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New California Medical Prison Beset By Waste, Mismanagement, Dysfunction

California's $840-million medical prison, the nation's largest, was built for 1,800 inmates to help the state emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates. Since opening in July, the state-of-the-art facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, checking on compliance with disabled access laws, was shocked by the problems. "This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong," she said. "But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes."

Reports by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. Administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital. Deborah Hoffman, a corrections department spokeswoman, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison's mission. J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California's prison medical system, said the facility's woes go beyond shortages and missteps. He said a general apathy had set in with the staff. "Because these really basic systems weren't working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern," he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became "how we do things around here."

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WA Parents Worry Pot Legalization Sends Wrong Message To Teens

Although it’s still illegal for minors in Washington state to use pot and it remains a felony to sell pot to minors, parents are growing anxious about the voter-approved law legalizing adult possession of weed, reports the Seattle Times. They’re worried the law sends a message that pot use is endorsed by adult society and not risky. They’re concerned about the Seattle Police Department’s sometimes liberal approach to marijuana. They’re clueless, they fear, about trends such as “dabbing” hash oil and discreet “vape” pens that don’t give off the telltale odor of pot.

Even sponsors of the new pot law see a need for high-profile educational messages, similar to government-produced TV ads in Colorado, which also has legalized adult use of pot. Some say Washington should already have started such a campaign, before pot stores open in a few months and kids are exposed to giddy media images of adults using pot. Roger Roffman, a University of Washington professor emeritus whose book “Marijuana Nation” details his own pot use 40 years ago, said most teens don’t use pot regularly, and many do it occasionally without harm. Roffman wants to get past exaggeration and scare tactics to accurately convey the risks of marijuana.

 

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Violent Drug Traffickers Invade Newly Rich Dakota Oil Fields

Police found a large-scale, violent methamphetamine ring in Williston, N.D., a state long known for its small-town solitude, reports the Associated Press. They called themselves "The Family," and were holed up in a few campers tucked behind an innocent-looking, white-frame house. One had an arsenal of 22 weapons. Seven pled guilty and went to prison. The oil boom in the Bakken shale fields has touched off an explosion of growth and wealth on the remote wind-swept prairie that has brought with it a dark side: a growing trade in meth, heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Small-town police forces have been struggling to keep pace.

In Watford City, N.D., police calls for service have multiplied almost 100 times in five years. County jails overflow on weekend nights. Local sheriffs no longer know every name and face on Main Street. Heroin is trafficked on isolated Indian reservations. Mexican cartels are making inroads in small-town America. Hard-core criminals are bringing in drugs from other states, sometimes concealing them in ingenious ways: liquid meth in windshield wiper reservoirs. "Organized drug dealers are smart," says U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon. "They're good businessmen. They go where the demand is and that's what we're seeing here."

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Texas Man Arrested With Vintage Rifle A Symbol For Open-Carry Movement

Henry Vichique became a poster child for the national open-carry movement when San Antonio police arrested him March 30 while he was walking home with a loaded Russian World War II-vintage rifle slung across his shoulder, reports the Houston Chronicle. The arrest catapaulted Vichique, 19, onto center stage of a growing sector of gun-rights advocacy that sees the open display of weaponry as the ultimate expression of Second Amendment rights. Open Carry Texas, a leading advocacy group, held a rally last week to protest Vichique's arrest.

Officers detained Vichique for violating a San Antonio ordinance that bans public displays of rifles and shotguns on public streets, counter to state law that permits open carrying of "long guns." State law prohibits the open carrying of handguns. "So often when gun rights are limited in other states, people say 'well, this isn't Texas,'" said Jeff Knox, president of the Phoenix-based Firearms Coalition. "But the reality is Texas has not always had very good gun laws." Forty-four states permit handgun open carry - 14 with a permit, and 30 in which no permit is required. Open-carry activists see their goal as not only affirming Second Amendment rights but creating a new atmosphere in which the public views openly armed individuals as benign rather than as potential mass shooters.

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New FBI Fingerprint Technology Helping Police Solve Cold Cases

New FBI technology, including a sharper fingerprint identification system, is helping police resolve cold cases, such as the 1997 slaying of a teenage runaway from Chicago's suburbs whose alleged killer was charged with the crime this month, reports the Chicago Tribune. The federal agency's Next Generation Identification system sounds like the name of a futuristic crime show. In some ways, it resembles one, with cutting-edge advances rolled out over the past few years. Investigators credit the technology with helping to identify James Eaton, 36, of Palatine, Il., as a suspect in the rape and killing of Amber Creek, 14, whose remains were found in a remote Wisconsin area.

Eaton's name had never come up as a potential suspect until this year, when his fingerprints were processed through the new system, which authorities say has a 99.6 percent matching accuracy rate. "We do have this newer technology out there and have seen great success," said Meghan Jones of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Last year, her office began running older crime scene fingerprints through the system — including the set found to match Eaton's — as part of a cold case project. Some critics raise privacy concerns about the FBI's efforts to enhance suspect and victim identification through iris scans, palm prints, facial features and voice data. Experts use mathematical equations to represent characteristics of fingerprints, allowing them to be searchable in a computer database.

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NYPD To Review Practice Of Shackling "Wanted" Hospitalized Victims

The New York Police Department routinely performs warrant checks on shooting victims. If an outstanding warrant is found, the police generally handcuff and shackle the victim, says the New York Times, no matter how minor the underlying offense or how serious the injuries. "We’re not handcuffing him by virtue of him being a victim,” said police spokesman Stephen Davis, referring in general to instances where shooting victims were arrested on minor warrants. “But if he has a warrant, it would require him to be in our custody.”

Shackling victims for weeks while they are recovering from gunshot wounds is "particularly egregious where they have minor offenses,” said Seymour James, the lawyer in charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice. “They consider everybody who has a warrant a fugitive.” Susan Herman, a deputy police commissioner who is examining ways for the department to improve its interactions with crime victims, said she intended to review the department’s practice of handcuffing shooting victims held on minor warrants.

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Marathon Survivor Walks Out Of "Meet the Press" Over Bomber-Naming Dispute

Adrianne Haslet-Davis, the dancer who lost part of one leg in the Boston Marathon bombings, walked off the set of "Meet the Press" crying on Friday, reports the Boston Herald. She said NBC staffers promised to not name the accused bombers while she was on the show. When that didn't happen, she got up and walked out of the Boston taping.

Haslet-Davis said on her website that she told NBC staffers, "you not only disrespected me, you disrespected the survivors of the bombing and the victims memories by blatantly disregarding this request."  An NBC News spokeswoman said, "She requested that the alleged bombers’ names not be used in the entire program, but given the nature of the discussion we couldn’t make that guarantee. We regret any distress caused by this miscommunication."

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Hoffman Friend Says He Is "Human Sacrifice" In Heroin Possession Case

Two night after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with a needle sticking out of his arm, police raided the apartment of Robert Aaron Vineberg on a tip he might have sold heroin to Hoffman, says the New York Times. Vineberg, known as Aaron, led them to 296 glassine bags of heroin with a street value of $3,000. The Times says Aaron "was suddenly a national news figure, at the intersection of criminal justice, celebrity and the media. In the blur of instant news reports, he was ... the man who sold deadly heroin to the beloved Oscar-winning actor." He denies selling to Hoffman, a friend. He admits to possessing heroin and intending to sell some of it.

He faces three felony charges, the most serious carrying prison time of up to 25 years, and possible deportation (he came to the U.S. legally from Canada as a teenager). “At some level it’s like the Salem witch trials,” he said. “You can’t have a witch hunt without a witch. I’m just unlucky enough to be the guy. You gotta have a human sacrifice, and that’s what I am.” Hoffman’s death brought new attention to heroin use in New York City. After years of steady decline, heroin-related deaths jumped between 2010 and 2012, the most recent year for which the health department has compiled statistics, to 382 from 209. The amount of heroin seized in the city by authorities is also up. The rate of heroin-related deaths remained lower than it was for most of the previous decade.

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MT Prosecutor Tells Judge Feds Have No Right To Probe His Rape Cases

The New York Times reports on a "remarkable standoff" between Fred Van Valkenburg, the county prosecutor in Missoula, Mt., and the U.S. Justice Department. For nearly three years, there have been reports in Missoula of rapes gone unpunished and complaints officials minimized or ignored reports of sexual assaults, especially if the suspects played football for the University of Montana Grizzlies. The Justice Department said Van Valkenburg had disregarded sexual assaults to the point that it was placing “women in Missoula at increased risk of harm.” Van Valkenburg has asked a federal judge to halt the federal investigation.

He argues that the Justice Department had no legal authority to swoop in and investigate his office. Federal authorities said they were trying to fix a litany of problems in the prosecutor’s office, including an “extremely low” prosecution rate for sexual assaults. The Justice Department found county prosecutors had pursued charges in 14 of the 85 sexual-assault cases that police had referred to them for prosecution. Prosecutors said it was often difficult to persuade 12 jurors if a case did not fit their preconceptions of what constitutes rape: if no brutal force was involved, or if the victim and the assailant had been friendly or intimate. They said their prosecution rate was higher than rates in areas like San Diego and Salt Lake Counties and that their conviction rate was slightly higher than estimated national averages.

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Heroin Overdose Deaths Set Records In Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky

Heroin continues to exact a heavy toll throughout the Cincinnati region, says the Cincinnati Enquirer. Authorities say the number of deaths from the drug appears on track to shatter records this year in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky, a spike driven largely by sales of heroin mixed with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. "The bodies are piling up faster than the coroners' offices can take care of all of them," said Jan Scaglinone, a pharmacist with the Drug and Poison Information Center of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The Butler County Coroner's Office handled 50 fatal drug overdoses in the first quarter of the year – a 139 percent increase over last year. The Montgomery County coroner's office is on pace to record 240 overdose deaths this year from heroin, fentanyl or a drug cocktail containing fentanyl. The county had 161 heroin deaths in 2013, 93 in 2012 and 50 in 2011. Orman Hall of the Governor's Cabinet Opiate Action Team in Ohio said the rapid rise of fatal overdoses has been fueled by dealers' "boosting" heroin with fentanyl. "We have heard from several communities that fentanyl-laced heroin is becoming a very big problem," he said, adding that the dangerous drug combination sent 20 people to emergency rooms one weekend this year in the Northeast Ohio city of Lorain.

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TCR at a Glance

Smack Madness

April 16, 2014

Have the media and policymakers overblown the latest heroin “epidemic?”

How Red Tape Snarls Prison Rape Act

special report April 10, 2014

The DOJ’s insistence on state compliance with 288 regulatory standards keeps the program’s implementation in limbo, say critics