October 10, 2008
Anti-gang squad shows an impact; 300 arrests, 25 guns taken
Six months after a Gang Impact Squad was formed to combat violence in Cleveland, the unit has arrested scores of violent criminals.
The seven-officer squad has confiscated 25 guns and arrested more than 300 people for drugs, guns and violent crimes. More than 250 of them have been identified by police as gang members.
Police officials credit the squad for using information about gangs to solve two high-profile killings. Officers arrested a man in March after he was accused of gunning down a 19-year-old Bay Village man on the West Side. In July, officers arrested a gang member for torching and killing a 25-year-old man on the East Side.
Much of the violent crime in Cleveland is related to guns, drugs and gangs, Police Chief Michael McGrath said. He added that the gang squad unit has obtained information for major federal investigations.
"It is working its way up the ladder," McGrath said. "It's having an impact."
The Police Department used federal money to form the squad after Mayor Frank Jackson ordered police to target gun-toting criminals as a way to reduce homicides. Killings reached a 13-year high last year, with 134 people slain in Cleveland. [Mark Godsey]
Criminal Prosecutions Predicted to Surge Over Financial Crisis
With public anger reaching a boiling point over plunging stock prices and Wall Street "greed," white-collar defense attorneys are preparing for an inevitable surge in criminal prosecutions.
Stanley S. Arkin, for one, said he expects that the anger, hysteria and economic dislocation fueled by "imprudent credit policies" will "inspire" indictments that would not have been brought in a "calmer and more dispassionate time."
There is "an underlying popular sensibility in this country that someone has to pay for all the jobs lost and the savings extinguished," said Arkin, a partner at Arkin Kaplan Rice. "There's a lynching quality that arises in circumstances of extreme dislocation like this."
Other defense attorneys say they are confident that prosecutors will act responsibly in deciding what, if any, criminal charges to bring.
"I don't think public clamor for executives' heads to roll is going to cause prosecutors to bring charges that they otherwise wouldn't bring," said Alan Vinegrad, a partner at Covington & Burling and a former Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney.
Lawyers expect heightened scrutiny of maneuvers engaged in by financially beleaguered institutions like mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and insurer American International Group.
Prosecutors were ratcheting up their activities even before Congress passed a $700 billion bailout bill last week. That bill provides that federal financial regulatory agencies must cooperate with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies "investigating fraud, misrepresentation, and malfeasance with respect to development, advertising, and sale of financial products." [Mark Godsey]
Task force recommends changes to state's involuntary commitment laws
A mental health system facing a critical shortage of hospital beds, riddled with breakdowns in communication and hamstrung by the state's commitment laws helped create the conditions that led to the killing of Sierra Club worker Shannon Harps outside her Capitol Hill apartment last New Year's Eve, a task force reviewing how the system operated in that case has found.
James Williams, a repeat violent offender with severe schizophrenia, has been charged with first-degree murder in Harps' death. Williams, who was under community supervision at the time of the murder, wasn't complying with court-ordered treatment and had been off the medications that helped control his violent hallucinations when he allegedly stabbed Harps to death.
Community corrections officers supervising Williams used every tool the system provided to try to keep Williams in treatment and out of trouble, said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who convened the task force to examine the case.
"The bottom line -- they ran out of tools, Mr. Williams was let out and 10 days later he was charged in Harps' death," Satterberg said.
The task force included more than two dozen psychiatrists, corrections officers, police officers, mental health counselors, county- and state-level executives, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors and legislators. Members, who met for the final time Tuesday, made 57 recommendations to Satterberg, who is expected to release the report next month.
One of the biggest reforms would be to change the state's involuntary commitment laws to mandate treatment for those with a significant history of violence, the Seattle P-I has learned.
Other major changes include:
October 07, 2008
Justice issues collide on ballot
Law and order activists, critics of California's drug laws and victims rights groups independently have loaded three separate crime measures onto the Nov. 4 ballot, and they're not making it easy for state voters to sort them out.
Together, Propositions 5, 6 and 9 cover 115 pages, would change scores of laws and would affect billions of dollars in state spending.
"My mom asked me if I have positions on all of them, and I told her I'm still working on it," said Assembly Public Safety Committee chairman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, who presided over nine hours of hearings on the measures. "There's a lot to digest."
On Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to drastically change the way the state prosecutes drug addicts and the lower-level property crimes they commit, to the tune of diverting an estimated 18,000 offenders from prison into treatment programs. That's the basic thrust of Proposition 5.
They're also being asked to give local law enforcement more money, protect what funds they already get, and toughen laws aimed at street gang members, methamphetamine cookers and serious ex-cons who possess guns in public. Those are the basics of Proposition 6.
The third measure seeks to put victims at or near the center of the entire criminal justice process and give them a constitutional right to participate in plea bargaining and parole decisions. It also wants to make life-term inmates wait 15 years between parole hearings, stop early inmate releases and have counties build tent jails to handle inmate overflow. That's Proposition 9.
"The skies are getting crowded," UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring said of the air traffic over the criminal justice system. "It's become a two-sided process, with the left using it as well as the right."
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whose office opposes Propositions 5 and 9 and has deep reservations about Proposition 6, said the ballot campaigns represent criminal justice policy-making at its worst.
"It only takes $2 million or $3 million to put any nice-sounding piece of junk into the constitution," Cooley said.
Big money is behind all three initiatives.
Billionaire financier George Soros contributed $1.4 million and three other out-of-state businessmen put in $2.6 million for Proposition 5. Soros and friends financed the Proposition 36 drug treatment initiative to victory in 2000. [Mark Godsey]
October 03, 2008
Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets
When Larry Levine helped prepare divorce papers for a client a few years ago, he got paid in mackerel. Once the case ended, he says, "I had a stack of macks."
Mr. Levine and his client were prisoners in California's Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. Like other federal inmates around the country, they found a can of mackerel -- the "mack" in prison lingo -- was the standard currency.
"It's the coin of the realm," says Mark Bailey, who paid Mr. Levine in fish. Mr. Bailey was serving a two-year tax-fraud sentence in connection with a chain of strip clubs he owned. Mr. Levine was serving a nine-year term for drug dealing. Mr. Levine says he used his macks to get his beard trimmed, his clothes pressed and his shoes shined by other prisoners. "A haircut is two macks," he says, as an expected tip for inmates who work in the prison barber shop.
There's been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That's when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard.
Prisoners need a proxy for the dollar because they're not allowed to possess cash. Money they get from prison jobs (which pay a maximum of 40 cents an hour, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons) or family members goes into commissary accounts that let them buy things such as food and toiletries. After the smokes disappeared, inmates turned to other items on the commissary menu to use as currency.
Books of stamps were one easy alternative. "It was like half a book for a piece of fruit," says Tony Serra, a well-known San Francisco criminal-defense attorney who last year finished nine months in Lompoc on tax charges. Elsewhere in the West, prisoners use PowerBars or cans of tuna, says Ed Bales, a consultant who advises people who are headed to prison. But in much of the federal prison system, he says, mackerel has become the currency of choice. [Mark Godsey]
October 02, 2008
Murders send city crime rate upwards
The city's crime rate jumped last month, led by a spike in murders, NYPD statistics show.
The murder rate rose nearly 77% to 46 homicides through Sept. 28, compared with 26 through the same date in September 2007.
Shooting crimes rose last month too, with the number of victims up 11% and the number of incidents up 10%, according to NYPD figures released Tuesday.
So far this year, the city has tallied 390 homicides, 11% more than the 350 recorded by the end of September in 2007.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that even if the violent trend continues, total homicides would still be the second lowest since the department started keeping track in 1963. Last year was a record low, with fewer than 500 homicide victims in the city.
"So we are doing, I think, an effective job of suppressing crime," Kelly said. "Would we like to see it lower? Of course. But overall, when you step out and look at the crime picture, it's going very well."
Still, the uptick in crime comes as the city is facing an economic downturn that is growing worse by the day.
Thomas Reppetto, a criminologist and co-author of "NYPD: A City and Its Police," said that while the department generally counters crime waves with effective strategies, the financial crisis could affect the number of police officers on the street.
"The great unknown is how this financial problem is going to affect the strength of the NYPD," said Reppetto. "Are they going to have sufficient resources to continue to carry out the strategies of the past? That I don't know." [Mark Godsey]
Judge: No Internet for stalker
A local artist who pleaded guilty to cyberstalking has been given a sentence that includes writing “I will not interfere with the Plaza Central Art Krawl” 1,000 times.
Kevin Starr, whose real name is Herschel Crumbley, was accused of sending hundreds of damaging e-mails that purported to be from neighborhood leaders and business owners in an effort to sabotage the community's quarterly art crawl.
Starr was sentenced Sept. 25 to 18 months of probation and could face 45 days in jail if he violates any of the judge's orders.
Under the terms of his probation, Starr is not allowed to touch a computer of any kind, including an iPhone, and must submit to warrantless searches of his home for electronics.
“This man has so abused the privilege to communicate on the Internet that I thought it best to take it away from him,” District Court Judge Theo Nixon told Eye.
In addition to the writing requirement, Starr is also not allowed to enter art galleries in Plaza Midwood or have contact with any of the victims. He has to undergo a mental health assessment and serve 25 hours of community service at Metrolina AIDS Project.
“There is a lot of economic and psychological damage that resulted from his actions, so I structured the sentence in a fashion I thought was appropriate,” Nixon said.
Starr did not return calls seeking comment. [Mark Godsey]
Temple professor ponders role in Phila. parole review
The Temple University professor who hastily accepted Gov. Rendell's request Monday to conduct a "top-to-bottom" review of Pennsylvania's parole system knows very little about the new assignment or how long it will take to complete.
John S. Goldkamp, head of Temple's criminal-justice department, said yesterday that he planned to focus on how other states release violent offenders into society and whether those practices can be used here.
Rendell asked Goldkamp to take on the task in the wake of the second slaying in four months of a city police officer by a paroled felon.
Goldkamp said yesterday that he did not yet know what his budget is, whether he can hire consultants, or his deadline. He did not even know until he read about it in yesterday's newspapers that Rendell had put a hold on all early prison releases until Goldkamp gets his job done. Each month, about 1,000 prisoners typically are released on parole from Pennsylvania's prisons.
"That makes for a lot of pressure," Goldkamp said. "I have the pressure of knowing that to some extent, our work is holding up the release of some people who are fully prepared to be released."
As part of the review, Goldkamp said he would examine the cases of the parolees who gunned down Sgt. Patrick McDonald last week and Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski in May. But he stressed yesterday that he was "not interested in finding blame, although that seems to be the environment right now."
Instead, he added, he plans to "look at the process of the system, and its strengths and weaknesses and what might be done to make it better."
Rendell contacted Goldkamp on Monday afternoon, hours after the Fraternal Order of Police and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey called on the state to declare a moratorium on paroles pending a systematic review.
Speaking outside McDonald's funeral yesterday, John J. McNesby, president of FOP Lodge 5, expressed gratitude for Rendell's quick action.
"It seems like there's some light at the end of the tunnel, when the governor agreed to do that yesterday," said McNesby. "He's doing the right thing, and that means a lot for the cops on the street."
Goldkamp, a nationally recognized expert on corrections and parole issues, said he expected to meet with Rendell administration officials soon to set the scope of the review and other logistics, including a time frame.
The last time he was hired to do a systemwide review was in 2005, when he examined crowding in Philadelphia's prisons.
That review took a year to complete, he said, adding, "This won't take a year." [Mark Godsey]
September 30, 2008
No Charges Expected in Dismissal of Attorneys
A Justice Department investigation offers a blistering critique of the political motivations that led to the firings of a group of United States attorneys in late 2006 but stops short of recommending criminal charges against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or others in the affair, officials said.
The Justice Department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility have been investigating the firings since last year, trying to determine who in the Bush administration ordered the firings, whether the dismissals were intended to thwart investigations and whether anyone had broken the law in carrying out the firings or in testifying about them.
Officials with the department refused to discuss the report in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, though it has been the subject of Web reports since Friday. A lawyer for Mr. Gonzales declined to comment.
Mr. Gonzales, who resigned last year after coming under criticism because of the firings, has been the main focus of interest, in part because several members of Congress charged that he may have perjured himself in his testimony through his memory lapses and misstatements about the firings.
But officials with knowledge of the inspector general’s investigation and defense lawyers who have been involved in it said they did not expect that the investigation would recommend that criminal charges be pursued at this point against Mr. Gonzales or other officials. The report was expected to recommend that investigators continue to pursue some elements of the case, meaning that the legal questions around Mr. Gonzales would continue.
One former official with knowledge of the investigation, who like others spoke about the report only on condition of anonymity, said that much of the criticism in the findings was expected to center on Kyle Sampson, who was Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff and carried out the firings of eight prosecutors. [Mark Godsey]
September 28, 2008
Colorado sex-crime database perplexes
When President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Act into law, it required states to contribute to a national database of sex offenders with more current and stringent registration requirements.
But states and American Indian tribes are having a tough time implementing some of the requirements of the 2006 law — such as making the names and addresses of juvenile sex offenders available on the Internet.
In Colorado, officials have met for more than a year to decide whether to comply with the Adam Walsh Act by July or lose $240,000 in federal funding.
And it may be worth losing the money since it could cost more to fulfill the law's requirements.
"I think at this point, the committee has not reached a final conclusion," said Chris Lobanov-Rostovsky, program director of Colorado's Sex Offender Management Board. "We are looking at the fact that this is an unfunded mandate. The other issue is that the committee and the state are committed to doing what is best for safety and victim protection. And looking at this act, is it going to further the cause?"
The Justice Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that promotes alternatives to prison incarceration, has estimated that the law would cost Colorado $7.8 million to implement.
Lobanov-Rostovsky said that figure sounds too high — unless it figures in the cost to all local law enforcement statewide — but he has not come up with his own cost estimate yet.
This fall, the committee is expected to present a preliminary recommendation to Gov. Bill Ritter to decide on compliance.
"The money is not necessarily there, and does it make sense above and beyond that even if the money were there?" Lobanov-Rostovsky asked. [Mark Godsey]
More hurt in spring prison riot than originally reported
The April riot that left two inmates dead at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence lasted nearly a half-hour and injured six times the number of people the Bureau of Prisons announced at the time, according to an incident report obtained by the Rocky Mountain News.
Thirty inmates and a staff member were assaulted in the racially motivated brawl, a report written by a Bureau of Prisons investigator states.
When the riot occurred, prison officials said five people - all inmates - were injured.
They would not say how long the riot lasted.
On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar sent a letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Harley G. Lappin, urging him to release reports on the riot to the public.
Salazar asked Lappin shortly after the riot for a full briefing once the bureau's investigation is complete, particularly in regard to staffing levels.
"The people of Colorado, especially those in the communities surrounding the USP, deserve the assurance that the BOP is taking the steps necessary to improve security at the facility and prevent terrible incidents like this in the future," Salazar wrote in Tuesday's letter.
BOP spokeswoman Traci Billingsley has said that while some incident reports have been issued to inmates, the riot still is being investigated.
The riot broke out in the recreation yard around noon April 20, after white inmates celebrating Adolf Hitler's birthday made racial comments to black inmates, authorities said. [Mark Godsey]
September 27, 2008
N.Y. Law Treats Child Prostitutes as Crime Victims not Offenders
Ending years of debate and delay, Gov. David A. Paterson on Friday signed into law a bill shielding sexually exploited girls and boys from being charged with prostitution.
The law, known as the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, will divert children under the age of 18 who have been arrested for prostitution into counseling and treatment programs, provided they agree to aid in the prosecution of their pimps.
It has been the subject of intense debate in the State Legislature and beyond, and was opposed by some law enforcement officials and by the Bloomberg administration, which argued that the bill would make it harder to crack down on prostitution.
But the bill’s backers said it was wrong to treat under-age prostitutes — many forced into the sex trade and kept there with physical threats and abuse — as criminals rather than victims.
“For too long, these young people have been sexually exploited by pimps and predators, and then exploited again by state law, which treated them as criminals instead of victims,” said Assemblyman William Scarborough, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the bill.
The legislation passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly several times in recent years but died in the Republican-controlled State Senate, most recently because of disagreement over language addressing whether judges would have any discretion over diverting criminal charges.
But supporters agreed to add provisions this year that allow charges to be reinstated if the arrested child refuses counseling or declines to cooperate with court mandates, like testifying against sex traffickers. The new law will also prevent anyone who has already been through the program from avoiding prosecution for later prostitution offenses.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
September 26, 2008
FBI did not analyze anthrax from biodefense lab
Researcher Bruce Ivins in 2002 confessed to cleaning up the office contamination without telling anyone during an Army investigation at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Ivins became a suspect in 2005 in the mailings that killed five and sickened 17.
FBI investigators have not yet analyzed the genetic fingerprints of 25 anthrax samples supplied from the lab contamination investigation, says Vahid Majidi of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.
"They're still in my lab," says Paul Keim, a microbiologist at Northern Arizona University. Keim called the FBI's decision not to examine the contamination samples "weird" given the intensity of investigators' focus on biodefense researchers, which included polygraphs of Army institute researchers.
Keim, until June, retained duplicates of the FBI's repository of 1,070 anthrax samples collected from researchers worldwide after the mailbox attacks. Genetic fingerprints of those repository samples eliminated suspects other than Ivins by 2007, says FBI lab director Chris Hassell. [Mark Godsey]
Mo. prison program fosters family ties behind bars
The handful of inmates gathered for the monthly program at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center include some of the state's most notorious female convicted murderers.
But their crimes don't prevent the women's loved ones from calling them Mommy and Grandma, or from needing a hug or words of encouragement. And while the inmates do time, their children and grandchildren often struggle with feelings of anger, resentment and betrayal.
University of Missouri outreach workers started the family support program in 1999 at the state's maximum security prison in Potosi. Known as the Living Interactive Family Education program, or 4-H LIFE, is now offered in Potosi, Vandalia and the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City.
"There are many education programs for incarcerated parents," said program director Tammy Gillespie. "But not a whole lot that work with the entire family." [Mark Godsey]
September 24, 2008
FBI Opens Probe of Finance Giants
The FBI is investigating whether fraud played a role in the troubles at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and American International Group, bringing to 26 the number of bureau investigations of institutions tied to the mortgage debacle, according to two sources familiar with the developments.
At the same time, the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened more than 50 investigations into disclosure and valuation of housing-related investments at banks, insurers and credit-rating agencies, Chairman Christopher Cox told the Senate Banking Committee yesterday.
The wide-ranging probes are operating at different stages of development and no charges are imminent, according to sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.
A half-dozen current and former government lawyers cautioned that mortgage-related cases presented significant challenges for investigators because of their complexity, which they said surpassed even the five-year-long probe into wrongdoing at Enron.
"The reason is they involve securities . . . that are all but incomprehensible even to sophisticated investors," said Timothy J. Coleman, a former Justice Department official who oversaw the government's corporate fraud task force. "The other problem is that there is no obvious crime that was committed here. It may be that people who invested in these mortgage securities misunderstood the risks. But it's not at all clear they were the result of a misrepresentation." [Mark Godsey]
Bernard Kerik Claims Selective Prosecution
Kerik's lawyers cited one-time U.S. attorney general nominee Zoe Baird and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman as high-profile tax deadbeats in a 94-page document that seeks to quash perjury, tax fraud and illegal payoff charges.
"It is a matter of public record that prospective appointees to high political office are rarely if ever charged criminally for such issues," Kerik lawyer Barry Berke wrote.
Kerik is set to go on trial next year in White Plains Federal Court. Aside from Baird and Whitman, Berke cited former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and deputy attorney general candidate Charles Ruff as others who've sidestepped criminal charges for domestic tax lapses.
Berke accused federal prosecutors of "overreaching" by bringing federal charges that echo those he pleaded guilty to in 2006 after a probe in the Bronx.
Kerik has admitted lying on city disclosure forms about renovations to his Bronx apartment done by a mob-linked contractor seeking city work.
"This is an extraordinary prosecution," Berke charged.
Berke also said it's unfair to charge Kerik for lying to White House officials vetting his background for several high-ranking administration positions from 2002 to 2004 because their questions were too vague.
Kerik was forced to withdraw his nomination for homeland security czar.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
September 23, 2008
Scavenging - and theft of recyclables - on rise
Less than five minutes into Lisa Poston's shift, the San Diego code-enforcement officer spotted a scraggly man on a bicycle that had been modified to carry garbage cans.
Poston pulled her unmarked car next to him and politely explained that he was breaking the law by taking items from curbside recycling bins. The man, who refused to give his name, wheeled away as Poston warned that she would issue him a ticket the next time.Less than five minutes into Lisa Poston's shift, the San Diego code-enforcement officer spotted a scraggly man on a bicycle that had been modified to carry garbage cans.
Poston pulled her unmarked car next to him and politely explained that he was breaking the law by taking items from curbside recycling bins. The man, who refused to give his name, wheeled away as Poston warned that she would issue him a ticket the next time.
“It's getting worse throughout the city,” Poston said.
Actually, scavenging seems to be worsening across the county and nation. Complaints from residents and reports from officials in the waste industry suggest the practice is on the rise.
The trend is difficult to quantify, because most stolen recyclables are brought to scrap yards and recycling businesses that pay cash and don't ask for personal identification.
Recycling experts said a weak economy and sky-high prices for scrap metal have turned curbside containers into gold mines for everyone from the homeless to quasi-professional thieves, who sweep through neighborhoods with crews and large vehicles. [Mark Godsey]
Searches of old criminal records end school jobs
The impact has been especially evident among nonteaching employees who, until this year, did not have to undergo the kind of comprehensive background checks done for teachers.
Now, staffers such as custodians, secretaries and cafeteria workers may face dismissal for newly unearthed offenses committed years ago.
John Reccord, a night supervisor for the Orange school district, has worked there for nearly two decades. But he stands to lose his job for an offense to which he pleaded guilty 35 years ago and was sentenced to probation.
"I have been at the school for 19 years without any problems," Reccord said. "This is going to affect people who did something when they were young. Why should they lose their jobs now?"
He is one of a handful of Orange school employees facing an uncertain future as a result of the background checks.
Statewide, it's unclear how many school employees are in a similar predicament. The Ohio Department of Education doesn't keep track of nonlicensed employees, and a union representing such nonteaching staff also had no tallies available.
Shaker Heights is among the area school districts grappling with the issue.
"We absolutely need to protect children by checking the background of school employees. The problem we're struggling with is that schools are being forced to let some exemplary employees go," said Robert P. Kreiner, business administrator for the Shaker Heights school district. [Mark Godsey]
'CLUELESS' CRIME LABS
A federal panel of experts looking into the reliability of CSI tests has heard damning evidence against some of the most common techniques used to convict killers, rapists and other criminals, The Post has learned.
The analysis of fingerprints, tire tracks and bite marks isn't nearly as reliable as researchers once believed, crime-scene specialists told the panel. Some even called it junk science.
Many said major changes would be necessary if crime labs want to continue using the evidence.
The National Academy of Sciences report isn't due out until December, but forensic expert Barry Scheck predicted the study could have blockbuster implications.
"The testimony before them was very compelling," the former O.J. Simpson "Dream Team" lawyer said.
"There were some serious questions raised about the reliability of certain disciplines - bite impressions, tire tracks and automatic fingerprint identification.
"I'm assuming they're going to make some big recommendations about how standards are set. A lot of people are anticipating a fairly far-reaching examination of forensic science."
Peter Neufeld, Scheck's partner at the Innocence Project, which works to clear the wrongfully convicted by using DNA evidence, was among dozens of experts who spoke before the panel, a blue-ribbon gathering of 17 evaluators who began their work in 2006.
The $1 million effort to assess forensic work is not final; the academy's report is undergoing a peer review now.
But it's already being viewed as a major potential challenge to the fundamentals of crime-scene investigation.
"If the rules change, it could open a Pandora's box for defense lawyers to challenge what would be considered junk science," said New York attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who helped John "Junior" Gotti beat murder charges. [Mark Godsey]
September 19, 2008
Cell Phone Cameras and Crime Reporting
One morning last month, a 28-year-old woman was struggling up the stairs at the Dyckman Street elevated station on her way to work. Normally, she would hold her skirt around her legs, but that day she was juggling a cup of coffee, a gym bag and her purse.
She sensed the presence of someone too close to her on the stairs. She turned and saw a man peering into his cellphone. A passer-by confirmed her suspicion: The man had taken photographs under her skirt.
“I said I had to do something,” the woman said on Thursday. “Since he is taking pictures of me, I am going to take pictures of him.”
She said she followed the man onto the southbound No. 1 train, walked through several cars and found him on a seat. She prepared her cellphone camera. He looked at her and mumbled something. “And I told him ‘smile’ because I am going to the police,” she said.
he took a picture, e-mailed it to the police and filed a report. On Tuesday, an officer at the 110th Street subway station at Central Park West approached a man matching the photograph, the police said. According to the police, the man, identified as Aaron Olivieri, 36, told the officer, “I hope I am not the person you are looking for.” Then he said he knew why he was being stopped: because a woman on a train had taken his picture and accused him of a crime.
Mr. Olivieri was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful surveillance, attempted sexual abuse and harassment, a criminal complaint said. A man who answered the phone at his apartment referred calls to Mr. Olivieri’s lawyer, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.
On crowded subways and streets, women have long been targets of deliberate jostling, groping, obscene photography and indecent exposure. In 2006, a police sting netted 13 men charged with groping or flashing, and other men have been arrested in recent years after being identified by cellphone pictures. One Web site, hollabacknyc.com, encourages people to share their stories and cellphone photographs. “Send us pics of street harassers!” the Web site says.
On Sept. 9, the police started tapping into the ubiquitous technology by inviting people who witness crimes to take pictures with their cellphone cameras, if safety permits, and to send them along when they make 911 calls.
Read article here. [Brooks Holland]