of the Day
- December 23, 2009
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
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
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters seeks FBI probe of missing South L.A. woman
December 22, 2009
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) has asked the FBI to look into the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson and the circumstances of her arrest and release from sheriff's custody.
Richardson, who lives in the South L.A. area represented by Waters, was arrested by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies in September for not paying her dinner bill at a Malibu restaurant. She was released from custody in the early hours of Sept. 17 and vanished.
“Based on reports I have read, there are questions as to whether the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station acted properly in releasing this young woman during the predawn hours without money or transportation, all while she was suffering from what the Los Angeles Police Department's doctors have concluded to be bipolar disorder,” Waters wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.
Waters sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FBI.
“Constituents from across my district are calling for a federal investigation and have inundated my Los Angeles office with phone calls, letters and faxes,” Waters wrote.
She added that she believed the FBI's involvement was warranted, noting that the agency was responsible for investigating “cases implicating federal criminal or civil rights statutes.”
Two LAPD detectives have been investigating the disappearance of the 24-year old Cal State Fullerton graduate since the early fall. The sheriff's department last week assigned two of its detectives and a lieutenant to the case.
State to pay unprecedented $1.1 billion to make walkways accessible to disabled
December 22, 2009
In an unprecedented court settlement reached today, Caltrans has agreed to spend $1.1 billion over the next 30 years to repair and improve sidewalks, crosswalks and park-and-ride facilities across the state so they are accessible for people with disabilities.
The settlement, filed at the federal courthouse in Oakland, is a major victory for civil rights activists that have been battling with Caltrans for years to provide equal access to public rights-of-way for the blind and people who use wheelchairs.
"It's about time," said Ben Rockwell, 64, of Long Beach, a wheelchair user and a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. "While this work might not be finished in my lifetime, I hope that future generations will see better access throughout all areas of the state because of what has been done here."
The agreement applies to about 2,500 miles of sidewalk, crosswalks and park-and-ride facilities that are owned and maintained by Caltrans along state roads and highways.
Attorneys from Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law firm based in Berkeley, contend that thousands of required wheelchair ramps along state routes are either missing, do not comply with federal law or lack warnings such as bumps that the blind can feel underfoot.
The conditions, they say, are dangerous and can force wheelchair users, for example, to detour onto streets, where they risk being hit by vehicles.
"This settlement is a win-win," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It would be inexcusable to continue to delay these modifications. Instead of debating this through the legal process for the next decade, costing millions of taxpayer dollars, we are taking action to get this work completed."
Polanski exit strategy suggested by court
In rejecting the fugitive director's bid to have his 1977 child-sex prosecution dismissed, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal says he could request that he be sentenced in absentia.
by Harriet Ryan
December 22, 2009
A state appellate court Monday rejected Roman Polanski's bid to have his 1977 child-sex prosecution dismissed but outlined a way that could end the long-running case without Polanski serving more time behind bars or returning to the American justice system he fled three decades ago.
In a 3-0 ruling, the 2nd District Court of Appeal suggested that Polanski ask to be sentenced in absentia for the statutory rape he admitted committing 32 years ago.
According to the three-justice panel, the sentencing hearing held in his absence would provide a forum for a Los Angeles County judge to evaluate Polanski's allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in the original handling of the case.
If the evidence is persuasive, the justices wrote, "we are confident that the trial court could fashion a legal sentence that results in no further incarceration for Polanski."
The opinion made clear that the justices were troubled by the misconduct allegations, enough so that they took the unusual step of injecting themselves into the details of a specific case.
"We exhort all participants in this extended drama to place the integrity of the criminal justice system above the desire to punish any one individual, whether for his offense or for his flight," the justices wrote.
The move surprised legal experts.
"This is much more hands-on than we expect," said Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson, who attended oral arguments. "It looked like the court really wanted to give some direction to all parties, including the lower court, as to how to finally resolve this matter."
The court's action comes three months after Polanski, who had lived as a fugitive in France, was arrested during a visit to Switzerland. He is under house arrest in Gstaad while Swiss courts decide whether to extradite him to Los Angeles. The resolution of that matter is not expected for some months.
His arrest sparked debate over the proper punishment for the 76-year-old director. The maximum sentence he could receive is two years in prison. Los Angeles County prosecutors have declined to say what sentence they will seek.
His supporters have said that the month and a half that he spent in state prison the year of his crime was enough and that he should be released without additional time in custody. A recent Times analysis of court records showed that most defendants in similar cases since 2004 received sentences of a year or more.
Although the district attorney and Polanski's defense team have filed thousands of pages at the trial court and appellate levels arguing over the proper outcome, neither side has advocated publicly the prospect of sentencing Polanski in absentia.
"It's a pretty darn good solution for Polanski," Levenson said. "This could all go away and we would all kinda scratch our heads and wonder what has taken 30 years."
The justices' road map for ending what they called "one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history" came in a 70-page decision that was on its face a defeat for the director. The court denied his request for a dismissal of his case on the basis of alleged wrongdoing by the trial judge, who died in 1993, and a now-retired prosecutor.
The justices upheld the ruling of a lower court judge that Polanski would have to surrender to U.S. authorities before asking for a dismissal. But they expressed dismay at the allegations of backroom dealings and broken promises by the late Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband and said they were "disturbed" that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office had not addressed accusations of "profoundly unethical conduct" by former prosecutor David Wells.
The decision by Associate Justice Laurie D. Zelon was joined by Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Associate Justice Fred Woods.
The ruling leaves the next move to Polanski. To follow the justices' prescription and be sentenced in absentia, he would have to write a letter asking the supervising judge of the Superior Court criminal division, Peter Espinoza, to proceed without him.
Whether Polanski wants to pursue that option is unclear. In the ruling, the justices wrote that based on comments by both sides during oral arguments Dec. 10, they expect no objection to a sentencing in absentia. But neither the director's legal team, which has spent the last year fighting for a complete dismissal, nor the district attorney's office, which has insisted on Polanski's surrender, would answer questions about the decision Monday.
In a written statement, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office called the decision "another step" toward resolving the case, but indicated that prosecutors were still focused on getting Polanski back to the United States.
"We await a decision by the Swiss courts on his extradition to Los Angeles so all issues can be resolved by the Superior Court," Sandi Gibbons wrote.
With their decision, the justices waded into a case that began in March 1977 when a 13-year-old girl told police that Polanski, then 43, had sexually assaulted her during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson's home.
The director was initially charged with half a dozen felonies, including rape and sodomy, but worked out a plea deal with prosecutors after the victim's parents said they didn't want her to testify at a trial. Under the deal, Polanski pleaded guilty to a single count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and his punishment was to be decided by Rittenband.
Polanski spent 42 days in state prison for diagnostic testing, but fled to Europe on the eve of his sentencing after his attorney told him the judge planned to send him back to prison. A 1997 deal for him to return voluntarily and be released on probation fell through, with Polanski's side saying that they objected to television coverage of the proceeding.
An HBO documentary broadcast last year, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," included interviews suggesting that Rittenband had reneged on an agreement that the diagnostic testing would constitute the director's entire sentence and improperly had discussed the case with the press and with
Wells, a prosecutor who was not assigned to the case. In the documentary, Wells said that in backroom conversations, he had prodded Rittenband to give the director a harsher sentence. He later recanted those statements.
In their ruling, the justices wrote that if an investigation proved that Wells did act improperly, they expect the district attorney's office to consider reporting him to the state bar for disciplinary action.
Reached Monday, Wells said he had sent a letter to the state bar disavowing his comments.
"I lied in the documentary, and I told them that," he said.
MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Mexico drug raid hero's family slaughtered
Hours after the burial of a marine who died in a raid that killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, gunmen burst into his home and killed family members.
by Tracy Wilkinson
December 23, 2009
Reporting from Mexico City
The young marine received the highest military honors that the Mexican state could offer. Killed during a raid that ended the life of a notorious drug lord, the marine was buried a hero, ushered to his grave by an honor guard of commandos in camouflage, his mother awarded a folded flag.
Hours later, the grieving mother, the marine's sister, his brother and an aunt were mowed down by gunmen in a revenge attack that sent a chilling message to the Mexican military combating drug traffickers.
The slaughter of Melquisedet Angulo Cordova's family early Tuesday horrified Mexicans seemingly inured to a drug-war brutality that has claimed more than 15,000 lives in three years of spectacular violence. The killing, especially, of a mother seemed to violate the most basic code of conduct that even coldblooded hit men and traffickers obeyed.
Was it a mistake to have so publicly identified the family of the felled combatant? Military commandos carry out their dangerous missions with their faces covered by masks and with no hint of personal identity.
By contrast, the Angulo family had been seen in newspaper photos and on television, first during an elaborate memorial ceremony at navy headquarters over the weekend and then at the marine's funeral Monday in his home state of Tabasco. It appeared that no special protection was provided for the family.
Angulo, 30, died in a fierce gun battle a week ago in the city of Cuernavaca when navy special forces attacked the hide-out of Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of a major narco-trafficking organization. Beltran Leyva and six of his gunmen were killed in what the government immediately hailed as an important victory in the war on organized crime -- and one it was eager to celebrate.
Officials at the time also predicted more violence as Beltran Leyva's lieutenants might fight for control of the organization and other cartels would push to seize pieces of Beltran Leyva's empire. Instead, the first blow appears to have been an act of revenge and intimidation.
Beltran Leyva, who split with the powerful Sinaloa cartel, had allied with the so-called Zetas, ruthless gunmen who authorities speculated might be responsible for the slaying of Angulo's family members.
"The message was to the military and to the government, that if you hit us hard, we will respond in unprecedented ways," said Raul Benitez, a security expert. "This is the wrath of the Beltran Leyva family. It is very worrisome and should put the entire government on alert."
The decision by officials to show off pictures of Beltran Leyva's body -- half undressed and covered in peso bills -- may also have goaded the dead trafficker's allies into such depraved retaliation, several experts said.
President Felipe Calderon condemned the killings as "cowardly, barbaric" acts that showed a complete "lack of scruples" by criminal gangs. But he vowed to press ahead with the military-led offensive that has deployed about 45,000 troops across the nation.
Critics said the slaying of the Angulo family members exposed a serious security lapse emblematic of the government's troubled offensive against the powerful drug cartels, which Calderon launched shortly after taking office in December 2006. The gunmen evidently had no trouble locating the marine's home, suggesting they had benefited from inside information.
"This has shown the inability of the state to offer protection to its frontline troops," said Ricardo Aleman, a columnist for El Universal newspaper.
"We do not have the training, intelligence or other elements to wage this war."
Prosecutors in Tabasco said the gunmen converged on the family home in at least three vehicles shortly after midnight. They burst into the small residence where the family slept and opened fire.
The mother, Irma Cordova, 48, was killed by a single gunshot. Angulo's sister Yolidabey, 22, was hit by seven bullets; the aunt, Josefa Angulo, 46, by 10. A 28-year-old brother, Benito, was shot once and died later at a hospital.
Nearly three dozen spent bullet casings were found in the house, state prosecutor Rafael Gonzalez said.
Army troops canvassed the area Tuesday. No suspects had been arrested.
Javier Ibarrola, an expert on the Mexican military, described the attack as "unprecedented," yet also predictable.
"What is really most alarming is that there wasn't the intelligence to foresee this, to adequately study what the traffickers' reactions were going to be," Ibarrola said, adding that it was no longer possible for the government to dismiss deadly violence as mere "killing among cartels."
"We are not facing a criminal group but a corps of combatants who are going to exact revenge and take territory from the government," he said on Mexican television. "The government is not prepared for this. Presidential speeches do not scare them."
Angulo's mother had spoken to reporters Monday at the funeral, telling them how important her children were to her.
"Thinking as a mother, I used to feel very sad and hurt for the families of soldiers and police who had been killed. It would make me cry," she said. "And now, now it is my turn."
Abducted Colombia governor found dead
The body of Caqueta state Gov. Luis Francisco Cuellar is found less than a day after he was seized from his home in the state capital, allegedly by leftist FARC guerrillas.
by Chris Kraul
December 23, 2009
Reporting from Bogota, Colombia
Caqueta state Gov. Luis Francisco Cuellar was found dead Tuesday, Colombian authorities said, less than a day after he was abducted from his home by suspected leftist guerrillas.
Cuellar's body was found near Florencia, the state capital where he lived, authorities said.
President Alvaro Uribe later said on national television that Cuellar's throat had been cut as the assailants fled from security forces. His body was found by a rural road, said Uribe, who promised to press the fight against rebel violence.
"In the midst of pain we reiterate today all our determination to defeat these terrorists," he said.
After learning that Cuellar had been abducted from his home late Monday, Uribe ordered Colombian armed forces Tuesday to search the jungles of Caqueta for the governor.
The kidnapping was the first in several years of a politician of Cuellar's stature. His abduction and slaying present a challenge to Uribe's get-tough campaign against the rebels, which has produced dramatic declines in violence and kidnappings since he took office in 2002.
Ten assailants, dressed in army uniforms and identified by the government as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, seized a pajama-clad Cuellar, 69, in his residence. The attackers killed one police guard, wounded two and exploded a grenade to gain entry.
The governor, who previously was a mayor and a congressman, had received threats and asked for more protection, said his personal secretary, Edilberto Ramon Endo. Cuellar had been kidnapped on four previous occasions, Endo added.
In comments to reporters before Cuellar's body was found, Uribe said he had sent Defense Minister Gabriel Silva Lujan, armed forces chief Gen. Freddy Padilla and National Police commander Gen. Oscar Naranjo to supervise the effort to rescue the governor, who had appeared Saturday with Uribe at a community meeting in Florencia.
"This causes us much pain, anxiety and desperation," Uribe told reporters Tuesday morning. "We've been trying all night to get soldiers out to the routes where they have presumably taken the governor, so we can seal them off."
Silva Lujan had offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to Cuellar's rescue.
Although security has improved in urban areas, the rebels are still capable of pulling off attacks and abductions, particularly in jungle areas such as Caqueta in southern Colombia, where they can hide easily.
The rebels may be reeling from government pressure but maintain operational viability from drug trafficking and ransoms. The FARC is believed to be holding hundreds of hostages, including 24 soldiers and police officers whom it has offered to exchange for rebel prisoners held by the government.
"Who kidnapped him? The bandits who want to make a show of freeing the other hostages. The same ones who make fools of the entire country, who seek international support to try to validate terrorism in Colombia," said Uribe, whose father was killed in 1983 by captors, believed to be with the FARC.
There were reports Tuesday of clashes between armed forces and suspected guerrillas. Florencia is within 15 miles of one of Colombia's largest military bases, Ft. Larandia, where several rapid-deployment special-forces units are headquartered
Tensions in the region have been high, with Colombia charging that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is giving safe haven to the FARC. Chavez in turn has threatened war over Uribe's giving permission to the Pentagon to use up to seven Colombian bases for counter-narcotics and anti-terrorism overflights and intelligence gathering.
Earlier in the decade, the FARC pulled off the kidnappings of several high-profile politicians, including members of the Colombian Congress and a presidential candidate. The rebels seized 12 members of the Valle del Cauca state assembly in April 2002 and killed 11 of them in June 2007.
In recent years, the government has foiled FARC plots against other officials, including Silva Lujan's predecessor as defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos. In May, the rebels succeeded in kidnapping a city councilman in Garzon in the mountainous southern state of Huila after killing four guards.
The enduring wisdom of Special Order 40
by Tim Rutten
December 23, 2009
Over the last few weeks, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck twice has reaffirmed the department's commitment to Special Order 40, the 30-year-old policy that forbids officers from making routine inquiries about the immigration status of people they encounter or detain. The contexts and manner of Beck's affirmation suggest a couple of interesting -- and significant -- differences between the new chief's approach and that of his predecessor, William Bratton.
Even after three decades, Special Order 40 remains the most controversial of LAPD's policing policies, as well as one of its most vital. Then-Chief Daryl Gates adopted the measure with the approval of the City Council in 1979, when Los Angeles was in the first flush of the great immigration that would demographically transform it. East Los Angeles and neighborhoods west of the L.A. River -- in particular, Pico-Union, the Westlake District and Temple-Beaudry -- were bursting with newcomers from southern Mexico and Central America. (Within less than 10 years, some census tracts in Pico-Union would have a population density nine times that of Manhattan.)
Many of the immigrants spoke little or no English and had entered the country without documents. The ever-present threat of deportation, compounded by the fact that many came from countries where badges and uniforms were synonymous with corruption and brutality, made the newcomers wary of any governmental or civic official, and particularly police officers. Gates and others quickly realized that communities rendered opaque to law enforcement by fear were perfect incubators for crime and also were places where immigrants themselves could be victimized with impunity. Special Order 40 assured the new Angelenos that they could report crimes or cooperate as witnesses without being interrogated about their immigration status. Not every citation would escalate into what was -- in those years -- a potentially deadly deportation.
From the start, it was clear that Special Order 40 worked. Its opponents, however, continue to charge that it undermines the rule of law and, effectively, makes Los Angeles a "sanctuary city" for undocumented immigrants. There have been repeated attempts to overturn it, most recently a suit -- dismissed by a state appellate court -- alleging that it violates federal law.
At the outset, city officials considered the order a problem-solving tool -- and in their minds, the immigrants themselves were the problem's foundation. Beck's approach reflects a welcome advance on that sort of thinking. Last month, for example, he told a community forum sponsored by The Times:
"I believe in Special Order 40. I believe in not just the words on paper, but the spirit of Special Order 40. I think that, especially in Los Angeles, we have to represent everybody, that everybody has the right to quality police service, regardless of [immigration] status. I don't think that we should be an arm of the federal government in enforcing immigration laws specifically. However, if we make a legal arrest on another charge, and a criminal is monitored by Immigration, then they should have access to him."
That sentiment is of a piece with the new chief's oft-expressed belief in what he calls "constitutional policing." It's a recognition that our immigrant communities -- like every other neighborhood -- are filled with lives to be lived rather than with problems to be solved. More important, it's a recognition that this is a city in which everyone enjoys an equal right to security.
That sentiment gave a special resonance to Beck's second affirmation of Special Order 40, this time at a posada Friday at Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles. Dolores Mission, the poorest parish in the Archdiocese, is one of the places in Los Angeles that always has opened its doors wide to immigrants. The Jesuits who staff the church have helped parishioners, most of whom live in public housing, turn Dolores Mission into a dynamic center for social services. The city's most effective anti-gang program, Father Gregory Boyle's Homeboy and Homegirl enterprises, was born there.
This particular posada , moreover, marked International Migrants Day. Beck's presence in that place on such an occasion thus was a clear message about what the immigrant communities can expect from his tenure. As The Times' Teresa Watanabe reported, when Father Scott Santarosa asked Beck whether he could guarantee that people won't be questioned about their immigration status when reporting a crime, he replied, "Sí."
The crowd registered its appreciation with laughter and applause.
The chief went on to say, "It is extremely important to build relationships with all the communities of Los Angeles. That cannot be done when people are afraid to have legitimate contact with police because of their status."
There are years of firsthand experience, as well as a welcome clarity, behind that declaration.
From the Washington Times
Brazil orders boy's return to U.S. dad
by Bradley Brooks
RIO DE JANEIRO | Brazil's chief justice on Tuesday ruled in favor of a U.S. man who has pursued a five-year court battle to gain custody of his son.
According to the court's Web site, Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes ruled that David Goldman's 9-year-old son, Sean, must be delivered to him by the boy's Brazilian relatives, as a federal court ordered last week.
The ruling put Mr. Goldman one step closer to finally being reunited with his son. Sean was taken by Mr. Goldman's wife to her native Brazil in 2004, where he has remained even after her death. Mr. Goldman has been fighting to get him back from the boy's stepfather.
Mr. Goldman's New Jersey-based lawyer, Patricia Apy, said late Tuesday that she thinks that Chief Justice Mendes' order required that Sean be handed over immediately, but she said Mr. Goldman's attorneys had not heard from lawyers for the Brazilian family.
Lawyers on both sides have said there was still a chance for the Brazilian family to appeal to Brazil's highest appeals court, though the chances of success seemed slight.
Mr. Goldman, who lives in Tinton Falls, N.J., declined to comment until he learned more details about the 50-page ruling.
U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, traveled to Brazil to offer his support. He said Mr. Goldman "was elated, a big smile came to his face, but he said: 'I'm not going to let my guard down until it's wheels up.' "
Mr. Goldman has seen earlier rulings ordering Sean's return be blocked, and for days, his supporters have expressed worries that the Brazilian family might try to flee or hide Sean.
Calls to the Brazilian family's lawyer were not immediately returned.
The U.S. and Brazilian governments argued that the case clearly fell under the Hague Convention, which seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts in the country where a child originally lived - in this case, the United States.
A lawyer specializing in the Hague Convention said Tuesday's decision by Chief Justice Mendes was the only right one to make.
"It would be virtually impossible to reconcile international law with a ruling in favor of the Brazilian family," said Greg Lewen of the Miami-based law firm Fowler White Burnett.
He said that if the Hague Convention were not followed by the chief justice, "the State Department should immediately issue a travel advisory warning parents not to go to Brazil with their children."
Mr. Goldman launched his case in U.S. and Brazilian courts after Sean was brought by his mother in 2004 to her home country, where she then divorced Mr. Goldman and remarried. She died last year in childbirth, and the boy has lived with his stepfather since.
In an interview with Associated Press on Sunday, Mr. Goldman said he would allow Sean's Brazilian relatives to visit with his son if he won the case. "I will not do to them what they've done to Sean and me," he said.
The case has affected diplomatic ties between Brazil and the United States, and has been discussed by President Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, had blocked the renewal of a $2.75 billion trade deal that would remove U.S. tariffs on some Brazilian goods. The hold was lifted after Tuesday's ruling, and the Senate quickly passed the trade measure.
The U.S. State Department had pressed for the boy to be returned. But a Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Thursday stayed the lower court decision ordering Sean to be turned over to his father.
Mr. Goldman and Brazil's attorney general filed appeals Friday asking the Supreme Court to overturn the justice's decision to block Sean's return while the court considers hearing direct testimony from the boy. On Tuesday, Chief Justice Mendes ruled the order no longer valid.
The Brazilian family's lawyer, Sergio Tostes, had told the AP that he would like to see a negotiated settlement, saying he wanted to end the damage being done to Sean and to U.S.-Brazil relations.
Mr. Goldman was never in a mood to negotiate.
"This isn't about a shared custody -- I'm his dad, I'm his only parent," Mr. Goldman said. "This isn't a custody case - it's an abduction case."
'Balloon boy' parents face sentencing in Colorado
by Solomon Banda
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) -- The parents who pulled off the balloon boy hoax are already facing the prospect of jail time and paying tens of thousands of dollars in restitution over their stunt. An investigator also wants to forbid the couple from making any money off their newfound fame.
Richard and Mayumi Heene are scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges that they carried out the stunt in October to promote a reality TV show. The husband faces up to 90 days and jail, and the wife faces up to 60 days.
An investigator thinks the judge shouldn't stop at jail time.
Bob Heffernan, a lead investigator in the case for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, said there should be limits on how the Heenes might profit from the Oct. 15 hoax, such as through book or TV deals.
"This would hopefully stop the Heenes from being able to exploit their criminal behavior or their children any more than they already have," Heffernan urged District Judge Stephen Schapanski in a letter dated Nov. 30. "All the while the Heenes were playing us all in hopes of making themselves more marketable."
David Lane, Richard Heene's attorney, said nothing in the law allows a judge to impose any such limits.
"That's a First Amendment violation," Lane said.
The Heenes made frantic calls to 911, the news media and the Federal Aviation Administration to report that their 6-year-old son may have been aboard a runaway balloon. That triggered a desperate 50-mile chase as the craft drifted across northern Colorado's plains -- and then another desperate search once the balloon landed and the boy was nowhere to be found.
In his letter to the judge, Heffernan described his pain at having to tell the Heenes that their boy was not inside the balloon when it landed in a field.
"I wish I could make you realize the anguish I had when I went into that room," Heffernan said. "To have the Heenes start the grieving process with me trying to comfort them and give them some hope. Then to find out later they were just acting."
He added, "Yeah, it's personal, but I ask you to seek some justice for me and others by ensuring the Heenes' sentence ... reflects this personal anguish the Heenes caused to so many people worldwide."
Lane said he will ask that Richard Heene be spared any jail time.
"Orson Welles didn't go to jail for convincing the world that it was being invaded by Martians, with people panicking and committing suicide," Lane said, referring to Welles' 1938 radio broadcast "War of the Worlds."
"Not everything that happens that's bad in the world requires somebody to go to jail," Lane insisted.
Mayumi Heene's attorney, Lee Christian, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The Heenes also face possible restitution for search and rescue costs. It wasn't immediately known if District Judge Stephen Schapanski would take up the issue at Wednesday's hearing.
The Larimer County District Attorney's Office estimates total costs at $46,000, according to Lane.
That figure includes $8,000 in sheriff's department overtime. Another $13,500 was spent by law enforcement agencies from the nearby communities of Greeley and Weld County, along with Colorado State University and the U.S. Forest Service, Lane quoted the district attorney as saying. Two National Guard helicopters launched to track the craft cost about $16,000.
Also included are $8,500 in damages to the field where the craft landed.
Lane said he'll demand proof of all damages or extra costs.
The FAA has also informed the Heenes that they may be subject to an $11,000 fine for launching an unauthorized aircraft. The balloon flight forced some commercial aircraft to switch to a different runway at Denver International Airport.
On Monday, sheriff's officials announced that the Heenes acted alone and that their stunt did not include media outlets, as Sheriff Jim Alderden had speculated in October.
Several neighbors of the Heenes said the couple should be punished.
"First thing he should get, he should get a chance to publicly apologize to the nation and let them know that he is really remorseful for what he did because a lot of people were crying and very emotional with this whole saga," said Dean Askew, a friend of Richard Heene who was interviewed during the investigation. "The next thing he should get to do is his time."
Kenneth Seifert, who lives three doors down from the Heenes, said Richard Heene should pay restitution.
"And if he wants to go out and have his reality show, so let him do it," Seifert said.
A hand up, not a handout
by Ed Feulner
For many of us, the holiday season means gathering with friends and family and celebrating with food and drink. Too much food, in many cases.
But for a few Americans, the problem isn't overeating - it's getting enough to eat in the first place.
A recent study by the Agriculture Department claimed that more than 16 million U.S. households, a total of some 49.1 million people, experienced "food insecurity" in 2008.
Fortunately, "food insecurity" isn't as dire as it sounds. USA Today made the mistake of reporting that the study found "1 in 6 went hungry in America in 2008." That's wrong. Most "food insecure" households merely reported they had "worried" they might run out of food or had eaten cheaper, unbalanced meals at some point in the last year.
With 15 million Americans unemployed, that response isn't too surprising. When asked specifically about "hunger," about 3 percent of the population, or 10 million people, reported they'd been hungry because they didn't have enough money for food at least one day during the prior year.
Still, it's a shame that anyone is hungry in the United States. The question is: How can we address hunger effectively? Some say we need more government spending.
Do we? Last year, the federal and state governments spent $714 billion on means-tested welfare or aid to the poor. It's a sum that dwarfs the $30 billion price tag for the Afghanistan surge. More than a third of it went for cash, food and housing aid.
The federal government has invested trillions since President Lyndon Johnson declared "war" on poverty. And there's no end in sight.
There are better ways to approach this. Consider Oliver's Kitchen, part of the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation.
This 12-week course trains underprivileged students to enter the food-service industry. It may seem counterintuitive to teach hungry people how to work with food, but the restaurant business is a great place to begin a career. Entry-level jobs are available, and there's plenty of opportunity for advancement for people willing to work hard and learn well.
As the program's Web site explains, "Oliver's Kitchen trains its students in up-scale food preparation, pantry skills, kitchen safety, nutrition, sanitation and much more." These are skills that are convertible - useful at upscale downtown restaurants and at the local fast-food joint.
Plus, the program is teaching people about the benefits of good nutrition. One problem in the U.S. is that, all too often, the food that's most plentiful is also the least healthy. Fast food and prepared meals tend to be loaded with sugar and salt, but they cost far less than healthier fresh fruits and vegetables.
That doesn't mean everyone who goes through the program will make smart food choices all the time; in a free market, people sometimes opt for the unhealthy choice. But as educated food preparers, Oliver's Kitchen grads are certainly more likely to make smart food choices, providing health benefits for themselves and their families for years to come.
Liberals and conservatives ought to be able to agree that we can never spend enough to eliminate poverty completely. The poor will always be with us.
"On average, welfare spending amounts to around $7,000 per year for each individual who is poor or who has an income below 200 percent of the poverty level," Heritage Foundation poverty expert Robert Rector reported in a recent paper. "This comes to $28,000 per year for each lower-income family of four."
That level of spending is unsustainable. And, as the studies of hunger show, it's also ineffective. Yet, Mr. Rector writes, the Obama administration aims to spend another $10.3 trillion on welfare programs.
The better way to deal with hunger would be to give the poor a hand up, not a handout. Programs such as Oliver's Kitchen have the right recipe. We need more of them.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
From the New York Post
Teen reaches plea deal in Facebook sex scam
December 23, 2009
WAUKESHA, Wis. — A Wisconsin teen who blackmailed dozens of fellow high school students into sex acts by using photos and videos obtained in a Facebook scam faces up to 50 years in prison after pleading no contest to two felonies Tuesday.
Anthony R. Stancl, 19, of New Berlin, had faced 12 charges that carried a maximum penalty of nearly 300 years.
He pleaded no contest to repeated sexual assault of the same child and third-degree sexual assault. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed charges that included second-degree sexual assault, child enticement and possession of child pornography.
Stancl was accused of posing as a girl online and persuading more than 30 classmates into sending him naked pictures of themselves, then using the images to blackmail them for sex. Authorities found more than 30 folders on Stancl's computer containing about 300 nude images of other male students at New Berlin Eisenhower High School in southeastern Wisconsin.
Stancl didn't speak in court beyond answering the judge's questions with, “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” and saying he had been taking medication for depression for “a few years.”
Waukesha County district attorney Brad Schimel said he would recommend a “substantial” prison sentence and that he was satisfied with the plea agreement because Stancl still faces up to 50 years.
The deal also spares victims from having to appear in court, a key factor in his negotiations, he said.
“I've never had a case where the victims and their families were more apprehensive about testifying,” Schimel said. “From the victims' perspective, they're relieved we're doing this.”
Defense attorney Craig Kuhary declined to comment to reporters as he left the courtroom. A status hearing where a sentencing date could be set was scheduled for Jan. 7.
Court documents accuse Stancl of pretending to be a girl when he contacted students through the Facebook social networking site between spring 2007 and November 2008.
The investigation began after a 16-year-old boy told authorities he was being blackmailed into acts of oral and anal sex with Stancl. The boy, then 15, had exchanged explicit pictures of himself online with “Kayla,” who later threatened to spread his picture throughout the school unless he agreed to the acts with Stancl.
Stancl photographed those encounters, giving him fodder for further blackmail, detectives said.
The boy agreed to at least four sex acts, but when “Kayla” asked him for a nude photo of his brother he went to his parents and the police.
Police identified 31 victims, each of whom exchanged nude photographs or videos with someone they thought was a female. More than half said the person with whom they communicated threatened to release the images unless they agreed to let the person's male friend perform sex acts on them.
The investigation overlapped with a separate case in which Stancl was accused of writing a bomb threat on a bathroom wall at the school in November 2008 and following it up with an anonymous e-mail to two teachers that said, “Good luck tomorrow. Boom.”
Stancl admitted to detectives he sent the e-mail from the public library under a false identity. A charge of causing a bomb scare was among those dismissed as part of Stancl's plea agreement.
The FBI fumbles again
December 22, 2009
A case could be made that a substantial threat to American national security may reside in . . . the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In the latest in a series of embarrassing episodes, an FBI linguist with a "secret" security clearance has been caught passing classified documents to a blogger.
Shamai Kedem Leibowitz, a Maryland lawyer, pled guilty to a felony count of disclosing to a third party materials that carried the "secret" classification.
Leibowitz had been employed as a linguist for all of three months before he leaked the documents. Makes one sort of wonder how he got the job -- and the "secret" clearance -- in the first place.
Sure, Leibowitz's disclosures appear not to have been particularly damaging.
But that's not the point.
The question still needs answering.
Again: How did this guy -- an Israeli-American with a history of questionable relationships with radical Palestinian groups -- end up with clearance to handle classified material in the first place?
His grandfather, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, had long been a strong critic of Israeli policy on the Palestinian territories.
But the younger Leibowitz went further: He helped defend Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian sentenced to five life terms in 2004 for incitement to murder.
As a US citizen, Leibowitz has the right to associate with whomever. He doesn't automatically get the right to an FBI clearance allowing him to view and translate classified material.
This information comes to light one month after the bureau admitted that it had seen e-mail correspondence between Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, radical cleric with strong ties to al Qaeda.
The FBI concluded that a broader investigation into Hasan wasn't warranted. The results speak for themselves.
The bureau is now "reviewing" its actions prior to the shooting.
Here's an idea: How about reviewing its policies on granting clearance to translators with radical ties of their own?
The Real Rules of War
Sometimes the good guys do commit 'war crimes.'
by WARREN KOZAK
Five years ago, a particularly gruesome image made its way to our television screens from the war in Iraq. Four U.S. civilian contractors working in Fallujah were ambushed and killed by al Qaeda. Their bodies were burned, then dragged through the streets. Two of the charred bodies were hung from the Euphrates Bridge and left dangling.
This barbaric act left an impression that our military did not forget: In a special operation earlier this year, Navy SEALs captured the mastermind of that attack, Ahmed Hashim Abed. But after he was taken into custody in September, Abed claimed he was punched by his captors. He showed a fat lip to prove it. Three of the SEALS are now awaiting a courts-martial on charges ranging from assault to dereliction of duty and making false statements.
This incident and its twisted irony takes me back to an oddly serene setting many years ago. When I was in college, I joined my parents on a trip to retrace my father's wartime experience in Europe. We drove from France, through Holland and Belgium and on to Germany—the same route he had taken with the U.S. Army in 1944-45. At a field outside the Belgian town of Malmedy, we got out of our rented car where my father described something I had never heard before.
During the Battle of the Bulge, in the bleak December of 1944, the Germans had quickly overrun the American lines. They took thousands of prisoners as they pushed through in a last chance gamble to turn the war around. One unit, part of the First SS Panzer Division, had captured over a hundred GIs. They were moving fast, and they didn't care to be burdened by prisoners. So the SS troops put the American soldiers in that field and mowed them down with machine guns.
Around 90 Americans were killed in that barrage. The Germans then walked through the tangle of bodies, shooting those who were still alive in the back of the head. The few that survived were brought to where my father was located in the nearby town of Liege where word of the massacre quickly spread.
My father was never a talker. And in spite of the fact that we were on a trip to look at his past, he didn't open up much, or couldn't. When I asked him what the reaction was among the U.S. troops, he answered without emotion: "We didn't take prisoners for two weeks." I immediately understood what he meant, and had the sense not to press the issue any further. I just looked out at the field, now green and peaceful on a beautiful summer day, and realized he was looking at the same field and seeing something quite different.
In the weeks following the Malmedy massacre, U.S. troops clearly broke the rules of the Geneva Conventions. Justified or not, they were technically guilty of war crimes.
My guess is that the American correspondents imbedded with those troops knew all about this and chose not to report it. So did their officers. They understood the gravity of the war, as well as the absolute importance of its outcome. And they understood that disclosing this information might ultimately help the enemy. In other words, they used common sense. Was the U.S. a lesser country because these GIs weren't arrested? Was the Constitution jeopardized? Somehow it survived.
You don't have to dig too deep to understand that war brings out behavior in people that they would never demonstrate in normal life. In Paul Fussell's moving memoir, "The Boys' Crusade," the former infantryman relates a story about the liberation of Dachau. There were about 120 SS guards who had been captured by the Americans. Even though the Germans were being held at gunpoint, they still had the arrogance—or epic stupidity—to continue to heap verbal abuse and threats on the inmates. Their American guards, thoroughly disgusted by what they had already witnessed in the camp, had seen enough and opened fire on the SS. Some of the remaining SS guards were handed over to the inmates who tore them limb from limb. Another war crime? No doubt. Justified? It depends on your point of view. But before you weigh in, realize that you didn't walk through the camp. You didn't smell it. You didn't witness the obscene horror of the Nazis.
Rules of war are important. They are something to strive for as they separate us from our distant ancestors. But when only one side follows these rules, they no longer elevate us. They create a very unlevel field and more than a little frustration. It is equally bizarre for any of us to judge someone's behavior in war by the rules we follow in our very peaceful universe. We sit in homes that are air-conditioned in the summer and warmed in the winter. We have more than enough food in our bellies and we get enough sleep. The stress in our lives won't ever match the stress of battle. Can we honestly begin to decide if a soldier acted in compliance with rules that work perfectly well on Main Street but not, say, in Malmedy or Fallujah?
In his book, Mr. Fussell probably sums up the feelings of many soldiers when he quotes a British captain, John Tonkin, who experienced a great deal of the war. "I have always felt," Capt. Tonkin said, "that the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can't."
Mr. Kozak is the author of "LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay" (Regnery, 2009) .
From the Department of Justice
Indiana Man to Spend 42 Months in Prison for Cross Burning
WASHINGTON – Bruce Mikulyuk, 50, of Mishawaka, Ind., was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for interfering with the housing rights of a white woman and an African-American man by burning a cross in their yard and later returning with a knife and threatening the man if he did not leave. Mikulyuk pleaded guilty to the offense in October.
According to the plea agreement filed with the court, Mikulyuk used racial slurs and threatened the male victim on Sept. 27, 2007. Later that evening, Mikulyuk built a cross, took it to the victims' home, and set it on fire several feet from the home while the victims and two young children were in the home. Mikulyuk later returned to the home with a hunting-style knife and again threatened the male victim. Mikulyuk admitted that he burned the cross and threatened the victims in order to intimidate them and interfere with their housing rights because of race.
This is the fourth Indiana man in two months to be sentenced to prison time for burning a cross. Richard LaShure, Richard Logue and Aaron Latham, of Muncie, Ind., were sentenced on Nov. 5, 2009, after pleading guilty to charges of interference with housing rights and conspiracy against rights for burning a cross in the yard of an African-American family in July 2008.
"The burning cross is an unmistakable symbol of hatred with a painful history, and it has no place in this country. Unfortunately, such incidents are all too common," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "Prosecuting hate crimes is a top priority for the Civil Rights Division."
This case was investigated by Special Agent Art Grist from the Merrillville Field Office of the FBI and prosecuted by Betsy Biffl from the Civil Rights Division.
ICE Removes Al Qaeda-Linked Terrorist and Convicted Criminals Out of the U.S.
On December 1, 2009, a Boeing 737 aircraft chartered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sailed through the winter skies with one terrorist and 20 other detainees (15 of whom were hardened criminals) on board and destined for a one-way trip to Africa and the Middle East. Under the watchful attendance of ICE officers, the multi-national two-day journey began at the San Antonio International Airport as the 21 detainees from around the country were gathered at the South Texas Detention Complex.
Although many of the detainees had been convicted of violent crimes, including drug distribution, conspiracy to commit murder and arson and assault, ICE's main mission was to deport Mohamed Suliman Adam back to Sudan, his country of origin. A self-professed terrorist with ties to al Qaeda, Adam pled guilty in February 2003 in the U.S. District of New York to conspiring to destroy national defense materials, premises and utilities.
Adam had been serving a 121-month sentence at a maximum security prison in Florence, Colo. Adam was denied parole, and on June 4, 2009 an immigration judge ordered Adam removed to Sudan.
On December 17, ICE held a ceremony at the Washington, D.C., headquarters to congratulate all of the Detention and Removal officers and individuals who contributed to the successful removal. Approximately 50 people attended, and certificates of appreciation were distributed to the ICE personnel involved with this important operation.
As part of the Removal Management Division, Flight Operations Unit is the principal mass air transportation and removal coordinating entity within ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations. ICE removal flights are critical in securing America's borders and safeguarding the country. As of the end of September 2009, ICE removed 387,000 aliens from the country, including 136,000 who were convicted of crimes in the U.S.
From the FBI
Investigative Files Released
Investigative Files on Michael Jackson
In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Bureau has released its investigative files on the late entertainer Michael Jackson, who died earlier this year.
The records total 333 pages, divided into seven files. They detail the FBI's investigation of a man who threatened to kill Jackson, as well as various forms of assistance to California authorities in two cases involving allegations that Jackson had abused children. It should be emphasized that none of these allegations were ever proven in court.
The files are available on the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy website, but here is a quick rundown of what they contain.
The first file —9A-LA-142276—was opened by the Los Angeles FBI office when it was asked to lead a federal case against a California man already under arrest for sending numerous threatening letters. The man—who falsely claimed to be the son of mobster John Gotti—had staked out Jackson's house and threatened to kill him, the U.S. president, and others. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial and sent to prison for two years. The second and third files —62D-LA-162715 and 62D-LO-11779—involve the Bureau's support of local law enforcement. In 1993, the Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara Police departments formed a task force to investigate an allegation that Jackson had molested a young boy. FBI field divisions in Los Angeles and New York—as well as Bureau overseas offices in Manila and London—provided assistance in that case. Investigators gathered public records on Jackson, interviewed a potential witness, and followed various other leads. The FBI assisted Los Angeles Police Department detectives who traveled to the Philippines to interview possible witnesses and shared news reports from London about a potential victim. The U.S. Attorney declined to pursue a federal investigation, including a possible violation of the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes), and no charges were filed by the state.
The fourth file —95A-HQ-1148159—concerns a 1995 request by a U.S. Customs agent in Florida that the Bureau examine a VHS videotape connected with Jackson to see if it contained child pornography. Forensic specialists discovered that the tape was a “poor quality third or fourth generation recording” and informed the Customs Service of their findings.
In 2003, Jackson was charged by the state of California with molestation and other counts. The final three files —62D-LA-236081, 252B-IR-6808, and 305B-LA-239205—detail the Bureau's support to local law enforcement during the ensuing investigation. The first of these files describes an FBI response to a Los Angeles Police Department request to analyze computers and digital media obtained from Jackson's home under court warrant. The second involves a request by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney for help and guidance from behavioral analysts in the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group. In the last of the three files, an FBI agent from Los Angeles traveled to New York to interview a potential witness. The agent found this individual unwilling to cooperate and closed the matter. The case went to court in 2005, and Jackson was acquitted of all charges.