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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

$50 Million Lawsuit Filed in "Cowboy" Tasing that Kills Detroit Teen

by David Reutter

A $50 million lawsuit was filed against a Michigan State Trooper who Tasered a Detroit teen on an ATV before the teen crashed and died. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 15-year-old Damon Grimes' family by attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

According to Trooper Mark Bessner's attorney, "on August 26th Troopers attempted to stop Mr. Grimes who recklessly and dangerously drove on ATV as he actively resisted and evaded arrest," attorney Richard Covertino wrote in an email statement to the Detroit Free Press. "During the pursuit, Trooper Bessner was forced to make a split-second decision under circumstances on the scene and at the moment which was tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving."

Fieger, however, called the incident "a drive-by shooting of a child on an ATV." At a news conference flanked by Grimes' parents, he said, "under no circumstances should any police officer ever shoot like a cowboy out of his vehicle, out of the window."

Michigan State Police policy prohibits deploying Tasers from a moving vehicle. Yet, Bessner's report reflects he hit Grimes with a 50,000 volt charge while trying to direct his ATV off the road. The subsequent seizure left him unable to ...

Judge's Husband Profited From Prison Stock

by David Reutter

The Iowa federal judge who oversaw the judicial proceeds for about 400 undocumented immigrants who were arrested at the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse may have committed ethical violations by coordinating the raid.

The May 12, 2008 raid made headlines for being the largest workplace raid to date, and its judicial proceedings caused congress to hold hearings. Little known, however, was the financial windfall that accrued to federal Judge Linda R. Reade's husband. Five days before the raid, her husband bought between $30,000 and $100,000 worth of Corrections Cooperation of America (aka CoreCivic) and GEO Group stock.

In March 2008, Reade attended a meeting with U.S. Attorney Office officials where the "parties discussed an overview of charging strategies," an Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo stated. Reade learned that about 700 arrests were expected, and she "indicated full support for the initiative."

Following those meetings, Reade and other court official created "scripts" for the post-raid hearing that included model plea bargains. Once the plant was raided, the arrested were taken to the National Cattle Congress, a fairground where several judges handled hearings over nine days.

Typically illegal immigrants are charged with civil violations and deported. In ...

Louisiana: Reform Results in Early Releases

by David Reutter

Laws aimed at reducing Louisiana's prison population resulted in the release of about 1,400 prisoners on November 1, 2017. While the population reduction from those laws will save taxpayers $262 million, those who benefit from free prisoner labor are against the change.

Louisiana is America's prison capital, for it imprisons more of its citizens per capita than any other state. In 2015, it imprisoned 776 people per 100,000 residents. The national average is 458, Bureau of Justice Statistics data states.

To change that, Louisiana legislature during its 2017 session passed the Justice Reinvestment Act. It comprised 10 bills and hopes to reduce the state's prison population by 10-12 percent. In addition to creating alternatives to prison, it reduced the amount of time to be served by non-violent and non-sex offense prisoners from 40 to 35 percent of the sentence.

The change made about 1,400 prisoners eligible for release on November 1, 2017, and is expected to increase by 30 the average number of prisoner released each month. According to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC), it releases around 1,500 prisoners monthly, so it is releasing the same ...

Man Arrested for Crime He Stopped Sues for $1.5 Million

by David Reutter

Typically an employee who intervenes to tackle a perpetrator to prevent a shoplifting is extolled as a hero. A Decatur police detective investigating the crime, however, arrested the employee and charged him with the crime. Now, the detective faces a $1.5 million lawsuit.

Omar Malcolm was working at a Verizon store on January 23, 2016, when he tackled one of two shoplifters and grabbed an iPad from one of the two suspects, who both subsequently ran away. Detective Alexander Vots of the City of Decatur Police Department investigated the crime.

Months later, Vots learned Malcolm's fingerprint was found on the iPad. He then sought a warrant for Malcolm's arrest, and Malcolm was arrested on December 10, 2016. He spent three days in jail before the mistake was uncovered by his attorney, J. Max Davis.

Davis obtained a copy of the surveillance video used to support the arrest warrant. Vots, however, relied on the wrong video.

"It was date stamped the 16th of January," Davis said. "it showed two different employees, a different situation. It was the same store, but it was clear in the corner that it was from 1-16-2016." Then, Davis obtained ...

ABA: Tennessee Court Violates Misdemeanants Right to Counsel

by David Reutter

At the request of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, Arch City Defenders of St. Louis conducted a court watching program of Tennessee's Davison County General Sessions Criminal Court in Nashville. The observers found an "extremely serious and pervasive problem that can no longer be ignored or tolerated."

The court watchers observed proceedings in Court 1A and 3A on September 12, 2016. Court 1A processed 30,215 defendants on misdemeanor citations in 2016; over 2015 and 2016, 805 of those defendants were not represented by a lawyer when their charges were resolved.

The observers watched as defendants were booked, photographed, and fingerprinted in a room across the hall from Court 1A. When they arrived in the courtroom, there was no judge or public offender. A prosecutor, however, was present, and she announced that anyone who wished to plead guilty should approach her as she read the defendants' names.

As defendants approached her, the prosecutor offered suspended sentence with various other conditions that ranged from a fine to a class. The offers were made to multiple groups with the same crime, and when they accepted the offer the court would accept ...

Michigan’s License Suspension Scheme Traps the Poor

by David Reutter

The Michigan Department of State runs a “wealth-based driver’s license suspension scheme that traps some of the state’s poorest residents in a cycle of poverty,” a class action lawsuit filed by Equal Justice Under Law, a national civil rights organization. The scheme results in the automatic and indefinite suspension of “driver’s licenses of people who owe court-ordered fines, costs, fees, and assessments, even if they simply cannot afford to pay.”

The complaint alleges that the scheme violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. It seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against Ruth Jackson in her capacity as the Secretary of State.

In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt and failure to appear. The suspension of licenses for the inability to pay traps people "in an inescapable cycle of poverty" and results in "narrowing or eliminating their job opportunities and impeding their ability to take care of their children and obtain necessary medical treatment."

Plaintiff Adrian Fowler, 31, is caught in such a cycle. She has outstanding traffic tickets and fines from Georgia and is unable to renew her Michigan license as a result. She ...

Driver’s License Required for Conviction as Florida Habitual Traffic Offender

by David Reutter

The Florida Supreme Court held that possession of a driver’s license is a prerequisite to a conviction as a habitual traffic offender under section 322.34(5), Florida Statutes.

Daryl Miller was charged with a third degree felony on May 21, 2014 for violating § 322.34(5) by driving with a license that had been revoked. Miller argued he could not be convicted under the statute because he never possessed a valid Florida driver’s license. The trial court agreed, and it reduced the charges to driving without a valid license. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed, but it certified conflict with decisions from the Second, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts of Appeal.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted review of that certified conflict. Siding with the Third and First Districts, the Court determined that the plain language of the statute is not ambiguous. The law “provides that an offender must have had his or her driver license revoked as a habitual traffic offender in order for the felony penalty to apply,” the Court’s majority wrote. “The State cannot revoke a license that never existed.” Therefore, the Court concluded “a person cannot violate section 322 ...

Idaho Supreme Court: Suspicionless Fishing Expeditions Not Tolerated

by David Reutter

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed a district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained in a suspicionless fishing expedition by the arresting officer.

Matthew Cohagan was on a street corner in Nampa, Idaho when Officers Curtis and Otto drove by. Curtis thought he resembled an individual who had an outstanding arrest warrant. By time the officers had returned to the area, Cohagan was inside a grocery store.

Otto entered the store and asked Cohagan for identification. He confirmed that Cohagan was not the individual they were seeking. Before leaving the store parking area, the officers were told to retrieve store video from an unrelated incident. Curtis then approached Cohagan and confirmed for himself upon visual inspection that Cohagan was not the person with the outstanding warrant.

Nevertheless, Curtis still asked Cohagan for his identification to run a warrant check. Cohagan asked if he could continue shopping while Curtis ran the warrant check; Curtis said that was fine. But when dispatch advised that Cohagan may have a warrant, Curtis put his hand on Cohagan’s shoulder and led him to the front of the store.

 Dispatch advised that Cohagan had outstanding warrants. He was placed under arrest ...

Public Records in Private Accounts Subject to PRA Disclosure

The Vermont Supreme Court held that “public records” under the Public Records Act (PRA) include any documents generated in the course of public agency business, even if the record is stored in a private account. The court held that failure to ask an employee to search a private account for public records, per PRA request, requires reversal for an adequate search.

On December 11, 2015, Brady Toensing filed a revised PRA request with the attorney general’s office (AGO) seeking records generated from January 1, 2011 forward. The request named nine employees and their communications with 27 individuals across three domains. The request specifically applied to records in employees’ private accounts, as well as agency accounts.    

The deputy AG denied the request, arguing that PRA does not extend to private accounts, the legislature never intended that the agency search private accounts, and Toensing did not provide sufficient justification to search a private account and violate privacy interests.

On appeal, Toensing moved for a declaration that records related to an individual’s employment with the agency are public records, and PRA requires a good faith search for records located even in private accounts. He moved for reversal of the denial where no ...

FOIL Exemption Applies to Civil and Criminal Law Enforcement

by David Reutters

A New York appellate court held that the New York State Education Department correctly redacted or exempted public records compiled for auditing special education costs because they were compiled for civil law enforcement purposes. The court also held that a request for award of attorney fees was improperly denied where The department voluntarily disclosed a portion of the requested documents after the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) petition was filed. The denial was reversed for further review by a New York supreme court.

In 2013, after discovery of a widespread fraud in billing for special education services for disabled pre-schoolers, the legislature amended Education Law Section 4410 to allow the recovery of overpayments and disallowed costs to require The department to establish auditing guidelines and to require each municipality to submit audit plans that comply with the set guidelines.

Pamela Madeiros submitted a FOIL request for review of any audit standards and plans associated with the amended Section 4410 (11) (c) and 8 NYCRR 200.18. The Department asserted that the records were exempt from disclosure, per Public Officers Law S 87 (2) (e), because they were compiled for law enforcement purposes and disclosure would interfere with ...


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