One year after the Newtown, Ct., shootings, California nears its own awful anniversary: It'll be 25 years ago next month since five children died and 29 more were wounded at Stockton's Cleveland Elementary, inspiring the state's first-in-the-nation assault-weapons law, says the San Jose Mercury News. The nation is still arguing about whether to address the gun issue or the mental-illness issue. Sam Paredes of Gun Owners of California, said, "You never let a tragedy go to waste ... so they pulled off the shelf all of the gun-control things they always wanted to pass. We tried to tell them that you need to go after the people with mental issues, because all of these other things only affect law-abiding citizens. And our words fell upon deaf ears."
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg -- a longtime champion of mental health treatment who shepherded a raft of gun-control bills this year -- agreed that the issue should be part of the discussion, but said gun-rights advocates use it "rather cynically" as a smoke screen. "The truth is we need both: more robust mental health services nationally, in addition to reasonable measures to reduce gun violence," said Steinberg "It's not either-or." Citing the New York Times, the Mercury News says this year, 39 new state laws tightened gun controls, while 70 loosened them.
As Ohio’s prison population nears an all-time high, prisons director Gary Mohr is pushing for more money for reentry programs and other community alternatives, reports the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Mohr said he will seek, as a short-term solution, to reopen some prison units that he closed in the past couple years. Ohio’s prison population is expected to grow from about 50,500 now to more than 51,000 next June. Current statewide prison capacity is about 38,500.
Mohr said an increase in convictions for drug crimes, especially heroin, have contributed to the rise in prisoners. The number in Ohio prisons temporarily dipped after a new sentencing reform law took effect in 2011. Mohr said some aspects of that law haven’t worked – such as risk-reduction sentencing, which allows the release of certain prisoners who complete treatment and programming while incarcerated. While about 50,000 people have been sent to prison in the state since the new law took effect, Mohr said, risk-reduction sentencing has been used in less than 400 cases. “There’s something wrong with it,” Mohr said. “It’s wrong or we haven’t communicated it well enough (to judges).”
Even before the New Orleans arrests started in 2010, it was becoming clear that the city was going to be the target of one of the most wide-ranging federal campaigns against police wrongdoing, says the New York Times. Beyond a yearlong investigation into the culture and practices of the police department, the Justice Department charged 18 current and former officers with crimes relating to the deaths of residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Between plea agreements and convictions, officers were collectively facing over 250 years in prison. The campaign has faced a series of stunning reversals, most recently on Wednesday when a federal jury acquitted David Warren, a former police officer who was on trial, for the second time, on charges of shooting and killing an unarmed man. This acquittal came three months after a federal judge threw out the convictions and ordered new trials for five other officers in connection with the shooting of six unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge. As a result, the post-Katrina prosecutions have proved to be a far more difficult and problematic undertaking. Wednesday’s verdict seemed to line up with what many officers on trial have argued: that these were unique events under extreme circumstances rather than, as the Justice Department and some city officials have insisted, symptoms of a much deeper and broader dysfunction within the police force.
A presidential advisory committee examining the National Security Agency has concluded that a program to collect data on every phone call made in the U.S. should continue, though under broad new restraints that would be intended to increase privacy protections, the New York Times reports. The committee’s report argues for codifying and publicly announcing steps the U.S. will take to protect the privacy of foreign citizens whose telephone records, Internet communications or movements are collected by the NSA.
It is unclear how far that effort would go, and intelligence officials have argued that they should be under few restrictions when tapping the communications of non-Americans abroad, who do not have constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment. President Obama apologized to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for the NSA’s monitoring of her calls over the past decade, promising that the actions had been halted and would not resume. He refused to make the same promise to the leaders of Mexico and Brazil. Administration officials say the White House has already taken over supervision of that program. “We’re not leaving it to Jim Clapper anymore,” said one official, referring to the director of national intelligence.
The families of several men killed or wounded by Dallas police officers lambasted the department for what they said was a pattern of excessive force, civil rights violations and police brutality, reports the Dallas Morning News. The newly formed Mothers Against Police Brutality held a news conference at City Hall where they called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Dallas Police Department’s deadly force practices. “It is not a black problem,” said Collette Flanagan, whose son Clinton Allen was fatally shot this year by a Dallas officer. “It is not a Hispanic problem. It’s not a poor people’s problem. It is our problem.”
The department says 70 percent of the 57 people killed by Dallas police officers from 2003 to date were ethnic minorities. Six people have died in shootings involving officers this year. Injuries to officers by suspects have spiked in the last four years. So far this year, officers have suffered 58 such injuries, more than twice the 27 injuries in 2009. The group’s news conference came three days after Monday’s questionable shooting of a carjacking suspect by a Dallas officer. A witness has said the suspect had his hands up when the officer shot him. Police Chief David Brown now allows officers to take 72 hours before giving detectives an official statement on use of force incidents. “You should not need 72 hours to tell somebody what happened,” said Daryl Washington, an attorney representing Flanagan.
When Colorado voted a year ago to legalize marijuana, it went on "a fast track to doing something no polity has ever done before, says Slate.com. On Jan. 1, Colorado will become the first state in the modern world to legalize marijuana from seed to sale. (Uruguay voted on Tuesday to legalize pot, but the law won't be implemented for 120 days. In the Netherlands, marijuana is simply decriminalized, not legal. While Washington state also is legalizing marijuana, its regulatory system likely wont' be up and running until next summer.
Colorado’s lawmakers, businesses, and citizens are facing issues no one has tackled before. How do you legally produce marijuana? What procedures should be put in place for packaging, transportation, sale, and taxation? How do you keep track of all that pot, and how do you discipline those who run afoul of regulations? How do you regulate the financing of pot operations, the development of peripheral businesses, the marketing of marijuana to tourists? And how do you keep the whole thing from falling apart? Over the next two months, University of Denver law Prof. Sam Kamin and writer Joel Warner will cover the evolution of legalization closely for Slate. They note that "Colorado has to figure out a way to abide by its voters’ wish to authorize marijuana’s possession, manufacture, and sale without causing the feds to act on the fact that all of these actions are still punishable by up to life in prison."
A consumer fraud lawsuit filed in California asserts that JustMugShots.com Corp. illegally extorts a $199 fee from people whose mug shots it posts online within hours of their arrests, reports the National Law Journal. That makes at least three suits against the company, which publishes the names and mug shots of arrested individuals on www.justmugshots.com and mugshots.mobi.
The latest action was filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Zim Rogers, whose mug shot stemming from an arrest more than 10 years ago for various traffic violations the company published online. “When he suddenly found these, he was pretty shocked and appalled and contacted the company to say this is old stuff, so long ago,” said his attorney, Brian Kabateck. “They said sure, we’ll take off our web site.” The company takes down photos only if individuals can provide proof that charges were dropped or that they were never convicted. Otherwise, they must pay the $199 fee, the suit says.
A U.S. Attorney in Georgia is reviewing the case of Kendrick Johnson, a high-school student found dead in a school sgym a year ago in a rolled-up gym mat. NPR says state investigators ruled out foul play, but Johnson's parents and activists from across the U.S. don't believe it. For 11 months, his family has gathered on the street outside the county judicial complex in Valdosta, Ga.
Johnson, 17, was found with his head facing down inside the mat, his feet sticking out of the top. He disappeared one afternoon and students discovered his body the next morning. "It's mind-boggling that a child could go to a school and he should disappear during school hours while over 3,000 students were present, and nobody has come forward to say, 'This is what happened,' " says Chevene King, one of the family's attorneys. An autopsy said Johnson's death was accidental and the cause was "positional asphyxia." That means he suffocated because of how he was wedged inside the mat. His parents paid for the body to be exhumed for another autopsy. A private pathologist determined the cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the neck and that it was not accidental.
Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University focuses on the largely forgotten figure the Newtown, Ct., shootings a year ago, Adam Lanza's mother, Nancy. In the court of public opinion, Nancy Lanza "is treated more as an accessory than as a victim," Fox writes in USA Today. Like parents in some other shooting cases, she is "scapegoated, if not for creating a madman then at least for failing to recognize and respond to the telltale warning signs," fox says.
"There was obviously a breakdown in terms of the parenting and the structure in that house," said Bill Sherlach, whose wife was the school's psychologist and was murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting. As Fox sees it, "Nancy Lanza was distressingly aware of her son's mental health problems but would not have anticipated that he was dangerous. Notwithstanding his interest in guns and violence, Adam Lanza had never acted out in an aggressive manner. Even the mental health counselors who had seen him had had no indication that he was capable of such an awful crime, according to the recently released investigation report." Fox concludes:
"We should assume that she had the best of intentions in raising her son Adam, unless and until there is definitive evidence to the contrary."
Some St. Louis-area police and elected officials are questioning the effectiveness and propriety of federal roadside impaired driving checkpoints at which motorists are asked to voluntarily submit blood and saliva samples in exchange for cash, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it conducted the tests as part of a nationwide survey designed to reduce drunken and drugged driving.
St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer said his department had been “duped” into cooperating with a government subcontractor who paid six of his off-duty, uniformed officers to help at three checkpoints conducted Friday morning, Friday night and Saturday night. At the checkpoints, uniformed deputies in marked cars randomly flagged down motorists and directed them where to pull over. A government subcontractor then asked drivers if they wanted to participate in the survey. Those who declined were free to go on their way. While no action was taken against motorists who refused to stop, Neer acknowledged that most motorists would not have thought they had any choice but to pull over when flagged down by one of his uniformed deputies. “We will not cooperate with one of these federal checkpoints again,”