Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Books in brief.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I’ve ranted to some of my friends about Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me and I should probably post a longer review here. (Short version: now I know why there aren’t more books following an author during their writing process.)

But you know how it is. Mom likes Jack Reacher, and I kind of do as well, so when I found a copy of Night School at Half-Price I grabbed it.

And I think it’s actually a pretty okay book. It still has some of the things that have started to grate on me (Reacher makes women’s clothes fall off: Reacher takes on seven guys at once), but the annoyances are modulated by a couple of factors:

  • This is a “historical” Reacher rather than a “contemporary” Reacher. Night School Reacher is still in the Army, and the book is set sometime between 1993 and 1999.
  • Frances Neagley from Without Fail and Bad Luck and Trouble is a major character (introduced early on, and cleverly, so I don’t think this is a spoiler). I like Neagley, and not just because Reacher doesn’t make her clothes fall off; she’s smart, at least as smart as Reacher and possibly smarter, and there are hints of an interesting backstory. I’d read an entire “Adventures of Frances Neagley, PI” novel if Child ever decided to write one.

There’s an interesting MacGuffin (who is “the American” and what is he selling for $100 million?), some clever procedural work, and a satisfying level of ass-kicking (seven against Reacher aside). Night School isn’t a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I don’t have a Single Action Army (yet) but I grabbed a copy of Shooting Colt Single Actions in All Styles, Calibers, & Generations from Half-Price right after Christmas (it was 20% off, so I picked it up for relatively short money). It seems like HPB got in a fair amount of relatively obscure gun books from someone or somewhere. (I also got a copy of Compliments of Col. Ruger in the same purchase.)

Venturino’s book, while about 20 years out of date, is still informative. I don’t know that much has changed in the world of Colt Single Actions since 1995. (Except for prices, and I suspect some of his listed vendors have closed up shop.) The most interesting thing about my copy of the book, though? When I’m reading it, I can just faintly smell Hoppe’s #9 or some other form of gun cleaner/lubricant coming off the pages. Someone must really have loved this book, and their guns.

(It isn’t an annoying smell, at least to me. I own a few books that used to belong to smokers; as any serious book collector will tell you, that’s annoying.)

One of my Christmas presents from my beloved and indulgent sister was Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life, a book I was previously unaware of (but which was a NYT bestseller). I’ll confess that I was initially a little bit skeptical about Spy Secrets, mostly because the author set off my “reality show contestant” radar. (He apparently appeared on “Shark Tank” and got a deal.)

My reality show skepticism was offset early on when Jason Hanson came out and said: he’s a gun guy, who has a permit, carries everywhere he legally can, and hangs out in gun shops. But Spy Secrets isn’t a gun book, nor is it a text on mastering covert tradecraft. Hanson’s emphasis is on protecting yourself through:

  • awareness – paying attention and knowing how to spot possible trouble.
  • avoidance – staying out of trouble and, if you stumble into it, not making it worse
  • preparedness – if you do get in trouble, what do you have and what do you know that can get you out, or at least keep you alive until the cavalry gets there?

I’m probably not the best person to evaluate this book – I’d love to see a take from Weaponsman or Karl – but Hanson impresses me as sane and practical. I do have one small quibble with his advice, but beyond that I feel comfortable recommending Spy Secrets. And if you have a high school or college freshman around, I think you could do a pretty good deed if you bought them a copy of this book, a nice tactical pen, and a good quality pocket-sized flashlight.

(My one quibble? I disagree with Hanson about the value of smartphones and text messaging. I agree with him that smartphones detract from situational awareness: I’m conscious of that in my own life and need to work on it. But it is also a well known fact that, in emergency situations where the cell network is overloaded, text messages have a much better chance of going through than phone calls. If you’ve got someone to watch your six, or can dictate a text to Siri, texting “Meet me at the meeting place” may be the smart way to go.)

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#35 in a series)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Lawrence beat me to it, but only because I have to wait until my lunch hour to blog.

According to “a person with knowledge of the case”, state representative Dawnna Dukes has been indicted by a grand jury.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, faces two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity and 13 felony counts of tampering with public records, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

She could get 28 years in prison, but we all know there’s no way in heck she’s going to get that much of a sentence if she is convicted. (I know, these are state, not federal, charges, but Ken’s principle still applies.)

You may remember Rep. Dukes was playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with DA Lehmburg late last year. Ms. Dukes decided she wasn’t going to resign after all because “the people” wanted her to stay (in spite of her poor attendance record).

When guns are outlawed…

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

,,.only outlaws will have ninja swords and daggers.

A local DJ was attacked Friday night in his apartment.

…when he opened the door…who was wearing a ski mask, began attacking him with a Katana sword.
“I didn’t know what else to do, so I just grabbed [the sword] with my hand,” Angel said. “Blood was just dripping down the blade.” Angel said…then pulled out a dagger and stabbed him in the back.

What makes this kind of noteworthy is that the alleged ninja is also the owner of a fairly prominent local bar. (Never been there, but have heard of it: mostly in the context of, “In spite of the name, this has nothing to do with A Clockwork Orange.”)

Obit watch: January 15, 2017.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

Tommy Allsup, guitarist, producer, and historical footnote.

As a guitarist, he was touring as a part of Buddy Holly’s band in February of 1959. This is the same tour that Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson were on…

Mr. Allsup flipped a coin to see whether he or Valens would get a seat on the plane. He lost and took a bus to the next stop on the tour.
Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside. Their deaths were recalled as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie.”

For the record: William Peter “The Exorcist” Blatty. NYT. WP.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I hate to see nearly 150 years of history flushed down the drain, and I’m sad for the circus population that’s going to lose their jobs (and possibly, for some of them, homes). I’m also sad that this decision appears to have some roots in the organized campaigns by various “animal welfare” organizations. (Remember, when you see those sad animals on TV and Sarah McLachlan in the backgrond: that money’s going to pay Ringling’s legal fees.)

On the other hand…the last time I went to a Ringling Circus was over 30 years ago, before my first attempt at college. And what I remember most about it from that time was that I found it kind of sad and depressing. It isn’t that I’m some sort of crypto-animal-rights activist; it just felt like there was something sad and wrong about the whole thing. I guess I’m sad for the people, and sad for the lost history, but I’m not so sad for the institution itself. (And as the article notes, Feld Entertainment has a bunch of other stuff going on, much of which appears to contain the phrase “…On Ice!” so they’ll probably do okay for a while longer.)

Random notes: January 13, 2017.

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Actual headline from the NYT:

It’s Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you from a consent decree.

I feel a possible rant coming on about questionable legislation and questionable journalism, but I’m still trying to pull together information and run this past some friends for a sanity check.

Justice Dept. releases scathing report, says Chicago police officers have pattern of using excessive, unconstitutional force

Investigators excoriated the department and city officials alike for what it called “systemic deficiencies.” The report also said investigators determined that the Chicago police force has not provided officers with proper guidance for using force, failed to hold them accountable when they use improper force and has not properly investigated such incidents. They also faulted the city’s methods of handling officer discipline, saying that process “lacks integrity.”

Everyone together now, on three. One…two…three.

Obit watch: January 11, 2017.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Michael Chamberlain, ex-husband of Lindy Chamberlain and father of Azaria Chamberlain.

You may remember the Chamberlains from the “dingo ate my baby” case, which I have touched on before.

Detective Steven McDonald of the NYPD. Det. McDonald was shot by a 15-year-old boy in 1986. The shooting left him completely paralyzed from the neck down.

A plainclothes police officer when he was shot, Officer McDonald remained on the Police Department’s payroll afterward as a first-grade detective, at times appearing at roll calls and offering support for wounded officers.
His son, Conor, who was born six months after the shooting, is a sergeant with the New York Police Department and represents the fourth generation of the family to serve in the department.

Annals of law (#11 in a series)

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

This is bizarre, too bizarre not to make note of here. It is also a little squicky, so I’m going to put a jump here and the main body of this post after the jump. Also, trigger warning.

(more…)

Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.

Monday, January 9th, 2017

One thing the Citizen’s Police Academy “suggests” is that you should reserve judgement on incidents involving the police – if not until all the facts are in, at least until we’re past the initial reports stage.

With that said, this doesn’t look good.

Yesterday, the APD arrested a man at one of our local malls. He was charged with shoplifting, but APD couldn’t determine his identity and suspected he had open felony warrants. So they loaded him into the back of a squad car and headed downtown for fingerprints.

On the way, the handcuffed gentleman told the officer he was feeling suicidal. The officer asked him if he had the means to kill himself…

…whereupon the gentleman in question pulled a gun out of his waistband and, after a brief standoff, shot himself in the head.

The obvious question is: how did police not find the gun?

An Austin police officer did not conduct a thorough pat-down of a man who shot himself Sunday in the back of a police car because the man already had been handcuffed by mall security, a preliminary investigation of the incident has found.

Other than the obvious lesson about assumptions getting you killed, I’m also wondering: how big was the gun? If it was a full-sized 1911, that’s one thing: Ray Charles probably wouldn’t have missed that. Then again, if it was a full-size 1911, the guy would probably be dead, instead of critical. If it was something like a NAA .22, or possibly even a Ruger LCP, missing it is a little more understandable to me.

Merry Christmas, Lee Baca.

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

The former sheriff of LA county got to open his present a few days early:

A mistrial was declared Thursday in the corruption case against former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca after a jury failed to reach a verdict on charges that he tried to obstruct an FBI investigation into allegations that deputies abused jail inmates.

The LAT reports that the jury was “split 11 to 1 in favor of an acquittal”, which makes me wonder if the prosecution is even going to attempt a re-trial. As noted previously, Baca is also in “the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease”; an attempt at a retrial may run into competency issues.

Related LAT editorial:

If hypocrisy, mismanagement and detachment were crimes, Baca would surely be staring down a long prison term.
But they are not, and they do not warrant criminal conviction or incarceration.

Los Angeles County is such a huge and virtually ungovernable county that any sheriff may be found wanting as a manager.

How hard is it not to beat prisoners and obstruct justice?

APD. DNA. FUBAR.

Friday, December 16th, 2016

The Austin Police Department has abandoned plans to reopen the DNA and forensic serology labs.

“We have failed in the area that is under question now with some of our DNA operations and some of the issues that came forward through the Forensic Science Commission audit,” [Police Chief Brian] Manley said. “For that I take responsibility and I am working with a team of leaders to push this forward so that our community has a system that works for them.”

Props to Chief Blast HardCheese for stepping up and taking responsibilty. But:

Since the DNA began operating in 2004, it has passed 17 audits and held national accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

Question number 1: how did the lab manage to pass 17 audits and get accreditation if it’s been badly run since the beginning?

Question number 1a: did the problems just start recently? If so, how and why?

Question numero dos: The lab opened in 2004. Chief HardCheese has been chief for about two weeks now: before that, he was an assistant chief, and I’m not sure how much day to day input he had into lab operations.

You know who did have a lot of input into lab operations? You know who was the HMFWIC when things went to hell in a handbasket? Yes, you do know, don’t you?

By the way, that’s not the only lab news today. The guy that was hired to run the lab? He’s no longer running the lab. And not just because the lab isn’t reopening:

Milne was hired to be Austin police’s chief forensic officer and earned $111,384 a year, police officials said. Manley said he has heard concerns from within the criminal justice community about Milne’s background and qualifications. Manley said he pulled Milne’s academic transcripts, which led him to conclude that Milne did not have adequate qualifications to run the functions of the lab.
“This individual has been removed from his role overseeing any functions at the lab and he is not associated with the lab at this time,” Manley said. “His future at this point is something we are working on determining how we will work through that.”

Perhaps I am a little biased here, but I’m starting to like Chief HardCheese more. I actually heard him speak last night, and he’s a pretty good speaker. He hasn’t done anything to irritate me yet. He hasn’t made any stupid public statements on guns. He’s a St. Ed’s graduate. (Hilltoppers represent!) And he actually seems to be making efforts to clean up this mess.

Lab watch.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Lawrence forwarded a story from “Community Impact”, one of those free neighborhood papers, that I thought was worthy of note.

The gist of it is that the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS from this point forward because I don’t want to keep typing that) is willing to get involved with fixing the DNA testing issues in the APD forensics lab.

CAPDS is proposing a 5-year process to review the city’s DNA cases to determine how what happened with the lab will affect past and pending court cases, and to look forward at best practices for DNA testing, Strassburger said.

Well, that sounds great. But what do they need? Money. And what does Travis County not have a whole lot of? Money.

[county judge Sarah] Eckhardt said she has asked the city to take $1.4 million identified in the city’s budget process for additional personnel in the DNA lab and apply it toward these efforts.

Meanwhile, the Statesman is saying that fixing the DNA lab problems could cost…well…

According to records obtained by the Statesman, models for such reviews involve varying levels of expert input and use of appellate attorneys. The most expensive carries a $14.4 million estimated price tag while the least expensive is about $6 million.

More:

According to the organization, county officials could assign an attorney to each case that used DNA evidence analyzed by the lab to review it and “file appropriate motions” for a minimum cost of $13.2 million. Or it could choose a more expensive option in which attorneys would do a deeper review of cases using two attorneys from the outset to learn which might have potential issues — for $14.4 million.
The last option — at a cost of $6 million — would involve the county or city hiring new lawyers to handle the cases instead of using outside attorneys.

Oh, by the way, this doesn’t include the costs associated with actually getting the lab up and running again.

And, in an also related story: after the lab was closed, the APD asked the Texas DPS crime lab to do retraining of some of the DNA analysts.

But Monday, DPS officials told the department they had lost faith in most of the staffers they were working with — and wouldn’t be returning.
Instead, according to a one-page letter obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, only a select two from a staff of six DNA analysts are invited to a state facility to continue training in a “supportive environment.”

More:

In a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office, Brady Mills, deputy assistant director of the DPS crime lab, wrote that the last four months of working together have shown that “there are significant challenges that impact confidence in the work product” of some of the lab’s DNA analysts.
“This has been demonstrated through our personal interactions with the group as well as the practical work product that has been completed and reviewed thus far,” Mills wrote. “Coupled with the expressed belief by your office that those senior analysts may no longer be utilized for expert testimony, APD and DPS plan to move forward with a new course of action.”

The position of DNA analyst (which requires a bachelor’s degree) in the APD lab starts at $23.44 an hour. I believe when I started doing enterprise tech support at Dell, I was making $22 an hour and that was in 2006: I would expect that by now, Dell’s paying closer to $23.44, if not more, and I also suspect enterprise tech support is easier than DNA analysis.

I want to be very very careful with what I say here. I don’t want to seem like I’m sneering at anyone. I couldn’t do this work, and I believe the people who do are motivated by things other than pay. But when DPS says 2/3rds of the people sent over for retraining, can’t be retrained? Is the DPS training that much more demanding than APD’s? Is there something else going on here? Or is the simple explanation also the correct one: APD’s been hiring people who are wrong for the job, and it finally caught up with them?

More weird intersections.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

This is kind of a weird three-fer. Sort of one of those triangle intersections.

A woman bought “$23,000” worth of “Hatchimals” which I am given to understand is this year’s hot Christmas toy. (Personally, they sound stupid to me, but I am not a small child.)

…purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151— spending more than $23,000 — with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price.

Interestingly, eBay has apparently imposed limits on “Hatchimals” sales.

“I have a fortune invested, only one venue to offload them, and in only three weeks they will magically transform into useless pumpkins that will take up space in my office FOREVER, and have caused my financial ruin,” [she] wrote. “Oh, and I’ll still owe the lawyers.”

…she paid $23,595.31 to buy 156 of the toys before realizing she wouldn’t be allowed to resell them on EBay. The site only lets users post three Hatchimals auctions per week.

So why is some random woman’s attempt to profit on the backs of hard-working parents who just want to get their children a toy for Christmas interesting?

Intersection number 1: the random woman is author Sara “Water for Elephants” Gruen.

This raises questions: namely, why would Ms. Gruen, who is surely rolling in all that sweet Oprah’s Book Club and movie money, embark on this quest to profit on the backs yadda yadda? And why wouldn’t she have checked eBay polices before spending $23,000?

I don’t have an answer for the second question. As for the first, that’s intersection number 2:

On her Shopify site, Gruen wrote that the mission of her store is “to get justice for a wrongfully convicted man who was sentenced to LWOP(Life Without Parole) 23 years ago, and who has been incarcerated since.”

More:

Gruen has declined to offer any details about the man she says she’s trying to help by selling the toys. She told the Philly Voice she’s working on documentary series about the case, and that his identity will be revealed soon.

Curious. I might watch that series, if shows up anyplace I have access to, mostly because I wonder how she got involved in this case.

Edited to add: Got to remember. Always, always do the math.

She’s selling the toys, which come with an autographed copy of one of her five books, for $189 each. Batteries — for the Hatchimal — are included.

$189 times 156 is $29,484. Subtract the $23,595.31 she paid, and that leaves a gross profit of $5888.69. And that’s before the cost of the batteries, whatever she’s paying for the copies of her books (unless she just has 156 copies lying around the house), and assuming she sells all of them. (The article says she’s given four away to “needy kids”, which reduces her gross that much more.)

Doesn’t $5,000 seem like a relatively paltry amount to fund a documentary? Heck, couldn’t she have raised that on Kickstarter without the whole exploiting parents yadda yadda angle?