Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Musings of a cigarette smoking man…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Working from an office suite behind a Burger King in southern Virginia, operatives used a web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account. They weren’t known smugglers, but rather agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The operation, not authorized under Justice Department rules, gave agents an off-the-books way to finance undercover investigations and pay informants without the usual cumbersome paperwork and close oversight, according to court records and people close to the operation.

Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. That rings a faint bell. It reminds me of something BATFE did during the previous administration. Give me a moment, it’s on the tip of my tongue…

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

A quick roundup of some police related news, mostly for RoadRich, but perhaps of interest to my regular readers.

APD’s latest officer-involved shooting. There don’t seem to be any updates since late last night, but so far this is sounding like just another sad story: police responded to a call in South Austin, a woman in her 20s fled, tried to run over offices, crashed, exited her vehicle and brandished a knife at one of the responding officers, and…

By way of Hognose over at Weaponsman: the chief of the Punta Gorda, Florida police department has been charged with “culpable negligence” and one of his officers has been charged with felony manslaughter. This is related to the citizen’s police academy shooting that I’ve discussed previously in this space.

(Interesting note: my mother and I started the Lakeway Citizen’s Police Academy last night. The officer who was teaching last night (also the second-in-command of the Lakeway PD) mentioned the Punta Gorda incident in the context of “things we won’t be doing in this class”.)

(I might discuss the Lakeway CPA in more detail at some point down the road. My initial impression is that there are a lot of differences between it and the Austin CPA; some of those are probably do to the relative size of the departments, the available resources, and the length of time the programs have been in operation. My class is the 14th for the Lakeway CPA: my Austin CPA class was the 87th, and I’m currently helping out with the 91st class.)

The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay more than $13.2 million to settle lawsuits involving police misconduct since the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an officer-shooting death that came at a time when the public started scrutinizing police actions.

(Hattip: Tim Cushing.)

I wish there was more context in this article. $13.2 million over 26 months sounds like a lot of money, but how does this compare to other cities over the same time frame? How much have cities like Chicago, New York, and Austin paid out over the same period? How does this break down on a per capita or per officer basis?

(Wikipedia estimates the current population of Cleveland at just under 400,000. Let’s take that as a base number. That’s $33 per citizen. “More than 1,600” people are on the police force: just for grins, let’s round up to 1,700. That’s $7,764.70 per employee, which would include both sworn and non-sworn.)

(The population of Austin was about 931,000 in 2016, and there’s about 1,800 people on the APD staff, both sworn and non-sworn. It’s interesting that the Cleveland PD has somewhere between 100 and 200 fewer officers for a city with less than half the population and a third of the area. But I digress. Unfortunately, I don’t have a figure for settlements paid out by the city since November 2014. But I will note, since I haven’t previously: last week, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of the naked 17-year-old shot by an APD officer.)

Obit watch: February 22, 2017.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The Statesman is reporting the death of Gary Cartwright, one of the best of the Texas Monthly stable of writers and author of several true crime books.

I’d been reading Cartwright’s work for TM since…well, since my family first moved to Texas and started subscribing to Texas Monthly, and that was (mumble mumble) years ago.

I don’t see an actual tribute on their website yet, but I’m sure one is in progress and I’ll link it here. About 2 1/2 years ago, when Cartwright turned 80, they did run a tribute to him which contains links to other TM writers favorite stories. (Some of my favorites from that list: “Leroy’s Revenge”, which you should not read if you love dogs, but has a sort of gonzo feel to it. “Otis Crater was late for the fanciers’ organizational meeting at the Cherokee Lounge for good reason. He had just stabbed a U-Totem attendant following a discussion of the economic impact of a five-cent price increase on a six-pack of beer.” Also, his profiles of noted stripper Candy Barr and private investigator Jay J. Armes.)

I confess: I haven’t read Blood Will Tell yet: I probably should, but the main reason I haven’t is that I was reading Cartwright’s coverage of T. Cullen Davis in the magazine as it was happening. I have read, and endorse, Dirty Dealing, his book on the Judge John Wood killing and the Chagra family.

Even though I think TM has been going downhill recently (my mother dropped her subscription last year after (mumble mumble) years), I always found Cartwright’s work a high point in any issue. He can’t be replaced.

Edited to add: tribute by John Spong.

More detailed Statesman obit.

Edited to add 2/23: also from TM, “23 Writers and Editors Remember Gary Cartwright”.

Silly season.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

A few random items, some more silly than others.

  1. “I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. I am glad that I do not hold such power. Presidents should not have unlimited power. I would not want to hold this position if I could pass laws forbidding that which I don’t like. I would not want to live in such a country. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”
    (I don’t have strong feelings about pineapple on pizza, but I like this guy.)
  2. Wayne Shaw is a backup goalkeeper for the Sutton United soccer team. “His own team referred to him as the Roly Poly Goalie. He is 46 years old, 6-foot-2 and somewhere around 322 pounds, or 23 stone as the British papers usually put it.” During their game against Arsenal on Monday, Mr. Shaw ate a meat pie on the sidelines. There was a spot bet that he’d do this, which paid off at 8-1.
    Problem: Mr. Shaw admitted that he was aware of the spot bet; and, while he didn’t bet personally, he was aware of other people who had. This could be considered “spot fixing”.

    On Tuesday, Shaw was forced to resign from the club after the Football Association’s gambling commission said it would investigate if consumption of the pie was a breach of betting regulations.

    (For the record, it was a “meat and potato” pie. The paper of record does not report the pussy content of the meat pie. Also, note that this silly article already has two corrections appended.)

  3. I haven’t been following this story closely (the Atlanta newspapers aren’t part of my nutritious media breakfast) but the NYT has a rundown of the Atlanta city contracting scandal, which includes bricks through windows and dead rodents left on doorsteps.

Obit watch: February 20, 2017.

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Norma McCorvey. You may know her better as the “Roe” in ‘Roe v. Wade”.

Noted: Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind cleric”, is burning in hell.

In 1995, Mr. Abdel Rahman was convicted, along with nine others, on charges of seditious conspiracy in Federal District Court in Manhattan for a plot to bomb landmarks and infrastructure hubs, although the plans were never carried out. While prosecutors asserted he had been involved in the 1993 attack, six other men were convicted after the vehicle identification number from a rental van linked to the perpetrators was found in the rubble.

Art quickie.

Monday, February 13th, 2017

I don’t feel like this justifies a full “Art (Acevedo) Watch”, but noted:

Police Chiefs Say Trump’s Law Enforcement Priorities Are Out of Step

Some police chiefs and sheriffs have complained that immigration enforcement is not consistent with their priorities and could undermine hard-earned trust. “I would rather have my officers focused on going after violent criminals and people breaking into homes than going after nannies and cooks,” Chief Art Acevedo of Houston said.

Related:

It remained unclear whether the actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were part of continuing operations to round up undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions or a ramping-up of deportations by the Trump administration.

Also quoted: Kim Ogg, the new Harris County DA.

Half a million dollars.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

This is slightly old news that I’ve been meaning to note for a couple of days now. I still think it’s worth mentioning, because it seems to me there’s something buried in the press coverage.

The Travis County Commissioners Court has voted to pay Judge Julie Kocurek $500,000.

“Does this have something to do with her being shot?” you might ask.

Indeed, it does.

“But why? The county didn’t shoot her. The cops didn’t shoot her. She was shot by a bad guy.”

Indeed, this is true. The money is being given as a settlement for “any claims against the county that Kocurek could have sought in a lawsuit”. Some of this is spelled out in the Statesman stories, and some of this is me reading between the lines, but it looks like the argument is:

  • There was a credible tip that Chimene Onyeri was targeting a judge.
  • The tip was investigated by the Travis County DA’s office.
  • Apparently, the investigators thought that the judge being targeted was both a male judge and one that wasn’t in Travis County.
  • It isn’t clear to me if the investigators knew that Onyeri had an appearance coming up in Judge Kocurek’s court (where he likely would have been sent back to prison) and ruled her out as a target because she wasn’t a male judge, or if they weren’t aware of his upcoming appearance.
  • In any case, they decided there was no “credible threat to any Travis County district judge”.
  • Judge Kocurek was shot three weeks later.

It’s hard for me to tell if anyone was wrong here. On the one hand, it seems like there was a credible threat: was it dismissed because the investigators screwed up and didn’t realize the subject of the threat might not have a been a male judge? And a big question is: why didn’t they warn all the judges? On the other hand, there’s an argument that the investigators did the best they could with limited information. And if they sent out warnings to all the judges every time some jackhole shot his mouth off, pretty soon it’d be “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” all over again.

No matter what, though, taxpayers are going to be out $500,000. I don’t begrudge Judge Kocurek the money: if you offered me $500,000 to let someone shoot at me, my response would be three words (two of those being “go” and “yourself”).

But it still bothers me.

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.