Saturday, August 20, 2011

Freed West Memphis 3: Like kids at Christmas

August 20, 2011
Freed West Memphis 3: Like kids at Christmas
(CBS News)

A lawyer for Damien Echols - one of the so-called West Memphis 3 freed from death row in Arkansas - said his client celebrated his first night of freedom in 18 years.

Steven Braga, the attorney for Damien Echols, told "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" that his client's first night of freedom was "unbelievable."

He described a celebration last night Echols and James Baldwin, shared with supporters in Memphis: "It was as if you could see two little 5-year-old kids at their first Christmas. They were trying food they had never seen before, they were fascinated by a cell phone, more fascinated by an iPhone and then the idea you could take pictures with an iPhone totally blew them away, so they were taking a lot of pictures."

CBS Affiliate WREG reports that the third freed man, Jesse Misskelley, opted to celebrate with family Friday.

Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were teenagers in 1994 when they were convicted of killing three eight-year-old boys - Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.

Investigators in this rural community believed that the teenagers (who wore black and listened to heavy metal music) killed the children as part of a satanic ritual. Echols was sentenced to death; Baldwin and Misskelly both got life in prison.

Over the years doubts emerged about their guilt and several celebrities pushed to have them set free, reports "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty. DNA evidence has been recovered at the scene, none of it linking the accused to the crime.

Baldwin almost turned down the deal that freed him and the others from prison yesterday, but it wasn't just about him. The highly unusual plea agreement meant that his friend Echols - on death row for 17 years - would get his life back.

"Still very much in shock, still overwhelmed," said Echols Friday.

Their freedom comes at a high price: Under the agreement, known as an Alford plea, the men who still say they are innocent had to plead guilty to murder.

"'We'll let you go only if you admit guilt,'" Baldwin described it. "That's not justice, no matter how you look at it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Katrina bridge shootings: five New Orleans police officers convicted

Bridge shootings: Officer fretted over "weak link"
July 18, 2011

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Months before Sgt. Robert Gisevius was charged with plotting to cover up the shootings of unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina, he met a former colleague at a bar and shared his suspicion that someone was leaking information to federal investigators.

Gisevius didn't know that his companion that night, former police detective Jeffrey Lehrmann, was cooperating with the FBI and secretly taping their profanity-laden conversation in November 2009.

"What weak link could sink the ship?" Gisevius asks Lehrmann on the tape, which jurors heard Monday during the federal trial of Gisevius and four other current or former officers. The five defendants are charged in the shootings that killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge in September 2005.

In response, Lehrmann mentioned the name of an officer who fired his gun on the bridge but wasn't accused of killing anybody. Gisevius rejected that suggestion, saying the officer's lawyer was still "in all our meetings."

"I don't think he would sink the whole crew," added Gisevius, who later speculates that "somebody in homicide" was the leak.

Police are accused of shooting unarmed, wounded residents on the bridge as they responded to an officer's distress call. Lehrmann and four other New Orleans former officers have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up that included a plot to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to make the shootings appear justified...

August 08, 2011
Five Cops Guilty in Katrina Shootings
Courthouse News

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A jury on Friday found five New Orleans police officers guilty in the post-Katrina shooting deaths of two unarmed men and the wounding of four others as they tried to cross the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina. The officers were found not guilty of murder.
The verdicts were the second group of cop convictions stemming from post-Katrina shootings. The Danziger Bridge shooting was widely publicized because of the police cover-up - including planting of a gun - after the shootings - a cover-up that lasted for years.
"We have a lot of work left to do but we are moving in the right direction," U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said after the verdict.
The jury found four officers - Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso, Officer Robert Faulcon and Sgt. Robert Gisevius - all guilty of violating the civil rights of James Brisette. Their actions caused his death, but it was not murder.
The jury found Officer Robert Faulcon guilty of the shooting death of Robert Madison. But again, the jury found that the death did not constitute murder.
The fifth officer convicted was retired Sgt. Arthur "Archie" Kaufman, who was not involved in the shootings but who led the police investigation of them. The jury found Kaufman guilty of every cover-up allegation, from wrongfully accusing innocent civilians of shooting at police to inventing witnesses to planting a gun and fabricating a story about the gun.
The four officers were charged with opening fire on two families on Sept. 4, 2005, as the families fled flooded New Orleans.
One man was killed from each family group. James Brisette, 17, was killed, and four members of the Bartholomew family were wounded.
In the other group, officers shot in the back Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, killing him.
According to the indictment, the officers drove onto the east side of the bridge in a Budget rental truck after receiving a call that officers nearby had been shot at. As the officers drove onto the bridge, they opened fire on the Bartholomew family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette, a family friend, and wounding Susan Bartholomew, Leonard Bartholomew III, 17-year-old Lesha Bartholomew and 19-year-old Jose Holmes.
Then the officers drove to the east side of the bridge, where two adult brothers were crossing on foot. "An officer shot Ronald Madison in the back as Madison ran away," according to the indictment.
The indictment added that Officer Bowen, "while acting under color of law, kicked and stomped Madison while Madison was on the ground, alive but mortally wounded."
The officers then arrested Ronald Madison's brother, 49-year-old Lance Madison, and held him for three weeks on charges of attempted murder.
The grand jury indictment, unsealed in July 2010, alleged the officers had "specifically discussed using Hurricane Katrina to excuse failures in the investigation, and thereby to help make any inquiry into the shooting[s] go away."
The indictment came after a 2-year federal investigation of the New Orleans Police Department's actions after the 2005 hurricane.
Other instances of unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers also have resulted in guilty verdicts, including the Sept. 2, 2005 shooting of a man in the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers; his charred body was later found in his burned car.
Former New Orleans police Lt. Michael Lohman pleaded guilty in February 2009 to his part in the cover-up: allowing a gun to be planted at the scene and writing a series of false reports.
Without giving names, Lohman testified that he had encouraged officers to come up with a story to justify the shootings.
Lohman's confession to conspiracy and cover-up resulted in a flurry of speculation about the officers who worked closely with him.
According to the indictment, the two unnamed officers Lohman mentioned were Bowen and Gisevius.
The indictment said the officers did not collect evidence from the scene for more than a month, and that immediately after the shooting, Arthur Kaufman became the lead investigator responsible for investigation of the shootings.
Between September 2005 and May 2006 Kaufman prepared numerous reports on the shootings. The indictment stated that on Sept. 4, "and again on numerous occasions between then and January 2006, the officers involved in the Danziger Bridge shooting, led by defendants Kaufman, Bowen, and Gisevius, discussed and modified the stories they would tell about what happened on the bridge."...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hypersensitive Cops Use Internet Stalking Law to Punish YouTube Meanie

Hypersensitive Cops Use Internet Stalking Law to Punish YouTube Meanie
Aug 9, 2011
By Derek Lazzaro

In Renton, Wash., chief city prosecutor Shawn Arthur has signed a search warrant demanding that Google Inc., owner of YouTube, reveal the real name of one “Mrfuddlesticks,” a YouTube poster who allegedly committed the crime of “cyberstalking.”

The problem is that Mrfuddlesticks has done nothing wrong. What he, or she, has done is exercise the constitutionally protected right to free speech. The alleged crime was making eight cartoon videos—political parodies—that were critical of the City of Renton Police Department. It should be pointed out that the cartoons never mention any of the complainants in the search warrant by name, and that the cyberstalking law was designed to protect children and the victims of real harassment—not overzealous police officers.

The cartoons allege or parody a wide spectrum of misbehavior ranging from drunkenness, to general incompetence, to sexual harassment, to improper sexual relationships with suspects, to stealing evidence. The videos are a bit rude—offensive even. And as an apparent result, a Renton police officer swore under oath that three of his colleagues had become the victims of the new crime of cyberstalking, because, according to the warrant, there was language in the videos that was “meant to embarrass and emotionally torment the victim[s] of the comments.”

Boohoo. Cry me a river.

Since when has it been illegal to make “comments” about police officers and other public employees? Well, if you believe the police, since March 24, 2004.

In 2004 the Washington Legislature enacted RCW 9.61.260, a law that states: “A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party ... using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act.”

In other words, if you go online and “torment” or “embarrass” anyone with any “indecent” or “lewd” words, images or language, you could theoretically go to prison in the state of Washington.

As a lawyer, I am confident in asserting that this law clearly violates the United States Constitution. Indeed, most first-year law students could write an essay about why this law is unconstitutional—far too broad and vague to be enforceable, at least as applied to political speech...


Run Mr Fuddlesticks Run
Oct. 7, 2011

And now the Renton Police Department has shredded the very public documents that could have proved or disproved their case, rather than producing the documents to the media under public disclosure.