Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AB of a series)

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

I want to get this up while it is still fresh, but I don’t have as much time to think and write about as I’d like: I’m actually down at the cop shop tonight.

The chief recently had a closed door meeting with his commanders. Apparently, during the meeting, he laid into a few of them about not following his direction, especially with respect to relations with the minority community.

Someone taped the meeting and provided a copy to the Statesman. (Edited to add 10/21: Link fixed. Thanks, Uncle Kenny.)

Quick thoughts, based on a skim of the article:

  • Taping the meeting and giving a copy to the press strikes me as questionable.
  • I don’t see anything really outrageous in what the chief said.

I may have more to say on further reflection.

Art update.

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

The Jerry Orbach Memorial Art Car is funded.

I’m looking forward to getting my bumper stickers.

Questions: which one should I put on? I’m kind of partial to “My child is a honor student…”, but feel free to argue your case in the comments.

And which one should I take off to make room? Right now, I’m thinking: as much as I liked CHeston, and as much of an NRA supporter as I am, the “My President Is Charlton Heston” one is faded almost to the point of being unreadable. It might be time to let go. (And I’ve got window stickers out the wazoo.)

NYPD blues.

Thursday, October 20th, 2016


Bobby Shmurda has been sentenced to seven years in prison. He does not seem to be happy with his legal representation.


In Quick Response, de Blasio Calls Fatal Shooting of Mentally Ill Woman ‘Unacceptable’

The two men pledged a thorough investigation, and even as the inquiry was still in its earliest stages, the department took disciplinary action against the officer, Sgt. Hugh Barry, stripping him of his gun and badge and placing him on modified duty less than six hours after Ms. Danner was killed.

Sergeant Barry persuaded her to put down a pair of scissors she was holding in her bedroom, according to initial police accounts. But then, according to those same accounts, Ms. Danner picked up a baseball bat and tried to swing at Sergeant Barry. He fired twice, fatally wounding her, the police said. Several other officers were at the scene, but none of them, except Sergeant Barry, were in the bedroom.

I could rant about this at some length, especially the “use a stun gun” part. But that’s already been done better by somebody else.

I love this line, which Tam added since I first read her post:

The use of force spectrum is not like baseball. You do not have to touch every base. If you need to run straight home from second, that’s perfectly legal.

Where there’s smoke….

Friday, September 30th, 2016

…there may be flaming tax-fattened hyenas. And also, Monty Hall.

I intended to write about Dawnna Dukes and her sudden retirement announcement (too close to election day for her to be taken off the ballot, so we’ll probably end up with a special election next year). Lawrence, however, beat me to it.

But there’s a new development since Lawrence wrote his post.

According to the Statesman, quoting “a courthouse source”, Ms. Dukes and District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg are playing “Let’s Make a Deal”.

Prosecutors were prepared to ask a grand jury to indict the veteran Austin lawmaker before Dukes announced Monday that she will retire in January, said the source, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation. A lawyer for Dukes reached out to the district attorney’s office and is negotiating with prosecutors, who have delayed taking the case to a grand jury, the source said. No deal has been struck yet.

The DA isn’t commenting on any deal, but she does say Rep. Dukes’ retirement “will affect how we act but it’s not determinative,”

Her retirement announcement came the week after the Texas Rangers delivered their criminal investigation of Dukes to the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors were confident they could obtain indictments related to two issues, the source said: Dukes’ directing her legislative staff to work on non-governmental projects and do personal errands, and Dukes’ misusing her campaign account.

By the way:

Dukes’ state pension will be about $74,000 a year.

Nobody ever calls me “Sir”…

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

…unless they follow it with “You’re making a scene.”

Seriously, there’s a story in Austin that provides some food for contemplation. In brief, a crazed child molester tried to grab an eight-year old girl in the bathroom of a public library branch. Luckily, good citizens stepped in and the bad guy is in jail.

Before he tried to grab the eight-year-old, he tried to grab another girl:

An 11-year-old told her father while at the library a man grabbed her, picked her up, and tried to potentially kidnap her. When she yelled “help,” the man let her go. The girl’s father said they were about to leave after hearing about what happened when the suspect approached them again and “grabbed the victim by the wrist and said the girl was coming with him,” continued in the affidavit. The father told the suspect “don’t touch her” and Powell let her go.

The father is now second guessing himself.

“I still didn’t think of him as a serious threat at that point, I thought maybe he was a homeless guy, with mental issues. I didn’t want to cause a big disturbance, I just wanted to get out,” he said.

He did call 911, but it was after they left the library and were on their way home. By the time he called, the bad guy had already tried to grab the second girl.

“Beating a guy who I thought was homeless and had mental issues wouldn’t have made the situation any better. As far telling the librarian, I didn’t think he was a serious threat at that time,” says the father. “I thought he was some weird crazy homeless guy and someone would tell him to leave. Thought it would be the end, but sadly it wasn’t.”

I’m not criticizing the father in this situation at all. I can understand the desire to leave and just not make a scene. And it doesn’t seem like he had complete information at the time; only after they left did his daughter give him the details that triggered his 911 call.

But it does kind of make me think. The emphasis in license to carry training is on de-escalation, and rightly so. Famous quotes (and I forget who deserves credit for them): “Every bullet out of your gun has a $50,000 lawyer’s bill attached”. “Your best defense is a lifelong commitment to avoidance and de-escalation.”

All of this is true. No normal person wants to shoot anyone. A commitment to avoidance and de-escalation is the right (and practical) thing to do.

But we can’t avoid the world.

We talk about scenarios as a way of furthering our situational awareness. “What would I do if that guy came at me with a broken milk carton?” Maybe, just maybe, one thing we should be doing is thinking about when we shouldn’t make a scene – when we should de-escalate – and when making a scene is justified.

Breaking news from the blotter.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Suspect number three in the shooting of Judge Kocurek is now in custody.

According to the Statesman report, he was run to ground in New Orleans.

According to federal authorities, Burgin led federal agents on a car chase in Southwest Houston on Sept. 22 that resulted in a crash and a foot chase. Burgin escaped and had been a fugitive ever since.

It seemed to me that the HouChron (at least online: I don’t see the print edition these days) was awfully quiet about the chase, the search, and the $10,000 reward that was offered for this guy.

Onyeri and the others are accused of committing mail fraud, bribery of a public official, wire fraud, document fraud, access device fraud and money laundering from January 2012 to November 2015 in Austin, Houston, the state of Louisiana and surrounding areas.

Impressive resume, even without the “tried to kill a judge” part.


Friday, September 23rd, 2016

I’m stuck blogging from the phone, but quickly:

Three men, including the previously named suspect, have been indicted for the attempted murder of Judge Kocurek.

I’ve written about this previously, but don’t ask me to find links now. Seriously, phone blogging sucks.

Apparently, two out of three (including the original suspect) are in custody: number three got away during a chase last night and is on the run.

A few notes from the police blotter…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

…or, in this case, sort of the blotter.

The City of Austin approved a budget for next fiscal year in an 8-2 vote. The approved budget “will charge the typical resident about $87 more in city taxes and fees next year”.

And what will we get for the money?

Next year’s operations include a 2 percent pay increase for city employees, to kick in during the pay period before Christmas. There’s funding for a new curbside composting program, at a cost of $4.2 million to the city and a phased-in cost of $64.80 to homeowners after five years. There’s $600,000 more for housing aimed at reducing homelessness.

But the news isn’t all bad. The city is hiring eight new employees to do DNA testing. (But the lab is relying on grant money and whatever they can scrounge elsewhere to actually get the testing done.) And the Transportation Department is hiring 13 new people, “most of which will be dedicated to traffic signal timing”. Traffic signal timing? In Austin? You don’t say.

And what of the cops? What of APD’s request for more officers?

In the new budget, Adler explained, Austin will add 52 emergency service workers, 12 police officers, 21 civilian police staff and 38 development service employees intended to speed up Austin’s notoriously arduous permitting and building inspection process.

Exactly what the city manager asked for. (Well, the cops and police staff anyway: I don’t know about the development staff.)

As a side note, I mentioned when I was taking the Citizen’s Police Academy class earlier this year that we got to go on a tour of the forensics lab. I’m attending CPA again this fall, but as an alumnus rather than a student. (What this means in practice is that I’m basically volunteering to help set stuff up before the class, knock things down after the class, and sit in the back and keep my mouth shut during the class.)

Point of this digression: the lab tour isn’t being offered to CPA students this time around.

In other news, the APD suspended an officer for 20 days for improper use of a stun gun: specifically, the officer tasered a restrained person.

The other part of the story: the guy who was Tasered is the same guy who got pepper-sprayed in the back of the police van.

Wilson had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. At the booking facility, Wilson was restrained with handcuffs and a set of belly chain handcuffs, but later stood up from a chair and argued with several officers. Wilson refused to remain seated and a struggle ensued, the memo said.
Jimenez fired her stun gun once at Wilson, discharging a five-second pulse as the struggle concluded, the memo said.

Apparently, Tasering a handcuffed possibly drunk guy who is struggling with officers is FROWNED UPON IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT!

Jimenez admitted during her disciplinary review hearing that she should have used less violent means to control Wilson. She expressed regret for her actions, the memo said.

No appeal is once again part of the deal.

And from the department of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”: the APD shot and killed a guy earlier today. The initial reports make it sound like a good shoot: they got a call about a suspicious guy wandering around an apartment complex with a backpack looking into cars, responded, didn’t find him initially, came back 2o minutes later after a second report and found him…

Officers radioed for air support and K9 units to help find the man as they continued to chase him on foot. An officer eventually ran the man down and used his stun gun to try to make an arrest, officials said.

The guy went down, the officers stated yelling at him to show his hands, he initially wasn’t compliant, and then…

“What we can see on video is that the suspect very quickly rolls over, produces a handgun and begins firing shots at our officers,” Manley said. “Our officers immediately retreat and return fire. There are multiple shots that are fired, again by both the suspect who initiated the gunfire and our officer who returned fire.”

Part of the referenced video (taken by a resident of the complex, not the police) is on the KVUE website. It isn’t the best quality, and I swear I saw a better version elsewhere, but it seems to show exactly what the APD is saying happened: they told the guy to roll over, he came up shooting…

(Edited to add 9/16: the video I was thinking of is on Facebook and linked from this Reddit thread. I recommend ignoring the comments.)

Noted: this is the second fatal police shooting in Austin in 10 days. A week ago Monday, the APD shot a man whp was wandering around an apartment complex holding a “high-powered rifle”: the police took cover, repeatedly asked the man to drop the weapon, actually shot him several times with “beanbag” rounds, and finally (the exact chain of events is currently unclear) shot the man. It sounds like classic “suicide by cop”: the man was being described as emotionally distraught after a recent break-up with his girlfriend.

Obit watch: September 15, 2016.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Julio Gonzalez is burning in hell.

You may not remember the name, but you probably remember the crime. Maybe you were alive then, or maybe you’ve heard me talk about it in the context of gun politics.

Early in the morning on March 25, 1990, Mr. Gonzalez got into an argument with his girlfriend at the Happy Land Social Club, where she worked as a coat check girl. Mr. Gonzales was ejected by a bouncer.

According to testimony, Mr. Gonzalez walked three blocks to an Amoco service station, where he found an empty one-gallon container and bought $1 worth of gasoline from an attendant he knew there. He returned to the club. Upstairs, a disc jockey had just spun the reggae tune “Young Lover,” by Cocoa Tea.
Mr. Gonzalez splashed the gasoline at the bottom of a rickety staircase, the club’s only means of exit, and ignited it. Then he went home and fell asleep.

The resulting fire killed 87 people. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in United States history.

Mr. Gonzalez was tried and sentenced to 87 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.

The Happy Land inferno left some 90 children as orphans. More than 40 parents lost sons or daughters. Five of the victims were students at nearby Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Mr. Gonzalez first became eligible for parole in March of last year. He was denied at the time, but would have been eligible again in November of this year.

Cahiers du cinéma: September 11, 2016.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

We were watching movies last night, and a question came up. I don’t remember the exact context, but basically: was The Paper Chase actually John Houseman’s first film?

The answer turns out to be: yes, and no, and it’s interesting.

Before The Paper Chase, Houseman is listed as having an uncredited (and I assume small) role in the film adaptation of Seven Days In May.

But before that, in 1938, Houseman was in something called Too Much Johnson. Just the name sparked immense hilarity among our little group (though to be fair, it was also late) but there’s an interesting story here. Too Much Johnson was never shown in public while Houseman was alive…

As most of my readers probably know, long before he was Professor Kingsfield, Houseman had quite a stage career. Among his other credits, he was a leading member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre. Welles had an idea: he wanted the Mercury Theatre to do an adaptation of a 1894 comedy, also called “Too Much Johnson”, by William Gillette. But he also wanted to integrate a silent film into the stage production.

Welles planned to mix live action and film for this production. The film was designed to run 40 minutes, with 20 minutes devoted to the play’s prologue and two 10-minute introductions for the second and third act. Welles planned to create a silent film in the tradition of the Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, in order to enhance the various chases, duels and comic conflicts of the Gillette play.

There’s some very funny stuff about Welles editing the film, in his hotel suite, while up to his knees (according to Houseman) in nitrate film. Another of Welles collaborators recalls the film catching fire in the projector, Welles being so absorbed in the editing he didn’t even notice…

“What I remember, most remarkably, is me running with the projector in my hand, burning, trying to get out of the door into the goddamn hallway, and Houseman racing for the door at the same time … while Orson, with absolutely no concern whatsoever, was back inside, standing and looking at some piece of film in his hand, smoking his pipe.”

Anyway, they put the film together and went to stage “Too Much Johnson” at a place called the Stony Creek Theatre in Connecticut before they took it to Broadway. But there was a problem: the ceiling in the Stony Creek Theatre was “too low” for film projection. So the Mercury Theatre staged “Too Much Johnson” without the movie part. Depending on who you believe, the audience reaction was poor. In any case, Welles shelved the “Too Much Johnson” project before he finished editing it: in later years, he claimed that he’d looked at the stored footage, and it still looked pristine. But that footage was destroyed in a 1970 fire at Welles home, and the movie was presumed lost…

…until 2008, when a copy was discovered in Spain. The film was restored and shown for the first time in late 2013. In 2015, the combined film/stage production was staged for the first time. And now you can watch the 66 minute work print and reconstructed 34 minute edit of “Too Much Johnson” at the National Film Preservation Foundation website.

This is probably too much “Too Much Johnson” for most of you, but I make no apologies for my interest in Welles and his work, and I think this is a great story even without Welles and Houseman.

After the jump, topic changes…


The other scandal I wanted to touch on…

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

My major source of information on this is an article in the WP. I haven’t seen very much English-language coverage elsewhere, but I welcome links if anyone has them.

There’s a place in Sweden called the Karolinska Institute, a medical school with an associated teaching/research hospital, the Karolinska University Hospital.

The hospital, up until March of this year, employed a scientist, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini. It seems that Dr. Macchiarini was kind of a hot shot:

Macchiarini captured headlines in 2011, a year after he had been recruited by the institute, for his work in regenerative medicine. That year he implanted a “bioartificial” trachea, one made from plastic and the patient’s own stem cells, into a man named Andemariam Beyene.

This is kind of cool, at least to me. Regenerative medicine is sort of a holy grail: imagine if, instead of a heart transplant and the lifetime of anti-rejection/immunosuppressivee drugs, you could just grow a new heart? Or liver? Or spleen?

(Tangentially related: Isabelle Dinoire died in April, though her death is just now being reported in accordance with her family’s wishes. Ms. Dinore was the first person to receive a partial face transplant, and her death is being attributed in part to the immunosuppressive drugs she had been taking.)

So what went wrong?

But in January 2014, as the Iceland Review noted, the trachea Macchiarini had implanted became loose, killing Beyene.

“trachea…became loose”. But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini did three of these surgeries. Two of the patients are dead, and the third has been in intensive care since 2012.

But wait, there’s more:

The investigator who examined his studies said that Macchiarini was guilty of scientific misconduct by omitting or fabricating information about his patients’ postoperative status to make the procedure seem more successful than it really was.

But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini didn’t get signed consent forms from two of the patients, and the one he did get isn’t valid. (“that one signed form would not have been approved’ since the patient wasn’t afforded the option of discussing the procedure with an independent medical expert”).

But wait, there’s more:

The report pointed out that a different synthetic material was used in each transplant, which hinted at a lack of research into which one actually worked and suggested an unreadiness for usage in human beings.

There was also illegal use of “growth-stimulating drugs” without proper permits.

But wait, there’s more! It isn’t just that Dr. Macchiarini was a rogue researcher who has since been fired:

The English version of the report stated:

There are many instances of KI [Karolinska Institute – DB] employees being involved in the discussions preceding and following up surgery. KI has also, in several contexts, cited the transplantations as part of its own activities. For example, they have been quoted as research successes in KI’s evaluations of how research funding has been utilized.

This report opined that KI never should have hired Macchiarini in the first place, considering the references the institution received concerning the surgeon.

It was the usual stuff: negative references, false information on his CV, you know the drill.

Lastly, the report found the hospital extended Macchiarini’s contract twice — once in 2013 and one in 2015 — with “no real evaluation or assessment of Macchiarini’s work.”

But. Wait. There’s. More.

The Karolinska Institute is very closely tied to the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

On Tuesday, the Nobel Assembly, which is in charge of choosing the recipient of the institution’s prize for physiology or medicine, asked Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson and Anders Hamsten, two of its 50 judges, to resign. Both are former vice chancellors of the Karolinska Institute, the Swedish medical university associated with the Karolinska University Hospital that employed Macchiarini.

(If I understand correctly, those 50 judges are just the ones who decide on the medicine prize.)

The Swedish Minister of Higher Education also fired Wallberg-Henriksson from her position as “Sweden’s chancellor of all public universities”. The minister is also demanding that everyone who was on the board of the Karolinska Institute while Dr. Macchiarini was employed there resign. “Any who choose not to resign will be replaced, Reuters reported.”

By the way: Dr. Macchiarini is also being criminally investigated. It looks like the prosecutors may press involuntary manslaughter charges against him, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

(It occurs to me: this would make for another great “Law and Order” script. Your cold open is a guy walking down the street with his girlfriend when he suddenly drops dead, coroner finds the loose trachea, McCoy charges the doctor with murder…)

(Question for any TV writers who might be reading this: is it okay to write spec scripts for shows that aren’t on the air any longer?)

Edited to add: Just found this: a February article from Vanity Fair. Seems that NBC News did a two-hour long documentary on Dr. Macchiarini.

I swear, I need an AutoText for “But wait, there’s more”: Dr. Macchiarini was also involved in a romance with the producer of the documentary. As in, they were going to get married. By the Pope. Who personally approved their marriage, even though they were both divorced and she is Episcopalian. And who was going to host the wedding at Castel Gandolfo.

“…Who the hell are you and what the hell is wrong with you?”

Today’s update from Oakland.

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Four Oakland police officers involved in a sexual misconduct scandal will be fired, and seven more suspended without pay, for shocking violations that include attempted sexual assault and assisting in the crime of prostitution, city leaders said Wednesday.

Among the alleged offenses, the most startling are that the four officers facing termination committed one or more of the following: attempted sexual assault; engaging in lewd conduct in public; assisting in the crime of prostitution; assisting in the evading arrest for the crime of prostitution; accessing police databases for personal gain; lying to investigators; failing to report allegations of a minor having sex with officers and bringing disrepute to the police department.

In slightly old, but related news, the young woman in question is being held in a Florida jail on charges of “aggravated battery”. Her bail is set at $300,000.

Why was she in Florida? Would you believe drug rehab?

Guap and her mother both told the East Bay Express that the drug-treatment was funded through the Richmond Police Department (RPD), an allegation that has raised eyebrows among people following the investigation into Guap’s prostitution claims (which include RPD officers). “I’m not saying rehab is a bad idea, but there are rehab programs here,” said civil-rights attorney Pamela Price, who is leading a call for the state to take over the investigation from individual agencies involved.

(I feel like I should note here that this is just what “Guap” and her family are claiming. The RPD refuses to confirm or deny that they paid for the treatment.)

And what led up to the aggravated battery? Would you believe drug withdrawal?

Guap’s alleged victim, a detox-center security guard named Joseph Sanders, claimed Guap was getting (verbally) upset with a facility care staffer so he and two other security guards entered the room. At that point, Guap tried to pull a safe off of the room’s countertop and, “when the security officers intervened, [Guap] began resisting, starting a physical altercation,” according to an arrest affidavit. Guap began “screaming at the employees then lunged at one of the female security officers. Sanders attempted to restrain” Guap, at which point she bit his right forearm.

(By the way, “Guap” is not the young woman’s real name, which is why I haven’t edited it out.)