I promised Dave Krueger a new post on terminology today, but when I did I was forgetting that I had to bring my husband to the airport today. I’m just beginning to catch up now and see little hope of doing so before dark, so here are some links and I’ll get that other post ready for tomorrow, harlot’s honor!
Bono “may not be a model of canine accuracy,” Conrad wrote in an opinion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
However, the judge ruled that other factors, including the dog’s training and flawless performance during re-certification sessions, were enough to overcome a challenge raised by Green’s attorney, public defender Randy Cargill.
Conrad’s justification for allowing the search illustrates just how clueless federal judges can be about these things—and why they can be such poor custodians of the Fourth Amendment. Judges have far too little skepticism for law enforcement officials.
I wrote about this in a column for Reason a couple years ago. The reason Bono performs so well in certification exams is because those exams test his ability to detect drugs. Dogs are great at that. But when Bono is with his handler alongside the highway, he isn’t detecting drugs. He’s pleasing his handler. Dogs are great at that, too. And that’s what we’ve bred them to do. On the road, Bono reading his handler’s body language, and alerting to confirm his handler’s suspicions. Of course, this assumes Bono’s handler is on the up and up, and isn’t deliberately cuing alerts. Which is also a problem.
It gets worse.
At a hearing earlier this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese defended the performance of the German shepherd.
In some cases where nothing was found after an alert by Bono, police later determined that drugs had been in the vehicle earlier, likely leaving an odor the dog was trained to detect, Neese said.
Taking those cases into account, Conrad found that Bono’s accuracy rate was at least 50 percent.
I wonder if the judge asked the U.S. Attorney to provide some documentation for his claims, or if these were cases of an officer claiming to have found “shake” or residue—both of which, conveniently, are never tested.
But let’s take the U.S. Attorney’s claims at face value. Let’s say the dog was alerting to odors from drugs that had been in the car days or weeks or months earlier. (Which may or may not have had anything to do with the person driving when the car gets pulled over.) As one dog trainer told me in the piece I wrote for Huffington Post earlier this year, drugs dogs can be trained to ignore residue, shake, and lingering odors. That is, they can be trained to alert only when there’s a measurable quantity of illicit drugs. The cops don’t want those dogs. They want dogs that will give them probable cause to search as often as possible. And because the courts have said a dog’s sniff is, in itself, enough for probable cause, there’s a strong incentive for police departments to want dogs that will alert to just about anything.
What’s incredible is that even if everything the U.S. Attorney says is true, the dog and his handler still have a 50 percent rate of error. Which means they’re no better than a coin flip. A coin flip is good enough for Judge Conrad.
At the New York Times, Ted Conover has written an amazing profile of Alex White, the longtime Atlanta drug informant who refused to help the cops cover up the murder of Kathryn Johnston. Add it to your long reads folder. It’s well worth your time.
I followed that case closely, so if you were reading this blog back in 2006, you’re probably familiar with the general course of events. But several things about the article struck me. First, for all the danger informants face from the people they give away, White was most afraid of the police officers he dealt with day to day, even before he turned on them after the Johnston raid.
The leader of the team of officers that he worked with most often, Gregg Junnier (pronounced “junior”), apparently set the tone. White said suspects would sometimes make the mistake of talking trash once handcuffed. Junnier would then slam them against a car or grab them on both sides of the mouth, supposedly to keep them from swallowing drugs. White remembers the time another officer he worked with had a suspect handcuffed and on his stomach; when the suspect began insulting him, White said, the policeman “kicked him in the mouth,” which made even his fellow officers flinch.
“One day Junnier come into my apartment,” White told me, “started throwing stuff around. He say, ‘Where’s the money?’ He knew I’d made some that week. He going through my dresser. He took $4,000. Junnier rough. He very, very rough.” White just accepted the situation. He was not a partner but merely a sub rosa subcontractor, a fact Junnier frequently reminded him of.
Junnier’s team drove around in a black Ford van with darkened windows that became notorious — Darth Vader’s own ride. “Everybody know that van,” White told me. Junnier also drove his own S.U.V., and one day he handed White, in the passenger seat, an envelope full of pictures.
“He show me this Jamaican guy,” White said. “Except only his head, on a fence. It had dreadlocks on top and veins below where it got ripped off. Junnier say he fell between buildings during a chase.” White said he felt he was shown the photo as a kind of warning.
Second, we learned from the FBI investigation that the sort of police thuggery apparent in the Johnston case was common and longstanding in Atlanta, which White confirms in describing his own interactions with the city’s narcotics cops. The lying, brutality, and corruption had been going on for years. Yet a local civil rights leader told Conover, and a local police official seemed to confirm, that the Johnston case was the first time a white police officer in Atlanta had ever been charged with violating the rights of a black person.
And there’s a good chance even those officers would never have been charged if not for Alex White. This wasn’t a few rogue cops. This was systemic.
Third, after all this died down, White was convicted of selling “a couple ounces” of marijuana to an undercover police officer in an Atlanta suburb. His sentence? Up to eight years in prison. The police officers who pressured an informant for a tip with threats of false drug charges, lied on a search warrant, gunned down a 93-year-old woman, left her to bleed on her own living room floor while planting drugs in her basement to cover up their mistake, then conspired to cover it all up by pressuring and threatening another informant to lie for them? They were sentenced to 5, 6, and 10 years, respectively.
Finally, Conover points out that one of the reforms the city put in place after the Johnston raid was a civilian review board to provide some police oversight. As of November of last year, less than five years after the raid, here’s how that was working out:
Cris Beamud came from Eugene, Oregon to Atlanta to found and run the Citizen Review Board after city ordnance established the police oversight panel in 2007.
The CRB came into being as a response to a botched drug raid that ended with the police killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston.
Beamud tells WABE she’s resigning out of frustration with city and police leaders who often ignore the board’s findings and recommendations.
“We’re constantly being faced with dismissals and rejections of recommendations that we believe, and I believe personally, would improve the quality of public safety services in the City of Atlanta,” she says.
Beamud points to the recent police fondling case, and the ongoing Atlanta Eagle raid. Before an outside investigation found police misconduct during the 2009 raid on the Midtown gay bar, the CRB had issued a report saying the same thing.
“You continue to beat your head against the wall, and then you decide that you’ve had enough,” she says.
Joy Morrissey, who chairs the CRB, says Atlantans are losing a valuable ally.
“Cris has been a police officer, a prosecutor, a police legal adviser, an assistant D.A., and yet [the mayor and police chief] don’t listen to her,” Morrissey says, adding that Beamud has established civilian oversight before coming to Atlanta.
“She produces very good reports – well reasoned reports – and the results have been maligned, ignored, criticized,” Morrissey says.
Here’s an update on the case of Virginia death row inmate Justin Wolfe, who is only still in prison because of Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert, a three-time nominee for TheAgitator.com’s Worst Prosecutor of the Year award.
A group of Nevada Highway Patrol troopers and a retired police sergeant have filed a racketeering complaint against the NHP and Las Vegas Metro Police in U.S. District Court.
The complaint alleges that after then-Gov. Jim Gibbons approved a K-9 program to target drug runners on Nevada’s highways, Nevada Highway Patrol Commander Chris Perry intentionally undermined the program.
The complaint alleges that the drug-sniffing dogs used by troopers in the program were intentionally being trained to operate as so-called trick ponies, or dogs that provide officers false alerts for the presence of drugs.
The dogs were being trained to alert their handlers by cues, instead of by picking up a drug’s scent by sniffing, the complaint said. When a dog gives a false alert, this resulted in illegal searches and seizures, including money and property, the complaint said.
I haven’t had a chance to read the complaint, but you can check it out here.
CORRECTION: This post’s headline initially read “New Hampshire State Troopers . . . ” No more posting before coffee.
“In April 2010, when President Barack Obama’s then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that ‘this is the most transparent administration in the history of our country,’ Politico reported that ‘laughter broke out in the briefing room.’”
Israel Rangel was charged with possession of less than a gram of cocaine. Cops said he had half as much coke as there is Sweet’N Low in a single packet.
When citizens showed up in court to pick a jury, it started the way all cases do.
“The prosecutor asked a question to the first 65 people,” Dupont said.
“The jurors if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense was committed, would they convict?” Walker said.
“I was surprised, first of all, of the bluntness of the question,” juror Lou Ellen Wheeler said.
But Wheeler – who was eventually picked for the jury – was even more surprised by the answers. She said yes, but 50 out of 130 jurors said no, they would not convict someone even if it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I was surprised it was that many,” Walker said.
One juror was more blunt than the others.
“She said, ‘I can’t believe I had to get in my car and come down here for this,’” Dupont said.
“It says there is a segment of the population that doesn’t think small possession cases should be punished as severely as the law call for them to be,” Assistant District Attorney Julian Ramirez said.
This isn’t a so-called trace case, the DA says she won’t prosecute. A trace is equal to single grain of equal; this was 40 times that. The law is clear.
“It’s against the law,” Ramirez said.
But Rangel’s defense lawyer says something else is clear too.
“They said they weren’t going to make somebody a felon and ruin their lives over less than a gram of cocaine,” Dupont said.
This USA Today investigation is just mind-blowing. The quotes from DOJ officials are just surreal. There are innocent people in prison, everyone knows it, yet the government won’t work to get them out, due to “procedure.” Just when you think you’ve seen every way the criminal justice system can screw someone over . . .
Government is just another word for the things we do together, like setting up staged drug buys at a concert venue, then arresting the venue’s owner, imprisoning him, and taking his property from himbecause he didn’t do enough to stop the staged drug buys.
A panel for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a federal district court judge who dismissed a family’s lawsuit against the DEA. The lawsuit comes from a mistaken drug raid (someone apparently wrote down the wrong license plate number) in which DEA agents pointed a gun at the head of an 11-year-old girl while she lay handcuffed on the floor.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Whalen had ruled that DEA agents did not act unreasonably in their mistaken raid and treatment of the girls (the 11-year-old and her 14-year-old sister). But lest you overestimate the significance of the ruling, note that the panel did not rule that the agents acted unreasonably. They merely overturned the lower court’s ruling that the family should be denied the opportunity to have their case heard.
The panel also upheld Whalen’s ruling that there was nothing unreasonable about DEA agents cuffing and pointing guns at the girls’ parents while serving a search warrant for a consensual crime at the wrong house.
Federal court rules the University of Cincinnati’s “free speech zone”—which comprises all of 0.1 percent of the campus, is unconstitutional. That’s obviously the correct decision, but I’ve never really understood the purpose of these zones. Is this a PC thing?
Study: People who are into organic food are probably assholes. (Because it validates what I think about people who champion organic food, I’m pretty certain the study is accurate!)
Teen says Prince George’s County abducted, cuffed, and threatened him in order to “teach him a lesson.”
Smart post on money, political power, and inequality.
Reductio creep: I remember when I covered obesity as a Cato policy analyst, when I’d raise the slippery slope prospect of government regulating what you can and can’t eat, it was usually dismissed as libertarian fearmongering. No more.
Defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft breaks down the publicly-released evidence in the Trayvon Martin case, and concludes: “Zimmerman should prevail on classic self-defense at trial regardless of stand your ground.”
Woman breaks into home, cleans, takes out the trash, vacuums, leaves a bill.