Italians charged in Milan for their alleged involvement in the case involving Egyptian cleric Abu Omar," said Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman. He said he expected an appeal.
A Pentagon spokesman said the judge should have dismissed charges against Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Romano, who was in charge of security at the Aviano base. The Pentagon had argued that he was shielded by a NATO treaty that protects the U.S. military from foreign prosecution.
Spataro said he would probably appeal the acquittals of the three Americans and the verdicts setting aside charges against the Italians.
Because Magi convicted most of the U.S. suspects, it was surprising that he cited diplomatic immunity for Castelli and the two other officials based at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Prosecutors had argued that immunity did not apply.
But analysts said the judge apparently decided the case against the top officials in Rome lacked the abundant physical evidence accumulated against those directly involved.
"It was rather surprising because it seemed from the investigation that Castelli was the person who inspired the operation," said Guido Olimpio, author of a book about the case called "Operation Hotel California" and Washington correspondent for Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"But the evidence was the strongest involving the kidnapping itself and those who took part. The important fact is that it is the first verdict of its kind. Usually spies from a friendly nation are expelled, not prosecuted."
Cyclists and motorists on collision course
A physician's conviction in a bicycle crash case reveals a noxious form of road rage.
November 5, 2009
On Monday, Dr. Christopher Thompson, the driver who abruptly stopped his car in front of two cyclists last summer, was found guilty of six felonies and a misdemeanor. The trial, which lasted three weeks and captivated the cycling community, revealed a particularly virulent form of road rage. Christian Stoehr suffered a separated shoulder and Ron Peterson shattered several teeth and broke and nearly severed his nose when the two hit the back of Thompson's Infiniti sedan on Mandeville Canyon Road.
Thompson, a former emergency room physician who lives along the winding five-mile road, claimed that he was merely trying to take a photograph of Stoehr and Peterson, evidence of the way cyclists flout the law in the canyon and flip off the residents. An LAPD traffic investigator who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident testified that Thompson told him he "stopped in front to teach them a lesson."
Suffice it to say that Thompson shouldn't be driving a support vehicle in the Tour de France. Two other cyclists testified that in March 2008, a motorist they believed to be Thompson made a similar maneuver, speeding ahead, then slamming on his brakes. One of these cyclists told the court that the driver tried to hit them again and then sped off, noting that the car was an Infiniti sedan and the license plates -- spelling out an abbreviated form of the medical software company Thompson owns -- matched those of Thompson's car.
Obscene gestures, vanity plates -- it's all part of the romance of Southern California driving. Road rage? That's just the inflamed passion part of that romance. But anyone who's been paying attention to the road lately has probably noticed a marked, even dizzying -- increase in the number of bikes on U.S. streets. Suddenly, they're in bike lanes and traffic lanes, zipping through stoplights, careening around mountain passes and weaving along sidewalks. Census data show that between 2000 and 2008, the number of bicycle commuters increased by 43%. And membership in competitive cycling clubs is on the rise, with USA Cycling reporting the number of licensed racers in the U.S. up by 48% since 2002.
Despite the cozy, granola-esque community spirit this trend might evoke (think helmeted parents riding with their helmeted kids and women in flowing skirts peddling home from the farmer's market with baskets full of French bread), the reality is a bit more sobering. Cycling-related accident rates are decreasing, but cycling injuries are getting worse. That suggests that riders may be tangling with something more than a mere fall, like a car door or fender. And though most drivers, mercifully, don't harbor as much animosity as Thompson, I suspect there may be more of him out there than we might like to think.
Why? For starters, many people don't know what rights cyclists do and do not have, which pretty much makes them assume they have none. I was in this category myself until I consulted the bicycle laws in the California Vehicle Code and learned that a cyclist has "all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle." In other words, you're not supposed to dart through red lights on a bike (shame on you, 80% of Lycra wearers in my neighborhood).
But guess what: It's perfectly legal to occupy the whole lane, not just hang on the side, if you're going the same speed as traffic. The speed limit on Mandeville Canyon is 30 mph (it's 25 mph on most residential L.A. streets), which, according to the injured cyclists' GPS data, was about the speed they were traveling when Thompson stopped in front of them. In other words, if you're getting impatient with a "slow" cyclist in front of you, it's probably because you're speeding. (It hurts me to say this as much as it does for you to hear it.)
So now that you know, are you going to stop swearing at cyclists? My guess is no. Because there's a larger bone of contention here, which is that cyclists make a lot of us feel like lazy slobs. Whereas drivers sit in an air-conditioned bubble, expending only the energy required to press the gas pedal, tap the brake and change from a '70s classic rock radio station to an '80s classic rock station, cyclists are out in the actual elements doing actual exercise. Whereas drivers are consuming calories by eating an entire bucket of KFC over 10 blocks, cyclists are burning calories and consuming nothing but seaweed at home. Whereas drivers' carbon footprints grow more beast-like by the hour, cyclists create no exhaust other than the sweet fatigue they feel as they drift off to saintly sleep at night.
Of course, moral superiority is insufferable, but you still shouldn't try to run it off the road or teach it a lesson with the family car. You might win on the street, but in court, it's a different story.
From the Daily News
Beck's chief concern, stability
APPEARANCE: Nominee says goal is to `continue the advancements' made by the LAPD
By Tony Castro, Staff Writer
Updated: 11/04/2009 09:02:48 PM PST
VAN NUYS - Los Angeles police chief nominee Charlie Beck vowed to residents of the San Fernando Valley Wednesday night that he will continue the style of collaborative law enforcement that has dramatically reduced crime in the area.
"I promise that we will not only continue the advancements that have been made not only in the Valley but throughout the city, but we will build on those advances," Beck told a packed Van Nuys City Hall.
"There is much left to do."
Beck's town hall appearance was the second in as many days as he and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaign to sell his appointment to the public, leading to a City Council confirmation vote by Nov. 17.
Beck and Villaraigosa, who named the 56-year-old deputy chief on Tuesday to succeed William Bratton, got a warm, celebration-like reception from a crowd of several hundred, many of them snapping photographs of themselves with the likely next chief.
As they walked together, it seemed to some in the crowd to symbolize the start of a political marriage.
As the chief and the mayor walked through the throng, longtime Sherman Oaks residents Donald Fetherolf cracked: "They're walking down the aisle. The question is: Which one's the groom and which one's the bride?"
Smiling broadly and shaking hands with many well-wishers, Beck received numerous compliments about his family - many of whom have law enforcement backgrounds and were seen on news reports attending the announcement ceremonies at Getty House.
"I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and affection, but I realize that that's not for me," Beck said. "That's for the Los Angeles Police Department because (it's) your police department.
"The Los Angeles Department has progressed and has supported the Valley and has become a true partner, and that's why I get the outpouring of support and affection and not because Charlie Beck is so special."
Among those who attended the town hall were Deputy Chief Michel Moore, the Valley's top law enforcement official, who was one of two other finalists for the job.
Amid a thunderous ovation when Moore was introduced, the moment offered perhaps the evening's most emotional moment as he and Beck embraced.
"Mike Moore could easily do the job that I've been tasked to do," Beck said. "He will continue to be a huge part of the Los Angeles Police Department."
Moore was also lauded publicly by the mayor and other officials who spoke - Councilmen Greig Smith, Tony Cardenas, Richard Alarc n and Dennis Zine and Police Commission member Alan Skobin.
After the event, Moore planned to bring Beck - who has little experience serving the Valley in his LAPD career - around to several Valley stations to meet officers.
In answering questions from residents, Beck said that his administration will continue to look to reduce crime and retain vigilance against terrorism and gang violence.
On gang crime, Beck said he embraces a multitiered solution, including keeping kids out of gangs, intervention programs for those at-risk or in gangs, suppression and re-entry programs aimed at young people getting out of prison.
"I'll tell you what: If we don't do re-entry programs, I know 400 social entities that will - and they are the gangs of the city of Los Angeles," Beck said.
"My philosophy of policing is to solve problems because by solving problems, you're able to go on to the next problem rather than constantly treat symptoms."
Skobin, who represents the Valley on the Police Commission, said the response to Beck's appointment in the past day has been overwhelmingly positive.
"It's been 100 percent in support," he said.
That was reflected in the diverse crowd that attended the town hall.
"Bratton wanted them to name someone from within the department, and I'm glad they did," said Barbara Baldwin of Chatsworth. "Beck is someone I have a lot of confidence in, someone who I think can walk in the same footprints as Bratton."
Aurora Arreola, principal of Vinedale Elementary School in Sun Valley, said she came to the town hall because of concerns for the future well-being of her students.
"I'd like to know what, as chief, he will do to help keep our school children safe," she said.
John McRae of Valley Village said he came to the town hall to wish the new chief well and that he knows Beck through his work with the East Valley PALS.
"I have every confidence in the world that he will be a great chief," McRae said.
The Van Nuys town hall was Beck's second community meeting. He attended a town hall in South Los Angeles on Tuesday held just hours after the announcement of his appointment.
Today, Beck will appear at a town hall at 6 p.m. at the El Sereno Senior Center, 4818 Klamath Place, Los Angeles.
Beck has also set up a Web page on the city's Internet site soliciting questions and ideas from the public:
The next step for Beck is a hearing before the City Council's Public Safety Committee scheduled for Monday.
Councilman Smith, who chairs the panel, said he talked with Beck for more than an hour Wednesday morning to brief him on the issues to expect.
"A lot of the things the council is concerned with are new to him," Smith said.
"Issues like the number of (Los Angeles International) airport cops, how the department will deal with community policing and whether to keep the COMPSTAT model."
Smith said he also told Beck to be prepared to deal with questions such as increasing use of civilians to take over some functions to free up officers.
"These things are all issues he never dealt with and he has to be prepared to look at how the LAPD will be forced to adapt to our budget problems and the impact it will have on the department," Smith said.
Council urges public employees and agencies to donate extra food to needy
Daily News Wire Services
Updated: 11/04/2009 03:07:13 PM PST
The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday urged public employees and agencies to donate surplus food to organizations that help the needy.
"This is a cost-effective way that the city can do its part in making sure that more families have food on their table," said councilman Jose Huizar, who suggested the idea.
He urged officials with the Los Angeles Convention Center, city-owned golf courses, and city-owned parks and recreation facilities to donate surplus food to local food banks and other nonprofit organizations.
He said studies show a third of Los Angeles' population is hungry or "food-insecure."
The Information Technology Agency agreed to modify the city's 311 help line and Web site and to better inform residents about where they can get food or donate it.
Frank Tamborello with Hunger Action L.A. praised the City Council's decision and offered to help collect and distribute the donated food to the needy.
Food Finders, Angel Harvest, the L.A. Regional Food Bank and the Westside Food Bank also volunteered to help.
"During this recession, food pantries are struggling with extra demand," Tamborello said. "We hope the city can set an example by donating their surplus food -- as healthy food as possible -- to the emergency food system."
From the Washington Times
Missing Fla. baby found alive under bed
Erin Gartner and Melissa Nelson
CHIPLEY, Fla. (AP) -- A baby missing for five days was found alive and well under her baby sitter's bed, and Florida authorities said Thursday they plan to charge the sitter, her husband and the child's mother.
Investigators found 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick in a box tucked under a bed surrounded by items intended to hide the child at Susan Elizabeth Baker's home near Chipley, a rural Panhandle town, Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock said in an interview early Thursday. The baby was placed in protective custody.
"Statistically speaking this should not have ever happened, that we found this child alive, especially after so many days. Time was against us," Haddock said.
Shannon was taken to a hospital but appeared healthy, Haddock said.
"It was very emotional for us, because once we got her to the hospital, we called our wives and every one of us was crying. Grown men crying. It's just such a relief," he said. "We've had missing children cases in the past, but nothing like this."
Haddock said deputies were working to charge Baker, her husband James Arthur Baker and the child's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer. He wouldn't provide details about the possible charges or say how they believe the mother was involved, but said more information would be released later Thursday. Authorities don't believe the child's father, James Russell Dedrick Jr., was involved but the case is still under investigation, Haddock said. He said Susan Baker and the father are related.
Haddock confirmed that Baker was the Susan Elizabeth Baker cited in court records as being convicted of assault in South Carolina in 1987, and questioned but not indicted in 2000 for a 3-year-old child's disappearance, also in 1987. He confirmed that Baker wrote an e-mail to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's office in August, pleading for the governor to help Shannon Dedrick.
"And my response is, 'We saved the child, Ms. Baker," Haddock said.
Court documents released Wednesday showed that child welfare workers in Florida began looking into allegations Shannon was being abused less than two weeks after she was born.
Her parents reported her missing around 11 a.m. Saturday. They told authorities that they had not seen her since about 3 a.m.
About 100 law enforcement agents and others scoured the woods around the couple's home, Haddock said. Investigators contacted the Bakers again on Wednesday and they allowed them into their home, Haddock said.
"They gave us consent to search the home and found the baby in a box under a bed, with stuff pushed around the box to hide the baby," he said.
Court records released Wednesday said investigators frequently went to the infant's home from August to late September and reported that both parents used marijuana and kept a messy home.
But investigators reported that Shannon seemed to be cared for and repeatedly noted that the risk to the baby was "intermediate." In September, an investigator said a physician determined that the child was healthy and expressed "no concerns regarding the baby."
Court records show that Elizabeth Baker was charged in South Carolina with assault and battery with intent to kill and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in 1987. After being convicted, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The sentence was suspended to 80 days.
She was extradited to South Carolina from Chipley in 2000, and charged in the disappearance of 3-year-old Paul Leonard Baker, who has been missing since March 1987. Baker wasn't indicted by a grand jury in the case. The child was never found, according to the Beaufort County, S.C., sheriff's office. Police reports don't indicate the child's possible relation.
A sheriff's investigator from Beaufort County was sent to Florida to assist in the missing child case, sheriff's spokeswoman Robin McIntosh said Wednesday.
Victims, relatives to witness sniper execution
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Some ache for revenge, others simply for justice. There is frustration, too, and defiance.
For those wounded by the D.C. snipers and for the relatives of those killed, the emotions leading up to the execution of the mastermind behind the 2002 attacks vary as widely as those who found themselves in the cross hairs.
John Allen Muhammad, 48, is set to die by injection in a Virginia prison Nov. 10, seven years after he and his teenage accomplice terrorized the area in and around the nation's capital for three weeks.
Some family members can't wait to see Muhammad take his final breath. Others plan to make the trip to Virginia but never step foot on prison grounds.
And there are those who plan to spend the night at home with their families, satisfied that Muhammad is paying for what he's done but indifferent as to how it will happen.
For Nelson M. Rivera and Marion Lewis, watching Muhammad's execution will be the closest they will ever come to revenge.
"I feel like it's going to be the last chapter of this book and I want to see what his expression on his face is. And I want to see if he says anything," the 38-year-old Rivera said. "I want to see his face and see how he likes that -- confronting his death."
Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, who was Rivera's wife and Lewis' daughter, was killed as she vacuumed her van at a Kensington, Md., gas station.
Rivera, a Honduran immigrant who recently became a U.S. citizen, has remarried and had two more children since Lori was killed, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter, Jocelin. He now works as a public-schools groundskeeper in the suburbs of Sacramento, Calif.
Still, "there is not one day I don't remember what happened and I don't remember my wife. This is going to be with me the rest of my life," Rivera said.
Lewis, 57, a laid-off construction worker, said he would like to tell Muhammad how losing his 25-year-old daughter devastated their family.
"For the hurt, the pain that he's caused my family, I'd like to be his executioner, period," Lewis said.
Robert Meyers takes some solace in knowing that Muhammad's execution is out of his hands.
He and his wife, Lori, plan to be in the witness booth, but not out of any bloodthirsty lust to watch his brother's killer meet his maker. Rather, he considers it justice being served, a sentence being carried out.
"The reason why this life is going to be taken has everything to do with choices that he made and the process that those choices took him through," said Meyers, 56, of Perkiomenville, Pa.
Executions in Virginia, home of the nation's second-busiest death chamber, usually are intimate affairs observed by a handful of lawyers, prison officials, the mandated six citizen witnesses, a few reporters and family members.
But the sheer number of victims -- 10 killed and three injured in and around the nation's capital alone -- has the state scrambling to accommodate all the people entitled to watch. Corrections officials are tightlipped about the arrangements, though relatives say each victim's family was offered two spots in the roughly 10-by-10 witness booth.
Meyers said he owed it to his brother, Dean Harold Meyers, to be there and that he also wanted to be there for other victims' families.
Dean Meyers, 53, a Vietnam vet and civil engineer, was the youngest of four brothers. He was shot in the head while filling up at a Manassas, Va., gas station. Muhammad's teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, later bragged to police, laughing that Dean Meyers "was hit good. Dead immediately."
It was Meyers' murder that sent Muhammad to death row.
"We're expecting justice being done, but not from a vengeful standpoint," Robert Meyers said. "It is more about the payment of his debt to society, because that was decided by others."
Charles Moore believes Muhammad deserves to die, and he's frustrated that Malvo will not be on a gurney beside him.
"The only thing that would give me closure would be if I knew that Lee Boyd Malvo was being punished properly," said Moore, 80, of Gainesville, Fla.
Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for killing Linda Franklin, a 47-year-old FBI analyst who was shot as she and her husband loaded supplies at a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va.
"I don't see how someone can plan and plot and commit murder, one right after the other, and get off with just life in prison, I don't care what their age is," Moore said.
Moore, a retired bioengineer at the University of Florida, said his daughter used to call him every morning "to tell me to get out of bed and start chasing my wife around the house or something."
He struggles with Parkinson's disease now, and says he can't afford the trip to Virginia to watch the execution. He's not really sure he would make the trip if he could, though.
"When my daughter was first killed, if I would have had a gun I would have been willing to kill him but right now I don't know how I feel," Moore said. "I don't want him turned loose on society, that's for sure."
Caroline Seawell has refused to live the last seven years as a victim.
Sure, her ribs are deformed and there's a piece of mesh covering a hole in her diaphragm. But Seawell has been blessed with no major medical problems since a sniper's bullet raced into her back and through a handful of organs as she loaded a scarecrow and other Halloween decorations into her minivan.
She and her family moved to South Carolina not long after the shooting outside a Fredericksburg, Va., Michael's craft store. Her youngest son, now 11, doesn't even know about the shooting.
"I've been really good about being able to kind of just put it behind me," Seawell said. "I've been able to just continue on with my life."
In that defiant spirit, Seawell said she will not travel to Virginia to watch Muhammad take his last breath. He deserves to die for what he's done, she said, but after watching both parents die from cancer, she has no desire to witness another death.
"There was enough killing already with all of us," she said.
If anything, Seawell says the shooting has made her a much stronger person. If given the chance, she'd like to tell Muhammad and Malvo just that.
"They didn't do what they set out to do because they haven't devastated my life," she said. "I've been able to move on and continue and raise my children, which is exactly what I wanted to do.
"I don't want them to have any satisfaction out of the fact that they shot me."
Children accused of witchcraft tortured, killed
The 9-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall. His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him - Mount Zion Lighthouse.
A month later, he died.
Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of "witch children" reviewed by the Associated Press, and 13 churches were named in the case files.
Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the biblical exhortation, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
"It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity," said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.
The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been killed. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.
Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children's Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.
Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected "witch children." Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner's material worries as well as spiritual ones - eight out of 10 Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.
"Poverty must catch fire," insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo's main streets. "Where little shots become big shots in a short time," promises the Winner's Chapel down the road. "Pray your way to riches," advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.
It's hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.
Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.
Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.
"We pray over that problem [of witchcraft] very powerfully," he said. "But we can never hurt a child."
The Nigerian church is a branch of a California church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago.
"I had no idea," said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. "I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people."
The Mount Zion Lighthouse - also named by three other families as the accuser of their children - is part of the powerful Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. Its president, Ayo Oritsejafor, said the Fellowship was the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members.
"We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody," he explained.
Sam Itauma of the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children - the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor - who are most often denounced. In Nwanaokwo's case, his poor father and dead mother made him an easy target.
"Even churches who didn't use to 'find' child witches are being forced into it by the competition," Mr. Itauma said. "They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism."
That's what Margaret Eyekang did when her 8-year-old daughter Abigail was accused by a "prophet" from the Apostolic Church, because the girl liked to sleep outside on hot nights - interpreted as meaning she might be flying off to join a coven. A series of exorcisms cost Ms. Eyekang eight months' wages, or $270. The payments bankrupted her.
The Nigeria Apostolic Church refused repeated requests made by phone, e-mail and in person for comment.
After being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families, children like Abigail end up in a house run by Mr. Itauma's organization.
At first glance, there's nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby children playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house.
There's a scar above Jane's shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn't cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face, a result of when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism.
Israel's cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa's father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry - all knees, elbows and toothy grin - was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor's wife cheered it on.
Home officials asked for the children's last names not to be used to protect them from retaliation.
The home was founded in 2003 with seven children; it now has 120 to 200 at any given time as children are reconciled with their families and new victims arrive.
Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar, where Nwanaokwo used to live. Ms. Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man's eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft.
In an interview with the AP, Ms. Ukpabio was accompanied by her lawyer, church officials and a personal film crew.
"Witchcraft is real," Ms. Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ms. Ukpabio said she performs non-abusive exorcisms for free and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials.
"I don't know about that," she declared.
However, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl's jaw during an exorcism. Ms. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.
After activists publicly identified Liberty Gospel as denouncing "child witches," armed police arrived at Mr. Itauma's home accompanied by a church lawyer. Three children were injured in the fracas. Mr. Itauma asked that other churches identified by children not be named to protect their victims.
"We cannot afford to make enemies of all the churches around here," he said. "But we know the vast majority of them are involved in the abuse even if their headquarters aren't aware."
Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to frighten a group of bubbly children at the home.
"Please stop the pastors who hurt us," said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. "I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch."
From the Wall Street Journal
- NOVEMBER 5, 2009
Mexican Pot Gangs Infiltrate Indian Reservations in U.S.
By JOEL MILLMAN
WARM SPRINGS, Ore. -- Police Chief Carmen Smith says he knows three things about suspected drug trafficker Artemio Corona: He's from Mexico, prefers a Glock .40-caliber handgun, and is quite possibly growing marijuana on the Indian reservation that Mr. Smith patrols.
Last year, Mr. Smith's detectives identified Mr. Corona as the alleged mastermind behind several large marijuana plantations on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon. These "grows," as police call them, had a harvest of 12,000 adult plants, with an estimated street value of $10 million. Five suspects were arrested and pleaded guilty to federal trafficking charges. But their alleged boss, Mr. Corona, who has not been indicted, remains a "person of interest" to federal authorities and hasn't been found.
On the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, tribal authorities hunt for illegal marijuana farms hidden deep in the forest. WSJ's Joel Millman reports.
Cultivating marijuana in Indian country represents a new twist in the decades-old illicit drug trade between Mexico and the U.S., the world's largest drug-consuming market. For decades, Mexican drug gangs grew marijuana in Mexico, smuggled it across the border, and sold it in the U.S. But in the past few years, they have done what any burgeoning business would do: move closer to their customers.
Illicit pot farms, the vast majority run by gangs with ties to Mexico, are growing fast across the country. The U.S. Forest Service has discovered pot farms in 61 national forests across 16 states this year, up from 49 forests in 10 states last year. New territories include public land in Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Alabama and Virginia.
The area where Mexican gangs seem to be expanding the fastest is on Indian reservations. In Washington state, tribal police seized more than 233,000 pot plants on Indian land last year, almost 10 times the 2006 figure. Pot seized on Washington's reservations accounted for about half of all pot seized on both private and public land last year. Police are finding pot farms on reservations stretching from California to South Dakota.
"These criminal organizations are growing in Indian country at an alarming rate," says Chief Smith. "The [growers] on our reservation were sent directly from Mexico."
At Chief Smith's reservation, police found trash piles that included crushed Modelo-brand beer cans and tortilla packages. They also recovered cellphones with a flurry of calls to and from Michoacán, Mexico -- an important drug-producing state. One grow in Washington state's Yakama Reservation featured a makeshift shrine to Mexico's unofficial patron saint to smugglers, Jesús Malverde, complete with votive candles and a photograph of the mythical figure.
Part of the trend is due to unforeseen consequences of stepped-up security on the U.S. border to slow the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico. Tighter borders make it harder to smuggle pot north, creating the need to produce the cash crop closer to market.
U.S. officials say the quality, and thus price, of U.S. grown weed is much higher than that grown in Mexico. The Mexican variety, typically full of stems and leaves, with a lower content of THC, the active narcotic in marijuana, brings in about $500 to $700 a pound, estimates Washington State Patrol Lt. Richard Wiley, who monitors marijuana grows on the state's public lands. By contrast, a pound of Washington-grown marijuana can command $2,500 locally or up to $6,000 on the East Coast.
Marijuana is a lucrative business for Mexican cartels, generating at least $9 billion a year in estimated revenues, according to U.S. and Mexican officials. Mexican gangs are relying even more on income from pot, U.S. drug authorities say, as they burn through cash fighting each other and the Mexican government, which has launched a crackdown. The math is tempting. Start-up expense for about dozen plots, with 10,000 plants each, is well under $500,000, U.S. officials estimate, including the cost of hiring 100 workers to plant marijuana and then several "tenders" to water them for three to four months until harvest. Incidental costs might include generators, PVC pipe and food supplies for the growers. Those plants could fetch about $120 million on the open market. With such impressive profit margins, a cartel can afford to have dozens of grows spotted and eradicated for every one that it harvests successfully.
The tighter U.S.-Mexican border is also prompting an unwillingness by illegal farm workers to cross back and forth. These migrants have decided to stay put in El Norte rather than return to Mexico after harvest -- creating a year-round labor force in rural areas. In a down economy, those workers face long stretches of unemployment -- leaving them easily swayed by offers to make quick cash growing marijuana.
That seems to be happening in Indian country. Chief Smith, who is a Wichita tribal member from Oklahoma but came here for the job, says the cartel growing pot on his reservation was paying tenders $2,000 a month each to water and watch their plots.
Indian reservations are full of transients, either people from other tribes whose members have married into local families, or undocumented farmworkers from Mexico. "Around here it's not easy to tell who's a tribal member and who's Hispanic," says Police Chief Keith Hutchenson of Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Tribe. That makes it easier for Mexican drug traffickers to blend in, he adds.
A decade ago, police in Washington state say most of the state's pot was grown by hobbyists indoors, using high-powered lamps. But that has changed in recent years to larger, outdoor grows that are more "corporate," run by sophisticated Mexican gangs.
At first, the Mexican growers began using remote public parkland in California, and have since expanded toward neighboring Oregon and Washington. Both states have two things gangs need: lots of unguarded forest land and lots of cheap Mexican labor.
Mexican gangs also are moving east, into Idaho and the Dakotas, using reservations to grow pot as well as distribute narcotics smuggled from Mexico and Canada, according to U.S. law enforcement.
Mexico-based cartels exploit several conditions unique to reservations, starting with chronically understaffed tribal police departments. Overlapping jurisdictions between tribal courts and outside agencies -- from the local sheriff to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration -- confuse the issue of who should take the lead in prosecuting crimes.
Federal authorities coordinate with tribal authorities on issues related to investigations, search warrants and other criminal proceedings, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bickers of Portland, who prosecuted the men growing pot on the Warm Springs Reservation.
Another attraction is the sheer size of the jurisdictions. Colville Reservation is 2,200 square miles and patrolled by just 19 tribal police officers. The ancestral homes of tribes such as Oregon's Umatilla, Idaho's Nez Perce and Washington's Yakama have thousands of acres of often uninhabited land, and also abut huge tracts of public land.
The cartels often mix the marijuana plants in with other crops, such as corn, or plant them deep inside forests amid pine and oak trees to make them difficult to detect from air patrols.
The reservations aren't only home to marijuana farms but are becoming sites for gun trafficking. At the Yakama homeland, a 1.4-million-acre reservation near Toppenish, Wash., a Mexican gang allegedly has planted hundreds of acres of marijuana and run guns to Mexico. U.S. investigators say the guns have ended up in the hands of Mexico's most feared paramilitary drug group, Los Zetas.
There is enough gun trafficking that Washington state now ranks fourth as a supplier of weapons to Mexican drug gangs after Texas, California and Arizona, according to police. "A weapon bought here for $1,000 can be sold for $3,000 or even $6,000" south of the border, says Michael Akins, lead investigator for a multiagency drug task force, called Operation Green Jam. "That might buy cocaine for $3,000 a pound, which then could be sold in Washington for $20,000 a pound."
State police believe gunmen from Los Zetas, a group initially formed by deserters from Mexico's army and famed for its brutality, are already in Washington to provide security during harvests. In 2008 police recovered a small arsenal of powerful weapons near the Yakama grows.
"AR-15s and Berettas, mostly. At least a dozen," says Lt. Wiley, of the Washington State Patrol.
There is enough money involved in growing to tempt some legal residents. In September, law-enforcement officials in Benton County, Wash., busted three men working at a private ranch owned by Jose Luis Cardenas, a legal immigrant from Mexico. He allegedly earned $3,000 from a drug gang to rent his barn for eight days, the Benton County officials said. Stalks of fresh marijuana were dried and picked by workers arranged in a circle, like an old-time shucking bee, according to state police. Mr. Cardenas, who was charged with harboring and abetting illegal production of a controlled substance, is in custody, and didn't respond to requests for comment.
The operations can be elaborate. One site at the Yakama reservation sat more than a dozen miles from the nearest paved road. Tapping water from an abandoned livestock trough, growers had workers string more than 1,000 yards of plastic irrigation pipe down to a cistern that fed a primitive treetop sprinkler system.
Tribal police uncovered another irrigation network in July at the Colville Reservation, just south of the Canadian border. After damming a small spring, guerrilla cultivators strung drip irrigation pipe hundreds of yards to marijuana fields. At one spot, the gang dug a rustic cistern from the crater of a fallen ponderosa pine. Nearby, they ran a gasoline-powered generator hitched to a pump that took spring water to a second cistern almost a mile away. The jury-rigged spillway nourished a total of 24,000 plants along the mountain slope.
That grow at Colville was found deep in the backwoods, where the tribe harvests timber for two reservation lumber mills. Colville Police Chief Matt Haney suspects immigrant workers hired to replant trees end up doing reconnaissance work for drug organizations.
"We've got over a million acres and forest fires are common," the chief explains. "Mexican laborers are hired by the U.S. Forest Service to do replanting, and work for the tribe's timber operations, too. They notice where there are streams, where there aren't streams. What can be reached by road, what can't. They share that information with some very sophisticated growers."
Warms Springs Reservation police say the drug gangs planting marijuana on the reservation since 2007 may have had Mexican workers spotting sites for them. Workers are often hired by tribal enterprises, including a small company that collects pine cones and fronds to fashion into Christmas tree ornaments.
John Webb, a tribal police detective, says collecting pine cones gives outsiders an excuse to be on the reservation -- something normally not allowed -- and form friendships.
Mr. Webb doesn't know whether pine-cone collecting prompted Oscar Castillo Zapién to come to Warm Springs. But in September 2008, Mr. Castillo was arrested for assault after allegedly firing his Glock semiautomatic pistol into a van departing from his home, striking one passenger in the neck. Eventually police linked him to the outdoor marijuana grows, together with at least three cousins, Héctor Castillo, Alejandro Zapién and Alfredo Olivera.
The men told authorities, as part of a plea bargain, that they reported to Artemio Corona, who was also a relative. In court papers, some of the suspects claimed to have been terrorized by Mr. Corona, who they say threatened them with his own Glock as he supervised work in the secret marijuana gardens.
At first, the Mexican suspects thought operating on tribal land shielded them from prosecution, says Mr. Webb. While the tribal court declined to prosecute, federal authorities were eager to take the case. To avoid the cost of trial, the U.S. attorney in Portland allowed the five defendants to plead guilty to a relatively minor charge of "conspiracy to manufacture marijuana," and receive sentences of up to 70 months in prison. Four are now serving time in U.S. federal prisons. One received probation.
Tribal police in Washington and Oregon say they expect Mexican gangs to keep reappearing every year during the summer harvest season. Says Chief Smith: "If we ever catch them, we'll run them off the reservation."
From the Department of Homeland Security
November 03, 2009
Border contraband seizures soar as DHS, ATF hold summit in San Diego
Feds credit heightened enforcement, cooperation for overall rise in seizures border-wide
SAN DIEGO - High-level representatives from three of the federal agencies responsible for combating contraband trafficking along the southern border announced Tuesday that seizures involving illegal drugs, weapons and illicit cash border-wide rose significantly in the latter half of fiscal year 2009, an increase they attribute to stepped-up enforcement efforts and increased cooperation.
Statistics show that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers assigned to the southern border seized more than $40 million in illicit cash from mid-March through the end of September, nearly double the amount intercepted during the same period in fiscal year 2008. The bulk of those seizures involved cash that was ultimately destined for Mexico.
For its part, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under Project Gunrunner, has focused its efforts on dismantling the firearms trafficking organizations responsible for the violence and movement of hundreds of firearms along the border and into Mexico. From July through September 2009, ATF seizures of illegal firearms along the border increased by more than 65 percent compared to the three previous months. Similarly, weapons seizures by ICE and CBP officers in the border region are also up. In the last six months of fiscal year 2009, ICE and CBP officers recovered nearly 600 illegal weapons, up more than 50 percent compared to the last six months of fiscal year 2008.
Many of those seizures involved agents and officers assigned to the 10 ICE-led Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST) located along the southwest border. The agencies participating in the BESTs, including ATF and CBP, work together to address cross-border crime. The BESTs have been instrumental in the success of Operation Armas Cruzadas, an ongoing initiative involving ICE and CBP to target the smuggling of weapons from the United States into Mexico.
ICE, CBP and ATF released the statistics as representatives from the three agencies met in San Diego to develop new initiatives to target cross border crime and weapons trafficking. The agency leaders say the latest seizure data show that expanded joint enforcement efforts along the southern border are having a significant impact.
"Today's criminal organizations respect no borders and know no boundaries," said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton. "If we're going to successfully address this challenge, we must work together to harness all of the resources, expertise and legal authorities at our disposal. The goal of this summit is to gauge what has worked well so far in this effort and develop new, more far-reaching strategies to address these threats."
Participants in the two-day summit include ICE, CBP and ATF personnel from the agencies' key offices throughout the Southwest. The summit comes just two months after top-level representatives from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with officials from Mexico, signed a Letter of Intent, pledging to develop a coordinated, intelligence-driven response to address cross border smuggling and weapons trafficking. The San Diego summit is designed to build on that framework, with agency leaders and line agents working together to develop joint initiatives to attack the criminal organizations.
"The violent crime issues along our border have far reaching implications across our nation," said ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson. "Intelligence reports verify that the Mexican cartel activity, both drug trafficking and firearms-related violence, has affected well over 200 cities in the United States. Through this and other conferences, federal law enforcement agencies and our state and local partners are preparing strategic, coordinated responses to protect citizens on both sides of the border."
"We have made tremendous strides in our efforts to stem the flow of currency and firearms to drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, and we will continue to build on these successes in the coming year," said the Chief of the U. S. Border Patrol David Aguilar. "Partnerships, both domestically and with our neighbors to the south, are crucial. We cannot work alone and must continue to share information, leverage the latest intelligence, pool our resources and ideas, and continue to find innovative ways to protect our borders and confront these violent criminal organizations. The tens of millions of dollars intercepted, as well as the record-breaking amount of narcotics seized border-wide, is a testament to our continued vigilance and success in supporting our Mexican partners to address this mutual threat."
Since Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced in March that DHS was intensifying efforts to combat cross border violence and weapons trafficking, both CBP and ICE have moved quickly to respond. For its part, ICE has deployed 110 additional agents to its BEST units along the southwest border and in Mexico. ICE has also established a Vetted Arms Trafficking Unit in Mexico City to target transnational smuggling and firearms trafficking organizations in Mexico. CBP has dedicated personnel assigned to the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) supporting investigatory and interdiction efforts of multiple member agencies. CBP has increased enforcement efforts by utilizing CBP officers and Border Patrol agents to conduct augmented pulse and surge outbound operations along the southwest border.
ATF is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing federal firearms and explosives laws, and has the sole authority to regulate and inspect those two industries. ICE is the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of import, export and immigration laws. By working jointly to exercise these unique enforcement authorities, the two agencies are well-equipped to investigate gun law violations as they pertain to international firearms trafficking.
The San Diego summit is slated to wrap up late Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. Fire Administration Kicks off Public Fire Safety Campaign on Home Smoke Alarms and Residential Fire Sprinklers
Most Home Fire Deaths Linked to Lack of Working Smoke Alarms
USFA Press Office: (301) 447-1853
Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) today launched an effort to encourage everyone to install and maintain home smoke alarms and, if possible, sprinklers. More than 3,000 people die in home fires each year, and the majority of them have no working smoke alarm. To prevent these deaths, the USFA, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sponsoring the nationwide Install. Inspect. Protect. Campaign, which emphasizes that “Smoke Alarms Save Lives.”
“The U.S. Fire Administration tracks fatal home fires every day, and it is tragic to see how many deaths are linked to homes without working smoke alarms,” said Kelvin J. Cochran, U.S. Fire Administrator. “The USFA is committed to preventing the loss of life and we want residents and fire fighters to be safe.” He added, “Smoke alarms are inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to maintain. We are asking everyone to make sure they have working smoke alarms in their homes, and if possible, sprinklers.”
When both smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are present in a home, the risk of dying in a fire is reduced by 82 percent, when compared to a residence without either. According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2003-2006, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with either no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
Cochran also emphasized that firefighters often die in the line of duty trying to rescue people who did not get out at the first sign of a fire. He added, “Smoke alarms and sprinklers give you and your family more time to get out, before firefighters have to come in to rescue you.”
The Install. Inspect. Protect. Campaign is promoting fire safety through a free Campaign Toolkit DVD; featuring English and Spanish educational materials; print, radio and television PSAs; children's materials, a video demonstration of how quickly a home fire spreads, and on the USFA's consumer-friendly Web site at www.usfa.dhs.gov/smokealarms .
The USFA has always promoted fire safety and the use of smoke alarms through materials and in campaigns, such as “Tribute to Heroes” and “Prepare. Practice. Prevent the Unthinkable: A Parents' Guide to Fire Safety for Babies and Toddlers,” to name a few. Now, emphasizing the importance of both smoke alarms and sprinklers, our PSAs --“My Dad” and “My Mom” – focus on the viewpoint of the child of a firefighter. The campaign materials include real stories of people whose lives have been saved, because they had a working smoke alarm.
The USFA offers a few helpful tips on smoke alarms and sprinklers:
- Place properly installed and maintained smoke alarms both inside and outside of sleeping areas and on every level of your home.
- Interconnected smoke alarms are best, because if one sounds, they all sound.
- The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that every residence and place where people sleep be equipped with both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors.
- Test smoke alarms monthly and change alkaline batteries at least once every year, or as instructed by the manufacturer. You can use a date you already know, like your birthday or when you change your clocks as a reminder.
- If possible, install residential fire sprinklers in your home.
- Avoid painting or covering the fire sprinkler, because that will affect the sensitivity to heat.
Organizations in partnership with the U.S. Fire Administration's Install. Inspect. Protect. Campaign include the American Fire Sprinkler Association, Burn Institute, Everyone Goes Home, Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association, Fire Department Safety Officers Association, Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, Home Safety Council, International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services, National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) , NASFM Fire Research and Education Foundation, National Association of Hispanic Firefighters, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, National Fire Protection Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Safe Kids Worldwide.
Materials can be downloaded at www.usfa.dhs.gov/smokealarms (English) or www.usfa.dhs.gov/detectoresdehumo (Spanish). The Campaign Toolkit disc with all campaign materials is available from the USFA Publications Center at www.usfa.dhs.gov or by calling (800) 561-3356.
The United States Fire Administration recommends everyone should have a comprehensive fire protection plan that includes smoke alarms, residential sprinklers, and practicing a home fire escape plan.
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