Thursday, October 15, 2015

My wife's shattered arm is latest sign of an assault on Web-based journalism and my coverage of Don Siegelman case, according to new OpEd News piece

An assault by Missouri deputies that left my wife with a shattered left arm likely is the latest attack on independent, Web-based journalism, the kind that establishment forces such as lawyers, judges, law enforcement, and corporate elites cannot control. Specifically, it's a sign of ongoing blow back we have experienced for my coverage of the Don Siegelman case.

Those are two conclusions from Joan Brunwasser's new interview with me, "Truth-telling journalist evicted, wife assaulted by heavily armed deputies," at OpEd News. Brunwasser is based in Chicago, but she long has reported on political and legal corruption in Alabama, which I have called "Ground Zero" for deterioration of our justice system that started during the George W. Bush administration and largely has continued unabated under Barack Obama. OpEd News is ranked among the top 100 political blogs on the Web.

My wife, Carol, has had her stitches removed after trauma surgery to repair her arm. But she now must wear a compression garment, and her arm is filled with enough screws and titanium to build Tiger Woods a new set of golf clubs. Caregivers have said the goal is to get function in her arm back to 95 percent. While Carol's recovery is going well, it appears unlikely she will regain full and normal use of her arm.

In our interview, Brunwasser begins by setting the stage for the assault on Carol: (Brunwasser is "JB," and I am "RS.")

JB: You've had a pretty eventful life of late. Would you care to catch us up on what's been happening?

RS: Your readers probably remember that I was incarcerated in Alabama for five months (October 2013 to March 2014)--for daring to practice journalism--and my wife, Carol, and I lost our house in Birmingham to a foreclosure that I now am convinced was unlawful. After all that trauma in the South, we fled to Springfield, Missouri, where I grew up and still have family. But it seems the conservative forces that want to shut down my reporting on the blog Legal Schnauzer have followed us, perhaps through my brother David, who happens to be a right-leaning lawyer in Springfield. On Sept. 9, we were unlawfully evicted from our apartment in Springfield. Sheriff deputies (about seven or eight of them) burst through the door, trained at least one assault rifle and multiple handguns on us, handcuffed us both, and ultimately assaulted Carol, breaking her arm. A trauma surgeon used all sorts of screws and titanium plates to piece her arm back together. Her recovery seems to be going well, but she's a long way from "back to normal." In fact, we are concerned that her arm might never be the same.

Is such a show of force normal for an eviction? Brunwasser and I examined that issue:

JB: I'm really sorry to hear about the assault and Carol's resultant injuries. Is this the normal course of things for an eviction, Roger? It sounds more like you were on the Most Wanted List, based on the law officers' behavior. And why were you being evicted in the first place? I'd like some more details to sink my teeth into, please.

RS: I've never been involved in an eviction, Joan, so I don't know for sure about the normal course of these things. But I understand it's common for a deputy or two to be on hand and play a relatively passive role while the landlord's crew removes items from the property. In our case, I don't know why we were targeted for eviction. Our rent had been timely paid, and we had been model tenants. According to the lease, we were to go on a month-to-month basis after the first 13 months. That's what we thought would happen, but we had a notice to vacate taped to our door on July 2. When I called to see what was going on, the landlord's representative told me that we were being ousted under grounds that violated the lease. We fought the vacation notice in court, but as I've seen happen repeatedly with judges in Alabama, the Missouri judge seemed to pay little attention to the facts or law and ruled against us. Under Missouri law, there is a 10-day window where execution on an order (such as an eviction) cannot be carried out (levied is the term used in the law).

Carol Shuler
The eviction was scheduled for Sept. 9, which was inside the 10-day window, so it was unlawful on those grounds. On top of that, we filed a Notice of Appeal on Sept. 8, and by law, that puts a stay on the eviction. But the eviction happened anyway, and judging by the behavior of deputies (who included Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott), you would think we were running a high-level drug-smuggling operation. In the ensuing chaos, Carol and I were handcuffed, and a deputy pounced on her and slammed her to the ground, breaking her arm, when she tried to enter our apartment (as she had been given permission to do) to retrieve our cat's litter box.

Facebook is filled with videos and articles about law enforcement officials lying to cover up misconduct. That certainly was present in our case:

JB: I believe the law officers accused Carol of attacking them. What really happened?

RS: Jim Arnott, the sheriff himself pointed at Carol, as her arm had just been broken in four or more places, and said, "She assaulted a police officer." I didn't know whether to guffaw or blow my stack. I saw the whole thing from the driver's seat of our car. I heard Carol say, "I'm just trying to get . . . ", and then I saw her being slammed to the ground, and one officer grabbed both of her arms and jerked them in an outward and upward motion, before putting handcuffs on her. Carol is 55 years old, very feminine (she's hardly Rhonda Rousey) [editor's note: RR is current UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion] and I've never seen her do anything remotely violent in the 28 years I've known her. We're about to "celebrate" our 26th wedding anniversary, with her arm in a compression garment. This is a blatant example of the kinds of lies law-enforcement officers will tell when they know they are in the wrong. We saw it on video with the Sandra Bland case in Texas. Facebook is filled with images and videos of cops abusing citizens--and in this case, officers had no lawful grounds to be on the property at all.

Brunwasser also addresses the latest nuttiness, an attempt by my brothers (Paul, a radiology tech at Mercy Hospital Springfield, and David, a Missouri lawyer) to have Carol and me declared incompetent. That came after I told Brunwasser that I planned to continue my reporting as long as we are physically and fiscally able. And I pointed out that we definitely could use donations to help keep our reporting efforts on track:

JB: Wow. That's brave, some would say foolish. Kudos to you and Carol! How can people help?

RS: Well, the latest is that my two brothers--David, a lawyer, and Paul, a radiology tech at Mercy Hospital, both in Springfield, MO--have filed court documents to have Carol and me declared incapacitated and disabled, with a guardian or conservator appointed for us. I'm just beginning to learn the law on this, but it sounds like we could lose many of our rights--right to vote, right to take care of our own finances (such as they are), right to make our own medical decisions, even the right to bring a lawsuit.

I think that last one is the real reason this court case has been filed--someone wants to prevent a lawsuit because of Carol's injuries, theft of our property, etc. It also sounds like it could be a first step toward having us physically committed. I guess that's what we do now to journalists who report on uncomfortable truths--first jail, now this? I reported on this latest development at Legal Schnauzer in a post dated Oct. 7, 2015. It sounds wacky, I know, but it's the latest thing we are dealing with. As for ways to help, we could use financial support, for sure. Donations are the main way we have of keeping my reporting going, so any help is very much needed and would be greatly appreciated.

JB: How very Kafkaesque. Your brothers sound like two scary dudes. On a more positive note, how would someone make a donation? Give us everything we need in order to help.

RS: I'm not sure my brothers are scary, Joan, but I do think they are misguided--and perhaps they've been influenced by some corrupt forces from Down South. Probably the best way to donate is to go to the Legal Schnauzer blog and click on the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the front page. That's connected to our PayPal account, and there are several payment options. Again, any support is greatly appreciated.

Brunwasser then asked a big-picture question, connecting the blow back Carol and I have experienced to my reporting on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who remains imprisoned at Oakdale, Louisiana:

JB: I thought we were done but something else occurred to me, Roger. Your blogging activities since 2007 have seemingly gotten you in trouble. Unlike the mainstream/corporate press, you spent a lot of time and energy covering the Don Siegelman* case. So, do you think that, at bottom, this all started with Siegelman and the attempt by the powers that be to shut you up?

RS: Oh, there is no doubt the answer to that question is yes, Joan. Here is a link to one of several posts I've written that provide evidence showing I was fired from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB, where I had worked for 20 years) because of my reporting on the Siegelman case. Near the end of the post is a partial transcript of a conversation I had with a UAB human-resources exec named Anita Bonasera. This conversation took place after I had been put on administrative leave for allegedly writing my blog at work but before I was fired --UAB's own IT expert, who monitored my work computer for 4-5 weeks, later testified at a grievance hearing that I never touched the first keystroke on my blog while at work. Bonasera states that my supervisor, Pam Powell, went to UAB IT to check on my computer usage, and the following exchange takes place.

Bonasera is AB, and I'm RS.

AB: She was able to determine what you were working on and whether it was related to your blog . . .

RS: Well, you just said it, it's all about my blog. You just said that.

AB: That was a piece of it. Some of it was research related to your blog, from my understanding. I understand there were some things about Siegelman, screens up about Don Siegelman, things that they saw you doing that they consider to be research for your blog because then that was topics that you wrote about on your blog.

RS: Those are also news articles that we are supposed to keep up with, about Alabama, stuff in the news.

At the end of that blog post, with the link above, is a video where your listeners can listen to a tape recording of the actual conversation.

You can see from the [highlighted] sections, that Bonasera admits two things:

(1) My supervisor, Pam Powell, targeted me because of my blog, which UAB's own expert said I was not working on during company time;
(2) My supervisor specifically was looking for anything I might look at on my computer regarding the Siegelman case--even though it was the biggest news story in Alabama at the time (and we were supposed to keep up with Alabama news stories), Siegelman, as governor, was a former member of our board of trustees, and Siegelman's codefendant, Richard Scrushy, was and probably still is the most well known UAB alumnus in school history.
Here's what it boils down to: The concern about my Siegelman coverage, I'm convinced, was that, back in 2007-08, I was showing that U.S. Judge Mark Fuller had acted corruptly in the case. And Fuller had been hand-picked by Karl Rove and other Bush types to make sure Siegelman got convicted for a "crime" that doesn't even exist under U.S. law. Some 7-8 years later, the entire country knows Mark Fuller was corrupt and unfit for the bench now that he's been forced to resign after being charged with beating his wife. My reporting was both accurate and way ahead of its time, but it made the regime of GOP Governor and prime Siegelman opponent Bob Riley uncomfortable, and they caused me to be cheated out of my job. I have zero doubt that Bob Riley's son, Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, who later filed the lawsuit that led to my unconstitutional imprisonment, played a major role in getting me fired. I lost my job in May 2008, and in October 2009, Carol lost her job at Infinity Insurance in Birmingham under bizarre circumstances. I feel certain that Riley forces also were behind that, and the job loss largely is the reason we now find ourselves barely above homelessness.

Sorry for the long answer, but your question goes straight to the heart of our situation. That someone saw fit to mess around behind our backs with our jobs is what led to much of what we discussed earlier.

What's the future of other journalists who might dare to uncover unpleasant truths in swampy, shark-infested waters? Brunwasser and I addressed that topic:

JB: It's good to have the background so our readers can get the context. Pretty sordid. So, it's not out of line to ask at this point, what's in store for other intrepid journalists who rock the boat by actually doing their jobs?

Dana Siegelman, daughter of
political prisoner Don Siegelman
RS: It's hard to say, Joan. Alabama is a unique animal, or at least I hope it is. One problem is that journalists tend not to stick together these days--and that's probably been the case for years. Consider the case of the late Gary Webb, who broke the story at a San Jose newspaper of the CIA and Bush I admin being involved in drug smuggling to inner cities. He was crucified by the NY Times, LA Times, WaPo and other establishment papers. We now know that his reporting, for the most part, was right on target, and there is a fairly current movie about him called Kill the Messenger. Ironically, the NY Times did an inaccurate and very poorly reported story on my incarceration. I find that, if a story originates at a blog, web site or some form of nontraditional press, the mainstreamers want no part of it--jealousy, maybe? We need both responsible, fearless journalism and a strong, relentless Justice Department to attack the widespread problems in our courts. And citizens need to care, even if they personally have not been cheated by corrupt judges or lawyers. All of us send taxpayer dollars to support this system that is broken and needs major repair. We all have an investment in it, and it simply does not dispense anything close to what might be called justice. The rule of law means nothing to many people who have law degrees.

JB: I wish I could disagree with anything you've said here. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

RS: Our justice system is failing us. It became obvious during the Bush II administration, and the Obama administration has done almost nothing to fix it. In my view, most of the corruption initiates with Republicans or conservative Democrats, but Democrats of all stripes have been enablers. We're talking here about basic constitutional protections--due process of law, equal protection, rule of law--the very things that are supposed to make us America. They are rotting right under our noses, and before long, we're going to have a country that we don't recognize. The legal profession has proven that it cannot be entrusted with our justice apparatus. We somehow must get regular citizens involved in an oversight capacity. Lawyers overseeing lawyers simply does not work--no more than foxes guarding henhouses, to borrow a phrase from my rural roots.

I would encourage your readers to pay attention to the various presidential debates and see if they ever hear a question or comment about corruption in our justice system and the overwhelming need for reform. I've yet to hear a single Republican candidate mention it. And I would be shocked if Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or any other Dem raises it.

Don Siegelman can only be described as a political prisoner, but it seems our citizens and our candidates are willing to accept that as part of our postmodern American democracy. I refuse to accept it. And I think most of my fellow citizens would refuse to accept if they took the time to educate themselves and understand just how badly the system betrays all of us. For those who think this doesn't affect them, here's a thought: If you live in America, you almost certainly will be in court someday--over a divorce, an estate, a car wreck, a property matter, an insurance matter. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, court is almost certainly going to beckon you one day. When that day comes, you will want to make sure the judge and lawyers you face act in an ethical manner. But too many of them now are unethical, and if something isn't done about it, you will be victimized down the road.


Anonymous said...

Excellent interview. Thanks to you and Joan B.

daelv said...

Thank you Roger for you and Carol being brave and civilized through all this. You are in our thoughts. The wickedness of this will be avenged by a righteous god/dess.

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with the current article (in a way maybe it does), but since you're mentioned I thought you might want to see it.

Anonymous said...

Unlike a lot of interviewers, Ms. Brunwasser does a good job of actually letting her subjects talk. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

And this: