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Roundup: Barry Jones is free, another awful AEDPA ruling from SCOTUS, and a steep drop in the murder rate
A few housekeeping/self-promotion items before we get to the latest roundup:
I wrote a piece for the Daily Beast on Ron DeSantis’s clumsy attempt to out-demagogue Donald Trump on crime.
On to your latest news in the world of criminal justice and civil liberties:
Barry Jones — the Arizona death row prisoner whose case gave us last year’s infamous “innocence isn’t enough” nonsense from the U.S. Supreme Court — has been freed. I’ve had a front row seat to this case for the last several years as my wife has meticulously reported on it. If it had been left to the courts and legal system, Jones would have eventually been executed. It took the election of a Democratic state attorney general — by less than 300 votes — to negotiate the deal with Jones’ committed legal team that eventually freed him.. Adding insult to injury, as Jones’s family waited for him at the jail, corrections officials dropped him off at a Greyhound station with no phone, no money, and no way of reaching his family or legal team. So on his first day out after 30 years in prison, Jones had to walk more than a mile along a busy city street in a city he hadn’t seen in decades, until his legal team was able to track him down. His first interaction with someone outside of prison was with a Del Taco employee, who refused to let Jones use the restaurant’s phone.
The photo below was taken by one of his attorneys, who spotted him as he tried to find their office. But at least he’s free. You can donate to a GoFundMe to help him start his new life here. And you can read my long interview with Andrew Sowards, a defense investigator who has advocated for Jones’s release for years here.
Another awful AEDPA ruling from the Supreme Court: In a 6-3 decision, the court puts yet more restrictions on the ability of factually innocent people to have cases heard in federal court.
Louisiana deputies sat on the back of an autistic 16-year-old for nine minutes. He died. A coroner ruled he died of “excited delirium,” the dubious determination that effectively clears police for in-custody deaths. In news that may or may not be related: The Louisiana legislature looks ready to pass a bill that would allow coroners to order bodies cremated after suspicions deaths — without first ordering an autopsy, and before the family of the deceased can order an independent autopsy.
Atlanta law enforcement officials sent heavily armed SWAT teams to arrest administrators of a bail fund for Cop City activists, alleging “charity fraud” and “money laundering.” They also appeared to have lied in their affidavits. This is a pretty dangerous attempt at intimidation, although it seems likely at this point that the arrests will lead to lawsuits, which will result in more money for the bail funds.
The Justice Department has released its report on the Minneapolis Police Department. It’s very bad. I posted a thread of excerpts on Twitter.
Crazy story from Washington State: Police nearly beat a man to death, leaving him in a medically-induced coma for a month. He was then arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. The man was convicted, but prosecutors later asked that the charges be dropped. The state supreme court eventually overturned the conviction, citing, in part, racist comments the prosecutor had made to the jury. Unfortunately, by then the man had already served his entire sentence. But the court decision angered the prosecutor. He inexplicably refiled the charges, apparently out of spite. In court documents, the prosecutor wrote, “It is clear to me that Mr. Zamora had not accepted responsibility for his role in this incident. While there is no more jail time available in this case, any conviction would still count as criminal history on his offender score.”
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Most of the West Virginia state police force is now under investigation for sexual misconduct after male troopers were found to have installed surveillance cameras in the women’s locker room at the state academy. According to a lawsuit, which also alleges harassment and physical abuse, some of the captured footage included video of minors attending a “Junior Troopers” program.
After a wave of criticism about preventable inmate deaths in city jails, the New York City Department of Correction announced it will be conducting a thorough, soup-to-nuts investigation, and promised to hold all the negligent parties accountable. Just kidding! The city actually responded by ending its policy of releasing information about inmate deaths.
A Chicago cop got himself out of 44 traffic tickets by claiming his girlfriend had stolen his car. The officer also has over 90 citizen complaints against him. The officer’s attorney argued that he had “received nearly 150 commendations and recognitions” — which ought to tell you something about the Chicago Police Department.
A Tennessee court will decide on the (state) constitutionally of a new law that allows the attorney general to commandeer post-conviction death penalty cases from local district attorneys. The law is basically an attempt by the legislature to prevent reformist DAs from releasing people they believe were wrongly convicted, or offering deals that revoke death sentences. Notably, in Tennessee the attorney general is appointed, while DAs are elected. So it’s just another effort by the legislature to override the will of voters in cities like Nashville and Memphis.
Florida’s prisons have banned a book written by a man who was wrongly convicted and served 27 years in a Florida prison.
Really disturbing Wired article about how courts are ordering parolees and their families to install a faith-based web-monitoring service called Covenant Eyes to stop them from viewing porn. That’s bad enough, but the software apparently gives law enforcement access to all online activity by every family member, blocks non-porn sites like the criminal justice journalism site The Appeal, and is buggy enough to trigger false reports.
Arkansas Supreme Court justice Robin Wynne has died. Early in his career, Wynne had been a prosecutor. He tried three of the four people convicted for the 1988 murder of Myrtle Holmes. Only one of the four was actually guilty. Two of the three wrongful convictions were overturned by federal courts, which found that Wynne had withheld exculpatory evidence. Those two people were then released. The third innocent person, Charlie Vaughn, remains in an Arkansas prison.
A federal appeals court dismissed a challenge to a local law requiring compulsory eviction of entire families if a single member of the family is found guilty of a felony.
Another federal appeals court will decide if police should be protected by qualified immunity after repeatedly tasering a man suspected of a misdemeanor who first fled, but then surrendered and was compliant.
Three reformist prosecutors swept Northern Virginia’s primary elections, with each defeating a challenge from the right.
If trends continue, 2023 will see the largest percentage drop in murders in U.S. history. The drop will be driven primarily by large declines in big cities. This would seem to undermine the argument that the 2-year rise in homicides during the pandemic was driven by criminal justice reform, George Soros’s favored prosecutors, or policing shortages.
Here’s one from my home town: A corrections employee called to check in on a man under house arrest for selling pot. The officer left a message on the man’s voicemail. Not realizing he hadn’t yet hung up, the officer and two colleagues then proceeded to make gobsmackingly cruel and fairly racist comments about the man, all recorded on the man’s voicemail. The dehumanizing way they referred to the guy is bad enough. But I’m also struck by how they seem genuinely angry and resentful that the man had a home, a job, and appeared to be getting his life together. The three officers were given written reprimands.
NYPD officer files lawsuit claiming he was punished for not respecting the “courtesy cards” given to friends and families of police officers that customarily get them out of traffic tickets.
A Tennessee man was released from prison after 20 years. He’d been convicted of murder based on dubious testimony by notorious state medical examiner Charles Harlan. This is great, but we’ve known about Harlan’s issues for well over a decade. These cases should have been revisited a long time ago.
An 11-year-old Mississippi boy called police for help after a domestic disturbance involving a friend’s father. The police showed up and mistakenly shot the boy. He is expected to recover.
Dexter Berry of Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested and jailed after a dispute with a neighbor over WiFi access. The neighbor claimed Berry had threatened to beat him up, though no punches were thrown. Two years earlier, Berry’d had a heart transplant. He needed to take medication daily to stop his body from rejecting the heart, a problem he disclosed to the judge, jail staff, and at least seven times to the officer who arrested him. Yet they still denied him his medication. After two days in jail, Berry’s body rejected the heart. He died.
This week in drug war excess: Three Tennessee girls overdosed on fentanyl. Two of them died. As the third girl was still recovering, the local prosecutor cruelly charged her with murder for her friends’ deaths. A couple days later, that girl’s mother also died. The mother’s cause of death isn’t yet clear. In other drug war news: Poppy seeds continue to trip off the drug tests hospitals administer to new mothers without their consent, which can then trigger child welfare investigations.
Video of the week: Sacramento police handcuffed a 10-year-old girl during a raid over probation violations. Needless to say, the girl was not the probationer they were looking for. The video was released as part of an audit into more than 100 search and seizure related complaints against the police department over a three-year period.
This week in dog history:
A planned funeral for the hero dog “Snooks” had to be canceled after a shipping company apparently misplaced the dog’s corpse and casket. Snooks, whose owner was bedridden, sprang into action one evening in 1956 when her owner’s home care nurse passed out while ironing, and the cigarette she was smoking (“she” being the nurse, not Snooks) started a fire. Snooks licked the nurse’s face until she awoke. When the nurse then passed out again, Snooks again licked her awake. This time, the nurse was alert enough to extinguish the flames, likely saving herself and Snooks’s owner from perishing.
For her valor, Snooks was awarded a medal from then-Vice President Richard Nixon. She went on to have seven puppies. Snooks died 12 years later at the age of 18 while her family was on vacation in El Paso. Her owners decided the pup deserved a proper funeral and burial, so they bought a casket and arranged to have it and Snooks’s remains sent back to their home in Silver Spring, Maryland. That’s when the shipping company lost Snooks and her coffin, scuttling the plans for a funeral.
— Associated Press, June 18, 1968
My nephew is really into birds of prey. So last April we took him to a falconry demonstration at a bird preserve in Goshen, New York. I highly recommend the experience.