| NEWS of the Day - August 27, 2012
|on 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 Google News
John Walker Lindh Sues For Prison Prayer Group
by Carrie Johnson and Margot Williams
John Walker Lindh was a middle-class kid in Northern California who converted to Islam and went to travel the world. U.S. authorities eventually captured him in Afghanistan after 9/11, when he was allegedly fighting alongside the Taliban.
His story was the focus of a "Law and Order" episode, and a song called "John Walker's Blues" by Steve Earle.
For the last five years, Lindh has been living in a secret prison facility in Indiana with convicted terrorists, neo Nazis and other inmates who get special monitoring.
On Monday, Lindh will come out of the shadows and into a federal courthouse in Indianapolis, as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The devout Muslim wants to be able to pray together with his fellow inmates every day from inside the walls of his secret prison unit in Terre Haute, Ind.
"They can sit around and talk about politics or football or whatever philosophy," says Ken Falk, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who's representing Lindh. "The one thing they're not allowed to do is pray together for their daily prayers, which many Muslims believe is required or at least strongly preferred."
Falk says the prison system is stepping on the rights of those inmates to practice their faith under a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Bureau of Prisons didn't want to talk about the specifics of the case. But they argued in court papers that allowing inmates to pray together every day could pose a security threat and could ignite violence against Muslims by prisoners who follow other religions.
Prison officials add that Lindh has had some discipline problems. He got in trouble for making a call to prayer early in the morning. Next, he got cited for praying in a cell with other people. And in the third episode, the warden accused Lindh of being "insolent" after his family visits got cut short.
"Anyone would have reacted with anger to two terminations of visits with family members who are traveling two-thirds of the way across the country," says Falk, who contends the other infractions didn't represent anything serious.
It's hard to know what goes on inside the secret prison facility where Lindh lives. It's known as a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, a place for prisoners who are restricted from contact with outsiders.
But Hal Turner gave us a glimpse. Turner's a former talk radio shock jock and paid informant who helped the FBI keep tabs on white supremacists. He was eventually convicted of making online threats against judges in what prosecutors called a "campaign of intimidation." He lived in that special unit in Indiana for over a year, until June.
"Overall the CMU got along fine because we were all in the same boat," Turner said in a phone interview with NPR. "Regardless of ideology, regardless of whatever offense was allegedly committed, that was our home and nobody likes violence and trouble at home."
Turner says he witnessed a couple of violent attacks inside the unit, even though it's filled with cameras and listening devices planted every 20 feet.
In one instance, he says an elderly inmate "was hit in the head with the bristle end of a commercial sized push broom. The guy that hit him was a black Muslim and they had some sort of dispute. And the Muslim picked up the bristle end of the broom and swung it like a baseball bat, splitting this man's head open."
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the federal prison system, told NPR in an email that "while we strive to prevent inmate violence at all of our institutions, in some cases even close supervision and monitoring of inmates does not prevent inmates from violating rules or committing new crimes."
Burke said authorities investigate any violence behind bars and refer cases for prosecution "when warranted."
In a companion CMU prison unit, in Marion, Ill., Muslim inmates went on a hunger strike this year. A posting on Facebook dedicated to the incident reports they were fighting interruptions during their prayer times, decisions to cancel religious classes and the refusal to provide special meals.
Turner said he doesn't have a strong opinion on religious freedom inside the prison system. He told NPR he's more bothered by leaking toilets, cockroaches as wide as a man's thumb, and blackened potatoes served to the inmates even though boxes of food were allegedly labeled "unfit for human consumption."
The prison spokesman said officials monitor pest control and food complaints.
Veterans of those CMUS say the way prison officials treat inmates there matters because, unlike inmates at Guantanamo Bay, people who live in those special U.S. prisons eventually go back home.
"You know, on the one hand the government claims that the people sent to that unit are extra special dangerous and therefore need extra special monitoring," said Turner, who's living in a halfway house in New Jersey while he transitions back home. "And then the government turns around and releases us back into society, abruptly."
John Walker Lindh has seven years to go.
Amish beard-cutting trial attracts international attention, pitting law of God vs. law of man
by James F. McCarty
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The law of God will collide with the law of man this week in a crowded federal courtroom in Cleveland, where 16 Amish defendants -- 10 men with full beards, six women in white bonnets -- will stand trial on charges related to a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish men and women last year.
And the world will be watching.
The case has attracted national and international attention, in part because of public curiosity about the normally reclusive and peaceful Amish community, and because of the peculiar nature of the alleged crimes.
Interest also has been heightened by the fact that the federal government rather than a local prosecutor brought the charges. The case is the first in Ohio to make use of a landmark 2009 federal law that expanded government powers to prosecute hate crimes.
Then there is the prospect of witnesses providing salacious testimony about an Amish bishop providing sexual counseling for married women while forcing other members of his flock to sleep in chicken coops.
Jury selection begins today and the trial is expected to run for three weeks before U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster.
The defendants include an Amish bishop, 66-year-old Samuel Mullet Sr., and 15 of his followers, who broke away from the placid Holmes County Amish community 17 years ago and established a new clan of about 125 members near the hamlet of Bergholz in the verdant hills and valleys of Jefferson County.
Mullet's devoted followers revere him as a modern day Moses who rules his flock with a righteous, iron fist, according to court documents and interviews with neighbors. The father of 18 children, he also is a multi-millionaire who has received more than $2 million for oil fracking rights to his 800-acre farm.
In Mullet's world, the word of God provided the imprimatur for him and his followers to punish enemies as he saw fit. That included cutting their beards and hair -- a humiliation more dreaded in the Amish religion than being "beaten black-and-blue," one of the victims said.
"The beard for Amish men is a symbol of their adult manhood," said Donald Kraybill in an interview last year with National Public Radio. Kraybill is a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and an Amish expert who is scheduled to testify for the prosecution at the Mullet trial.
"So to cut their beard is an assault on not only their personal identity but also on their religious identity and their religious faith," Kraybill said.
In the eyes of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office, Mullet and his followers are a band of renegades waging hate crime attacks motivated by cruelty and retaliation against their enemies. Cutting beards and head hair causes "disfigurement" -- an essential element of a hate crime, according to prosecutors.
But what federal prosecutors call hate crimes, punishable by life in prison, Mullet calls an exercise of his religious freedom. God's will allowed him to mete out punishment as he saw fit, he said, giving him the power to shame and punish people who ostracized the Bergholz clan and who defied his laws.
Mullet denies having ordered the beard-cutting attacks, "but I didn't tell them not to," he said according to an FBI affidavit quoting an Associated Press story.
"You have your laws on the road and the town -- if somebody doesn't obey them you punish the people," Mullet said in the affidavit. "But I'm not allowed to punish the church people? I just let them run over me? If every family would do just as they pleased, what kind of church would we have?"
Mullet's bishopric also gave him the authority to discipline church members who misbehaved by forcing them to sleep in a chicken coop for days on end, and the power to engage in sexual relations with married women to "cleanse them of the devil," according to an FBI affidavit.
Although Judge Polster has banned prosecutors from calling the Bergholz clan a cult during the trial, the prosecutors have made it clear they believe the word applies to Mullet's zealous followers. They cite the tremendous authority Mullet exerts over members of his Amish sect, and have included veiled references to David Koresh and Jim Jones in court papers.
"The government's greatest concern remains the defendant's ability, upon release, to retreat into his 800-acre spread, surrounded by his family members and devoted followers ... and resist law enforcement efforts to ensure his appearance at trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Getz wrote.
"The evidence has demonstrated that this defendant and his followers have not embraced the traditional Amish principles of non-violence and forgiveness. The possibility of a violent encounter, this time with law enforcement, should not be readily dismissed," Getz wrote.
Those concerns were fueled by Mullet's own words after three of his son's were arrested for beard-cutting attacks last October. In a secretly recorded phone call from the Holmes County Jail, Lester Mullet told his father he was concerned his children might be taken from him.
"Samuel Mullet Sr. responded that somebody will 'get killed' before that happened," according to an FBI transcript of the conversation.
Mullet's lawyer scoffs at the prosecution's portrayal of his client.
"They're trying to create this perception he's something he's not," said defense attorney Edward Bryan. "He's not a wacky cult leader. He's a decent, hardworking, caring man."
But in 2005, eight families -- including one of Mullet's sons -- chose to break away and move to Amish enclaves in different counties rather that submit themselves to Mullet's strict and sometimes violent discipline.
Mullet responded by shunning, and later excommunicating, all members of the departed families from the church. After a conclave of 300 mainstream Amish church leaders met in Pennsylvania to address Mullet's practices, a seven-member committee investigated and overturned Mullet's excommunication orders.
That decision infuriated Mullet, and launched the beard- and hair-cutting attacks -- some of which were directed at members of the Amish investigation committee, according to an FBI affidavit.
Some of the victims were elderly. Several were wounded and bloodied with the eight-inch horse mane-cutting shears, according to the affidavit. When one of the victims pleaded with the men and women not to cut his beard, he wondered how Amish Christians devoted to peace and brotherhood could wage such an attack on a fellow church member.
"We are not Christians," Johnny Mullet, one of Sam's sons, responded, according to the FBI.
New website to link Holland community, police
by PEG MCNICHOL
Holland, Michigan —
Holland residents can now get up-to-the-minute alerts of police, fire or other emergencies though a free online service, Holland Public Safety Department officials said.
The city has begun using Nixle, an online messaging service, which provides alerts, advisories and community notices by way of email or text messages to mobile phones. The service covers police, fire and emergency management messages.
"Holland residents will benefit because it will be the the quickest direct communication/notification from public safety on issues that are important to the community," Holland Public Safety Department police spokesman Capt. Jack Dykstra wrote in an email to The Sentinel. "It is subscriber-based and has a geographical option as well."
Many Michigan departments started using the service last year, only to drop it when Nixle announced it would begin charging government agencies. The company has since reverted to a free model.
Dykstra said notices will not take away time from road or community policing officers because messages will be sent by police office staff, either at the command or administrative level.
Allegan County Sheriff's Office, which dropped the service almost 18 months ago, has no plans to resume, department spokesman Lt. Frank Baker said. Other area agencies listed as using the service include Michigan State Police, American Red Cross of Ottawa County and West Ottawa Public Schools.
People can sign up for a free account at Nixle.com with an email address, name and password; mobile phone numbers are optional.
Police recruitment a challenge nationally, expert says
Reaching full strength could take Rockford Police Department more than a year.
by Jeff Kolkey
ROCKFORD — Rockford is far from alone in its struggles to hire qualified candidates to become police officers.
Although recruitment results vary with economic, social and educational factors across the country, large departments often struggle to find recruits who can meet the increasingly customer-service-oriented role of a modern police officer, said Kim Kohlhepp, manager of the Center for Testing and Career Development for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Nationwide, recruitment is always a challenge for policing,” Kohlhepp said. “On the one hand, with jobs being more scarce, it makes recruiting a little easier for all jobs. Even under conditions like that, it's difficult for agencies to recruit enough qualified applicants. To become a police officer, there is a stringent background requirement that eliminates many candidates, drug testing, criminal records check and beyond that, the nature of policing has changed.”
It will likely take more than a year for the Rockford Police Department to add the 17 police officers it needs to reach its authorized strength of 285. A group of seven recruits, who have conditional employment offers, are in the final portion of the vetting process.
They would bring the department within 10 of the goal, but will require months of training before they can work on their own.
Another recruitment cycle is being contemplated for this fall in an attempt to reach the goal and utilize a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Justice grant that will pay the salaries of 10 officers for three years if it will bring Rockford from 275 officers to 285.
More is expected of police officers who today are asked to not only enforce the law, but to solve neighborhood problems.
They often are being asked to utilize technology to recognize, analyze and solve crimes as police departments adopt community policing strategies.
Community policing is an approach to police work that asks officers to attempt to prevent crime, not simply react to it.
Hundreds of individuals show enough interest in becoming a police officer to submit applications. But the growing demands, rigorous testing, high standards and lengthy hiring and training process for modern officers means few have the tenacity, drive and ability to make it.
A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which promotes community policing nationally and oversees federal police hiring grants, notes that state and local police agencies employ roughly 730,000 sworn officers and 345,000 civilian workers.
Competition for the best candidates can be intense as some departments target police officers from other police forces for recruitment to cut down on training costs, other officers who joined the force in 1960s and 1970s retire and the quality expectations continue to rise.
“There is a lot of demand on police officers today to deal with a diverse community, complex societal issues with our gangs, with school issues, with young juvenile offenders, our people on probation and parole,” Police Chief Chet Epperson said.
“We want to make sure we have the best, intelligent, intuitive officers who can deal with all those complex issues. Some are not ready. Some have to try two or three times to go through the process to get it right.”