April, 2014 - Week 4
Covington residents invited to attend meeting to learn about new community policing policy
by Heather Nolan
The Covington Police Department is implementing a community policing policy that city leaders hope will improve the department's relationship with the public and also allow for more effective policing. Police are hosting an informational seminar Tuesday (April 29) for the public.
Chief Tim Lentz stressed that community policing is a policy, not a program, which focuses on building relationships within the department and within the community.
The policy is modeled after a similar plan in Madison, Ala. That department has received several awards for community policing, Lentz said, and also has experienced some of the same issues as the Covington Police Department.
"Their department five years ago was what our department was five months ago," he said.
In Madison, Lentz said there was a disconnect between the city and the police department and between the police department and the community. They brought in a new chief and did a "complete 360" of the department, he said.
Lentz was named chief last October. Mayor Mike Cooper appointed him to the position several months after he fired Richard Palmisano.
Prior to Palmisano's firing, two Covington police officers were arrested on allegations they used excessive force on an arrestee. The department also has been the subject of several police brutality lawsuits in recent years.
Community policing is something Lentz said he's wanted to do since he became chief. He's already met with the city's department heads and with his department's supervisors. He'll meet with patrol officers and the community next.
"At the end of the day, it's about forming relationships and building trust with the community," he said.
The community policing seminar will be held Tuesday, April 29 at the Covington Police Department's administration building, 609 N. Columbia St. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. and is expected to last two hours.
Saginaw launches plan to streamline code enforcement, community policing
by Mark Tower
SAGINAW, MI — The city of Saginaw is implementing an initiative meant to make city services, including code enforcement and community police officers, more accessible to residents.
Chief Inspector John Stemple explained that by the time inspectors respond to residents' reports, it has often been too late.
"When a call is made, it's usually when the problem is occurring," he said.
With the new system to collect and immediately dispatch complaints, code enforcement officers will be assigned to a specific part of the city.
"We'll have the information immediately," Stemple said.
Key to the strategy, Stemple explained to City Council on April 21, is a plan to divide his staff among four quadrants of the city.
"It's just us doing things a little bit differently to try to be more responsive to our customers," Stemple said.
Police and fire personnel also are part of the "Quadrant Service Deliver System."
Police Chief Brian Lipe said each of Saginaw's four community police officers will be assigned to a quadrant.
"We have been trying to find a way to better deliver services to Saginaw's citizens through our community policing program," Lipe said.
"This program combines a number of resources and puts them at immediate disposal of our (community police officers) and makes those officers even more proactive when it comes to solutions to criminal activity and quality-of-life issues."
Lipe said the complement of community police officers will increase from three to four. Officer Patrick Busch will join officers Jon Beyerlein, Leon Burns and Nate Voelker.
The community policing program is part of he effort to form stronger relationships with members of the community and gain trust. Saginaw implemented the proactive approach to policing in the mid-1990s.
The four quadrants to which officers and other city officials will be assigned will be divided east and west by the Saginaw River. Court Street will divide the two quadrants west of the river, with Holland Avenue separating the two quadrants on the East Side.
"This program is designed to focus our human resources in specific areas to significantly reduce crime, blight and nuisances in our neighborhoods, while at the same time building better relationships with our residents so that those resources are directed where the people want them," Stemple said.
The following members of city staff will be assigned to the four quadrants:
Quadrant 1 (northeast)
Inspector: Scott Crofoot
Community Police Officer: Leon Burns
Quadrant 2 (southwest)
Inspector: James Martin
Community Police Officer: Nathan Voelker
Quadrant 3 (southeast)
Inspector: John Stemple
Community Police Officer: Jon Beyerlein
Quadrant 4 (northwest)
Inspector: Scott Nizinski
Community Police Officer: Patrick Busch
Each quadrant will include assigned groups of firefighters, neighborhood group leaders, environmental crews and parking enforcement workers.
Another change is technology intended to streamline inspections operations.
Inspectors will have tablet devices to maximize the time staff can spend "in the field," Stemple said.
In answer to a question from Mayor Pro Tem Amos O'Neal, Stemple explained that he expects neither immediate cost increases nor cost savings to result from the change.
"It's all the same people, it's all the same stuff, it's all the same job," Stemple said. "It's just focusing an individual's efforts in one area so that they don't go crazy. That's really all it is."
Councilman Floyd Kloc praised Stemple's plan.
"I like the idea," Kloc said. "It's a great one. Go for it."
Councilwoman Brenda Moore and Councilman Dan Fitzpatrick also praised the work Stemple has been doing for the city. Fitzpatrick said it's a good example of a "creative" way city departments are operating within budget constraints.
"You're handling stuff that is scary, very scary," he said. "People don't realize how you guys are in harm's way. I just want to thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your courage."
Fitzpatrick also thanked Saginaw's police and firefighters for their work alongside other city personnel on the endeavor.
Lipe said he expects the system to build on, and even expand, already established neighborhood groups.
"Even though the Saginaw Police Department has experienced financial challenges in recent years, one of the things I am most proud to say is we have cultivated wonderful relationships with Saginaw's neighborhood associations and groups who are out there trying to make Saginaw a better place," Lipe said. "We plan on building on those relationships by offering what we consider a full-service approach to policing, code enforcement and environmental issues."
Stemple says good things are happening in Saginaw, and it's obvious just from driving around the city.
"Change is happening because people are making it happen," he said. "I like to think that we're winning the battle. Things have changed. Blight is being removed."
Tech Error Reminds Public Safety Officials Not to Solely Rely on Social Media to Inform Public
by Chelsea Schmid
Social Media has its place in the world of public safety. It can help present a friendly face to the community, quickly send safety information to the public, and engage residents in finding missing persons. Nonetheless, formats such as Facebook and Twitter can also create a set of issues when it comes to communicating important public safety alerts to our citizens.
Facebook has recently made some changes to their publishing features, and as a result, our Nixle public safety alerts are not able to auto-publish to our Department's Facebook page at this time. Nixle is aware of the problem and their engineering team is working with Facebook's engineering team to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
This technical error is a good reminder that Social media avenues, such as Facebook and Twitter, often fail when it comes to addressing the needs of public safety agencies and the public they serve. In the event that Facebook or Twitter have technical issues, you can still receive our public safety alerts directly from Nixle. This is the only way we guarantee you will receive every alert, advisory, or community message from the San Angelo Police Department.
Nixle is a mass communication system designed by and built for public safety agencies. Strict verification procedures, industry-specific message structuring, and geographic-targeting technology are just a few features that make Nixle ideal for delivering everything from public safety announcements to emergency alerts.
Sign up is easy— if you live in San Angelo and want to sign up for the free Nixle alerts, go to www.nixle.com and click “Sign Up Free!” Once you create an account, you can customize your settings to include points of interest or to specify what hours you may want to turn off alerts. Remember, there is no charge but Message and Data rates may apply. AT&T, T-Mobile®, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and most other carriers are supported.
If you want to receive our public safety alerts by TEXT MESSAGE only, simply text your zip code to 888777.
For additional help with creating your account, contact customer support at firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Safety chair complains of crime increase
by Azi Paybarah
On March 11—just 69 days after taking office—Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at City Hall that the police department “has driven down already historically low levels of crime.”
But according to the chair of the Council's Public Safety Committee, “crime has gone up in many of our precincts.”
Appearing on WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show" this morning, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson repeatedly dismissed the notion that the citywide reduction in crime was being felt in crime-ridden pockets of the city. In fact, Gibson said, things are getting worse.
“Mayor de Blasio and the commissioner have talked about a reduction in citywide crime, but for many colleagues and I, crime has increased in our districts and we have hot pockets of crime around gangs and guns and drugs,” Gibson said.
She is among the councilmembers urging the mayor to hire 1,000 additional officers, which Gibson said would equate to about 13 more cops per precinct.
“We believe these 13 [officers] will address the increase that we are seeing in our communities,” Gibson said. “Crime has gone up in many of our precincts.”
Later in the interview, Gibson said, “we have to truly recognize that we have major parts in our city where crime continues to go up. So for me going back to my community, saying ‘well, citywide, crime is going down,' that really doesn't fly for many of my constituents.”
De Blasio has resisted the call to hire additional officers. During last year's mayoral campaign, he criticized one of his rivals for not adequately explaining how to pay for a proposed increase in staff. Now, as mayor, de Blasio has said the department has successfully driven down crime and therefore, does not need more police officers.
“I think this department is doing an extraordinary job with the resources it has—obviously continuing to keep crime low,” de Blasio said earlier this month when asked by a reporter about the NYPD headcount.
During the WNYC interview, host Brian Lehrer played an audio clip of Bratton speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Manhattan Institute last year, saying the NYPD was “too small” and that the overuse of stop-and-frisk was one of the results.
The NYPD has sharply reduced its use of stop-and-frisk and Bratton has repeatedly said he hears far fewer complaints about it. Today, when asked about stop-and-frisk, Bratton told reporters there are fewer stops but a greater percentage of them are leading to summonses and arrests—roughly “18 or 19 percent” now compared to “2 or 3 percent” previously, he said.
“I think the air has been let out significantly from that tire,” Bratton said. “I don't hear much about it anymore.”
Saginaw police, neighbors hope community police program builds trust
by Walter Smith-Randolph
SAGINAW -- Steven Allen doesn't have many bad things to say about his neighborhood on Saginaw's northwest side.
“Actually this block right here is pretty quiet,” says Allen who has lived in the community for five years.
He just wishes the rest of the neighborhood was safer for his children to play in.
“It's hard to let your kids go outside and play anymore,” says Allen. He's hoping the safety issue changes with the expansion of the community policing program.
Officer Patrick Busch will patrol Allen's neighborhood---in a patrol car and on foot.
“Realistically, who's going to know their neighborhood better? A cop who is here for 12 hours or a citizen who lives there, their entire life,” says Officer Patrick Busch.
“They'll see the police in the community, walking around and talking to the people so I think it will slow it down,” says Allen.
“I'm held accountable for the district. I mean, it's my job to do my best to clean their neighborhood up,” says Busch.
Other city departments like fire and inspections also assigning officers on the quadrant system.
“By having specific personnel assigned to geographic areas of the city, you start to build relationships,” says John Stemple, Saginaw's chief inspector.
Relationships both neighbors and officials hope help Saginaw become safer.
In addition to a community police officer, each quadrant will also have assigned code enforcement inspectors, a parking enforcement officer and an environmental clean-up crew.
The program is scheduled roll out in the beginning of May.
Officials Skeptical After Survey Ranks Memphis High For Public Safety
by Katie Rufener
Memphis -- A new study released online ranks Memphis as one of the best cities for public safety in the nation.
It may sound good, but local police and firefighters are skeptical.
The study done by the website NerdWallet ranked Memphis 5th out of 239 cities for public safety.
It may sound like a great thing, and Mike Williams with the Memphis Police Association said it would be…if it was true.
“This has no indication of where we are currently,” Williams said.
The study states there are more than 2,800 police staff in the city.
The problem is, the information is three years old, so that number is off by more than 350 officers.
The survey said MPD put 90 percent of its budget toward personnel in 2011.
It also said there are almost 2,000 fire fighters in the city, or 30 per 10,000 people.
Officials the Memphis fire fighters union said that information is also out of date.
“The Memphis Fire Department has over 100 less firefighters than we had three years ago,” union vice president Joe Newman said.
Williams is frustrated with the findings, saying they could give people a false sense of security.
“How do you feel walking around Memphis?” he asked. “If you answer honestly, you feel safe in some parts and in other parts you may not feel as safe.”
Public safety officials think Memphis has a long way to go.
“We think those numbers need to be back up to where they were several years ago so that we can provide the adequate response.”
It is response that Williams said will allow people to feel safe here.
“I was laying in my bed the other night, and I heard gun fire all over the place… Laying in my bed. I'm concerned!”
As of this year, the city has about 2,450 police officers on staff and about 1,600 fire fighters.
Wis. first to require independent investigation of police-involved deaths
The new law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of deaths
by Gina Barton
MILWAUKEE — For nearly 10 years, Michael Bell has waged a campaign for greater accountability when police use lethal force.
He has spent more than $1 million on billboards, newspaper advertisements and a website, all of them asking some variation of this question: When police kill, should they judge themselves?
Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday answered with a resounding "no," signing into law a bill that requires outside investigation when people die in police custody — the first of its kind in the nation. Bell, along with more than two dozen family members and supporters, attended the private signing ceremony in the governor's office.
Bell carried a picture of his namesake son, who was 21 when Kenosha police fatally shot him in front of his mother, Kim, and sister, Shantae, in 2004.
"That was the catalyst that started everything," Bell said of his son's death. "I just think he knows that even though we couldn't be there to have defended him that night, this is a big deal, and he knows that we've made a tremendous amount of sacrifices, because we just loved the kid."
The officers who killed Bell were quickly cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation by officers within their own department.
Similar scenarios played out in 2011, following the death of Derek Williams, who died after struggling for breath and begging for help in the back of a Milwaukee police car; and last year, when a Madison police officer shot and killed Paul Heenan outside his home. All three men were unarmed when they died.
Friends and supporters of Williams and Heenan also were on hand when Walker signed the bill.
State Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) agreed to co-sponsor the bill after being approached by Bell. Bies, a former Door County sheriff's deputy, said he was troubled by the three deaths and their aftermaths.
"I just saw a strong need to have some openness and some credibility, to assure the public that police are there to protect and serve and be upfront and honest with them," Bies said. "I believe the majority of police are, but when these things come up, it leaves a real question in your mind of what took place."
The new law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of such deaths.
It requires reports of custody death investigations throughout the state to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. Officers also must inform victims' families of their options to pursue additional reviews via the U.S. attorney's office or a state-level John Doe investigation.
The new mandates do not apply to deaths in county jails and state prisons, which already are investigated by the state Department of Corrections.
Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) co-sponsored the bill, which will take effect in about 10 days.
"I think it's going to be very beneficial for the public to know that it's not going to be colleagues investigating colleagues when these horrible incidents occur, that is has to be somebody else from outside the department," she said. "That's a huge change from what was happening in the big police departments."
She is optimistic that Wisconsin's success in reforming the process will inspire other states to make similar changes.
"I think this hopefully will embolden other states that it can be done on a bipartisan basis with support from law enforcement and from the community," Taylor said. "I'm proud that Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to have this outside investigatory process. It's kind of unbelievable."
Bies and Taylor credited the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, along with other media, with informing the public about the issue and keeping people up-to-date on the bill's progress.
"Without stories like the ones that you did, I don't know if this bill would have passed," Taylor told the Journal Sentinel.
The Journal Sentinel first reported on the Bell family's activism in 2005. The newspaper's coverage of Williams' death resulted in the medical examiner reclassifying it from natural to homicide in 2012.
An investigation of in-custody deaths in Milwaukee County over a five-year period that was published in February found that while those reviews are labeled as "independent," pathologists, prosecutors and law enforcement officials rely on one another's conclusions — even when those conclusions are flawed — ensuring no one is held accountable when prisoners die.
Bell's family settled a federal civil rights suit with the City of Kenosha and its police department for $1.75 million. Many civil settlements include a confidentiality agreement, which precludes families from discussing the case.
The elder Bell refused to sign off on such a provision because he wanted to be able to discuss his son's death as he lobbied for change.
Bell's wife of 21 years and Michael's stepmother, Susan Bell, called the passage of the bill "a miracle."
"It's been a long road," she said. "It's not going to help our family, but for any other families out there, hopefully this will help prevent something like this happening again. And if it does happen, some type of justice will be served."
She hopes the end of the fight will lift a cloud from the lives of their three sons, now 15, 17 and 20, whose childhoods have been shadowed by their half brother's death.
"The whole process has taught them that it's possible to go out there and accomplish something that's never been done before and to not give up," she said. "I'm sure as they grow up and become adults they'll realize the sacrifice is worth it."
Her husband, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and pilot, compared the law's passage to coming home from Operation Desert Storm.
"I remember taxiing my airplane down the ramp at O'Hare, and my family was there, and I knew that whole incident was over," he said. "I had returned safe and sound, and I was proud of myself and what I had accomplished. That's the closest thing to what this is like. That massive weight of responsibility is off my shoulders and I've made it back safe and sound."
Wis. buyback program will turn guns into garden tools
About $76,000 already has been pledged in private donations to assist with the cost of the gun buyback
by Ashley Luthern
MILWAUKEE — Devon Harris was among the many neighborhood residents who had dropped by outreach programs at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Milwaukee.
Harris, 19, even brought his young nephew several times last summer because he knew it was a safe place, Pastor Diane M. Olson said.
Harris was found shot to death in his apartment April 12.
"I was really devastated," Olson said. "He was always a polite, respectful rather soft-spoken young man, at least in my presence."
Olson invoked his memory as she led the opening blessing of a morning breakfast meeting Tuesday of clergy, city leaders and police who gathered at Our Savior's to announce details of Milwaukee's Ceasefire Week, scheduled for May 12-18.
Among the slate of events is a gun buyback at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church that received the backing of Milwaukee police, clergy leaders and business owners, including Marty Forman, owner of Midwest Forman Recycling on the city's north side.
"I always thought it was a good idea. It so fits what we do," Forman said of the gun buyback. "The world of recycling is taking the things that society no longer needs and remelting them into a form that you do need. It saves resources, and in this particular case, it will save lives."
About $76,000 already has been pledged in private donations to assist with the cost of the gun buyback, with support from many other scrap metal companies, he said. No city taxpayer money is involved.
The guns will be melted and forged into garden tools "to bring life to the city," Forman said.
The gun buyback and other Ceasefire Week events are a way for people to live their faith, said the Rev. Don Darius Butler of Tabernacle Community Baptist Church.
"When this opportunity came to us because we're in a community with high crime, high violence, we wanted to be a part of the counter-narrative. We wanted to really offer witness. That's the real heart of our commitment," Butler said.
Making Their Push
Faith leaders in Milwaukee had advocated for city tax money for a gun buyback program and convened a news conference last fall to call attention to the issue. They pointed to successes at other gun buybacks around the country, such as Camden, N.J., where authorities collected more than 1,000 guns as they pressed their case.
Gun buybacks, however, typically don't attract the guns most frequently linked to firearm homicides and suicides -- pistols -- according to a 2002 study by the Firearm Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The study compared nearly 1,000 handguns collected from 1994 to 1996 in Milwaukee County buyback programs to 369 homicide-related and 125 suicide-related handguns used in the Milwaukee area from 1994 to 1997.
More than a decade later, experts still have concerns about the effectiveness of gun buybacks, Stephen Hargarten said Tuesday. Hargarten, emergency medicine department chairman at the Medical College of Wisconsin, was one of the study's four authors.
"It can potentially have an effect because those are the guns that are involved in an accidental discharge or adolescent finding a gun," he said of firearms typically turned in at buybacks.
Gun buybacks can target guns more likely to be used in homicides: pistols instead of revolvers, for example, he said.
Details of the gun buyback, such as the amount of money offered for different types of firearms, are still being organized.
"I know it's not a panacea, but it works," said the Rev. Mose Fuller, a vocal advocate of the gun buyback who has experience organizing buybacks at St. Timothy Community Baptist Church.
Police Chief Edward Flynn described the gun buyback as an organizing event that is part of a much larger anti-violence effort.
"To me, it is a very important symbol of community rejection of violence," he said.
The Police Department is a response to violence, not a solution, the chief added.
"One piece of dealing with (violence) is reforming gun laws and putting bad guys in jail," Flynn said. "Another piece is a strong moral voice in the neighborhood that rejects the use of violence to solve disputes."
Help From Clergy
Clergy members are positioned to serve as that moral voice, Mayor Tom Barrett said.
"I am not naive enough to think that the people who are getting in trouble are sitting in your pews on Sunday morning at 10 o'clock," he said.
"They're not there, but they may have a mother there, they may have a grandmother there, they may have an aunt, they might have someone who loves them who is there and that is where I believe you can help us. We are in this together," the mayor said.
US weighs clemency for thousands of inmates jailed for 10 years
The Obama administration is encouraging many nonviolent federal prisoners to apply for early release — and expecting thousands to take up the offer
by Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is encouraging many nonviolent federal prisoners to apply for early release — and expecting thousands to take up the offer. It's an effort to deal with high costs and overcrowding in prisons, and also a matter of fairness, the government says.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department unveiled a revamped clemency process directed at low-level felons imprisoned for at least 10 years who have clean records while in custody. The effort is part of a broader administration push to scale back the use of harsh penalties in some drug prosecutions and to address sentencing disparities arising from the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic that yielded disproportionately tough punishment for black drug offenders.
"These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today's laws erode people's confidence in our criminal justice system," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said, laying out new criteria that will be used to evaluate clemency petitions for possible recommendation for the president's approval.
Though the criteria apply solely to federal inmates, states, too are grappling with severe prison overcrowding. In Nebraska, for example, prisons were at 155 percent of capacity at the end of March. And in California, courts have ordered the state to reduce the inmate population to 137.5 percent of designed capacity, or 112,164 inmates in the 34 facilities, by February 2016.
The White House, sometimes criticized as too stingy with its clemency power, says it's seeking more candidates for leniency in an overcrowded federal prison system whose costs comprise a sizable percentage of the Justice Department's budget.
The system's population has skyrocketed in recent decades, creating rising multibillion-dollar expenses that officials say threaten other law enforcement priorities and that an inspector general's report last year characterized as a "growing crisis." The United States incarcerates about a quarter of the world's prisoners. Of the roughly 216,000 inmates in federal custody, nearly half are imprisoned for drug-related crimes.
The Justice Department says now's the time to consider releasing more prisoners early.
"These defendants were properly held accountable for their criminal conduct. However, some of them, simply because of the operation of sentencing laws on the books at the time, received substantial sentences that are disproportionate to what they would receive today," Cole said.
Officials say they don't know how many of the tens of thousands of drug-related convicts would be eligible for early release, but an ideal candidate would meet six criteria — including no history of violence, no ties to criminal organizations or gangs and a clean prison record. He must also have already served 10 years or more of his sentence and be likely to have received a substantially shorter offense if convicted of the same offense today.
The Bureau of Prisons will notify all inmates of the criteria next week and provide electronic surveys to those who think they deserve clemency.
The Justice Department expects the vast majority of applicants to be drug prisoners but didn't foreclose the possibility that inmates convicted of other crimes — financial fraud, for example — could be considered.
"It's really a coming together of decades of excessive sentencing, particularly in drug cases, combined with attention to the underused power of commutation," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, an organization that works on sentencing policies.
The announcement is a "fantastic step in the right direction," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. And Douglas Berman, a sentencing law expert at Ohio State University, said it represented a "very meaningful change in both tone and attitude" from the days when clemency was seen as a power that carried "all political risk, no political reward."
The action is the latest change sought in a federal sentencing system that Attorney General Eric Holder says often results in unduly harsh outcomes. Earlier this year, he endorsed a proposal that would result in shorter prison sentences for nonviolent drug traffickers and, in August, directed federal prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that entail mandatory minimum sentences.
The Obama administration has also said it is working to correct the legacy of an old sentencing structure that subjected offenders to long prison terms for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient sentences to those caught with the powder form of the drug. Many of the crack convicts have been black, while those convicted of powder offenses have been more likely to be white.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity and eliminated a five-year mandatory minimum for first-time possession of crack, but the law did not cover offenders sentenced before the law was approved. Officials are now turning their attention to identifying inmates who received sentences under the old guidelines.
In December President Barack Obama, who granted only one commutation in his first term, cut short the sentences of eight prisoners — including six serving life sentences — who he said had been locked up too long for drug crimes.
The administration says it's impossible to know exactly how many new applicants will be eligible. Mauer, of the Sentencing Project, said he didn't expect a huge number of inmates to qualify for clemency given the narrowness of the criteria, but he said the effort was significant nonetheless.
The announcement could shift attention to Congress, where legislation is pending that would cut the length of many nonviolent drug sentences and give judges more discretion by expanding a safety-valve provision already on the books that allows a limited number of nonviolent drug offenders to avoid mandatory sentences.
"It seems the Justice Department is doing what it can to help stem the tide of people going to prison in record numbers for absurd lengths of time," said Stewart, of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "It really is up to Congress to take the next step and change the number of mandatory sentencing laws."
Neighborhood Watch Members Accused of Gang Assault That Left Man Blind in One Eye
The victim was left with a broken eye socket and a torn retina
Five men associated with a Williamsburg neighborhood watch group are accused of gang assault and other charges in the brutal beating of a 23-year-old Brooklyn man they wrongly suspected of vandalizing cars.
The men, who were part of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit in the heavily Orthodox section of the neighborhood, are accused of attacking Taj Patterson of Fort Greene in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2013. The aspiring fashion design student, who is black, suffered a broken eye socket and torn retina from the assault.
"They came up behind me, they grabbed me, they punched me in the face, kicked me down, knocked me out," Patterson told NBC 4 New York in December, describing the assailants as a group of 15 to 20 men he described as Hasidic Jews wearing religious garb.
The attack was investigated as a hate crime, but no hate crime charges were filed.
Authorities say the suspects stopped Patterson while he was walking home along Flushing Avenue. They claimed to be investigating neighbors' reports that he had damaged cars, but didn't call police.
The reports of vandalism proved to be unfounded.
The group, which grew to about 15 members, allegedly surrounded Patterson, held him down and punched and kicked him, according to prosecutors.
The men stopped beating Patterson after passersby arrived and threatened to take pictures. The suspects ran away, leaving the victim on the ground.
The injuries Patterson suffered caused him to lose vision in his right eye.
Patterson said he had been drinking on a party bus with friends before the assault on Flushing Avenue, and has no idea why he was beat up.
"Maybe the way I dressed, I was on the block," he said. "I want these people to know they can't put their hands on anyone and get away with it, and think just because you have on certain attire you can get away with certain things. We're all equal here."
The five suspects indicted Wednesday, ages 19, 21, 28, 25 and 39, were charged with gang assault, unlawful imprisonment and menacing.
Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said in a statement: "The bedrock of the Williamsburg community is tolerance for one another. Any act of violence by any individual, against anyone, for whatever reason, is condemned in the strongest possible terms.
"We will continue to build bridges between all communities, as we have done in the past, to create a better Williamsburg for all of its residents," he said.
City officials want APD to start community policing
DOJ: Lack of strategy contibutes to pattern of unjustified force
by Anna Velasquez
Officers spend a lot of their time in the same neighborhoods, they get to know the people there and the people get to know them.
"I think a lot of the counselors are saying, 'Why didn't we start it years ago when we had the opportunity?' " said City Council member Brad Winter.
City Council members said that was the plan for Albuquerque police several years ago.
"We embraced community policing concepts," said Council President Ken Sanchez. "It was part of their job, was community-based policing."
Action 7 News has shown examples of APD officers being involved with their community, like on Christmas Eve when a few officers pooled their own money together and replaced a 10-year old girl's presents after a burglar stole them.
But as the DOJ investigated a pattern of excessive force by Albuquerque police. It found that APD's "leadership does not prioritize community policing," and "tolerates a culture that is hostile to community partnerships."
It also said many officers were "dismissive of community concerns" about public perception of aggressive actions by officers, which "suggests an unwillingness to embrace community policing."
The federal agency said that all contributes to APD's pattern or practice of unjustified force. But the Justice Department has suggestions to turn that around.
Councilors agree it's time for a change.
"I think it's going to happen now, the council is really going to move that in that direction," Winter said.
In the past, city of Albuquerque officials have said staffing was a big problem with community substations because there was not enough officers on the streets to be able to spare one officer to man a location.
Gacy Case Helps Solve Unrelated Death
by DON BABWIN
Four decades after John Wayne Gacy lured more than 30 young men and boys to his Chicago-area home and strangled them, his case has helped authorities solve another killing — one he didn't commit.
Investigators have identified the remains of a man who in 1978 never returned to his home just a few miles from Gacy's house. They also say they know the identity of his now-deceased killer. The Cook County Sheriff's Office is scheduled to announce the findings Wednesday — the result of an ongoing effort to name several unidentified victims of Gacy, who was executed in 1994.
Authorities released the information to The Associated Press ahead of their announcement.
Though the news that 22-year-old Edward Beaudion of Chicago is believed to have been killed by a small-time Missouri crook named Jerry Jackson who died last year at age 62 comes too late to bring Jackson to justice, it answers a question Beaudion's family has spent decades asking.
"I always thought he was killed but you still aren't sure until you get the proof," said Beaudion's father, Louis Beaudion, 86, who professed that he was "scared" he would die, as his wife did in 2001, without knowing what happened.
Many questions still remain in the case that may never be answered. Edward Beaudion's skull, which could have revealed how he died, was never recovered.
Beaudion was driving his sister's car on July 23, 1978, when he dropped a friend off and told her he was heading home. No one ever heard from him again.
That August, Jackson was taken into custody in Caruthersville, Mo., after he was found driving the car, which Beaudion's family had reported stolen.
Jackson was extradited to Chicago, where police said he told them he had met Beaudion on July 23 in downtown Chicago and had punched him in the face during an altercation, rendering him unconscious. Police said he told them he stuffed Beaudion's body in the car, drove to a wooded area about 15 miles southwest of Chicago and dumped it.
When he took police to the area, a search for the body came up empty. Without a body, police didn't charge him in Beaudion's death, settling for auto theft instead and a four-year prison sentence for Jackson.
In 2008, hikers discovered a partial skeleton in a forest preserve — in the same general area where Jackson had taken police years before. With little more than shreds of clothing and no indication of a cause of death, the investigation went nowhere. The bones, one of which had an orthopedic screw in it, were taken to the county medical examiner's office.
"They never did anything," Sheriff Tom Dart said.
Three years later, Dart's office exhumed eight of Gacy's unidentified victims from the 1970s to test DNA. And the sheriff asked that relatives of young men who disappeared about the time Gacy was committing slayings to submit DNA samples for comparison.
Beaudion's sister, Ruth Rodriguez, called. "I didn't think Gacy killed him but we figured we'd go ahead and try," she said.
Tests ruled out Gacy as her brother's killer.
In the meantime, sheriff's detective Jason Moran was among those working with the medical examiner's office to clean up the operation in the wake of embarrassing revelations about stacked bodies and remains tossed haphazardly in boxes. As a result of that work, the office shipped some unidentified bones to the same lab where Moran had earlier sent DNA samples from Beaudion's relatives as part of the Gacy investigation.
Then earlier this year, the lab reported a "genetic association" between the bones and Beaudion's relatives' DNA.
Moran said he interviewed Beaudion's father and sister, who confirmed Beaudion had an orthopedic screw in his left knee.
Rodriguez and her father said they're disappointed Jackson died before he could be brought to justice.
"I still want to ask Jerry Jackson why, if you even thought for a moment my brother was still alive ... you brought him all the way out there and dumped him like garbage," Rodriguez said.
Beaudion's family did not exactly find justice, but they were able to identify their loved one's remains and get closer to knowing what happened to him. Detective Moran said he recalls the moment when he and Sheriff Dart recently took the family out to the spot where the bones were found.
"He (Louis Beaudion) starts crying and opens a bag that has a cross in it (and) he gets down on one knee and with a little hammer pounded this cross into the ground," Moran said. "This guy, 36 years after his son is killed, he's crying like he went missing yesterday and then he grabbed my arm and said, 'Thank you.'"
Department of Public Safety to host drug collection drive
by Caleb Smith
The Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) will host a collection for over-the-counter and prescription drugs this Friday and Saturday. The collection will be free, anonymous and open to all members of the public.
The drug collection drive's timing reflects a broader effort by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to collect surplus medical drugs. A DEA press release estimated that 5,600 collection sites will be open nationwide on Saturday, including – in the local area – sites hosted by the Redwood City, Mountain View and Fremont police departments.
Vince Bergado, the Stanford drive coordinator, said that no specific incident had prompted SUDPS' participation in the broader effort. He noted, however, that SUDPS has received calls in the past enquiring about the disposal of medical drugs.
“There aren't a whole lot of opportunities out there [for the safe disposal of prescription drugs],” Bergado said.
According to the DEA, an estimated 6.8 million Americans abuse prescription drugs; in 2010, 22,134 Americans died from prescription drug overdoses. The disposal of those drugs can be problematic as well – for example, flushing unused medicine down the sink presents potentially negative health effects for fish and other wildlife.
SUDPS spokesman Bill Larson emphasized that the drive would help students avoid the misuse of prescription drugs.
“It's important for students to know [that] they have a place to dispose [their medication] – and hopefully not give it to someone else,” Larson said.
Medicines turned in during the SUDPS collection drive, including medical narcotics, will be disposed of safely. However, the drive will not collect any injectable medicine, nor the needles or other medical sharps that accompany it. Those items can instead be dropped off at Vaden Health Services.
This weekend's drug collection drive will be the third time that SUDPS has participated in drug collection drives, with the first two drives taking place in the spring and winter of 2013. According to Bergado, approximately 100 people participated in the last drug collection drive, filling 14 bins with collected drugs in the process.
Six hospitals step up for public safety employee health in wake of murder-suicide
by Russ McQuaid
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 22, 2014)– In the wake of the unprecedented murder-suicide of an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department couple, the Department of Public Safety is months away from unveiling a comprehensive community health program for its employees.
“Here's a culture we don't it to be viewed as a weakness if you are reaching out for some help,” said paramedic and executive director of the Indy Public Safety Foundation, Nick Ball, who is leading the talks with six community health care organizations. “We had a meeting last Thursday. That was the night of the shooting so all of these health care organizations, I got emails from all of them saying, ‘Oh my. We cannot believe the timing of this and we're here to help you right now.'”
Ball said the launch of the program is set for mid-summer and it's intended for public safety employees who don't want to participate in the city's Traditional Employee Assistance Programs.
Last Thursday, Officer Kim Carmack was shot to death by her ex-husband, Sgt. Ryan Anders, who then took his own life. The investigation into the couple's divorce, ongoing relationship, protective order and possible criminal and internal charges against Anders continues. Sources close to Anders family tell Fox59 News that the officer kept a diary that may shed led on what and who were involved in the final months of his crumbling marriage.
Police officers, especially those married to each other, present special challenges in counseling and investigating domestic issues. Law enforcement officers know the criminal justice system and the people who work in it and possess surveillance and security skills, and weapons, that can be used in a dissolving domestic circumstance. Sources indicate Anders knew he was facing internal and criminal charges that could end his career and possibly send him to prison and had gone weeks without a resolution.
“Do they need to be treated differently?” asked Spencer Moore, a retired IMPD officer married to a policewoman. “I couldn't say that they do.
“We really need to learn from this type of issue and see if we can keep it from happening again.”
US weighs curbing deportations
by ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but don't have serious criminal records could be shielded from deportation under a policy change being weighed by senior American officials.
The change, if adopted following a review ordered by President Barack Obama, could limit removals of people who have little or no criminal record but have committed repeat immigration violations such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, or failing to comply with a deportation order.
The possible move, confirmed by two people with knowledge of the review, would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists. They want Obama to expand a two-year-old program that grants work permits to certain immigrants brought here illegally as children to include other groups, such as the parents of any children born in the U.S.
John Sandweg, who until February served as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he had promoted the policy change for immigrants without serious criminal records before his departure and said it was being weighed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson . An immigration advocate who has discussed the review with the administration also confirmed the change was under consideration. The advocate spoke on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.
"Any report of specific considerations at this time would be premature," Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said Monday. Stevens said Johnson "has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review," including seeking input from people within DHS as well as lawmakers of both parties and other stakeholders.
The approach outlined by Sandweg and the immigration advocate would change the existing priority categories that now include immigrants who have re-entered the country after having been deported previously, and those who are fugitives from immigration proceedings. Such people would be taken off the priority list.
The remaining priority categories focus on recent border-crossers and immigrants who pose a danger to national security or public safety or who have been convicted of crimes. Some of those categories might also be refined or changed, and others could be added.
"The time had come to focus ICE's efforts exclusively on public safety and national security," Sandweg said in explaining why he pushed for the change. He estimated that some 20,000 deported immigrants fell into the categories in question last year.
The potential changes come as Johnson proceeds with a review ordered by Obama on how to make deportation policy more humane. With comprehensive immigration legislation stalled in the Republican-led House after passing the Senate last year, Obama has come under intense election-year pressure to stem deportations, which have neared 2 million on his watch, and allow more of the 11.5 million immigrants living in the country illegally to stay.
Many activists want sweeping action by Obama to give legal certainty and work permits to millions more immigrants, like he did for those who arrived illegally as children and attended school or served in the military.
It's not clear whether the administration ultimately will take such steps. Obama has said repeatedly his options are limited without action by Congress.
"The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action. We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could," Obama said last week at a news conference. "We're going to review it one more time to see if there's more that we can do."
For now, administration officials appear focused on more limited, near-term steps that could still make a difference for the immigrant population, according to lawmakers and activists who've met with administration officials.
Adjusting the department's priorities for deportation is one such approach. Depending on how it's done, it could have a significant impact by providing new guidance to ICE agents on the front lines. Activists want more wholesale changes; some say ICE agents don't always follow the priorities set by the administration.
At the same time, Obama would likely face wrath from the Republican Party for taking even the smallest steps toward providing relief to people in this country illegally. Republicans already accuse Obama's administration of subverting the law through previous moves to give "prosecutorial discretion" to immigration agents.
From the Department of Justice
Department of Justice Announces University Tour by Administration Officials to Raise Awareness of Campus Sexual Assault
In recognition of the 20 th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Department of Justice today announced a nationwide university tour by top administration officials to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. From April 23-May 1, senior officials from the Departments of Justice and Education will visit campuses across the country, including public and private universities, community colleges, historically black colleges and faith-based and tribal-affiliated institutions around the nation. Officials will speak with campus administrators, local law enforcement, community partners, local service providers and students about how best practices and lessons learned are playing out in areas such as prevention, public awareness and peer support. Visits will also highlight the role that federal, state and local government, working with university administrators, faculty and students, should play.
“The federal government is proud to partner with hundreds of campuses across our country to improve safety for students with comprehensive solutions to both prevent acts of violence and to support victim services,” said Bea Hanson, Principal Deputy Director of the Office on Violence Against Women. “The Campus Program is dedicated to building a future where domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and teen dating violence are eradicated.”
Each campus on the tour is a recipient of the department's Office on Violence Against Women's “Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus Program.” The Campus Program funds institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, creating partnerships among campus entities and with community-based victim services organizations and criminal and civil justice agencies. Campus Program grantees must provide prevention programs for all incoming students; train campus law enforcement or security staff; educate campus judicial or disciplinary boards on the unique dynamics of these crimes; and create a coordinated community response to enhance victim assistance and safety while holding offenders accountable.
Since 1999, OVW has funded approximately 400 campus-based projects, totaling more than $139 million, to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on campuses.
Logistical details will be released closer to the event date. The list of the campus visits is below:
April 23, 2014
Associate Attorney General Tony West
North Carolina Central University (Durham, N.C.)
Principal Deputy Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson
Director, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Ronald L. Davis
St. John's University (Queens, N.Y.)
April 24, 2014
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole
Principal Deputy Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson
Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Becky L. Monroe
Gallaudet University (Washington, D.C.)
Associate Attorney General Tony West
Loyola University (Chicago, Ill.)
April 25, 2014
Associate Attorney General Tony West
United Tribes Technical College (Bismarck, N.D.)
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels
University of Delaware (Newark, Del.)
April 29, 2014
Associate Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Darlene Johnson
William Paterson University (Wayne, N.J.)
April 30, 2014
Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Catherine E. Lhamon
University of California Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Principal Deputy Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson
State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook (Stony Brook, N.Y.)
Associate Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Darlene Johnson
Bergen Community College (Paramus, N.J.)
May 1, 2014
Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Catherine E. Lhamon
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Pomona, Calif.)
To learn more about the campus tour, please follow #SafetyonCampus through social media channels.
Justice Department Set to Expand Clemency Criteria, Will Prepare for Wave of Applications from Drug Offenders in Federal Prison
from Attorney General Holder
WASHINGTON—In an important step to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders in the federal prison system, Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced that the Justice Department will soon detail new, more expansive criteria that the department will use in considering when to recommend clemency applications for President Obama's review.
In anticipation of the increase of eligible petitioners, the Justice Department is preparing to assign lawyers--with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense – to review the applications.
“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” said Attorney General Holder in a video message posted on the department's website. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”
Later this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce more specific details about the expanded criteria the department will use and the logistical effort underway to ensure proper reviews of the anticipated wave of applications.
The complete text of Attorney General Holder's video message is below:
“In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine.
“But there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime.
“This is simply not right.
“Legislation pending in Congress would help address these types of cases. In the meantime, President Obama took a sensible step towards addressing this situation by granting commutations last December to eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses. For two of these individuals, it was the first conviction they'd ever received – yet, due to mandatory minimum guidelines that were considered severe at the time, and are profoundly out of date today – they and four others received life sentences.
“These stories illustrate the vital role that the clemency process can play in America's justice system.
“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.
“Later this week, the deputy attorney general will announce new criteria that the department will consider when recommending applications for the President's review. This new and improved approach will make the criteria for clemency recommendation more expansive. This will allow the Department of Justice and the president to consider requests from a larger field of eligible individuals.
“Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. And we at the Department of Justice will meet this need by assigning potentially dozens of lawyers – with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense – to review applications and provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications require.
“As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens.
“Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative – to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.”
The full video message is available HERE or at: http://www.justice.gov/agwa.php
Police seek to re-energize community involvement
The Sioux City Police Department's Safety Up program has been in development for the past year. After the inactivity of the department's original Neighborhood Watch program, we felt it was time to re-energize community involvement in policing by making a program unique to our community and fashioning it to fit the expectations of citizens, our way of life, our compassion for each and our willingness to help.
Safety Up covers all safety outreach programs provided by the Police Department. It's about awareness, promoting public safety and enhancing quality of life in neighborhoods.
To understand this effort, there is a need to understand the philosophy of community policing and the origins of modern law enforcement, dating to London, England, in 1829, with the formation of the London Metropolitan Police. A tactic implemented to control crime was preventive patrols. This tactic is still used today.
After years of police reform and as a result of the problems of the 1960s and 1970s, a new strategy called community-oriented policing emerged. Police recognized that simply reacting to calls for service limits the ability of law enforcement to control crime. Police could not see enough crime to be effective; police needed citizen participation.
Community-oriented policing is based on the Broken Windows Theory, which says that if there is a broken window in an abandoned building, it symbolizes no one cares about the property, making it perfect for criminal activity.
Sioux City adopted community-oriented policing in the early 1990s. It was made up of a select unit of 10 officers, with each assigned an area to work and whose duties were to create open lines of communication and build a trust with residents.
Officers were tasked with problem-solving with neighborhood groups rather than individuals. This has resulted in the empowerment of groups to take ownership of neighborhoods.
Community policing has evolved to encompass all members of the department and is referred to as Community Team Policing, which involves a supervisor and a group of officers who work together within a defined area and address criminal activity and quality-of-life issues.
This move to Community Team Policing allows the department to put several officers, rather than just one, into an area to address issues and concerns. This change in policing tactics also reaffirms the department's commitment to the safety and welfare of the citizens of this community.
Community Team Policing is the Sioux City Police Department Mission Statement in action: “To work in partnership with the community to provide for public safety, promote community service and improve quality of life while maintaining respect for individual rights and human dignity."
Safety Up will allow the department an opportunity to reinvigorate the neighborhoods. It's about getting back to the basics of watching out for one another. It's about taking control of your neighborhoods and showing that crime is not welcome here. It's about open lines of communication and the building of trust. It's about becoming aware of your surroundings and reporting to authorities what seems out of place.
Please take advantage of this opportunity, organize your neighborhood and remember to always keep your “Safety Up."
Doug Young is chief of the Sioux City Police Department. Contact him at 712-279-6440.
April 21-25 is Severe Weather Awareness Week
Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed April 21-25 as Severe Weather Awareness Week.
At 1:45 p.m., Thursday April 24, the National Weather Service will issue a simulated tornado warning, and outdoor warning sirens will be activated so families and businesses can activate their plans. At 6:55 p.m. a second simulated tornado warning will take place for families at home.
Since 2000, disasters have claimed the lives of 21 Minnesotans and caused more than $373 million in federally declared damages. “Every family and business should take this opportunity to put weather emergency plans into action”, stated Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson. “Tornados follow no pattern, and dangerous thunderstorms are common in Minnesota. There's no substitute for practice when the real thing comes along."
Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) partners with the National Weather Service and various state agencies to present comprehensive life saving information on its website. Each day of Severe Weather Awareness Week is devoted to a specific topic to help keep Minnesota ready
The dangerously mentally ill: Spotting the signs to prevent tragedy
They're the once-proud parents of a successful, “straight A” student. Their feelings are incredibly conflicted. They've observed their loved one slowly become a “psychological time bomb.” They may feel shame, shock, frustration, guilt, anger, helplessness, depression, and regret. They may even feel fear — even horror — as they realize that they've begun to lock their bedroom doors when they go to sleep at night.
The family witnesses mental deterioration of a person they love so much but now fear. They may see their loved one self-medicate with street drugs (exacerbating their condition). They may see a condition called “Anosognosia” — an individual's inability to realize they are sick (or in this case, mentally ill) — complicate matters further. They may suffer from a form of Anosognosia themselves: some might call it denial.
The sadness and inner conflict can be overwhelming for families. Ultimately, we sometimes get to the very controversial issue of involuntary commitment. Here, we get into the conflict between an individual's civil rights and the community's rights related to public safety. It is at this intersection where police officers come so frequently into the equation. It is a delicate balance but the public's safety must take precedence in these cases.
Seeking Professional Assistance
Laura's Law in California and Kendra's Law in New York State both have to do with involuntary commitment. In a perfect world I would like to think that people left to their own devices would recognize the need for psychological help. Unfortunately many do not.
It is for this reason that both Laura's Law and Kendra's Law can ultimately get people the assistance they need by mandating they get help when certain conditions (such as the potential for violence) are present. We must recognize (and remember) that many mental illnesses — such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder — are not manifested until the late teens or early to mid-twenties.
This one fact can render moot any argument about “not allowing the mentally ill to purchase firearms.” A seemingly mentally healthy individual may purchase a rifle at 18 years of age, and a handgun at 21 years of age, only to develop mental illness long after they have made the purchase. Furthermore, in Adam Lanza's case, his mother had numerous firearms around the house — she enjoyed shooting and wanted to share the hobby with her son.
As we know, this was ultimately disastrous.
Slowly, people in the community become aware of “that house on the block.” Children are told to keep away, and people take the long way around the block so as to avoid passing by the place. No one wants to live next door, or across from “the wacko” and real estate values are affected. Due to complaints by the citizens who live in the neighborhood, the police eventually become involved.
This is when it becomes critical that an accurate account of the police responses occurs.
When it's clear that someone in the residence has a mental health issue, it's time to insert the mental health clinician — or the CIT police officer — who can make an on-sight assessment of the individual. Upon contacting the individual at the residence they may or may not answer the door, due to their paranoia.
Perhaps a family member will answer the door — if the situation is handled professionally and with caring, a relationship can develop with the family to ensure the health and welfare of the loved one afflicted with the mental illness.
It is possible that the individual may never have been officially diagnosed by a licensed clinician. Regardless, all the information obtained can assist the mental health professionals develop a treatment plan with the assistance of multiple agencies and family (if applicable).
Personality Disorders vs. Mental Illness
This weekend, we will pause to consider the 15-year anniversary of the Columbine Massacre. People will inevitably talk about mental illness and violence.
Something to be mindful of is this: Unlike Adam Lanza, or James Holmes, or Jared Loughner, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did not have discernable psychiatric diagnoses. They weren't suffering from Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, which are often times accompanied by both delusions and hallucinations of unthinkable violence.
Many people with personality disorders can function on a daily basis, whereas people with the more severe mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Clinical Depression may not be able to.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold demonstrated certain behaviors which may have indicated problems, but Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner demonstrated behavioral cues indicative of a mental illness. Whether people chose to address them as potentially violent individuals can only be determined by their actions.
Why did the gun range owner in Aurora (Colo.) not allow James Holmes to shoot at his gun range? The reason is when he called Holmes' house and listened to the voicemail message, he felt as though something may be horribly wrong with him.
Unfortunately it takes a group of people, or the community, to come together to address what may be a potentially huge public safety problem. This can only be accomplished by people in the community who sense that something is wrong with an individual based on some obvious behavior patterns.
Some indicators may be:
• Overgrown plants, grass, and shrubs where they live
• Garbage, junk, broken-down cars, strewn about the yard and the home is in a state of disrepair
• Rarely seeing anyone in or about the residence, yet being fully aware that people live there
• People outside the home being menacing, threatening, and/or behaving in a bizarre fashion
• People talking to themselves when they're obviously not on a cell phone or listening device
• Yelling and/or playing loud music at all hours of the night and morning on a consistent basis
• Family and friends beginning to speak about a drastic change in a loved one's behavior
Many of these behavioral cues can only be assessed by a professional Mental Health Clinician from the county mental health department, or a police officer (ideally with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT)) who frequents a particular beat and possibly has been at a residence several times to the point where the address can be “red flagged” for the potential of a mental health crisis occurring.
These professionals can then contact neighbors, family members, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, etc. to determine if the person is deteriorating mentally. Only then can a “treatment plan” be developed to ensure that the person gets the care they need. It does take a group effort to make this plan a success.
If the agencies, community, family, and friends can come to an agreement that the person is need of mental health treatment, then (and only then) can a plan be developed that will be in everyone's best interest and potentially avert another tragedy.
About the author
Dr. Sancier began his law enforcement career at the Atherton (Calif.) Police Department as a Reserve in 1978 and then became a regular in 1980. While working at APD Greg worked patrol and also worked in a collateral assignment as a Hostage Negotiator. While working full time as a police officer Greg applied and was accepted into the Master's Degree program in Clinical Psychology at SJSU. He worked at APD until 1985 when he went to the San Jose Police Department. While at SJPD Greg became a Hostage Negotiator as a collateral assignment as he worked in patrol, the training unit, and then in the Crisis Management Unit (CMU) where he worked the last 7 years of his career. Upon joining the SJPD Greg earned his Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology in 1989. During his tenure of nearly five years in the training unit at SJPD Greg taught in service police officer's classes such as Psychology of Survival, Officer Safety / Survival, High Risk Car stops, Defensive driving tactics, Fitness and Nutrition, Defensive Tactics, to name a few. Greg applied and was accepted to the Ph.D. program at the Western Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto in 1992 while he worked full-time in the training unit at the police department.
How the story of the Columbine gunmen defies any prototype
Klebold and Harris managed to forever change the way law enforcement looked at active shooter situations
A little after 1100 hours on April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris entered their high school with the intent of committing a terrorist attack which they hoped would kill hundreds.
Armed with duffel bags full of homemade bombs and firearms acquired for them by friends, they were able to kill 12 students and one teacher (they wounded 24 other individuals) before taking their own lives. Thanks to the poor quality of their homemade bombs, they failed to destroy the school.
In the months following the massacre, various falsehoods were presented. The culprits were Goths, gamers, bullying victims, etc. In reality, they were simply sociopaths who sought to kill a bunch of people.
The Immediate Aftermath
Debates raged in the months following the shootings, but often we were debating with limited data. The facts took a long time to get out, and many still may never be known.
On the first anniversary of the rampage, I was sitting with members of the Littleton (Colo.) SWAT team on a makeshift video set outside of the high school.
While Columbine High School is in unincorporated Littleton and is Jefferson County's jurisdiction much of the initial response was by Littleton officers. The first three were SWAT members who grabbed a responding Jefferson County deputy (who was also SWAT) and had cross trained with them and they made their way into the school.
They were doing what we eventually developed as law enforcement's active shooter response. But in 1999, our paradigm was to stabilize, control the perimeter, and coordinate an entry.
So, the first responding commander recalled those officers and initiated the standard strategy of the time. People continue to criticize this without understanding the true level of chaos facing the responders. Here are just a few of the variables facing the people in command:
• An unknown number of assailants
• Multiple shots inside and outside
• Injured people down in many areas
Harris and Klebold wanted not only kill their friends, teachers, and classmates, but also kill as many first responders as possible. Many of the explosives Harris and Klebold planted outside the school were intended to kill arriving first responders. Had those bombs actually detonated, it is difficult to say how large the horror would have been.
Many Details Remain Unknown
The problem facing investigators and policy makers was getting the facts and even understanding the true scope of this terrorist act. Media reports on the suspects were often misleading (or just plain wrong), and the reporting of the police response was even worse.
A year after the attack, the most competent report available — at least according to the participants I interviewed — was an article in “Soldier of Fortune” magazine. The magazine report showed that the police response was actually pretty quick as the initial shooting in the parking lot involved two deputies. One deputy — the school resource officer — actually hit Harris's magazine with a round from his handgun (so much for the theory of the suspects killing themselves after initial law enforcement resistance is met).
Much of what we were told about how Klebold and Harris chose their victims turned out to be false. Even the facts on the suspects themselves didn't match the initial assumptions. These were just suicide sociopaths who found each other and then, enabled by others, plotted to kill hundreds. They actually tried to pull it off with such serious intent that, after finishing their killing in the library, went back to the cafeteria to attempt to detonate their bombs.
Fortunately, they failed, and after more than 40 minutes they returned to the library where they committed suicide.
But most of the record has never been amended. I doubt many people — even many in law enforcement — know all of the facts. Did you know about the bombs aimed at first responders, that deputies exchanged fire with the suspects before they entered the school, or that all 13 victims were killed within the first 13 minutes?
Let's face it. Some of you reading this were in middle school when this event occurred!
The Legacy of Columbine
Colorado Governor Bill Owens initiated an investigation aimed at recommending the best way to prevent a future massacre. In May 2001, his team released an excellent list of recommendations that have lead to much of what we do today to prepare for active shooters and help schools identify and intervene before such perpetrators act. It is sad the media hasn't taken the recommendations in Governor Owens' report more seriously.
For first responders, the motive of a suspect is a moot point. We don't care why someone is doing bad acts. We stop the behavior…period!
We train to go into the school after the shooter (or shooters) and stop them as quickly as possible. We don't count on them taking themselves out. We are better trained and better armed because of this terrible act of terrorism.
How have you prepared? You have a responsibility to think (and plan) how you would react to an active shooter in the schools, churches, malls, restaurants, stadiums or any location your imagination leads you.
One of the true legacies of the Columbine Massacre is the need for law enforcement to constantly use its imagination to prepare for unexplainable evil to strike. We need to push training and equipment down to the patrol level, improving law enforcement's response to a broad range of threats.
On this anniversary, we mourn the fallen and we reaffirm our mission to constantly improve our ability to stop those who would attempt such evil in our communities.
About the author
Dave “Buck Savage” Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement speaker, trainer, video personality, and author. He began his police career in the State of Arizona, holding positions in Patrol, SWAT, Narcotics, Supervision, Investigations, Training and Management. Dave holds numerous instructor certifications in firearms, defensive tactics, and human performance and is a proven expert witness and consultant.
In 1980 Dave developed the popular “JD Buck Savage” video training series and was a police instructor for the original “Street Survival” seminar by Calibre Press and was an intricate part of the company for nearly 30 years. He now writes for numerous publications, speaks internationally and is the author of the popular book In My Sights .
Dave is currently the owner of "Winning Mind Seminars" and the Director of Video Training for the online PoliceOne Academy. Dave Smith is one of the most well known law enforcement trainers on the market today and is available for appearances through his website at www.jdbucksavage.com .
Bill Seeks to Stop States' Detention of Status Offenders
by Gary Gately
States would be forbidden to lock up juveniles who violate a court order by committing a status offense like truancy, running away from home or failing to abide by a curfew, under a bill pending in Congress.
The measure, introduced by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), would restore a provision of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that prohibited states from allowing judges to incarcerate juveniles when they commit a status offense in violation of a court order.
The number of status offenders detained had dropped off sharply after the JJDPA stipulated states could forfeit some juvenile justice money if they allowed youths to be detained for committing a status offense in violation of a court order.
But in reauthorizing the JJDPA in 1980, Congress allowed incarceration of juveniles under what is known as the “valid court order” (VCO) exception in which judges can detain a youth if a status offense violates a court order.
“I think if most of America understood what a status offense was and if they realized that some children are being incarcerated over status offenses, they would be first of all, surprised and secondly, they would not agree that that is a proper way of handling … a status offense,” Cardenas told JJIE.
Many states have abandoned the VCO exception, but the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention says 27 states still allow judges to incarcerate juveniles when status offenses violate court orders.
The Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice said youths had been detained about 8,000 times under the VCO exception in 2010.
Cardenas' bill, co-sponsored by five lawmakers, has received support from the CJJ and numerous other national youth, disability and justice organizations, including the Campaign for Youth Justice, the Children's Defense Fund, the Juvenile Law Center, The W. Haywood Burns Institute, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National PTA.
The national organizations, joined by state and local groups, signed a letter to members of Congress urging them to support the status offenders bill (HR-4123).
“Too many young kids are still finding their way into the juvenile justice system unnecessarily,” the letter states.
“We know that detention of status offenders is more costly and less effective than home and community-based responses. It interrupts education, increases the chances the youth will go ‘deeper' into the [juvenile justice] system, and leads to higher recidivism rates.”
The letter notes girls are much more likely to be arrested for status offenses and to receive more severe punishment.
“Many girls who act out as a result of abuse or trauma are simply re-traumatized by violent and abusive experiences in the juvenile justice system,” the letter said.
Under Cardenas' bill, states would be required to stop using the VCO exception within one year of passage, or risk losing some OJJDP funds. But the bill would allow an additional year to comply if states show it would be a hardship to meet the initial deadline.
Lisa Pilnik, deputy executive director of the nonprofit CJJ, a coalition of juvenile justice advocacy groups, said detaining status offenders can expose them to youths who have committed much more serious crimes.
“[Status offenders] can learn bad behaviors from those youths,” Pilnik said.
And a 118-page report released by CJJ in December said detained status offenders are often held in overcrowded, understaffed facilities where they can be exposed to violence. Indeed, almost 20 percent of status offenders and other youths held for non-delinquent offenses are housed with youth who have committed murder or manslaughter and 25 percent are placed in units with felony sex offenders, the report said.
Pilnik said status offenders — and taxpayers — would be better served by effective community-based programs, which cost less and work better than incarceration.
“There's a lot of support [for Cardenas' bill] because to us and to all these other groups that have signed on this is kind of an obvious thing,” she said. “Why would you lock up youth who've done nothing worse than run away from home or skip school or do all these behaviors that we know are at the very least typical teenage behavior and at the very worst symptoms of youth who need services and help and whose families may need some sort of an intervention?
“But these aren't kids who've committed any sort of crime, much less a serious crime, so why are we locking them up?”
In providing community-based services to youths, Pilnik said, it's important to assess what's behind their behavior.
“So if the behavior is running away, is there conflict in the home that they're running away from?” she said.
“If the behavior is skipping school, is there something going on at school? Is there an unmet special education need? Is the child being bullied at school? What's happening at school that's causing the child to not want to go and to not feel like school is a safe place for them or a place that they're getting anything out of?”
Pilnik said the 1980 VCO exception came in part as a result of pressure from judges who wanted authority to detain juveniles whose status offenses violated court orders.
But she said that sentiment among judges has changed, noting the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has called for eliminating the VCO exception.
Cardenas, a first-term congressman, said lawmakers had eliminated the VCO exception as part of a politically expedient bid to get tough on juvenile crime.
The CJJ report concluded that detaining youths who have committed status offenses may increase the likelihood they will become more entangled with the juvenile justice system later and even with the criminal justice system when they become adults.
The report provided detailed recommendations on dealing with status offenses for those working with status offenders and their families.
The nonprofit CJJ developed the recommendations in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and a team that included child welfare workers, juvenile defense attorneys, juvenile corrections and detention administrators, and community-based service providers.
Q&A: Solitary Confinement and Teens Shouldn't Mix
Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. His neuroscientific research has focused largely on the effects of trauma on brain development. He has consulted on high-profile cases involving children in crisis, including the Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Waco, Texas, siege, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here, Perry explains to The Center for Investigative Reporting how it feels to be a teenager locked in solitary confinement , and the effects of isolation on the developing brain. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Center for Investigative Reporting: How do kids experience isolation?
Dr. Bruce Perry: Almost all of them start to retreat into their inner world because there's nowhere else to get stimulation. Some of these kids, without any external relational anchors, start to go crazy. They'll have ruminations about what they're going to do to that person who got them in trouble, and that can morph into murderous fantasies. The brain is so used to a variety of sensory input that in the absence of that, over time, they start to hallucinate and get paranoid. You can literally make people crazy by keeping them in solitary.
CIR: We hear a lot of stories about prolonged isolation, but what are the effects of just a few days of solitary confinement on kids?
Dr. Perry: They end up getting these very intense doses of dissociative experience, and they get it in an unpredictable way. They'll get three days in isolation. Then they'll come back on the unit and get two days in isolation. They'll come back out and then get one day. They end up with a pattern of activating this dissociative coping mechanism. The result is that when they're confronted with a stressor later on, they will have this extreme disengagement where they'll be kind of robotic, overly compliant, but they're not really present. I've seen that a lot with these kids. They'll come out, and they're little zombies. The interpretation by the staff is that they've been pacified. “We've broken him.” But basically what you've done is you've traumatized this person in a way that if this kid was in somebody's home, you would charge that person with child abuse.
CIR: You've worked with young people inside solitary confinement units. What are those places like?
Dr. Perry: They tend to be stereotypical institutional settings with cinderblock walls and tile floors and colors that are just drab, almost depressing in their nature. A lot of echoing sounds and reverberation. These are sensory experiences that are atypical. The natural world has a certain ebb and flow, it has a rhythm to it, a smoothness to the sounds that we hear. You go into institutional settings and the architecture creates a sensory environment that is unfamiliar and unsettling. Some places don't have natural light. Some keep the lights on all the time, so your biorhythms get all messed up. Some places will be eerily silent, particularly if you're in isolation, and some places will be persistently noisy, so any effort to sleep or regulate yourself is interfered with. The environment is physiologically disrespectful.
CIR: Kids in isolation must lose all sense of control. What's the impact of that?
Dr. Perry: One of things that helps us regulate our stress response is a sense of control. With solitary, when you start to take away any option, any choice, you're literally taking somebody with a dysregulated stress response system, like most of these individuals in jail, and you're making it worse. The more you try to take control, the more you are inhibiting the ability of these individuals to develop self-control, which is what we want them to do.
CIR: How does it affect a kid's sense of self-worth to be locked away from everyone else?
Dr. Perry: Most of these kids feel marginalized to start with. They feel like they're bad, they did something wrong, they don't fit in. And isolation is essentially the ultimate marginalization. You're so marginalized you don't even fit in with the misfits, and we are going to exclude you from the group in an extreme way. In some ways it's the ultimate message that we don't care for you. We are neurobiologically interdependent creatures. All of our sensory apparatus is bias toward forming and maintaining relationships with human beings. When you are not part of the group, it's a fundamental biological rejection.
CIR: We interviewed several teenagers about their experience in solitary confinement and asked them what they think about while they're in there. Almost without exception, they went straight to grief and loss, loved ones who had died, often prematurely and in horrible ways. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Perry: Isolation, the experience of being separated from human beings, for them, is reminiscent of the separation that happened earlier from people who were meaningful to them. The feeling is evocative of the last time they felt so disconnected or felt the loss of human interactions. The amount of loss and exposure to violence and trauma that most of these kids have is pretty astounding. So it triggers relational-based memories, and right at the top of those would be memories around loss and grief.
CIR: A common argument from corrections professionals is that they have no choice but to isolate kids who are unruly or violent. How should we be designing our juvenile justice facilities so that they not only promote healthy development, but also provide safety without using solitary?
Dr. Perry: There's an approach called collaborative problem-solving, which has shown tremendous effectiveness with dysregulated, explosive individuals. It's not like we're going to ignore the issue, but we're going to acknowledge it and talk about a solution that we come up with together. And when you do that, it literally defuses things in a very powerful way. It's ironic that in many of these models of intervention?—?mental health, education, juvenile justice?—?rather than taking advantage of the major biological unit of leverage we have for healthy development, which is the relationship, we actually make it more relationally impoverished.
Precocious Teen Gives Voice to ‘Juvenile Lifers' in Michigan
by Gary Gately
At 16, the high school junior is equally comfortable quoting Jesus, Pope Francis and Mahatma Gandhi; research on adolescent brain development from the National Institutes of Health and the American Psychological Association; the Eighth Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court decisions; and “juvenile lifers” serving in Michigan prisons.
Matilyn Sarosi of Ann Arbor, Mich., puts it all together eloquently in a 23-page amicus curiae brief filed with the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of three people who received sentences of mandatory life without parole as juveniles.
The idea took hold last October at the Sarosi family dinner table when Matilyn's aunt, MaryAnn Sarosi, a public interest lawyer, mentioned she had been working on an amicus brief for the trio of juvenile life without parole cases before the Michigan Supreme Court.
MaryAnn Sarosi recalls telling her niece and other family members about that brief, which argues the three appellants should have a chance at parole:
“And Matilyn's reaction when she heard that was, ‘Wait a minute, you could automatically put a 14- or 15-year-old into adult court and then they could be given mandatory life without parole even if they were the kid sitting in a car when the older brother went in to rob a clerk and then ended up killing him?'
“She said, ‘That's outrageous. What can I do about it?'” MaryAnn Sarosi recalls. “I said, ‘Go write a brief.' I never thought she would actually write the brief.”
So began Matilyn's four-month quest to give voice to juvenile lifers serving in Michigan's 31-prison system. (A decision in favor of the three appellants would also apply to the other 360 Michigan juvenile lifers.)
School Embraced Idea of Writing Brief
Matilyn broached the idea of writing the brief to teachers and administrators at her school, Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor, and they embraced it right from the start.
“I go to a Catholic school, and we're taught Catholic social teaching and the human dignity of each person,” Matilyn says. “And the fundamental belief in our faith is that humans are capable of beautiful things, and humans are capable of change and we have all been redeemed and we all have the capability to be rehabilitated and to change.
“Jesus himself was a prisoner at one point and he spent most of his time with the prisoners and the sick and the sinners and the prostitutes and the tax collectors, and we're not excluded from that. We're all sinners to some extent, and we've all been, and Jesus has shown us his love and justice and mercy.”
In her brief, Matilyn argues the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2012 Miller vs. Alabama decision, which declares mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences unconstitutional, should retroactively apply to the juvenile lifers in Michigan prisons.
Many states have applied Miller retroactively, giving juvenile lifers a chance at parole. But other states, including Michigan, and the federal government have not done so, leaving more than 2,500 juvenile lifers behind bars in legal limbo in U.S. prisons.
Matilyn's amicus brief points to research on adolescent brain development that has been cited in the 5-4 Miller ruling and other recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The high court has noted in those key decisions that juveniles' brains are not fully developed, and youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more impulsive, more likely to take risks, less likely to consider long-term consequences and more amenable to rehabilitation.
The amicus brief also invokes scientific research on adolescent brain development by the American Psychological Association and by NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, in a 2011 report titled “ The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction.”
‘Give Us 10 Years and We'll Change'
Hence the amicus brief's statement: “We know from experience that children are immature, impulsive and reckless decision-makers, but give us 10 years and we'll change.”
To win over other students at Father Gabriel Richard – about 450 of them, or roughly 85 percent of the student body, signed the amicus brief – Matilyn made about a dozen PowerPoint presentations to classes at the school in late January.
The Rev. Richard Lobert, the school's chaplain, who also teaches four freshman theology courses, recalls being impressed by Matilyn's presentation.
“It's like she ripped a page right out of Catholic social justice teaching,” Father Lobert says.
In the presentations, Matilyn cited the case of Damion Todd (who is also noted in the amicus brief). Todd had been captain of his high school football team and an active member of his church and had never fired a gun.
In 1986, Todd and his friends were in a car outside a Detroit party when shots were fired at the car. Todd fired shots back at an angle with a shotgun, without intending to hit anyone, in hopes of scaring off people who had fired at the car, but he hit and killed someone. Todd, now serving a life without parole sentence, has earned a GED and taken college courses in prison and has reconciled with the shooting victim's mother.
In the PowerPoint presentations, Matilyn also included the case of Cortez R. Davis, one of the three appellants whose cases are before the Michigan Supreme Court. Davis, then 16, participated in a 1993 street mugging in Detroit during which someone was killed, but did not fire any of the shots that killed the victim. He was convicted of first-degree murder.
Davis is hardly the only juvenile lifer in Michigan not directly responsible for killing anyone.
Many Juvenile Lifers Didn't Kill Victim
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the nonprofit Second Chances 4 Youth found in a 2012 report that more than 100 of the juvenile lifers in Michigan prisons were present during a homicide but did not kill the victim.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he opposes granting parole hearings to any of the 363 juvenile lifers in the state's prisons, arguing Miller should not apply retroactively. Schuette's office presented oral arguments at a March 6 Michigan Supreme Court hearing in the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing. (The conservative-majority court – composed of five men and two women – is expected to issue a ruling in the case by July 31, the end of its current term.)
In a statement released the day of the hearing, Schuette said: "First-degree murder is a serious crime, and it carries with it serious consequences. Considering even the possibility of new parole hearings for these convicted teen murderers will force victims' families to relive the deaths of their loved ones. The integrity of our justice system demands crime victims and their families come first."
Matilyn, who attended the hearing along with about 25 students in her Advanced Placement U.S. History class, said in the brief she sympathizes with the victims' families and does not play down their pain.
“The pain of losing a loved one in such a violent and destructive way is an unimaginable burden,” she wrote. “Few among us can pretend to understand the depths of such heartache, because we do not carry such heavy burdens. Vengeance is a human response, especially to such acts of injustice, yet our justice system cannot be based upon gut reactions and vengeance.”
She quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind.”
And Jesus: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
Matilyn notes murder victims' families also filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Supreme Court, urging that Miller be applied retroactively to juvenile lifers.
“That's beautiful evidence of the fact that you can find peace and healing in forgiveness and reconciliation,” she says.
Trauma in Lives of Juvenile Lifers
Matilyn's brief also points out the trauma many of those incarcerated as juveniles have endured.
It cites a 2012 nationwide survey by The Sentencing Project, a national nonprofit, that found almost 80 percent of the more than 2,500 juvenile lifers nationwide had witnessed violence in their homes, and nearly half had witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods. The survey also found more than 77 percent of females sentenced as children to life without parole had been sexually abused and nearly half of all juvenile lifers had been physically abused.
The overwhelming majority of Michigan juvenile lifers – about 75 percent – also are people of color, and many were so poor they couldn't afford counsel, says Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the ACLU of Michigan, in an interview. “And we have a terrible indigent defense system here,” Weisberg adds.
In the amicus brief, Matilyn states: “We don't view the individuals [Michigan juvenile lifers] involved in these cases as inherently evil. We believe factors in their lives like where they were raised or the stability of their family environment had a lot to do with their actions and we think to ourselves, ‘There but for the Grace of God go I.'”
Trauma in the juvenile lifers' lives, the brief says, should have been taken into account when they were sentenced to life without parole, and Miller requires that such trauma be considered in resentencing.
Matilyn's mother, Kimm Sarosi, a nurse, and her father, Michael Sarosi, a radiologist, tried to instill lessons of Catholic social teaching in her and her older brother and sister (twins now in college) from a young age.
As a young girl, Matilyn volunteered with her parents at two homeless shelters and she now volunteers during summers at a nursing home.
“It's one thing as a parent to teach it, but how proud Mike and I are that she really is trying to practice social justice, that she's trying to make a bit of a difference,” Matilyn's mother says. “She's a very sensitive soul.”
Many Michigan juvenile lifers would agree.
Inmates Express Gratitude
At least 50 of them have expressed their gratitude to Matilyn in letters, cards and artistic posters.
The Father Gabriel Richard school chaplain, Father Lobert, says many of the inmates expressed similar sentiments:
“What they're saying basically is: ‘You've given us hope. It just doesn't seem like there are people out there that really care. It's like they turned the lock, and we're forgotten now…. You've given us hope because we didn't know that there was really anybody out there that cared.'
“And this is repeated over and over,” Father Lobert says, “so she's really touched a nerve.”
One former Michigan juvenile lifer whose sentence was commuted by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was so grateful she bought the entire student body at Father Gabriel Richard pizzas and sent along a note that was read to the students.
“Thank you for believing that adults who committed crimes while they were children deserve a serious parole review. Thank you for believing in people like me!” the note said.
“Your advocacy is instilling much-needed hope to all the men and women who are still incarcerated for crimes they committed while they were children. Your work and spirit are propelling these men and women to believe they are worthy of a second chance!”
Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator of the Washington-based Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, also praises Matilyn.
“She's obviously an extraordinary individual, says Lavy, whose organization opposes all life without parole sentences for juveniles. “And we're delighted that she took the time and effort to do all of the work to bring this about both because it's important to hear their [students'] perspective but also to know that young people understand what we're doing to our teens.
“The students approach it from a faith perspective,” Lavy adds, “and we have really seen that across the board, people of all different faiths, all different religions agree that we need to give our young people a second chance and that our society should not be in the process of judging people, particularly young people, for the rest of their lives based on their greatest failures, and rather should be looking at their potential as human beings.”
For her part, Matilyn – an honors student, president of her junior class, varsity soccer player and forensics team member – says her foray into the legal realm opened her eyes to a possible legal career.
“I wasn't considering it before and now I am,” she says.
Ask her why, and she'll tell you: “It was the process of writing the brief and getting a feel for the real world of legal justice and of a lawyer and witnessing the Supreme Court in action and seeing attorneys and seeing that this profession could do great things.”
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