Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Rep. John Lewis: 'Make Some Noise' on New Voting Restrictions

Rep. John Lewis: 'Make Some Noise' on New Voting Restrictions
The Atlantic
8 AUG 26 2012

"...The civil rights icon issues a call—"All of us should be up on our feet"—to protest partisan voting restrictions this election season.And I stood up and said, I don't understand it. I don't understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote. And the next thing I realized, I had been admitted to the Good Samaritan Hospital, a short distance away. There were 17 other people who had been hurt".

–Rep. John Lewis (D- Ga.), on NPR in 2010, marking the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

If there is an American alive today who is well suited to evaluate the partisan push for new restrictive voting laws this election cycle, it is Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who put his skull where his heart and mind were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge all those years ago. But to merely read the words above doesn't do justice to what happened that day. Here's an interview the congressman did earlier this year with Stephen Colbert. In it you can hear, you can see, you can feel the profound impact the event had upon Rep. Lewis' life and, indeed, upon the life of the nation.

When young John Lewis marched that day, he was marching for the rights of blacks to register to vote. And it would take only 142 days, from the march on March 17, 1965 to the passage of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Now that federal law is under siege. The conservatives of the United States Supreme Court are poised to strike down one of its central provisions. And Republicans in states like Florida, Texas, and South Carolina have passed photo identification laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of registered voters who have long cast their ballots without incident. Republicans in other states, like Pennsylvania, have done likewise.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Ohio have moved to restrict early voting access, which has traditionally been used by minority voters. As with the photo ID requirements, the new restrictions were enacted under the guise of protecting elections from "voter fraud." But, as with the other restrictions, there is virtually no evidence of such fraud. And the impact of the new restrictions will have a disproportionate impact upon minority voters, many of whom don't have the time or the money or the means of transportation to obtain the required new forms of identification.

The Justice Department, which for now has the legal authority to block some state voting restrictions, has interceded in several Southern states. In other states, local civil rights groups have challenged the measures in court. This week, for example, a three-judge panel in federal court in Washington will hear a challenge to South Carolina's restrictive laws. And a decision in Texas v. Holder is expected as early as the end of the week. If the 2000 election was decided by judges after the voting was done, the 2012 election may be decided by judges before the voting begins.

With all that in mind, last week I asked Rep. Lewis for some context and perspective on the link between the civil right movement of a half century ago and today's voting rights movement. I wanted to know if the connection was valid and, if so, why so many of the voices which sounded so loudly in the 1960s have been so silent today. Is it because the texts of the new voting laws are "neutral"—technically applying their restrictions to whites and blacks alike? Or is it something more. It's a timely topic—with so many judges in so many states poised in the next few days and weeks to give their own answers.

Here is the interview.

I've made the argument (here at The Atlantic) that there are strong links between the aims of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and the aims of people today who are fighting against partisan restrictions on voting. How strong do you think that link really is?

The link is solid and very strong. The forces that fought against the goals and aims of the Civil Rights Movement in the '50s and '60s are very similar to the forces standing against voting rights today. Fifty years ago, they were primarily Southern segregated and racist groups who used brute force, arrests and violence to discourage people from participating. Today those forces are not just relegated to the American South, but they are operating throughout our country.

The documented incidences of voter fraud are very rare, yet throughout the country, forces have mobilized in over 30 states to stop it. These efforts are very partisan. They are not using overt violence and harassment, but subtle, more sophisticated devices to discourage and prevent people from participating in the electoral process. How much of these new laws are based upon the fear of permitting minority votes to determine the coming election?

It is not outlandish to conclude that these new laws are based on the simple objective of blocking minorities from casting a vote that will determine the outcome of elections. Some appointed and elected officials have stated these aims and have made it very clear that they are working to disenfranchise minority voters in this election.

45 Years Since Selma, Rep. John Lewis Reflects
Talk of the Nation
March 8, 2010

Thousands converged on Selma, Ala., to mark the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," when hundreds of peaceful civil rights protesters set out for Montgomery, to march for voting rights. U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) reflects on the day he marched in Selma.


Thousands converged yesterday on Selma, Alabama to mark the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. That day, on March 7th, 1965, hundreds of peaceful civil rights demonstrators set out from Montgomery to march for voting rights. Only a few blocks in, as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were beaten back by Alabama State Troopers. The incident and the images carried in newspapers and on television shocked the nation and the world and became a turning point for the civil rights movement...

Protesters at 2004 RNC Probably Shouldn’t Have Been Arrested

Protesters at 2004 RNC Probably Shouldn’t Have Been Arrested
By Joe Coscarelli
New York Magazine
Sept. 30, 2012

A federal court decided today that out of the thousands of arrests at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, a good number of them were made without probable cause. Guilt by association, Judge Richard Sullivan ruled, doesn't cut it, and the mass-fingerprinting of arrested demonstrators wasn't legal either. "With this ruling, the time has come for the city to put this controversy behind it, to settle the rest of the Convention cases, and to make sure that mass arrests never happen again here," said a lawyer for the NYCLU. Thank you, swift justice.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

72-year-old man convicted of 1957 killing

Has anybody checked to see if there were any missing girls in Washington where this man was a police officer? Did he receive complaints about brutality?

72-year-old man convicted of 1957 killing
Herald and News
September 15, 2012

For most of five decades, it seemed no one would ever be held accountable for the murder of a 7-year-old Illinois girl snatched off a small-town street corner as she played.

Now, someone has.

Fifty-five years after Maria Ridulph vanished, her friends and family let out a deafening cheer in court Friday as a judge pronounced a former neighborhood teen — now a 72-year-old man — guilty of the kidnapping and murder. It was one of the oldest unsolved crimes in the U.S. to make it to trial.

The roar of approval soon gave way to loud sobs from those who knew the little girl whose body was found after a five-month search that drew national media attention and haunted people across the country. Jack McCullough, who was 17-year-old John Tessier at the time, showed no hint of emotion.

“A weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Kathy Chapman, 63, who was playing with Maria in the snow on the night of Dec. 3, 1957, before she vanished. “Maria finally has the justice she deserves.”

A brutal killing

McCullough approached the girls as they played and won Maria’s trust by talking about dolls and giving her piggyback rides. At some point after Chapman ran home to grab mittens, authorities say McCullough dragged Maria into an alley, choked her with a wire, then stabbed her in her throat and chest.

The motive? Prosecutors say McCullough was sexually attracted to the second-grader. Even in a police interview in 2011, he recalled seeing Maria around the neighborhood, saying she was as pretty as a “Barbie doll.” He wasn’t charged with molesting her, however.

McCullough was briefly a suspect, like more than 100 others, in the 1950s, but he had an alibi. He told investigators he had been traveling to Chicago to get a medical exam before joining the Air Force. He settled in Seattle, working as a Washington state police officer...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Autopsy: Death of handcuffed man in Ark. a suicide

Autopsy: Death of handcuffed man in Ark. a suicide
The Associated Press
August 20, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An autopsy report released Monday lists the death of a man shot in the head while his hands were cuffed behind him in an Arkansas patrol car as a suicide.

The state crime lab report, signed by three medical examiners, said the muzzle of a gun was placed against the right side of 21-year-old Chavis Carter's head when it was fired. Jonesboro police released the report to The Associated Press and other news organizations under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report said the manner of death was ruled a suicide based on autopsy findings and investigative conclusions from the Jonesboro police department.

"He was cuffed and placed into a police car, where apparently he produced a weapon, and despite being handcuffed, shot himself in the head," the report says.

Police have said officers frisked Carter twice after a traffic stop without finding a gun before he was fatally shot July 28.

The autopsy report comes days after police released video recorded the night Carter was shot in Jonesboro, about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock. Part of the video showed Carter being patted down and ended before officers found Carter slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car as was described in a police report. Police later released additional video they said came after Carter was found.

Carter's death came after police stopped a truck in which he was riding. The driver and another passenger eventually were allowed to go, but police said Carter had an outstanding arrest warrant. Court records show it had to do with a drug charge out of Mississippi's DeSoto County.

Carter was searched twice and police said they found a small amount of marijuana, but no gun.

After the first search, an officer put Carter into a patrol car without handcuffing him. He was later searched again, handcuffed and returned to the same car.

Officers a short time later saw Carter slumped over in the backseat and covered in blood, according to the report, which concluded he had managed to conceal a handgun with which he shot himself. He later died at a hospital, and the report listed his death as a suicide...

Autopsy: Man Shot In Police Car Had Meth In System
August 20, 2012


...The autopsy report comes days after police released dashboard camera video recorded the night Carter was shot in Jonesboro, about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock. Part of the video showed Carter being patted down and ended before officers found Carter slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car as was described in a police report. Police later released additional video they said was recorded after Carter was found.

Neither included the moment they say Carter shot himself
, and the footage did little to resolve questions about how the shooting could have happened. Jonesboro police previously had released a video reconstruction of the shooting showing how a man could shoot himself in the head with his hands cuffed behind him.

In producing that video, the agency said it used the same type of handcuffs used on Carter and the same model of handgun found near him after he died: a .380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic. An officer of similar height and weight as Carter sat in the back of a cruiser, leaned over and was able to lift the weapon to his head and reach the trigger.

The autopsy report said Carter was about 5-foot-8 and that his body weighed 150 pounds.

Irwin called Monday for the full dashboard video and audio from the night of the shooting to be released before final conclusions are drawn.

"They should be disclosing every bit of evidence as quickly as they can," he said.

Cellphone videos, other phone records, search warrant returns and investigative portions of the incident report had yet to be released, police spokesman Sgt. Lyle Waterworth said...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Psychiatrist's Talk of Rap Sheet Voids Pot Conviction

Psychiatrist's Talk of Rap Sheet Voids Pot Conviction
Matt Potter
September 14, 2011

A psychiatrist's testimony about an alleged pot smuggler's "rap sheet" has resulted in reversal by the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals of defendant Brad Ray Santini's San Diego federal district court conviction for attempting to cross the border at Calexico in September 2008 with 28 kilograms of marijuana stashed in the rear seat and spare tire of his Jeep Cherokee.

"Santini's defense at trial was that someone else had placed the marijuana in his car without his knowledge," according to the ruling by the appellate court's three judge panel.

"The defense claimed that Santini may have been tricked, arguing that he was easy to manipulate due to a traumatic brain injury he had suffered in 2005.

"Dr. Dean Delis, a clinical psychologist, testified that Santini had suffered 'a severe traumatic brain injury' and that tests showed Santini 'has permanent cognitive deficits' as a result. Dr. Delis explained that Santini's type of injury can cause difficulty with 'social perception of other people.'

"The government sought to rebut this testimony by presenting its own expert, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Kalish.

"Dr. Kalish testified that his evaluation did not show that Santini's brain injury made him more vulnerable to manipulation. Dr. Kalish based this opinion in part on Santini's 'rap sheet.'

"Dr. Kalish explained that the rap sheet showed 'extensive prior contacts with law enforcement' before the 2005 accident and that if the charges against Santini were related to his injury, one would not expect to see 'similar behavior' before the accident."

Santini's attorneys argued Kalish's testimony was unfairly prejudicial to the defense.

"Dr. Kalish admitted on cross-examination that he found the rap sheet hard to understand, and his report relaying the information contained in the rap sheet did not distinguish among arrests, convictions, or other 'contacts' with law enforcement," according to the ruling.

"The rap sheet itself was not admitted into the record or examined by the district court. The defense also argued that this particular rap sheet was unreliable because it listed multiple allegations arising from the same incident as separate contacts."

As a result, "We conclude that it was an abuse of discretion to allow the government to introduce evidence of Santini's prior 'law enforcement contacts.'

"Because this error was not harmless, we VACATE Santini's conviction and REMAND to the district court for a new trial."


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 14, 2011 @ 5:22 p.m.

"Dr. Kalish admitted on cross-examination that he found the rap sheet hard to understand, and his report relaying the information contained in the rap sheet did not distinguish among arrests, convictions, or other 'contacts' with law enforcement," according to the ruling. "

How on earth could there be an ASUA in this country that is this stoopid????? Allowing a hired gun to make reference to ANY alleged criminal act without going over it specifically with the prosecuting attorney BEFORE trial is Crim law 101. Heck, you cannot EVEN MENTION a MURDER!!! conviction if it is over 10 years old-and this hired gun is bring up "contacts" and "arrests"???? Please.

The AUSA should be fired for incompetence.


$4 million verdict for wrongful death on dangerous roadway.
San Diego County
Judge: Hon. Earl H. Maas, III
Date of Jury Verdict: March 29, 2012
Date Action was Filed: 29 September 2010
Case Name: Keith Schultz, Tobie Deala v. County of San Diego.

Active-duty marine, age 22, loses control on wet roadway and hits telephone pole. Ongoing problem of flooding on road as well as decedent's driving and state of mind (attentiveness) while driving are examined in trial against county.

Trial Time: 9 days
Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days

Gross Verdict: $4,000,000 ($2,000,000 to each plaintiff)

San Luis Rey Downs Enterprise LLC (golf course) - Settlement: $200,000 prior to trial
San Diego Gas & Electric Company (owner of the utility pole which decedent struck) - Settlement: $100,000 prior to trial

Attorney(s) for Plaintiff:
Booth & Koskoff by Roger E. Booth, Torrance

Attorney(s) for Defendant:
Office of County Counsel by George W. Brewster, Jr., San Diego

Defendant's Medical Experts: Mark A. Kalish, M.D., psychiatry, San Diego

Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
Charles Dickerson, accident reconstruction, Mesa, AZ
Richard F. Ryan, highway design, Vancouver, WA

Defendant's Technical Experts:
Glenn Follen, tire performance, Austin TX
Arnold A. Johnson, traffic engineering, Fair Oaks
Jene Lyle, hydrology, Irvine
Arnold W. Siegel, accident reconstruction, Encino

Date and place of incident: April 22, 2010/Camino del Rey in Bonsall, San Diego County.

Facts: When driving home from work at Camp Pendleton, 22 year-old Marine Corporal Samantha Schultz collided into a utility pole on Camino del Rey in Bonsall. She died the next day as a result of her injuries...

Plaintiff's Contentions:

That the crash which caused the death of plaintiffs' daughter was due to a dangerous condition of public property, namely flooding on Camino del Rey, a road owned and maintained by Defendant County of San Diego.

The county and the owner of an adjacent golf course (Defendant San Luis Rey Downs) had been in discussions for over four years about this flooding issue and how to solve it. As there was a history of at least 15-20 hydroplaning crashes at or near the location, plaintiffs contended that the county had notice of the foreseeable risk and hazard and should have remedied the situation...

Accident reconstructionist testified that decedent was traveling between 55 and 65 mph, accelerated into the curve and may have made a panic turn when she saw a large truck coming toward her in the curve.

Defense psychiatrist [Mark Kalish] testified that text messages sent by the decedent on the day of the crash, describing her emotional turmoil over a breakup with her boyfriend and mentioning a medical procedure for cervical cancer that she underwent earlier on the day of the crash, substantiated she was distracted emotionally and was inattentive in her driving. Further, that she had been seen for mental health on the day of the accident and went to the pharmacy to pick up medications.

Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,300,000 ($650,000 to each plaintiff)
Defendant §998 Offer: $100,000 ($50,000 to each plaintiff)

The Rest of the Story

According to plaintiffs' counsel, although the defense expert psychiatrist centered much testimony on the likely distracted mental state of the decedent and the resultant inattentiveness in driving, her commanding officer testified that decedent never let her personal life affect her ability to do her difficult job as a Marine.

Dr. Mark A. Kalish, MD

Forensic Psychiatry, Board Certified
Male, Age 60
Graduated 1977, Northwestern University The Feinberg School Of Medicine

Kalish Wilson and Carroll Mds
3131 Camino del Rio N Suite 270
San Diego, CA 92108

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why judges hand down shorter sentences to convicted psychopaths when their behavior is blamed on the brain

I'm afraid these judges aren't thinking through the actual effect on behavior of being a psychopath. Being a psychopath only means that a person doesn't have empathy.

These judges and prosecutors should read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. It's hilarious at the same time as being highly informative about an important phenomenon.

It doesn't make anyone WANT to do anything. That's a whole separate ball game. Certainly, most psychopaths aren't interested in murdering anyone, or having sex with children. That's a completely separate mental condition that usually experienced by people who aren't psychopaths.

Horrible things happen, however, when psychopaths WANT to do bad things. These Psychopaths can't blame their motivations on their lack of empathy. While it's true that psychopaths have one less mechanism to control their own behavior, they still have the ability to figure out that they may get caught and punished if they commit a crime. Surely that part of their brain is telling them not to commit a crime.

Also, many psychopaths have brains that are guided by moral principles, and that part of their brain is also telling them not to commit a crime. They may not feel empathy, but they know the difference between right and wrong. They simply can't truthfully say that their brain made them do it.

My Brain Made Me Do It: Psychopaths and Free Will
Why judges hand down shorter sentences to convicted psychopaths when their behavior is blamed on the brain
August 17, 2012

Should murderous psychopaths be punished less severely if their behavior can be blamed on brain differences or genes? Or, conversely, should their sentence be longer precisely because their biology makes them even more intractable and dangerous than other criminals?

A new study published in Science explored these questions by asking judges to impose a prison term on a hypothetical convict. When the judges were initially told that the offender was a psychopath, they tended to consider it an aggravating factor in sentencing, but when they heard additional expert testimony that biological factors could explain the guilty man’s behavior, they saw that information as mitigating and handed down a shorter sentence.

The impact of such expert testimony depended in part on whether the biological arguments came from the defense or the prosecution — it influenced judges’ reasoning more when it was delivered by the defense. But, overall, judges still levied lengthy sentences for the crime and viewed the convict as morally and legally responsible for his behavior: they reduced prison time only by a year, from 13.93 years on average to 12.83, when considering brain or genetic explanations for the convict’s behavior.

“The judges did not let the defendant off,” said lead author Lisa Aspinwall of the University of Utah in a statement. “They just reduced the sentence and showed major changes in the quality of their reasoning.” The researchers noted that they were surprised the judges reduced their sentencing at all, considering that they were dealing with psychopaths who are in general a highly unsympathetic bunch.

(MORE: Which Kids Join Gangs? A Genetic Explanation)

The hypothetical case used in the new study was loosely based on the 1994 trial of Mobley v. State. In 1991, Stephen Mobley robbed a

Stephen A. Mobley, 39, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for fatally shooting 24-year-old John Collins in Oakwood, Ga, during a robbery of a Domino's on Feb. 17, 1991.

Domino’s pizza shop in Georgia, during the course of which he shot the restaurant’s manager to death; at trial, his attorney attempted to present evidence showing that Mobley had a variant of a gene linked to violent behavior: the MAO-A or so-called warrior gene.

Because the scientific data on MAO-A was so new at the time, however, the judge rejected its use in court and Mobley was executed in 2005. But since then, research has supported the link between the gene and violence, and studies have found that men who have the gene and are abused as children are significantly more likely to display antisocial behavior.

In the new study, researchers tweaked the hypothetical case to eliminate the murder; instead, the defendant was convicted of aggravated battery for savagely beating a fast-food restaurant manager with a gun during a robbery attempt and causing permanent brain damage. By taking murder off the table — and therefore the death penalty or a life sentence — the researchers compelled the judges to consider the future dangerousness of a criminal who could eventually be set free. Researchers presented one of four versions of the hypothetical case to 181 judges in 19 states. In all versions, judges read scientific evidence that the convicted criminal was a psychopath and what that meant, namely that psychopathy is incurable. Half of the judges also received expert testimony on the genetic and neurobiological causes of the criminal behavior, presented either by the defense as a mitigating factor, or by the prosecution, which argued that it should increase the convict’s sentence. The other judges got no mention of the idea that biological differences in the convict’s brain could have caused his behavior. Researchers controlled for the fact that different states have different sentencing laws.

The judges who were given a biological explanation for the convict’s psychopathy issued shorter sentences, but notably, all judges committed the criminal to significantly more prison time than their average nine years for aggravated battery. And while all judges viewed psychopathy as an aggravating factor in sentencing, the judges who heard evidence about the genetic and neurobiological causes of the condition from the defense reported viewing it as less aggravating. Nearly 9 in 10 judges listed at least one aggravating factor in their reasoning for their sentence, but when they heard the expert testimony from the defense, the percentage of judges who also listed mitigating factors rose from 30% to 66%. And judges who received this evidence were 2.5 times more likely than other judges to report actually having weighed aggravating versus mitigating factors in deciding their sentence.

(MORE: Understanding Psychopathic and Sadistic Minds)

The expert testimony offered in the study described how the MAO-A gene affects the amydgala, a part of the brain involved in emotion and learning. The amygdala is the seat of the so-called violence-inhibition mechanism, which is what triggers anxiety in normal people when they recognize that others are in pain or distress. People with low MAO-A activity, like the convicted psychopath, don’t experience normal brain development, however; that may explain why psychopaths are incapable of responding to the fear and pain of others with normal distress. Ultimately, the testimony argued, because of their genetic and brain-related differences, psychopaths don’t undergo functional moral development and fail to learn right from wrong.

Interestingly, however, even though the judges handed out reduced sentences when presented with this expert testimony, they did not report viewing the convict as having less free will or as being any less responsible, legally or morally, for his crime. “What this tells me is that the effect of neuroscience evidence may operate at a non-conscious level. People think it does not affect their judgment of responsibility, but in fact it does,” says Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore, who has researched this issue, but was not involved in the study.

It is this basic question of responsibility that many psychologists find crucial — and that so many people misunderstand. “There is a lot of interest these days in the implications of neuroscience for justice and the legal system. Some of this interest focuses on the radical notion that neuroscience undermines the very idea of personal responsibility,” says Martha Farah, director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, who was also not associated with the new study. “The idea is that, since everything I do results from my brain, and my brain is the product of my genes and my life experiences, then how can you hold me responsible for anything? Isn’t it always true that ‘my brain made me do it?’”

Indeed, earlier studies have shown that when participants are presented with neuroscientific evidence in cases involving people who have caused harm or behaved violently, they see it as far more mitigating than psychological factors like child abuse — even though research now shows that brain differences themselves can actually be caused by such abuse and that child abuse is more strongly linked with violence than most neurobiological factors.

Schwartz and a colleague described their findings on such research in a recent New York Times op-ed:

The pattern of results was striking. A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. … In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist’s behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn’t just his brain.

The problem here, however, is that all of our psychology and behavior has a biological cause, even if we don’t understand exactly how it works. As Schwartz put it, “’Was the cause psychological or biological?’ is the wrong question when assigning responsibility for an action. All psychological states are also biological ones.”

Schwartz called the new study “terrific,” noting in particular that hearing evidence of biological causes of behavior had a larger impact on how mitigating the judges considered the convict’s psychopathy than on the actual sentences they handed down. Among the mitigating factors that judges cited after hearing the neurobiological evidence was the idea that mental illness made the perpetrator less responsible for his behavior.

As one judge in the study explained: “The evidence that psychopaths do not have the necessary neural connections to feel empathy is significant. It makes possible an argument that psychopaths are, in a sense, morally disabled, just as other people are physically disabled.”

(MORE: Study: 1 in 25 Business Leaders May Be Psychopaths)

Consequently, as Schwartz says, “If you sentence to punish, it will reduce sentencing. But if you sentence to protect society, it may well increase sentencing, by implying that the perpetrator is incorrigible.”

“This is not the grand, metaphysical, ‘We are all helpless to override the inevitable workings of our brains’ idea that neuroscience is incompatible with moral or legal responsibility,” says Farah....

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/17/my-brain-made-me-do-it-psychopaths-and-free-will/?xid=gonewsedit&google_editors_picks=true#ixzz23r4KWxtZ

Monday, July 02, 2012

Probation Fees Rise, Firms Profit and the Poor Go to Jail

It looks like poor people are going to jail because bankers caused a financial crisis. Hmmmm.

Probation Fees Rise, Firms Profit and the Poor Go to Jail
The New York Times
July 2, 2012

CHILDERSBURG, Ala. — Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

Richard Earl Garrett is the lead plaintiff in the class actionsuit against the town of Harpersville, Ala. Mr. Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence. It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

“With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.”

Half a century ago in a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that those accused of crimes had to be provided a lawyer if they could not afford one. But in misdemeanors, the right to counsel is rarely brought up, even though defendants can run the risk of jail...

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Former Culpeper, Va., police officer charged with murder was hired despite objections

Former Culpeper, Va., police officer charged with murder was hired despite objections
By Justin Jouvenal
June 8, 2012

A former Culpeper, Va., police officer charged with killing a Sunday school teacher was hired despite the objections of superiors who said his excessive drinking and attitude made him a poor choice, prosecution filings show.

Daniel Harmon-Wright, 32, had also been disciplined as an officer, including once for forcing his way into a home and brandishing his weapon without probable cause or a warrant, according to a prosecution motion in opposition to his request for bond.

The details emerged Friday as the Gainesville resident was granted a $100,000 bond by a Culpeper judge. He is facing a murder charge and three other charges in the shooting of Patricia Cook, 54, of Culpeper while responding to a suspicious-person call in February.

“Two officials after a full background [check] recommended that Mr. Harmon-Wright not be hired as a police officer,” special prosecutor James Fisher told reporters after the hearing. “That was, of course, overturned.”

Harmon-Wright says he shot the woman in self-defense, opening fire after she trapped his fingers in the window of her Jeep Wrangler and began driving erratically across the parking lot of a Catholic school in Culpeper, according to his motion for bond.

Harmon-Wright claims he fired more shots into the back of the Wrangler after it made a left turn because a sunscreen blocked Cook’s front windshield and she posed a danger to pedestrians.

“She couldn’t see where she was going, and she was accelerating on a residential street,” said Daniel L. Hawes, Harmon-Wright’s attorney.

A photograph included in the prosecution’s motion shows three bullet holes in the driver’s seat of Cook’s Wrangler, including one in the headrest.

Harmon-Wright, a five-year veteran of the force, was hired in 2006. During a background check, Harmon-Wright told police officials that he had been disciplined for excessive drinking in the Marine Crops and had driven under the influence of alcohol three months before his interview, according to prosecution filings. It’s not clear why Harmon-Wright was hired despite the objections of two police officials.

Bethany Sullivan, Harmon-Wright’s mother and an administrative assistant to the former Culpeper police chief, has been charged with forging Harmon-Wright’s entrance exam for the Town of Culpeper and one of his annual reviews.

Harmon-Wright was disciplined in connection with a 2011 incident in which he chased a 15-year-old boy after a suspicious-person report, prosecution filings show. The officer started banging on the door of a home after receiving a tip that the boy lived there.

When a woman answered, Harmon-Wright demanded that she leave, prosecutors said in the filing. Harmon-Wright entered the house and brandished his gun in the face of the woman’s 18-year-old son, according to the filing.

It turned out that the boy he was chasing was not in the home and had not committed a crime, but was on his way to school, according to the filings.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rookie Cop Reportedly Berated, Called 'A Rat' For Arresting Off-Duty Officer

Rookie Cop Reportedly Berated, Called 'A Rat' For Arresting Off-Duty Officer
By David Schepp
AOL News
May 30th 2012

Toronto police officer Andrew Vanderburgh felt he was doing the right thing more than two years ago when he arrested an off-duty fellow officer for drunk driving.

But after the Nov. 28, 2009 arrest, Vanderburgh was "harassed and berated" by fellow officers for seemingly violating an unwritten code among officers to remain loyal to each other, the Toronto Star reports. Other officers reportedly called Vanderburgh names, including "rat."

The off-duty cop, Breton Berthiaume, was charged with impaired driving and having a blood alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent, according to an internal police disciplinary ruling.

Berthiaume reportedly had been driving erratically when Vanderburgh (pictured above) pulled him over. The arresting officer then took Berthiaume to the nearest police station where his blood alcohol level could be tested.

Some officers witnessing the arrest "took exception to a police officer being charged or investigated," prosecutor Mary-Anne Mackett told a court that heard Berthiaume's case this week.

A judge who previously ruled in the case in a pre-trial hearing said that an officer witnessing the incident "refused to assist Constable Vanderburgh in the arrest and preparation of paperwork at [the police station]."

Later that evening another officer, James Little, followed Vanderburgh as he left the station in his patrol car and pulled him over for purportedly running a red light, giving him a ticket.

The ticket was eventually dismissed and Little pleaded guilty to "discreditable conduct" and was ordered to forfeit 20 days' pay.

Two other officers, including a staff sergeant who failed to intervene during Little's retaliatory action, were also disciplined and were docked as much as 20 days' pay.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bite mark, DNA tie LAPD detective to 1986 murder

The husband of the dead woman was strangely quiet about this case. Perhaps he felt guilt for being the cause of the killer's jealousy. May 26, 2012 Bite mark, DNA tie LAPD detective to 1986 murder
Produced by Ira Sutow, Taigi Smith, Greg Fisher, Avi Cohen and Linda Martin
[This story originally aired on May 22, 2010.]

The arrest of a cop was shocking news in the City of Angels.

It wasn't just any cop. Stephanie Lazarus was a well respected, highly decorated female detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. And it wasn't just a minor crime. She was charged with the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, a young nurse, 23 years after the killing.

"A Los Angeles police officer arrested for murder is just - it's a bombshell! I mean, you just don't get those kinda cases," Andrew Blankstein said. "People were really stunned by this."

Blankstein and Joel Rubin cover the police beat for the Los Angeles Times and are consultants to "48 Hours Mystery".

"Nobody saw this coming. Nobody says she was a cop that they saw on the edge," Rubin explained. "As far as we can tell, people in the department saw her as, you know, a cop's cop, a good cop."

"She's been a longtime patrol detective," Blankstein added. "She was with the art theft detail in commercial crimes...which is theft of high-end art in L.A .And in doing those kind of investigations... it gets a lot of press, a lot of attention... If the police and prosecutors are going to be believed, she's harboring a secret about murder for 23 years!"

At first glance, Stephanie Lazarus has no obvious connection to the victim in this murder case - Sherri Rasmussen, a highly regarded nursing administrator.

Sherri came from a very close-knit family. Her parents, Nels and Loretta Rasmussen, adored their three daughters and their growing family.

"Sherri was the glue that held the family together all the time... and made everything that much better," Sherri's younger sister, Teresa, told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Maureen Maher.

But in February 1986, Sherri would be attacked, beaten and shot to death in her Los Angeles home.

"We were an ordinary family, you know... You never think something like this is gonna happen to you," said Teresa. She says she never could have anticipated that only just now - more than 20 years after her sister's murder - there's been arrest.

"It doesn't make the pain any less," she said. "You start the grieving process all over again, one more time."

The pain is most obvious when the family visits Sherri's grave.

"I don't believe that you can understand the grief ... a part of your life has just been taken away forever," Nels Rasmussen told Maher in an exclusive interview.

Her parents say Sherri excelled at everything she did. She became a nurse when she was only 20. At age 27, she was named director of critical care nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where she sometimes lectured.

"She liked taking care of people and making sure things were done right, that people were cared for properly," said Loretta Rasmussen.

"She said, 'I'm gonna elevate the stature of nursing in the nation,'" Nels recalled. "And she was on her way."

On top of a successful career, in early 1986, Sherri was extraordinarily happy, having just married the man she loved. Her new husband was John Ruetten, a young engineer she'd met in 1984.

As it would turn out, Ruetten was the single link to the woman accused of murdering his new bride.

That is because Stephanie Lazarus was Ruetten's ex-girlfriend. And according to Sherri's friends and family, Lazarus was not willing to give up the man she'd first met in college several years before the murder.

"Sherri was competition," Teresa said. "If she could get Sherri outta the way, then possibly John would be free to be with her again."

Ruetten is the one who discovered his wife's body.

"He was in a daze," Teresa explained. "He was sort of the deer in the headlights look, you know?"

John Ruetten had little to say publicly after his wife's murder in 1986.

He briefly addressed mourners at a hospital memorial service for Sherri, telling them, "I just want to thank you all for coming and I want you to know that Sherri was the best professional in the world - she was the best wife that anybody could ever have."

"To me, he's kind of a central character that we really know the least about," said Blankstein.

"There's a lot of questions left unanswered," added Rubin.

Questions like: what did John Ruetten know? Or suspect? He says that early on, he told detectives to talk to his ex-girlfriend - an LAPD cop.

"John is really the only person that has this connection to both women that can tell us what was going on to some extent?" Maher asked Rubin.

"You would think, yeah," he replies.

But police were off chasing other leads, and Sherri's friend, Jayne Goldberg, says that Ruetten just quietly faded out of sight, leaving her quite angry.

"I would have expected that John would have been much more involved in the investigation...and demand answers," she said.

Especially, as months - and then years - went by with no resolution to the case.

"He should have been her advocate. She would have been his," Goldberg said. "Why wasn't he camped outside the police station? I don't understand it!"...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tattoo in sheriff's deputy clique may have celebrated shootings, sources say

Tattoo in sheriff's deputy clique may have celebrated shootings, sources say
By Robert Faturechi
Los Angeles Times
May 9, 2012

The investigation into a secret clique within the Los Angeles County sheriff's elite gang unit has uncovered allegations that members had matching tattoos of a gun-toting skeleton, which deputies would modify to celebrate their involvement in a shooting, according to sources close to the internal probe.

One deputy, who has admitted belonging to a clique called the "Jump Out Boys," has identified about half a dozen other deputies as members, one source confirmed. Those men are expected to be summoned for interviews with internal affairs investigators, the source said.

Suspicion about the group's existence was sparked several weeks ago when a supervisor discovered a pamphlet laying out the group's creed, which promoted aggressive policing and portrayed officer shootings in a positive light.

The pamphlet was found in the vehicle used by the deputy who acknowledged his association with the clique, according to sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

Days after The Times reported on the discovery of the pamphlet, the captain of the division gathered his deputies for a private briefing, during which he told them they had shamed the department by forming the group and urged those responsible to identify themselves, a source with knowledge of the unit's inner workings said.

At some point, one deputy came forward, and he has since named about six others, the source said.

Internal affairs investigators are trying to determine whether the deputies violated Sheriff's Department rules or committed serious misconduct.

The deputies under scrutiny all work on the Gang Enforcement Team, a unit divided into two platoons of relatively autonomous deputies whose job is to target neighborhoods where gang violence is high, locate armed gang members and take their guns away.

The design of the tattoo, confirmed by two sources, includes an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna wraps around the skull, imprinted with the letters "OSS" — representing Operation Safe Streets, the name of the larger unit that the Gang Enforcement Team is part of. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Investigators suspect that smoke is tattooed over the gun's barrel after a member is involved in a shooting.

To the left of the skull are two playing cards — an ace and an eight — apparently an allusion to the "dead man's" poker hand, sources said.

One source compared the notion of modifying the tattoo after a shooting to a celebratory "high five."

Celebrating shootings and sporting matching tattoos were hallmarks of anti-gang officers in the LAPD's troubled Rampart Division in the late 1990s.

A corruption scandal erupted after one disgraced officer implicated himself and others in covering up bad shootings, planting evidence, falsifying reports and perjuring themselves to rid the streets of gang members and drug dealers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Convictions linked to FBI lab’s flawed forensics

"Tribble would become the 290th person cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States if a D.C. Superior Court judge grants his motion under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act."

Prosecutors agree: Murder conviction of D.C. man should be overturned
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post
April 27, 2012

Video: Santae Tribble was convicted of murdering cab driver John McCormick in 1978. In 2012, DNA retesting of the evidence that was key in his conviction—hair from a stocking mask found near the scene of the murder—has proved that none of the 13 hairs recovered could have come from Tribble. D.C. public defense lawyer Sandra Levick has filed a motion seeking Tribble's exoneration.

Federal prosecutors on Friday acknowledged errors in the scientific evidence that helped send a Washington man to prison for 28 years for murder and took the extraordinary step of agreeing to have his conviction overturned.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. cited DNA evidence in also agreeing to drop the murder charge against Santae A. Tribble and never try him again. But even as the prosecutor said the evidence that convicted Tribble was flawed, Machen stopped short of declaring him innocent.

Investigating flaws in forensics: A Washington Post investigation reveals that Justice Department officials have known for years that flaws in forensic techniques and weak laboratory standards may have led to the convictions of innocent people across the country, raising the question: How many more are out there? Read related story.

Tribble, 51, was found guilty of murdering a District taxi driver in an early morning robbery on July 26, 1978. His case was featured in articles last week in which The Washington Post reported that Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to convictions of potentially innocent people.

In Tribble’s case, prosecutors and the FBI laboratory were incorrect in linking a hair found near the murder scene to Tribble, according to recent DNA test results.

As the U.S. attorney’s office filed court papers late Friday, three former senior FBI lab experts and a national civil liberties group joined calls for the bureau and the Justice Department to review testimony in all convictions nationwide that depended on FBI hair evidence before 1996. Such a review would determine whether the evidence should be retested using DNA.

The Post reported last week that the Justice Department never reviewed thousands of cases that relied on potentially flawed hair comparisons, resulting in men like Tribble staying in prison. In many of the cases that the agency did review and found to have problems, prosecutors never notified defendants or their lawyers of the issues uncovered.

Machen has agreed to review all District convictions obtained with hair evidence and will ask the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to assess whether any old evidence should be retested with modern DNA techniques. Justice Department and FBI officials said they still were considering a similar review nationwide.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) this week urged the Justice Department to review its handling of about 250 questionable convictions identified by The Post, most of which relied on hair comparisons...

Friday, March 23, 2012

San Diego's Unique Curfew Push: Graphic

San Diego's curfew sweeps remind me of Bonnie Dumanis' Public Integrity Unit: they are targeted against people who aren't among the power elite of San Diego.

San Diego's Unique Curfew Push: Graphic
March 22, 2012
By Keegan Kyle

San Diego police have arrested hundreds of kids in recent years by conducting regular curfew sweeps in the city's urban core.

The sweeps have been widely publicized since their inception. What hasn't received much attention is the decreased use of curfew enforcement almost everywhere else. While arrests have climbed in San Diego, they've fallen substantially across the state and nation.

I discovered that contrast last month while working on an in-depth story about the impact of the sweeps on crime. Our story questioned whether sweeps are indeed related to a recent decline in crime. Police here are effectively arresting hundreds of kids on an unproven hunch.

I mentioned the statewide comparison briefly in my story but thought it deserved revisiting. The graphic above illustrates how many kids were arrested for violating curfew laws across the state and in San Diego.

In 2007, about one in every 20 kids in the state was booked in San Diego — a proportional amount to the city's population. Just three years later, the gap narrowed to about one in five.

While law enforcement agencies statewide arrested significantly fewer kids, San Diego police doubled down. This contrast helps illuminate the unique direction of San Diego's program. Police here are pushing a crime fighting tactic as many agencies are stopping or cutting back.

The program's proponents here argue the sweeps have reduced crime by removing kids from a dangerous environment. They say children are less likely to become victims or perpetrators of crime when they're not out on the streets.

But our analysis of crime trends questioned whether that's true. In the past five years, places without the sweeps have reported equal or greater drops in crime than those with them.

It's still unclear why law enforcement agencies across the state have reduced curfew arrests, though several criminologists suggested it may be related to funding. Hit by the economic decline, agencies across the state have cut their budgets or shifted resources in recent years.

But those same pressures have also stretched San Diego. Department spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said police once had three or four officers who specialized in juvenile crime at each police division, and now have one or two. As the department's budget shrank, other functions like patrol took priority...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. accused of purposely not providing air support

Sheriff's Dept. accused of purposely not providing air support
L.A. County Sheriff's Department examines whether calls for aircraft to respond went unanswered so it would look like funding cuts were threatening public safety. Wasteful spending is also alleged.
By Robert Faturechi
Los Angeles Times
March 17, 2012

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators are probing allegations that supervisors from the department's Aero division purposely delayed responding to calls for emergency air support.

At least one former Aero Bureau supervisor has publicly made accusations of impropriety. In a lawsuit filed against the county, Lt. Edison Cook said deputies were instructed by their supervisors to "slow down on service calls in order to miss calls for service." One sheriff's supervisor, Cook said, instructed other supervisors to complete their quota of required special shifts during the day, not the night, when most calls for service go out.

On one occasion, the three-decade veteran said, he drew criticism from his captain when, during one shift, he assigned an aircraft to a deputy without one: "We don't want to field too many ships because then it would look like we could get along without overtime."

During the period of the alleged manipulation, Sheriff Lee Baca was regularly alerting the Board of Supervisors, which controls his budget, to the negative consequences of funding cuts, often including a detailed accounting of calls for service that the Aero Bureau had to miss.

In his lawsuit, Cook quotes a 2010 email from an Aero Bureau sergeant: "If we go short and calls are missed we need to record the missed calls and provide our executives with the proper records so they can fight the fight."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the allegations of misconduct are being thoroughly investigated.

He also said the department has completed a separate internal criminal investigation into allegations that Aero Bureau officials had improper relationships with contractors. Whitmore said that probe found no wrongdoing, though the results won't be presented to prosecutors until next week.

"When all is said and done," he said, "we are confident that the department will be cleared of any wrongdoing."

Elizabeth M. Kessel, an attorney representing the county in the lawsuit, described Cook in a statement as "a disgruntled former employee. This litigation will show that his allegations are meritless, based on gossip and innuendo."

Cook said he began noticing problems soon after he was transferred from his post as a unit commander on Catalina Island to the Aero Bureau in 2009.

His lawsuit alleges that in May 2010 he learned that some deputies and sergeants were getting more overtime than others.

Cook, now retired, also alleges that division supervisors were making use of the department's air fleet when commercial flights would have been significantly cheaper. One county aircraft, he said, "was used as the personal aircraft" by some officials when attending out-of-state meetings.

In his lawsuit, he claims he took his concerns about the wasteful spending to his chief, telling him "the department will have problems if the Los Angeles Times found out."

Cook also alleged that the Board of Supervisors was misled into believing that a project to outfit helicopters would cost $12 million more than needed. He said sheriff's officials also made a contract so narrow in scope that only one avionics company could compete.

He claims he was retaliated against as a result of his complaints, and eventually received a "punitive transfer" out of Aero Bureau to a post at a sheriff's jail.

Whitmore confirmed that department investigators are probing allegations that Aero Bureau officials improperly used county aircraft.

The accusation of financial irregularities in business with contractors was referred to the county auditor, which he said found no impropriety, Whitmore added. He quoted the audit, which was not provided to The Times, stating that the dealings "followed county standards for competitive solicitation."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Washington State officials hid evidence that might have saved Joash Powell's sons

Powell had 'incestuous' images on his computer, police say
February 10, 2012
Associated Press

Before Josh Powell was going to try to win back custody of his children last week, Washington state authorities received materials from Utah police that had been discovered on a computer in Powell's home two years ago. Authorities say the images depicted "incestuous" sex and were disconcerting enough that they prompted a psychologist to recommend that Powell undergo an intensive psychosexual evaluation.

But a lawyer for Powell's in-laws, who had custody of the boys, wasn't invited to see the materials before the custody hearing - even though a Utah judge had specified in a sealed court order that he was one of the few people allowed to see them.

Had he seen the images, attorney Steve Downing said, he might have asked the court to change the terms of Powell's supervised visitation with the boys, such as by asking for the visits to be in a public place. Instead, Downing said he didn't learn until Thursday morning - four days after Powell killed himself and the boys in a house fire - that he was allowed to see them.

"That would have absolutely given me the opportunity to submit a declaration about our deep concern. I was approved ... to view those pictures and I was never notified," Downing said. "I could have gone into all the reasons why the visitation could have or should have been restricted."

Pierce County Sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the images collected by investigators from Powell's home computer in Utah two years ago were realistic computer-generated depictions of "incestuous" parent-child relations.

"It's family-oriented in nature," Troyer said. "It is incestuous."

Troyer said the images couldn't be legally defined as pornography because they don't involve real people. Troyer said the judge in last week's custody hearing was apprised of the images at the proceeding.

Powell was the only person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell, from their home in West Valley City, Utah, in 2009. He was never arrested or charged in the case, and a month after she vanished, he moved with his boys back to his father Steve's home in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle.

Last year, authorities searched Steve Powell's home, computer and cars for evidence in Susan Powell's disappearance - and instead said they found thousands of voyeuristic pictures and videos, including child pornography recorded by Steve Powell. The state took custody of the boys and turned them over to Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox.

Josh Powell repeatedly tried to regain custody of the boys. At one point late last year, he underwent a court-ordered psychological evaluation. The psychologist held off on finalizing his report for some time, anticipating that he would be able to review materials that West Valley City police had discovered on Josh Powell's computer, said Washington state assistant attorney general John Long, who represented the state in the custody case.

But as the Feb. 1 custody hearing neared, the materials hadn't arrived from Utah, Long said. It wasn't until after the psychologist finalized the report that the materials arrived at the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. When the psychologist saw them, he added an addendum to his report recommending the psychosexual evaluation of Josh Powell - an exam that can include a polygraph as well as more intrusive measures to determine the body's response to child pornography or other stimuli.

On Jan. 30, the sheriff's office arranged a viewing of the materials, said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Among the attendees were Long and a Child Protective Services social worker. Downing said he wasn't notified of the viewing. Long confirmed Downing had been listed as one of those allowed to see the images. However, Downing was not technically a party to the Feb. 1 hearing, which was between Powell and the state, so there was no rush to make sure Downing saw the materials beforehand.

Josh Powell's attorney, Jeffrey Bassett, also did not attend. He said in an email Thursday that there had been some "miscommunication," and he didn't learn about the viewing until after the fact. He wasn't able to immediately schedule another viewing.

Two days later, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson heard arguments from Josh Powell seeking to regain custody of his children. Long opposed that, noting only that "concerning" images from his computer had been provided by the police in Utah.

After considering Long's arguments and the recommendation for the psychosexual evaluation, Nelson denied Powell's request. She said she wouldn't consider granting Powell custody unless he underwent the exam. She didn't make any changes in the visitation schedule, which allowed Powell to see his boys, 5 and 7, at his house twice a week while supervised by a social worker.

On Sunday, the social worker brought the boys to see their dad at his rental home outside Puyallup. After the boys rushed inside, he slammed the door in her face, locking her out. He attacked the boys with a hatchet, then torched the home in a gas-fueled inferno.

Chuck Cox, Susan Powell's father, said the images were just another indicator of problems with Josh Powell. Cox said he did not know the details of the images. He believed the kids should have been fully taken away from Powell long ago and that they raised concerns about allowing him continued contact.

"How much does it take for them to figure out that he should not have the children?" he said. "It's just wrong. They needed to be taken out of that environment."

Friday, January 06, 2012

Intelius and the Dubious Art of “Post-Transaction Marketing

Intelius and the Dubious Art of “Post-Transaction Marketing”
A checkered success during the dot-com bubble, Naveen Jain has come charging back with a new venture—and the complaints are rolling in.
Nina Shapiro
Seattle Weekly
Mar 18 2009

It all started when Scott Bolsins found a lost schnauzer roaming around his suburban Dallas neighborhood. The dog's collar listed a cell-phone number, but when Bolsins called, no one answered. Bolsins, who once had a business selling homemade dog bones over the Internet, was perturbed. "I can't keep this dog, and I sure don't want to take him to the pound," he thought. So he went online to do a reverse lookup of the phone number in order to find the associated address.

He went to the Web site of the Bellevue company Intelius, which sells personal information obtained from public records and marketing databases, including addresses attached to cell-phone numbers. He plugged in the number, gave his credit card number to pay the small fee, and received an address in Grapevine, a neighboring city. He then delivered the schnauzer to its teary owners, who had thought their beloved pet was dead. "They're happy. We feel good. Everything's great," Bolsins recalls in a soft Texas drawl.

"Next thing I know," he continues, "I start getting these charges." Two of them, for $19.95 apiece, showed up on sequential credit-card bills beside unfamiliar names: "Privacy Matters" and "PMIdentity." Bolsins went back to the Web to investigate, and found one phone number for both names. He says he called and was told that he'd signed up for a "service" on the Intelius site. What service, and how did he sign up? It was never clear to Bolsins. All he knows is that Intelius forwarded his credit-card information to another company that ran this "service."

He got the charges reversed, but cancelled his credit card anyway to avoid any more mysterious charges. He then filed a complaint about Intelius with Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. Almost a year later, Bolsins—himself experienced at running an online business—still seethes about what he considers a blatant "scam."

The word comes up a lot in 121 complaints, filed with McKenna's office, against Intelius, many of which detail the same kind of thing that happened to Bolsins. Even during a time when his office is getting more consumer gripes than it has in years, McKenna says, "That's a lot of complaints about one company." Intelius has drawn even more—822 to date—at the Better Business Bureau. On the BBB site, the company is currently listed as unrated, due to "one or more serious complaints" that the bureau has not yet had time to assess.

Partly because of concerns about Intelius, McKenna requested legislation this session aimed at stopping what he calls "deceptive" Internet marketing—although the resulting bills didn't succeed in getting scheduled for a vote by last Thursday's deadline. It's the second time McKenna has gone to the legislature in an attempt to curb the company's practices.

Last year, Intelius started a service in which you could input a name and for a fee receive that person's cell-phone number. (Intelius declined to tell the Weekly where it gets all that information.) In response, McKenna pushed through a billthat prohibits companies from selling people's cell-phone numbers without their permission. Faced with negative publicity, Intelius eliminated the service before the law took effect last June. The law, however, does not require people's consent to include their cell numbers in reverse directories, which Intelius continues to offer. One reason for the exception is to allow people to identify phone stalkers, the AG says.

The company's troubles don't stop with state regulators. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation of Intelius for possible violation of laws regulating how credit information is disseminated. FTC spokesperson Mitch Katz says the investigation is ongoing. Intelius has also become enmeshed in litigation over fractious business relationships, and has provoked the ire of numerous people who feel the company has violated their privacy or simply provided bad information.

In the process, Intelius has become a nexus of all the appeal—and the dangers—of Internet commerce. It provides easy desktop access to information that previously might have required visits to courthouses and state government offices. But some of its practices have reinforced people's worst fears about handing over their credit-card information online. And the sometimes-questionable accuracy of its data has heightened anxieties about the ready accessibility of personal data on the Web.

Founded in 2003, Intelius employs close to 200 people. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year in preparation for a public stock offering, Intelius said it had revenue of $88 million and a profit of $11 million in 2007. (Amazon.com, in comparison, was still losing money four years after its launch, though it had nearly twice as much revenue.) The company's site was the 111th most-visited in January, according to Media Metrix. Its success has also been fueled over the years by an array of shifting partnerships, including ones with giants Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL, all of which at one time used Intelius to provide directory searches on their own sites. Yahoo still does, as well as AT&T, Switchboard.com, and many others.

"I'm amazed," says Jon Staenberg, a Seattle venture capitalist. Staenberg was an early investor in InfoSpace, the previous start-up of Intelius founder and CEO Naveen Jain. "If the numbers are what Jain says they are, he's been able to build another large company," says Staenberg (who has not put money into Intelius). "Not many entrepreneurs can do that twice."

Remember, you still haven't gotten access to the information you paid for. To get it, you have two choices: Click on the big orange rectangle, off to the side of all these instructions, that says "YES, and show my report," or click on the small black one-line link that says "No, show my report." The YES button is what gets you monthly ValueMax fees.

Intelius also uses this technique to peddle Adaptive's identity-theft program, Privacy Matters. Last May, the business news site TechCrunch wrote a scathing pieceabout the practice. Intelius pitches its own identity-theft service as well, which purports to monitor public documents and consumer databases for suspicious activity.

The founder and CEO of Intelius: “kinetic personality.”

— Intelius Filing with the SEC

— TechCrunch on Intelius

— Iowa Attorney General Suit Against Ventrue
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Stephen Kropp of Renton says he inadvertently signed up for an Intelius identity-theft subscription last summer after purchasing a phone number from the company. Sometime later, he says, he noticed a $19.95 charge on his debit card. Looking through past statements, he realized the company had been charging him for six months, collecting a total of $120. "I just wanted a phone number," says Kropp. "The service they were offering was completely unrelated to what I was asking for" and hadn't provided him any benefits that he could see. He says Intelius initially refused to refund all but one month of the fees, but agreed to return the rest after he wrote to McKenna's office.

Like many of those complaining, Kropp is not a computer neophyte. A civil engineer, he works for an environmental consulting firm called Entrix, where he designs salmon habitat restoration projects, among other things—all using software, of course. "I'm pretty much a computer nerd," he says.

That's the thing that bothers Brenda Piampiano, a Maine attorney who was hit with $40 worth of charges for an Adaptive service she says she never intentionally signed up for. The service is called "Family Safety," and promises to allow consumers the ability to monitor sex offenders in their neighborhoods. "I'm a relatively savvy person with a law degree, and I use the computer absolutely all the time," she says. "I feel like if I can get taken into these things, anybody can."

Adaptive spokesperson George Thomas says the company's offers on the Intelius site are "perfectly clear," and that people who say they didn't realize they were signing up for Adaptive programs must have "forgotten they enrolled." Connie Zimmerman, senior manager of compliance for Adaptive, adds that consumers are sent a confirmation e-mail.

Intelius originally declined to speak to Seattle Weekly for this story, citing the "quiet period" following its filing with the SEC. Many businesses choose to say little to the media after filing to sell shares to the public in order to avoid allegations of misleading potential investors. Shortly before this story was scheduled for publication, however, the company made available its executive vice president of sales and marketing, Ed Petersen.

Petersen says his company has responded to consumer complaints by sending its own confirmation e-mails, as well as by redesigning its check-out pages to make clear all the services people are buying. About six months ago, he says, Intelius formed a "consumer advocacy committee" of employees and board members, which reviews "everything that goes out on the site."

"We've evolved," Petersen says. He maintains that the complaints represent a small part of Intelius' volume of business, and that most customers come directly to the company's site, rather than via partners' sites, because "they have heard good things" about the company. "That says we're doing something right."

The company declined requests for an interview with Jain.

Intelius is far from the only Web company to use these kinds of controversial marketing techniques. Nor is the Internet the only medium in which they flourish. McKenna recalls the record clubs from the time he was growing up: They'd draw you in with an offer of a half-dozen or more LPs for a penny, then automatically send you another record at full price every month.

More recently, McKenna and numerous other attorneys general sued Chase Bank and Trilegiant Corp. for a scheme in which consumers were offered rebates and trial periods for Trilegiant "membership" programs. The offers came attached to Chase mortgage or credit-card statements, and, unbeknownst to many consumers, resulted in monthly fees. The companies agreed to a $14.5 million settlement in 2006.

Internet transactions are especially tricky, says Alissa Cooper, chief computer scientist for the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, because you're tempted to click through screens without close examination. And what you're agreeing to "can be buried behind a link or another page that you never thought to go to. Or they can have all these buttons and flashy graphics." Plus, she notes, the Internet allows personal information, like credit-card numbers, to be transferred electronically, smoothing the way for business partnerships that aren't necessarily apparent to consumers.

WhitePages.com, a Seattle-based competitor to Intelius, partners with a company called US Search, which employs techniques similar to those of Adaptive in order to push membership clubs and "Reservation Rewards" programs. John Lusk, marketing vice president for WhitePages.com, maintains that post-transaction marketing is "a viable business strategy. Once you've got someone on your site, you should be doing everything to cross-promote and cross-sell."

He concedes some companies don't do this in a "straightforward" way. He recalls signing up online for the Vancouver Marathon last year. When it came time to pay, he noticed all these already-checked boxes signing him up for various things, and he thought he'd unchecked them all. Sometime later, however, a $50 charge appeared on his credit card—the fee for a service that was supposed to keep him updated on similar events.

"This is bullshit," he griped when he called the company.

Last year, US Search paid $250,000 in penalties after the New York State Attorney General found the company had "illegally accessed and sold consumer data." Adaptive, too, has had trouble with state regulators. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller launched a suit in 2006 against Adaptive's parent company Vertrue, charging unfair and deceptive practices in the sales of its membership programs. "Many consumers don't know they are members, are not aware they are being charged yearly or monthly membership fees, and make no use whatsoever of the so-called membership benefits," a press release from Miller's office reads.

Two ongoing class-action suits on behalf of consumers, in Texas and Tennessee federal courts, make similar allegations. Thomas, a spokesperson for Vertrue as well as Adaptive, says the allegations "will be shown to be without merit," and a Tennessee judge issued a favorable ruling for Vertrue last year. The case is on appeal.

McKenna, known as one of the most active attorney generals in the country on Internet fraud issues, says he can't comment on open investigations, and so won't say whether his office is contemplating similar action against Intelius or Vertrue. But he says that the large number of complaints against Intelius spurred him to push for legislation designed to ensure that consumers give their "informed consent" before they are charged for products.

"We're basically trying to slow the process down," adds Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi, who helped draft the failed bills.

Under the bills, companies that acquire people's credit-card numbers would be required to ask customers to re-enter at least the last four digits before charging them for additional services. Businesses would also have to notify consumers at least five days before the first charge is made, a provision especially aimed at companies that offer trial periods that quickly convert to ongoing fees.

In addition to the services it sells to consumers, Intelius provides employers and landlords with criminal histories, credit reports, Social Security verification, and employment records on potential employees and tenants. All these services are regulated by the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act—"the nation's oldest privacy law," according to Chris Hoofnagle, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The act requires companies that sell such data to ensure that their customers have a legitimate purpose for using it—something that US Search failed to do, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "With the crime of identity theft running rampant across the globe, it is critical that personal data, including sensitive credit-bureau information, not be readily available to anyone with Internet access," he said at the time.

Intelius is also being investigated for possible violations of the act, according to the SEC filing. (The FTC won't discuss ongoing investigations.) These violations could be in regard to privacy or accuracy, Hoofnagle speculates.

Both issues loom large in the consumer complaints about Intelius filed with McKenna's office, most of which had to do with ordinary people searches. Some correspondents are livid that information such as their birthdate and the names of their relatives is so readily available—even if, as a McKenna staffer often writes back, such information comes from public documents that are already "available to anyone who might request them." Intelius recently hired a "chief privacy officer" to deal with such concerns and "grow the relationship" with advocacy groups, legislators, and regulators, according to Petersen.

Many other consumers object to the spotty results. As Intelius itself concedes in its SEC filing, the information it and similar companies sell is often inaccurate and out of date.

One West Virginia woman wrote to the Attorney General's office a couple of years ago to say that she paid $69.95 for a background check on a registered sex offender in her neighborhood, only to get a report saying that the man had no criminal history. Another woman in New York wrote to McKenna that she got way more information trolling free Web sites than she did by paying Intelius.

Christine Fabris of California says she ran a background report on herself, and was shocked when it listed a 1998 case number under a category called "Criminal Check." She says she had no criminal record, and so thought, "Oh my God, someone's stolen my identity." She was especially concerned since at that time she was undergoing a separate Department of Justice background check as a tutor in the California public-school system. But when she looked up the case file at the Superior Court in Pittsburg, California, she discovered it was not a criminal case at all, but a traffic ticket.

Intelius reports contain caveats that information may not be accurate. Fabris' background report, for example, warns of "false matches" that "may not provide confirmation of an individual's criminal background." At times, though, the company seems to be selling something it can't deliver. A TechCrunch reader wrote in to say that he had searched for an obviously nonexistent person with the last name "Bullshit" and the Social Security number 123-45-6789. Intelius did indeed offer to sell him a report on Mr. Bullshit—just as it did when Seattle Weekly repeated the experiment.

An Intelius people search on Naveen Jain drives home the kind of information that is and isn't offered. The report lists Jain's birthday, some relatives (including his wife Anuradha, who serves as Intelius' vice president of community affairs), and three addresses, including his home in Medina (especially impressive since property records cite a trust as owner of the home; the Jains' ownership is revealed in other documents). But it doesn't say which address is current; Jain sold one of the listed properties in 1999. And the property value that is supposed to correspond to that house is wildly incorrect. The supposed value: $279,400. The actual value: $856,000. (Jain's current Medina house, incidentally, is valued by the Assessor's office at $16.2 million.)

Aware of its PR challenges, Intelius has been stepping up its philanthropy. In January the company issued a press release touting 2008 donations of nearly $210,000 to a dozen local and national nonprofits, including the United Way, Seattle Children's Hospital, and Overlake Service Center. Jain and his wife have personally given even more.

The Jains have contributed especially generously to causes related to their East Asian heritage. They gave $250,000 to the newly rebuilt Vedic Cultural Center in Sammamish, making them the largest contributors, according to the Center's executive director Naresh Bhatt. The pink, marble-floored edifice is a gathering place for local Hare Krishnas, a number of them Indian immigrants, like the Jains, in the Eastside's tech community.

Bhatt says he and two others from the Center went to the Jains' Medina house to pitch the rebuilding effort. He brought a computer presentation that normally took about 30 minutes. But Bhatt says Jain stopped him after about 10 or 15 minutes with a generous offer, and then moved everybody into the kitchen for snacks.

Vijay Vashee, a Zimbabwean native of Indian extraction, knows Jain from the time the two worked at Microsoft. Both have since supported some of the same causes, including the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center in Bothell and an India-based charitable organization called Child Rights and You. Vashee says he and other Seattle Art Museum supporters pressed Jain for a donation to the current Seattle Asian Art Museum exhibit of paintings from Jodhpur, India, and Jain complied. He "seems to be in a mode where he's preoccupied about wanting recognition and being perceived as a leader in the community," Vashee observes.

In recognition of the Jains' philanthropy, Overlake Service League, a Bellevue nonprofit, chose the Jains to be "honorary chairs" of its annual March luncheon. "They're just out there in every conceivable way," says Trish Carpenter, Overlake's fundraising director. Not only have the Jains donated tens of thousands of dollars, but they have encouraged Intelius employees to do the same, Carpenter says.

She adds that Jain told her recently, "In tough times, if businesses like Intelius don't step in, who will?"

On the business front, though, Intelius seems to be having mixed success of late. The company has not said when it will have its long-delayed IPO. (Obviously not anytime soon, given current stock-market conditions.) But Petersen says "all sides of our business are growing gangbusters," and notes that the company is adding a new office in Bothell. In February, Intelius started providing search services for sites run by AT&T, such as YellowPages.com.

But Intelius has also lost some contracts. Last year MSN switched from Intelius to WhitePages. WhitePages' vice president of business development, Young Lee, claims his company's service drew more traffic, in large part because it offers all its information for free, including age and household members. (Intelius offered some free information on MSN, but charged for more detailed reports.) The same goes, he says, for AOL, which switched several years ago from Intelius to WhitePages.

Petersen responds that "that is a load of crap," saying the switches had to do with larger marketing agreements rather than with customer satisfaction. (Both Microsoft and AOL declined to comment.)

In a medium that famously gave rise to the idea that "information wants to be free," Intelius' fee-based model has done remarkably well, but perhaps won't for long. "It is possible that competitors employing an advertising-supported business model with free or low-price information service offerings may emerge," the company wrote in its SEC filing. "Any such development may require us to re-evaluate our business model."

Intelius already has one strategy laid out. According to the filing, it plans to increase its focus on post-transaction marketing. Seems like McKenna's office is in for more complaints. Asked whether he plans to take any further action regarding the company besides the current legislation, McKenna only hints: "We'll be talking again."