News in Brief
California: If Senate Bill (SB) 439 successfully winds its way through the California Legislature, the state would bar the juvenile justice system from hearing the cases of children younger than 12 who have been criminally charged. The bill’s co-sponsor, state Senator Holly Mitchell, said “The vast majority of young children in California who’ve been accused of an offense are exhibiting behaviors or minor behaviors that did not require any justice involvement.” According to a July 17, 2018, report from TheAppeal.org, 20 states have a minimum age for juvenile justice involvement. In North Carolina, children as young as 6 can be referred in to the system; 11 other states have an age threshold of 10 years old.
California: In yet another example of the overcriminalization trend sweeping the country, food service providers who repeatedly hand out plastic straws next year in Santa Barbara, California, could land behind bars. That’s when a strict new ordinance takes effect.
While some communities have banned the environmentally unfriendly products, Santa Barbara has taken an iron fist approach. According to reason.com, one violation can bring “both an administrative infraction carrying a $100 fine and a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Each contraband straw or unsolicited plastic stirrer counts as a separate violation, so fines and jail time could stack up quickly.”
The Santa Barbara City Council, which voted unanimously to ban plastic straws, heard from not only environmental advocates but children as well. “I do not think it is fair for the sea animals to eat our trash,” said young Weston Burrell at the podium.
However, critics cited the fact that some people with disabilities must use plastic straws to swallow properly. “Restaurant owners can request an exemption based on medical necessity, but granting one is at the city’s discretion,” reason.com reports.
In addition to straws, single-use plastic utensils and stirrers are regulated in the draft ordinance. And a complementary ordinance bans food service suppliers from handing out Styrofoam food containers and other polystyrene products like coolers in favor of biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable containers.
While it’s true plastics are known to pollute waterways and kill sea turtle hatchings, critics note that education—not jail time—would seem the most eco-friendly response to those working in the food service industry with the audacity to hand out plastic straws.
District of Columbia: On July 18, 2018, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of M.B. Cottingham, 39, who claimed that Metropolitan Police Department Officer Sean Lojacono crossed the line during a roadside pat-down search. The incident was captured on video and featured Cottingham’s repeated protests as the officer groped him invasively around the buttocks and genitals. “Stop fingering me, bro,” Cottingham cried out in the video. “I’ve never been so humiliated in my life,” he said in a statement.
Florida: A father and son who each served many years as Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies were arrested, charged and jailed on separate, serious charges within a five-month period of one another. Retired deputy Carlton Nebergall Jr. is the subject of a pending case stemming from the February 2017 murder of his daughter’s estranged husband. On July 26, 2018, Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley refused the elder Nebergall’s request to be released to GPS monitoring pending his trial. The younger Nebergall, Jason, was convicted on July 13, 2018, for the attempted sexual assault of a woman while he responded in uniform to her distress call. Jason Nebergall was no stranger to disciplinary action during his law enforcement career; his 3,000-page personnel file contains records from at least 25 internal behavioral reviews. He had worked for Palm Beach County for nine years. He has not yet been sentenced.
Hawaii: On June 14, 2018, the Hawaii State Auditor issued a report that raised concerns about the state’s already-controversial civil asset forfeiture law. “With the bar to seize and forfeit private property in Hawaii so low, the department must manage the program with a heightened degree of transparency and accountability,” State Auditor Les Kondo said in a statement. “We found that not to be the case.” According to Kondo’s report, the Office of Attorney General, which administers the program, mismanaged program funds by failing to account for some forfeited property, failing to allocate approximately $2 million earmarked for drug prevention and failing to promulgate rules to provide guidance to both the public and law enforcement.
Illinois: Illinois State Trooper Leonard “Len” Kirkpatrick, 49, was placed on administrative leave after being arrested on June 27, 2018, on two felony charges of official misconduct. Kirkpatrick, who earned $95,076 per year as a 14-year veteran state law enforcement officer, was caught soliciting a person he thought was a prostitute on the now-defunct website Backpage.com. The person, who was “not his spouse,” tipped off Kirkpatrick’s supervisors to the trooper’s online activities, which included offering money for sex on two occasions when he was on duty. No sex acts actually resulted from the communications. Kirkpatrick faces up to five years in prison on each class 3 felony count.
Kansas: The Allen County Sheriff’s Office arrested police chiefs from two neighboring towns in separate incidents this year. On March 20, 2018, LaHarpe police chief Ashley D. Wright, 33, was arrested on suspicion of interference with a law enforcement officer. She was allegedly trying to prevent officers from serving an arrest warrant on her husband, David O. Wright, also a former police chief in a small Texas town. On June 26, 2018, Humboldt, Kansas police chief Brian C. Dillow’s mugshot was featured in a sheriff’s department Facebook post detailing the week’s arrests. Dillow, 42, was taken into custody on suspicion of domestic battery and criminal damage to property. He was released on his own recognizance.
Louisiana: Former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone voluntarily gave up the practice of law in 2012 after his anonymous online comments led to the compromise of active federal cases and the eventual resignation of then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. On July 17, 2018, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board issued a 31-page ruling that recommended the Louisiana Supreme Court disbar Perricone. The board said Perricone “knowingly committed the violations and acted unprofessionally” when he used at least five different aliases to comment on news articles posted by NOLA.com. Although the board stated that it believed Perricone “did not intend the consequences of his actions,” the former prosecutor’s behavior justified the most severe sanction “because of the court’s holding that public officials are held to a higher standard than ordinary attorneys.”
Massachusetts: On June 27, 2018 Family Court Judge Katherine Field ruled that the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (“JRC”), a special needs day and residential school, would be allowed to continue using electric shock as a disciplinary method for students. The facility in question is the only school in the country that still uses electric shocks on its students. Former teacher Greg Miller, who worked at the school between 2003 and 2006, told MassLive.com that the shocks were administered for infractions as small as standing up or speaking without permission. Dr. William Pelham, a behavioral specialist, told The New York Times, “It is not the standard of care. There are alternative procedures that do not involve aversives like electric shock. And I am not talking about drugs as an alternative. I am talking about other behavioral treatments.”
North Carolina: An entire police department is on paid leave after its two leaders were arrested on corruption charges. Southport, North Carolina, Chief of Police Gary Lee Smith and his second in command Lieutenant Michael Christian Simmons are charged with conspiracy to obtain property through false pretenses. Smith also is facing willful failure to discharge duties and obstruction of justice charges. A press release by North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation alleges “that Smith and Simmons were reporting for work at a local trucking company where they were completing overnight shifts during the same hours they had claimed on their daily activity reports to be working at the Southport Police Department.” The other nine officers in the department are not accused of wrongdoing but are still on paid suspension. “The investigation began in April after whistleblowers within the department tipped off the authorities,” reports reason.com. Until there is “strong leadership,” the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office will assume law enforcement functions.
Ohio: Former Sandusky County, Ohio Sheriff’s Department detective Sean O’Connell entered a guilty plea on July 30, 2018, to a single count of felony tampering with evidence for his role in a botched murder investigation. O’Connell had initially faced seven charges after attempting to mislead prosecutors with false information and failing to follow up on leads in the 2015 homicide of Heather Bogle. In exchange for his guilty plea, the state agreed to drop charges of dereliction of duty/negligently failing to perform, coercion, unauthorized use of property, obstructing official business by hampering or impeding a public official, falsifying official records, tampering with physical evidence by altering, destroying, concealing, or removing records and tampering with physical evidence by making or presenting a false record.
Texas: Less than a week before David Storey was to be executed, a prosecutor’s lie that the victim’s family wanted the death penalty violated his constitutional rights, allowing a late challenge in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”).
The prosecutor, Christy Jack, told the jury in 2008 that Jonas Cherry’s family wanted the death penalty, after Storey was convicted of killing Cherry during a 2006 robbery of a Fort Worth putt-putt mini golf course. The jury was swayed and sentenced Storey to death.
However, in March 2017, just before Storey’s execution, Cherry’s parents sought clemency for him, writing to the governor that they strongly opposed the death penalty and that they “do not want to see another family having to suffer through losing a child and family member.”
The CCA set a hearing, where it was uncovered that Jack knew her statement to the jury was a “falsity” and nevertheless uttered it, “intending it to affect the jury’s verdict.”
The CCA rejected the State’s argument that Storey’s claim was filed too late, saying “because the State secreted evidence it was legally required to disclose, it cannot benefit from its wrong-doing by faulting defense counsel for failing to discover its own misconduct.”
It was determined that Storey’s right to due process was violated, and the hearing judge recommended reducing his sentence to life without parole.
United Kingdom: According to a July 10, 2018 report from TheAtlantic.com, “studies carried out in the U.S. and Europe over several decades indicate that up to one in eight girls and one in 10 boys have suffered sexual abuse.” Police in the United Kingdom are taking a unique approach to tracking down predators who seek to exploit children in online chat rooms. Tim Grant, the director of Aston University’s Center for Forensic Linguistics, trains police personnel in the spelling, vocabulary and conversational style of teenage girls to allow officers to engage with would-be sexual predators in the guise of their preferred victims. Grant’s method comes after a two-year research project that showed which words child sexual abusers typically use, as well as words that can reveal the true identity of the police officers participating in the ruse. “I did it based on my instincts for a while, then got a government research grant to do it properly,” Grant explained.
West Virginia: A West Virginia state trooper who was named 2016 Policeman of the Year was fired from the department on July 10, 2018, after the state paid out nearly $415,000 to settle four lawsuits that claimed the officer used excessive force. Ralph Justus also is a defendant in a fifth lawsuit, which alleges he sexually assaulted a woman while on duty. “Mr. Ralph Justus is no longer employed by the West Virginia State Police,” said State Police spokesman Capt. Reggie Patterson. “The settlement was a compromise of a disputed claim and a measure to save the costs of expensive litigation. The settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the Defendants.”
Wisconsin: The Milwaukee Common Council on July 31, 2018, approved a $3.4 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by six black and Latino residents who say they were targeted by police for stop-and-frisk encounters without probable cause. “Ultimately we hope that these type of situations cease and desist,” said Alderman Khalif Rainey. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit after it determined black residents were stopped at a rate six times higher than whites, has also challenged similar policies in Boston and Chicago. Alderman Michael Murphy said he hopes the settlement “improves community relations, especially with people of color.”
Wyoming: A suspended police commissioner has been charged with stealing a Taser, a portable radio and a laptop computer valued at almost $2,200, according to citizensvoice.com. Michael J. Flanagan, 52, declined to comment except to say, “Everything will come out eventually. I’ve had better days. But, I’ll get through it.” The alleged theft was discovered after Laflin, Wyoming, decided to disband the police department. Personnel were asked to “immediately turn into the Borough Building” all their equipment, according to the complaint. “However, Wyoming officers Michael Fuller and Christopher Mercavitch — both of whom have pending federal retaliation lawsuits pending against the borough — reported that at least two pieces of equipment at the department headquarters had been taken from Laflin, the charges say,” according to citizensvoice.com. Troopers charged Flanagan with theft, receiving stolen property and tampering with evidence. While a Taser, a radio and a black gun holster were returned by Flanagan, the inventory number assigned by Wyoming Borough had been scrubbed off, according to police. Flanagan was arraigned on the charges, released on $10,000 unsecured bail, and a preliminary hearing had been set.
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