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Roundup: LA police union likens journalism to "stalking," dangerous heat overwhelms prisons, a horrific wrongful conviction in Australia
A few housekeeping and self-promotion items:
I’ve mentioned in previous roundups that I was recently named a finalist for a couple awards. I’m happy to report that my stories ended up winning both. The first my investigation of the wrongful conviction of Charlie Vaughn, which won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for Commentary. We were in D.C. this week the awards ceremony. It was nice to be recognized with so many other terrific journalists. It’s the first time a Substack piece has been recognized by the awards.
The other award was my cover story for the Nashville Scene last summer about how the city weaponizes the enforcement of property codes against low-income people. That piece won in the news category of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia awards, which honor alt weekly publications around the country.
I was interviewed for a couple podcasts that have recently been posted. The first is Night Raid, a series on the conviction and incarceration of a California man who killed a police officer during an unnecessary SWAT raid. It’s very well done. I also did a long interview about policing and criminal justice with Joshua Hoe, the host of Decarceration Nation podcast.
Finally, about a month ago, I had a piece in the NY Times about the town of Golden Valley, Minnesota, which saw well over half its police department quit after the city hired a black chief and assistant chief.
On to your roundup, now sorted into handy categories!
Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, New York, and Arizona have now all passed bills making it more difficult to record video of on-duty police officers. I suspect most will be struck down (as Arizona’s law recently was). But three years after George Floyd (the laws I’ve seen would have allowed Floyd’s killers to prohibit the video that showed his murder to the world), it’s pretty remarkable that these legislators have concluded that what we really need right now is less transparency for police officers.
NYPD car chases are up 600 percent since Mayor Eric Adams took office.
After seven years, the trial in the lawsuit by the family of Tony Timpa was finally set to begin. The judge then decided to delay it yet again. Timpa was killed by Dallas police after he called 911 while suffering from a mental health crisis. Body camera footage — which the police department refused to release until ordered by a court — showed that officers pinned Timpa to the ground and mocked him as he pleaded for help. When they finally called an ambulance, he had died by the time it arrived.
Meanwhile, a Dallas News investigation reveals how the city’s police department failed to stop Christopher Hess, an officer with a long history of abuse, including allegations some policing experts likened to “torture.”
Los Angeles refuses to pay for repairs to shop destroyed by LAPD SWAT team, even though the owner isn’t suspected of any criminal wrongdoing.
Lawsuit: Woman who reported rape says police then used her DNA sample to check to see if she had committed any crimes. A federal court just denied qualified immunity to the police officers.
Chicago PD announces investigation of allegations that police officers had “sexual relations” with migrants housed in a police station, including minors. Given that the migrants were in the care of the police department, sexual relations isn’t the term I would have used, here.
The LAPD refused to release the names of police officers who recklessly lit off a huge cache of seized illegal fireworks, which basically lit up a neighborhood. The stunt resulted in million of dollars in property damage and injuries to 17 people. When two L.A. Times journalists set out to identify the officers involved, the LAPD and police union accused the journalists of “stalking” and “unethical” behavior.
Audit finds that Connecticut state police may have submitted falsified race data on tens of thousands of traffic tickets in order to deceive efforts to monitor them for racial profiling. About 14 percent of the department is suspected of submitting false information. Academic studies have found similar patterns among other state police agencies.
Video from the break room of a Seattle police precinct shows a Trump flag hanging on the wall, alongside and a mock tombstone for a man officers in that precinct had shot and killed.
Here’s a fascinating, but slightly in-the-weeds look at the legislative history of qualified immunity.
New York City will pay out a $13 million for violating the constitutional rights of 1,300 George Floyd protesters with tactics like kettling, illegal arrests, and improper use of force. It’s worth remembering that a thorough review of the 2020 protests found that about 93 percent of them had no violence at all — and that other 7 percent included protests where the violence was initiated or exacerbated by law enforcement.
Culpepper, Virginia, sheriff indicted for selling badges and other law enforcement credentials.
An NYPD detective used public resources to run a private security company out of his precinct. His superiors didn’t seem to mind.
An Orwellian list of behaviors that courts have justified as “suspicious” to justify searches during traffic stops.
Yet another “elite” police team is under investigation for criminal misconduct — this time in Washington, D.C.
Former Orange County police chief Alan Hostetter has been convicted on four counts for his actions during the January 6 insurrection. I wrote about Hostetter, who is also a yoga instructor, back in 2021.
A new California law is supposed to make police disciplinary records public information, so departments can avoid hiring officers with a history of abuse. But police officers have found a way around the law: they resign before the discipline becomes official.
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Jails and prisons
Excellent reporting from a small nonprofit news outlet in Jacksonville leads to changes in leadership at the county jail, where deaths tripled after the jail switched to a private contractor for medical services.
Federal monitor urges court to find the NYC Department of Correction in contempt for failing to prevent violence and abuse at Riker’s Island.
In Louisiana’s Angola prison, death row prisoners are kept in windowless cells for 23 hours per day as heat index temperatures have exceeded 130 degrees. Last year, the state also began moving juveniles accused of less serious crimes into empty death row cells.
Meanwhile, in Texas, the state legislature still refuses to fund air conditioning in prisons, even with a significant budget surplus, and as temperatures in the state shatter records. In Alabama, where prisons are also largely not air conditioned, prisoners now also faced limited access to ice, and are being exposed to raw sewage. Mississippi finally began installing air conditioning at Parchman Penitentiary, but the process has been slow, and isn’t expected to be complete until 2025.
Here’s a more general overview of how climate change is expected to affect prisons.
Since 2020, a majority of Oklahoma’s jails have failed the state’s minimum health and safety requirements.
The First Amendment
A bipartisan bill headed through Congress poses a serious threat to the First Amendment and the free flow of information on the Internet. Here’s a good dossier on the problems with “KOSA.” And as with most things related to tech policy, if you want further informed, in-depth analysis, just read everything Mike Masnick writes.
Over the years, I’ve shared conservatives’ concerns about the increasing intolerance for open debate on college campuses — though I think they sometimes simplify and overstate the problem. (I think it’s bad form to shout down speakers, for example, but I also think that too is a form of political expression.) But what we’re seeing from the right at the moment — firing professors for expressing forbidden opinions and criticizing politicians, criminalizing books, prohibiting entire areas of academic study, punishing corporations for coming down on the wrong side of the culture wars — is just straight up, state-enforced censorship. Conservatives once at least claimed to believe that in a free exchange of ideas, their ownideas would prevail. They’ve apparently come to the realization that they were wrong. So they’re weaponizing the government to instill their ideas with force.
Related: Several states are now threatening criminal charges against librarians who let patrons check out forbidden books.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that a prosecutor who pressured a witness to destroy exculpatory evidence in violation of a court order is protected by absolute immunity. So he can’t be sued. This shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Fifth Circuit has ruled that a prosecutor who illegally jails alibi witness on fabricated charges so they can’t testify at a trial that resulted in a wrongful conviction. . . is still protected by absolute immunity.
Interesting paper argues that progressive prosecutors have brought unwarranted criticism by how they’ve positioned themselves and their approach to the job.
At least 45 people have quit the office of appointed San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins, citing “a culture of fear, politically driven office decisions, and regressive policies that have diminished a focus on reform.”
The Drug war
The DEA celebrates 50 years of fighting the war on drugs. The drugs are still winning.
You may have seen an alarming news story about a new study finding that marijuana-related emergency room visits by younger people have skyrocketed in recent years. Here’s some important context I haven’t seen in the coverage: A “marijuana-related” ER visit only means that the patient mentioned ingesting marijuana. As PolitiFact put it after a similar spate of stories in 2018, “if a patient were to come in with a cut on their hand, but also had smoked a few hours prior, they would receive a billing code and count as a ‘marijuana-related hospitalization.’" Legalization has led to more people smoking pot. That means a higher percentage of people going to the ER will have recently ingested pot. It doesn’t mean pot is the reason they went to the ER. However, there was also a significant increase in kids under 14 mentioning marijuana during an ER visit. That trend is cause for more concern, because we don’t really kids that young ingesting the drug at all.
We should want women who get pregnant while addicted to get treatment, for both them and their children. But a Reveal investigation found that seeking treatment can subject women to criminal investigations and separation from their newborns.
A two-year study in Indianapolis finds that police busts and seizures of opioids are followed by a significant increase in overdoses in the area proximate to the seizures.
Four years after granting Curtis Flowers a new trial, the Supreme Court appears to have reversed itself on the issue of racial bias in jury selection.
Important Lee Kovarsky paper on how the Supreme Court is creating new ways for federal judges to deny habeas relief to state prisoners, including those with strong innocence claims.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that police officers have no duty to protect you, even when there’s a clear, foreseeable threat if imminent harm. But most federal courts have found that there is a duty to protect when the state creates a threat of harm. The Fifth Circuit just ruled otherwise.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor again explicitly calls for an end to qualified immunity.
Lawsuit alleges that two-thirds of Mississippi courts illegally bar access to search warrants, which should be public documents under the state’s open records law.
According to a lawsuit, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center turned over the medical files of trans patients to the Tennessee attorney general. Regardless of where you come down on trans issues, this ought to scare the hell out of you.
Air Force general says “Judeo-Christian values” will ensure that the military’s use of AI will be ethical. Because those values have been so effective in the past!
A Wall Street Journal investigation of the shadow police operations that the United States funds all over the world.
Interesting study on the discrepancy between where in a city people think crime occurs, and where it actually occurs.
Crazy idea: Instead of nudging vulnerable young people into extremism in order to goose arrest statistics, perhaps the FBI could try to intervene and steer them onto the right path.
Judge finds that longtime forensic celebrity Henry Lee fabricated evidence in a murder case. It isn’t the first time Lee has faced misconduct allegations. He also helped promote an infamous “accreditation by mail” forensic organization.
A Houston non-profit has been cited over 30 times for illegally feeding homeless people. Each citation cost the group $2,000. The good news — a Houston jury recently acquitted one volunteer of the charge.
I don’t agree with the Heritage Foundation on much these days, and their motivations here at suspect at best — but these are pretty good recommendations!
Here’s a story about Georgia man who has been detained for 10 years without a trial. Here’s one about a North Carolina man detained for 11. And here’s one about Chicago court finally releasing a man who had been detained for 12.
Maryland legalizes oral and anal sex.
Ron DeSantis said he was reinstitute the Florida State Guard to respond to disasters. Instead, he appears to be creating a new militia.
Is Tennessee still a Democracy? I’d just add this: My home city of Nashville voted for Biden by 32 points in 2020. It’s now represented by three members of Congress. All are Trump-supporting Republicans, and one of them lives within 25 miles of the city limits.
Another woman was forced to have an emergency hysterectomy after she was denied abortion care, this time in Tennessee. The woman faced life-threatening complications from her pregnancy, but citing Tennessee’s post-Dobbs abortion law, doctors refused to treat her. She was forced to get the hysterectomy, which will prevent her from having any more children.
The data consistently show that youth curfews don’t work. Yet cities keep using them.
“If you want to come the U.S., do it legally.” Here’s why that’s almost impossible for most people.
Just an utterly devastating story: An Australian woman was convicted of murder after four of her children died in infancy. She was dubbed the country’s worst female serial killer. She was released in June after 20 years in prison when DNA testing showed that all four of her children had died because of a genetic mutation.
This month in dog history
In August of 1932, Canine megastar Rin Tin Tin passed away at the age of 14. He was with his owner Lee Duncan at the time of his death. Duncan, a World War I veteran, rescued the pup from a battlefield near the French village of Flirey, where Duncan and other soldiers happened upon Rin Tin Tin and his litter of siblings — the only survivors at an abandoned kennel. The dog would go on to start in 27 movies and become the biggest animal headliner of early Hollywood. The pup’s massive popularity boosted the fortunes of Warner Brothers studio, propelled the career of producer Darryl Zanuck, and by the mid-1920s made German Shepherds the most popular dog breed in the country. In 1960, Rin Tin Tin’s paw print was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Near Page, Arizona