Jerry Cummings, the warden at Florida's Dade Correctional Institution when a mentally ill inmate was allegedly tortured and killed in a scalding hot shower, has been fired, the Miami Herald reports. Cummings, who has worked in the state’s corrections system for nearly three decades, was terminated less than a week after corrections secretary Michael Crews suspended him in connection with the death of another inmate at the Florida City state prison. In scathing language, Crews said he was firing Cummings and overhauling the prison’s leadership in an effort to “restore integrity’’ to the prison, which has come under fire as a result of a series of Miami Herald articles about the systematic abuse of inmates in its transitional care unit, or psych ward.
“We need leaders [at DCI] who will act with urgency to protect the safety of the inmates and staff and hold individuals accountable when needed,” Crews said in a written statement, adding that he hoped the firing would “send a message” throughout the state prison system. Corrections officers at DCI have been accused of widespread abuses, including placing prisoners in scalding showers, taunting them needlessly, forcing them to fight each other for sport and withholding their meals. Two years ago, Darren Rainey, 50, was forced into one of the psych ward’s small showers and left there by the guards, who laughed at him as he screamed in agony while the scalding water beat upon his body. “It’s great that the Department of Corrections is taking tighter control of the reins,” said Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “But firing the warden, while not holding the guards who were clearly responsible for Darren Rainey’s brutal murder — and keeping them on the job and promoting them doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson's office is poring over hundreds of old low-level marijuana arrests and tickets, deciding which will be tossed out as part of the department's plan to decline to prosecute many people caught with small amounts of pot, reports DNAinfo New York. “We’re going to look at each pending case on a case-by-case basis and make a decision,” Thompson said, adding that since the new policy went into effect July 8, "we’ve already started declining to prosecute certain cases.”
“We have not found any other DA in the country where marijuana is illegal who’s willing to take a different approach like this," Thompson added. "We think it’s important." A main purpose of the pot prosecution overhaul, Thompson said, is to free up “our limited law enforcement resources” by dropping many of the thousands of marijuana cases each year that result from police finding a small amount of pot in a pocket or backpack. More than 8,500 people were arrested in Brooklyn last year for low-level pot possession, and two-thirds of such cases citywide were dismissed. Thompson said he is not worried about the police department's instructing officers to continue making arrests for low-level marijuana possession.
A prosecutor strongly opposed a judge’s decision to give a lighter sentence to a participant in the severe beating of Steve Utash, 54, reports the Detroit Free Press. Latrez Cummings, 19, got a six-month jail term even though he misled the judge about his school enrollment status, is reported to be a foot soldier for a gang, and claimed a back injury kept him out of work before he violently attacked Utash, said prosecutor Lisa Lindsey. “There is nothing in this report (that is) favorable to this young man,” Lindsey said of an assessment for sentencing guidelines, adding that nothing indicates he should get leniency. At one point yesterday, Judge James Callahan asked Cummings about his father, and the teen replied that he doesn’t know him. “That's what you have needed in your life is a father,” Callahan said, adding that he needed discipline, “somebody to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake.” “We’ve all been 19 years of age,” the judge said in response to Lindsey’s objections.
The sentence was part of a three-year intensive probation. Of the four men who admitted to assaulting Utash and took plea deals, two received sentences drawing outspoken disapproval from Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Utash is still recovering from severe head injuries suffered when he was knocked off his feet and pummeled after the pickup truck he was driving hit a 10-year-old boy who stepped off a curb into traffic. Relatives said he has brain damage that has impaired his ability to drive, work and make financial decisions.
Even in a city long plagued by violent crime, the bank robbery Wednesday in Stockton, Ca., left veteran police officers stunned, says the Los Angeles Times. The robbers led police on a wild hourlong chase, holding hostages from the bank as human shields. Periodically, the robbers would slow down, waiting for pursuing officers to come into view before opening fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle and other weapons. The pursuit ended in a minute-long gun battle that left two suspects and one hostage dead. Police said a third suspect survived uninjured because he used the hostage to shield himself from officers' bullets.
Twenty added FBI agents and seven more federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are being assigned to Chicago to help reduce violence, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made the decision after meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel; B. Todd Jones, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Zachary Fardon, the U.S. attorney in Chicago. “They wanted to bring more resources to Chicago to combat some of the gun violence that’s taking place here,” said ATF spokesman Tom Ahern. The additional agents would boost the total number in Chicago to 52.
Holder announced the move yesterday, two weeks after a bloody Fourth of July weekend in which 13 people were killed and 58 were wounded in Chicago. In a statement, Holder said: “The Department of Justice will continue to do everything in its power to help the city of Chicago combat gun violence. These new agents are a sign of the federal government’s ongoing commitment to helping local leaders ensure Chicago’s streets are safe.”
The Justice Department's sweeping reductions in sentences for nonviolent drug offenders this year was heralded by advocates, liberal and conservative alike. When it comes to people already in prison for those very same drug offenses, the Justice Department is taking a very different stance, says BuzzFeed: A policy that would keep tens of thousands behind bars under the old guidelines, a decision that has set off a firestorm among advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle. The U.S. Sentencing Commission will vote today on the issue. In the balance: Whether 50,000 drug offenders serving time will be able to petition a judge to review their sentences according to the new standards. That number represents around one fourth of the federal prison population of 210,000.
“The Justice Department is being very pragmatic here,” said Doug Berman, a professor at Ohio State law school. In DOJ, there are fears about what allowing 50,000 prisoners to have their sentences reevaluated will mean. The Justice Department is urging the commission to adopt guidelines requiring drug cases involving a gun in any way or a more nebulous “obstruction of justice” to be ineligible for review by a judge. Justice Department officials have admitted some offenders worthy of sentence review could fall through the cracks, though they’ve said that’s a necessary evil given the limited resources available. The Justice Department plan would cut the number of prisoners eligible for retroactivity from 50,000 to about 20,000.
Attorneys for two people who died after a police chase said a settlement of a federal lawsuit against Cleveland provides a jump start to police reform in the city, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The settlement amount is undisclosed. The lawsuit stems from the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who died after a 2012 car chase ended in a barrage of gunfire, as officers unloaded 137 shots at Russell's car.
The suit contended that officers used excessive force, supervisors failed to rein in officers during the chase and top administrators provided inadequate supervision and training to officers regarding the department's policies and practices. The U.S. Justice Department is examining the use of force by officers and the policies of the division. On Nov. 29, 2012, 60-some police cruisers chased Russell and Williams for more than 20 miles to the parking lot of a school. The chase began near the Justice Center, where officers believed someone in Russell's car fired at them. The suit says the pair did not have a gun with them during any part of the pursuit. It is believed that the noise was backfire from Russell's car.
A federal judge's ruling that California's death penalty is unconstitutional was described by legal experts as stunning...
California's "realignment" shift of thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails needs some adjustmens, says Stanford Law Prof. Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. "Only time will tell whether California's realignment experiment will fundamentally serve as a springboard to change the nation's overreliance on prisons," she says in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. "It is an experiment the whole nation is watching."
"If it works, California … will have shown that it can downsize prisons safely by transferring lower-level offenders from state prisons to county systems. … If it does not work, counties will have simply been overwhelmed with inmates, unable to fund and/or operate the programs those felons needed, resulting in rising crime, continued criminality and jail overcrowding," wrote Petersilia. She urges legislative revisions to California's plan. Among them: Requiring that all felony sentences served in county jail be split between time behind bars and time under supervised release (probation), unless a judge deems otherwise; allowing an offender's entire criminal background to be reviewed when deciding whether the county or state should supervise them; capping county jail sentences at a maximum of three years; allowing for certain violations, such as those involving domestic restraining orders or sex offenses, to be punished with state prison sentences; creating a statewide tracking system for all offenders, and collecting data at the county and local level on what is and is not working in realignment
Many parents are hiring private businesses that bring drug-sniffing dogs to search kids' rooms and either put parents' minds at ease or confirm their worst fears, NPR reports. "When we first launched ... it went basically viral overnight," says Anne Wills, owner of Dogs Finding Drugs, one of the first to get into the business a few years ago. Wills says she takes calls from schools, businesses, halfway houses, landlords, ex-husbands or wives involved in divorce or custody cases, as well as parents.
"I think this crosses a line," says American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert Jay Stanley. Dogs can be used to sniff a lot more than just illegal drugs, and anyone's privacy could be invaded. While the Constitution protects against unwarranted police searches, Stanley says, there's no such protection against nosy neighbors, and the law has some catching up to do. Law enforcement officials have their own concerns. Jim Pasco of the National Fraternal Order of Police worries that a dog handler could inadvertently walk into the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation, putting the whole thing and possibly lives at risk. "We don't seek this kind of assistance," Pasco says. "We believe that some things are best left to police to ensure the best possible result."