Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, husband-wife lawyers, break out weaponry when protesters appear in front of their million-dollar home in St. Louis neighborhood

Patricia and Mark McCloskey point guns at protesters.

A husband-wife lawyer duo caused a social-media stir when they were taped over the weekend pointing guns at seemingly peaceful protesters in their posh Forest Park neighborhood near the famed St. Louis Zoo.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey head the McCloskey Law Center, a personal-injury firm that apparently generates sufficient revenue for them to live in a home with an estimated worth of $1 million. The McCloskeys reportedly are long-time supporters of the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

Mark McCloskey stated in press reports that the street in front of the couple's home, and all of the neighborhood's confines, are private property -- protected with a wrought-iron gate and marked with no-tresspassing signs. What caused protesters to wind up in a residential neighborhood? From a report at KMOV.com:

A St. Louis homeowner seen pointing guns at protesters spoke to News 4 Monday, saying he and his wife were in fear for their lives when protesters came down their street.

Hundreds of protesters chanted and marched to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's home Sunday night calling for her resignation.

A group of 300 protesters, chanting "resign Lyda, take the cops with you," marched after Krewson read the names and addresses of demonstrators calling for police reform during a Friday afternoon Facebook Live video.

During the protest, a couple at a nearby home stepped outside with guns around 7:30 p.m. Images and videos showed 61-year-old Patricia McCloskey pointing a handgun at the crowd and her husband 63-year-old Mark McCloskey was seen holding a rifle. Mark and Patricia McCloskey are personal-injury lawyers who work together in the McCloskey Law Center in St. Louis.

The couple is receiving both praise and criticism online: some people are supporting them for protecting their property.

However St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said her office is investigating the incident, adding that protesters should not be met with violence.

"I am alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend, where peaceful protestors were met by guns and a violent assault. We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated," Gardner tweeted.

How ugly did the neighborhood scene get? Mark McCloskey said it was pretty ugly:

Mark McCloskey reached out to News 4 Monday morning saying he was having dinner with his family outside of his home when the crowd went through wrought iron gates marked with "No Trespassing” and “Private Street” signs on Portland Place.

"A mob of at least 100 smashed through the historic wrought iron gates of Portland Place, destroying them, rushed towards my home where my family was having dinner outside and put us in fear of our lives," McCloskey said.

Despite his claims, video circulating on social media shows protesters opening and walking through the unbroken gate. It is unclear when it was actually damaged or who destroyed it.

"This is all private property. There are no public sidewalks or public streets. We were told that we would be killed, our home burned and our dog killed. We were all alone facing an angry mob," McCloskey told News 4.

Later in the night, protesters painted "RESIGN" on the street in front of the mayor's house.

The McCloskeys apparently are not old pros when it comes to handling guns. A report at heavy.com indicates they might have been more of a danger to each other than anyone else:

Mark McCloskey and Patricia McCloskey are a St. Louis couple who were seen on video and in photos pointing guns at protesters who were walking by their home in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 28, went viral on Twitter. The husband and wife, who work together as personal injury trial lawyers, came out of their house armed on Sunday to prevent protesters from walking onto their property in the Forest Park area.

In the videos shared online, however, it doesn’t appear that anyone walking in Sunday’s protest calling for the resignation of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson was trespassing on their palatial lawn or approached their house. While Mark McCloskey, 63, holds a large assault weapon and Patty McCloskey, 61, holds a handgun in the video, they end up pointing their weapons at each other while staring down protesters. (See video at the end of this post.) While a video does show the protesters walking through a pedestrian gate next to signs that say “private street,” “no trespassing” and “access limited to residents,” witnesses have said the protesters were peaceful and did not approach the McCloskeys or go onto the lawn of the “Midwestern palazzo” where they live.

The police report states that the couple contacted police ‘when they heard a loud commotion coming from the street’ and ‘observed a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs,’ BuzzFeed wrote. Police said the couple claimed protesters were ‘yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims’ and that they brought out their guns when they ‘observed multiple subjects who were armed.'” Police didn’t say in the report if officers verified whether any protesters were armed or if weapons were pointed at the McCloskeys, according to BuzzFeed News.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Oliver Robinson has been released from federal prison, but he still might face legal issues, as a witness in two lawsuits connected to Balch Bingham law firm

Oliver Robinson
Former Alabama State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham), recently released from federal prison because of COVID-19 concerns, could become a witness in at least two lawsuits connected to corruption-plagued law firm Balch Bingham, according to a report at banbalch.com.

Robinson's interactions with Balch and Drummond Co. led to his guilty plea in the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal. From a report about his release at al.com:

Former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, convicted in a federal bribery case, was released from a federal prison in Texas as part of the Bureau of Prisons’ review of inmates with risk factors due to COVID-19, his lawyer confirmed.

“He’s obviously relieved to be released,” said Richard Jaffe, the Birmingham attorney who represents Robinson.

Robinson, 60, had originally been scheduled for release on March 30, 2021.

In November 2018, he had begun serving a 33-month prison sentence for his role in the EPA scandal in North Birmingham that also ensnared David Roberson, a former vice president of Drummond Company, and former Balch Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert.

Robinson's issues with court-related matters, however, might not be over, reports banbalch.com publisher K.B. Forbes:

Disgraced ex-Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson was released from federal prison . . . due to concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to al.com.

Robinson was given over $360,000 in bribes in a criminal scheme born in the offices of Balch Bingham to suppress African-Americans in North Birmingham from having their toxic property tested by the EPA. Robinson had been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.

Ex-Drummond Executive David Roberson and ex-Balch Bingham partner Joel I. Gilbert have also been sentenced to federal prison although their cases are currently on appeal.

Returning to home confinement, Robinson has emerged as a key witness in two pending cases: David Roberson’s $50 million civil lawsuit against Balch and Drummond Company; and a potentially devastating civil RICO lawsuit from Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome against Balch, Alabama Power, and others.

What role could Robinson play in the civil matters?

Robinson, who DOJ insiders told us was “genuinely remorseful,” will be able to connect the dots and lay out the other Balch lawyers and stooges involved in the North Birmingham Bribery Scheme.

More importantly, Robinson could possibly testify about a pattern of alleged unsavory conduct involving Balch, Alabama Power, and state and local officials.

Judge Carole Smitherman, the Queen of the corrupt Star Chamber that screwed over Burt Newsome, and her husband, State Senator Rodger Smitherman, who received over $30,000 from Balch affiliated entities or allies, were close friends with Robinson.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Traffic stop that led to Missouri deputy's fatal shooting of Hannah Fizer, 25, was caught on restaurant surveillance camera and perhaps on Fizer's cell phone

Hannah Fizer

A traffic stop that ended with a Missouri deputy fatally shooting 25-year-old Hannah Fizer was captured on a restaurant's surveillance camera, according to news reports. Also, authorities believe Fizer might have caught video of the incident on her cell phone, which was found in her vehicle. The new developments come from a search-warrant application filed by the Missouri Highway Patrol, which is investigating the incident. From a report at Associated Press:

A restaurant’s surveillance footage captured a Missouri sheriff's deputy fatally shoot a woman, and investigators were trying to determine whether the woman also recorded the encounter.

In search warrants, a Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator described the surveillance video as showing the Pettis County deputy make contact with 25-year-old Hannah Fizer on June 13 before drawing his gun. Fizer, who had been pulled over for speeding and careless driving, can be seen moving in her car before the deputy fired his weapon, The Kansas City Star reports.

The shooting comes amid increased scrutiny of officer-involved killings since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died after a white police officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Fizer was white, as is the deputy who shot her.

During the traffic stop, the deputy indicated Fizer refused to identify herself. She told the deputy she was armed with a gun and was going to shoot the deputy, according to the patrol. No gun was found in her car.

While the restaurant video likely was taken at some distance, Fizer might have caught a close-up of the encounter on her cell phone:

The deputy also indicated Fizer said she was recording the traffic stop, the warrants revealed. Fizer’s cellphone was found on the floor of the car. In one of the warrants, an investigator wrote he believed it could contain video or photographic evidence of the shooting. It has been sent to the state’s digital forensic center in Jefferson City for analysis and data extraction.

“Anything she had said or he had said we’re looking into,” said patrol Sgt. Bill Lowe.

The issue of whether the shooting was captured on video has been a concern for community members with questions about the shooting. No body camera or dashcam video of the encounter exists.

Here are more details about information revealed in the search-warrant application:

A surveillance camera in Sedalia captured the entire interaction between a Pettis County deputy and a woman that deputy killed.

The details come in a search warrant affidavit written by the Missouri State Highway Patrol as part of its ongoing investigation into the death of 25-year-old Hannah Fizer. The affidavit said a restaurant's surveillance camera shows the "entire" traffic stop and shooting between the deputy and Fizer.
A warrant request written by Trooper Kyle Seabaugh said the deputy also said Fizer told him she was recording the traffic stop on her phone. An inventory of items taken during the search of Fizer's car shows only a cell phone and a "projectile" taken from the car. The patrol found the phone on the floor in the front passenger side and the unidentified projectile in the driver's side door in front.

It does not say if the phone was recording at the time it was found. 

Seabaugh's affidavit also mentions that a camera on a nearby restaurant showed the stop.

"A review of the footage revealed [that] during the traffic stop, the Pettis County Deputy makes contact with Fizer, he then can be seen drawing his duty weapon, and Fizer can be seen moving within her vehicle, then the Deputy fires his weapon," Seabaugh wrote.

The warrant application said deputies called for help following the shooting at about 10:07 p.m., six minutes after the traffic stop. First responders tried to give her first aid, but Fizer was declared dead at the scene by the county coroner.

Seabaugh said the patrol found five shell casings near the driver's side door, as well as multiple bullet holes in the door and window. Fizer also suffered from "what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds," according to the warrant request. Investigators did not find any other "projectiles" on the scene.

Seabuagh wrote that investigators were searching the car for "firearms, projectiles, spent cartridge casings, ammunition, and cell phones."

Here is video of a news report from ABC 17 in Columbia, MO:


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Trump and Barr combine to fire Geoff Berman in SDNY, likely committing obstruction of justice and matching Richard Nixon for executive criminality

Geoff Berman

The ham-fisted firing over the weekend of Geoff Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, could eventually lead to obstruction-of-justice indictments for President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, a lawyer source tells Legal Schnauzer. The firing also points to a legal doctrine that likely is little known to the general public but plays a central role in evidentiary law -- and it also places Trump and Barr squarely in the Richard Nixon pantheon of executive criminality -- our source says.

Like may other legal analysts, our source is struggling to grasp what happened in the Berman firing. A big question: Of all the Trump-related cases Berman was investigating, which one became so sensitive -- nd so threatening -- that Trump and Barr decided Berman had o go? A number of legal experts have stated via Twitter that the probes of Jeffrey Epstein and Rudy Giuliani likely drove Trump and Barr into Nixon territory. But others point to probes involving Michael Cohen, a Turkish Bank, Deutsche Bank, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman . . . and, well, so much corruption, so little time. From our source:

Barr first tries to fire Berman. Berman does not budge. Barr then says he advised Trump to fire Berman and that Trump agreed and fired Berman.

Then, Berman agrees to step down. But Trump publicly says he didn't have anything to do with the firing and that it was Barr's call.

To the contrary, Barr's says it was Trump's decision to axe Berman.

What do we make of this? To be sure, obstruction of justice. But, for purposes of evidence, this shell game that Trump and Barr are playing is indicative of one clear thing: that both are "conscious" of their "guilt" (known as "consciousness of guilt") and they're just trying to play this shell game in the event that Trump is not re-elected and ends up being indicted for about 1,001 thousand counts of obstruction of justice. As to the firing of Berman, Trump can claim that "I didn't fire Berman" and Barr can say "I didn't fire Berman" and both can try to confuse a jury so much that they don't know who to convict. How about this obvious solution: CONVICT THEM BOTH. This is effing outrageous.

Here is more on the "consciousness of guilt" doctrine:

"Consciousness of guilt' is an important concept in evidence law. it posits that life is full of behavior and context in which someone or some group of people do something, or don't do something, or say something, or don't say something, that tends to make them look guilty. and when people behave in any way that makes them look guilty, it's because they are "conscious" of their "guilt" and inadvertently do things or say things (or don't) that reveal that they really are "conscious" that they're "guilty" of wrongdoing.

My point is when Barr and Trump kept going back and forth, both saying that the other guy fired Berman, it's a sign that both are conscious of their combined guilty, and, so because of their consciousness of guilt, they've chosen to dissemble and confuse by pointing fingers to the the other guy and saying, "He did it, not me!"

The Berman firing emits such a foul odor that it takes our source back to the Watergate era:

Firing Berman will end up being one of the first indictments that will be issued against Trump and Barr. Their obstruction of justice in conspiring to fire Berman to interfere with Berman's investigation and preparations to prosecute members of Trump's criminal organization is unprecedented. Trump makes Richard Nixon look like a juvenile delinquent. Nixon was nowhere close to being the career criminal that "Don The Con" Trump is.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Advocacy group calls for Southern Company, parent of Alabama Power, to cut ties to Balch Bingham law firm over racist conduct in North Birmingham and beyond

Southern Company, the parent firm of Alabama Power, should sever its ties to Balch Bingham because of the Birmingham law firm's allegedly racist behavior at a time when the nation is undergoing a reckoning with racism in its past and present, a public charity and advocacy group announced in a statement yesterday. The move comes four days after Marathon Petroleum became the 18th D.C. lobbying client to dump the scandal-plagued Balch firm.

The advocacy group, Consejo de Latinos Unidos (CDLU), publishes the blog banbalch.com, which has thoroughly chronicled the Balch firm's involvement in the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal and other unsavory activities. From yesterday's post at the Web site:

According to court records, Southern Company and its subsidiaries like Alabama Power continue to use Balch, a law firm that was involved in a bribery scheme to suppress and discourage African-Americans from having the EPA test their toxic property; the same law firm allegedly involved in ‘diluting and dividing’ the African-American vote; the same law firm that represented a quarry company allegedly involved in a ‘whites-only’ land grab and the proposed moving of historic slave graves,” said K.B. Forbes, Chief Executive Officer of the CDLU.

Last week, Marathon Petroleum terminated Balch Bingham in less than 24 hours after receiving a letter and report from the CDLU. Marathon Petroleum declared on Friday that the company was “standing firmly against racism, intolerance, and hate of any kind.”

“The repugnant, immoral, and egregious behavior by Balch Bingham should not be tolerated. Thomas A. Fanning, the Chief Executive Officer of Southern Company must fire Balch Bingham immediately and unequivocally. Black lives matter,” Forbes declared.
 Balch's dubious actions have come both outside and inside the law firm, including its employment practices:

Last year, Balch Bingham let go of their only African-American female attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, Kimberly Bell, who headed diversity efforts at the firm. With over 200 attorneys, partners, and top staff throughout their footprint, only five Balch Bingham attorneys at the firm are African-American, each one assigned to a different Balch office, reflecting alleged tokenism.

Earlier this month, Fanning declared on behalf of Southern Company, “Racism, in any form, is abhorrent. It cannot and will not be accepted, ignored or dismissed. It must be confronted head-on across our society as it is within our company. The time has come to uncover and destroy systemic racism in all its forms.”

CDLU now seeks to hold the Southern Company CEO to his words:

The CDLU stated, “Actions speak louder than words. Southern Company must rid itself of systemic racism and the first step is by firing Balch Bingham publicly and slamming shut the revolving door.”

Many former partners at Balch have been promoted to leadership positions at Southern Company, including Mark A. Crosswhite, the President and CEO of Alabama Power, one of Southern Company’s most profitable subsidiaries.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Research center in Kansas City, Missouri, finds it easy to recruit volunteers for clinical trial on possible DNA-based vaccine against coronavirus and COVID-19

Inovio Pharmaceuticals

 A research center in Kansas City, MO, is set to test a gene-based vaccine that shows promise against COVID-19, and the center is having to turn away subjects who want to participate in a safety study. From a report at The New York Times and Yahoo! News:

Not long after researchers completed their work with mice, guinea pigs, ferrets and monkeys, Human Subject 8, an art director for a software company in Missouri, received an injection. Four days later, her sister, a schoolteacher, became Subject 14.

Together, the sisters make up about 5% of the first ever clinical trial of a DNA vaccine for the novel coronavirus. How they respond to it will help determine the future of the vaccine. If it proves safe in this trial and effective in future trials, it could become not only one of the first coronavirus vaccines but also the first DNA vaccine ever approved for commercial use against a human disease.

The Missouri trial, and others like it, could be both life-saving and historic:

Hundreds of experimental vaccines for the new coronavirus are being developed across the world. The vaccines’ ability to advance will depend not only on science and funding but also on the willingness of tens of thousands of healthy people to have an unproven solution injected into their bodies.

In many of these studies, the vaccine recipe isn’t the only thing on trial. Gene-based vaccines — and at least 20 coronavirus vaccines in development fall into this category — have yet to make it to market. Should one end up in doctors’ offices amid the rush to shield billions from COVID-19, it would represent a new chapter for vaccine development.

Finding volunteers to participate in clinical trials has long been key to biomedical research, and it hasn't always been easy. But in the age of coronavirus, it has been a snap:

Though vaccine research has never moved this quickly — potentially meaning enhanced risks for volunteers — it has never been easier to recruit subjects, according to Dr. John E. Ervin, who is overseeing the DNA vaccine trial at the Center for Pharmaceutical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, in which the sisters are involved. For the Phase 1 trial of the vaccine, which was developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, 90 people applied for the 20 slots in Kansas City.

“We probably could charge people to let them in and still fill it up,” he said. (In fact, the participants were paid per visit.)

Study participants say finding motivation is not a problem:

The art director, Heather Wiley of Independence, Missouri, said that realizing she would make around $1,000 for her participation was a bonus, not her primary motivation.

“I’m in the middle of the country trying to process 100,000 dead and how all those people died alone,” she said. Her fears for her family left her so anxious she couldn’t sleep.

While looking up vaccines, she stumbled on Ervin’s trial, which was recruiting volunteers just 20 miles from her. Two months shy of 50 and healthy, she qualified.

Two weeks later, Ervin was injecting Wiley just beneath the skin of her upper arm with a transparent liquid containing the experimental vaccine.

The solution contains a computer-engineered DNA sequence, which includes genetic instructions for building the spike that makes the coronavirus so superb at entering its host’s cells. Cells are equipped to read genetic instructions. When these instructions arrive, the cells follow them and make the very same spike protein present on the surface of the coronavirus now wreaking havoc on the world.
The immune system responds to these spike proteins, now being manufactured by the body, and mounts a defense. These spike proteins are harmless; they are not attached to a virus. But the hope is that in the future, should a virus wearing spikes with that same genetic code attempt to invade, the immune system’s arsenal would be prepared.

How did the vaccine get to this point?

Inovio researchers engineered the vaccine in just three hours, according to Kate Broderick, the company’s senior vice president for research and development. Or, rather, their computer algorithm did: On Jan. 10, when Chinese researchers released the genetic code of the novel coronavirus, the team ran the sequence through its software, which popped out a formula.

The timeline struck some in the financial sector as too good to be true. Citron Research, which advises investors on companies to bet on, called Inovio “the COVID-19 version of Theranos,” referring to the blood-testing device company that imploded as its supposedly revolutionary product was revealed to be a hoax.

“Much like Theranos, Inovio claims to have a ‘secret sauce’ that, miraculously, no pharma giant has been able to figure out,” Citron Research wrote. “This is the same ‘secret sauce’ that supposedly developed a vaccine for COVID-19 in just three hours.”

There are several reasons that vaccine scientists are skeptical that we will ever see a DNA vaccine for the coronavirus. But speed is not one of them.

“That’s the beauty of these DNA vaccines,” said Wolfgang W. Leitner, the chief of the innate immunity section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “They are simple and fast in terms of development.”

Nor are vaccine scientists concerned about the supposed “secret sauce.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite: They are skeptical precisely because the technology behind DNA vaccines has been around for decades and has been applied toward so many infectious diseases — HIV, the flu, malaria — yet none of the vaccines have made it to market.

They believe that this approach is capable of producing immunity. Already, DNA vaccines have been licensed for use in pigs, dogs and poultry. But the big if, according to Dr. Dennis M. Klinman, a vaccine scientist who worked at the Food and Drug Administration for 18 years, is whether one will ever be able to generate strong enough an immune response in humans.

For research subjects, the study includes moments that might seem like they are from another world:

Even though Wiley had read the packet on the science of it all, the next step felt like entering uncharted territory.

Shortly after the initial injection, a nurse handed Ervin a device resembling an electric toothbrush. He pressed the head — which contains three tiny needles instead of bristles — over the raised skin on her arm, where she’d just had a shot. Then he zapped her.

“It was not painful, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Wiley said.

The carefully calibrated electrical pulses “basically steer the DNA” into the cells by briefly opening up pores in their membrane, according to David B. Weiner, the director of the vaccine and immunotherapy center at the Wistar Institute and an adviser to Inovio.

Although it may sound fantastical, the technology, called electroporation, dates to the 1980s, when a similar approach was first used to make transgenic plants, according to Leitner.

Phase 1 trials are focused on safety. As a whole, DNA vaccines are known to be very safe, Klinman has written. Early fears — that they might change a person’s DNA, for example — were proved unfounded long ago.

But there is still no way to know how subjects will respond to the new formula or how the new approach to administering the vaccine will go over. When Ervin used a different electrical pulse system in an Ebola DNA vaccine trial in 2018, “Boom! They were ready to jump off the table,” he said, adding that he wished he could have paid the subjects extra. (Ervin runs trials for many biotech companies and is not involved in deciding dosages or implementation methods. His job is to follow the company’s instructions and report back, he said.)

The study requires patience from subjects:

Wiley spent the next couple of hours after her injection watching “The King’s Speech” as researchers monitored her for an adverse response. But she felt only relief at being useful in some way.

“I’m not a health care worker; I’m not an essential worker,” she said. “But I’m healthy, so I can do this.”

Soon her sister Ellie Lilly, 46, a seventh-grade history teacher in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, had enrolled as well.

Throughout a Phase 1 trial, the newest subjects receive larger doses than participants who started earlier. Lilly, who entered the trial as Subject 14 four days after her sister, learned that she would be receiving twice as many shots and zaps. Still, the pulses didn’t hurt. “It just feels strange,” she said.

By the time Lilly got home she felt exhausted and a little nauseous, she said. She told a nurse who called to check in that she wasn’t sure if that was a function of the vaccine or an emotional day. Either way, she felt well enough the following day that her husband wanted to enroll. (He was rejected.)

Four weeks after their first injections, the sisters returned for their second and final doses.

The first hint of whether anyone in the trial developed the coveted antibodies, which would suggest that the vaccine might be helping the immune system, won’t come until Inovio releases that data later this month. That report will include findings from both the Kansas City trial and a simultaneous trial of 20 volunteers in Pennsylvania. The data will influence whether the vaccine dies in the first stage, as most vaccines do, or whether it moves on.

The Phase 1 trial has already been expanded to include older patients at a third location. If everything goes as hoped, the FDA has granted the company permission to start testing effectiveness in the community, according to Inovio.

At that point, researchers would inject thousands of people with the vaccine and thousands more with a placebo. No one would be intentionally exposed to the coronavirus, but by studying rates of infection of the two groups, the researchers could draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The sisters are rooting for the Inovio vaccine. But “even if it doesn’t work, we’re still a piece of the research,” Lilly said.

Lilly knows that the chances are low that her two experimental doses will protect her, but she can’t help hoping. Come fall, she is headed back to the classroom, where it feels inevitable that sooner or later, she too will be exposed to this tiny but powerful virus.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Marathon Petroleum becomes the 18th D.C. lobbying client to dump scandal-plagued Balch Bingham, apparently concerned by the firm's racist conduct in an era where Black Lives Matter is becoming a strong force in reshaping corporate and political landscape

 A major lobbying client has dropped Birmingham's Balch Bingham law firm following allegations that the firm, in the era of Black Lives Matter, has engaged in racist conduct, according to a report dated 6/17/20 at banbalch.com. Marathon Petroleum became the 18th of 18 D.C. lobbying clients to dump Balch, adding another gaping hole in the firm's revenue stream. Writes banbalch.com publisher K.B. Forbes:

Marathon Petroleum confirmed tonight that they have terminated Balch Bingham as their lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and their bold action affirms that Black Lives Matter.

Yesterday, we, the CDLU, had written to Marathon Petroleum’s new Chief Executive Officer Michael J. Hennigan asking him to terminate the firm.

We wrote:
"The law firm has been involved in alleged racist misconduct, targeting poor African-American children, and using intimidation tactics reminiscent of the segregationists from the 1960s. A Balch partner was convicted of six federal crimes including money laundering and bribery in a scheme to suppress African-Americans from having their toxic property tested by the EPA.

"17 of 18 major lobbying clients in D.C. have dumped the firm, except Marathon.

"Black lives matter and now is the time to do the right thing. Your corporate Code of Conduct affirms the need to terminate Balch Bingham, which now has a “history of violating the law.”

"In 24 hours, Marathon Petroleum responded. We applaud their decision to terminate Balch.

What impact could this have on the Balch bottom line? Consider these words from Forbes:

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Marathon has paid Balch Bingham $810,000 from 2016 through April of 2020. $50,000 had been paid so far this year.

This was the last big D.C. lobbying client of Balch that was paying the embattled firm six-figures a year. The CDLU had reached out to 18 major Balch D.C. lobbying clients of which 17 had terminated Balch by January of 2019, costing the firm millions. Marathon Petroleum was the last hold-out.

What kind of conduct caused Marathon to determine it no longer wanted to be associated with Balch? Forbes explains:

We applaud Marathon Petroleum for standing up to alleged racist misconduct and unsavory behavior. We provided Marathon with a 14-page report that outlined numerous matters involving Balch including:

* The North Birmingham Bribery Scandal: The bribery effort against African-Americans, the invoicing, the bribery checks, and ghost-written letters were born at and dispatched from the offices of Balch Bingham.

* Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Archibald of AL.com wrote about the horrific targeting of poor, African-American children of North Birmingham in a scurrilous “coat drive.” North Birmingham is 92.5 percent African-American, according to U.S. Census figures.

* Balch Bingham was also advising and providing legal services to a limestone quarry company that allegedly engaged in a “whites-only” land grab in a historically African-American area of Vincent, Alabama. The company was also allegedly considering moving historic slave graves according to local news reports.

* Balch Bingham’s convicted partner dispatched an unconscionable letter to a health advocacy group and public charity in 2014 demanding a list of their financial supporters. Using tactics reminiscent of the 1960s when segregationists and other racists demanded lists of supporters from the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations to intimidate and instill fear in those supporters, Balch Bingham should have known better: public charities have no obligation to provide lists of their supporters.

* Last year, Balch Bingham let go of Kimberly Bell, their only African-American female attorney in Birmingham, who headed diversity efforts at the firm. With over 200 attorneys, partners, and top staff throughout their footprint, only five Balch Bingham attorneys at the firm are African-American, each one assigned to a different Balch office, reflecting alleged tokenism. Less than 2.5 percent of Balch Bingham’s attorneys, partners, and top staff are African-American while six of the cities that Balch has offices in have majority African-American populations, one in which African-Americans represent 79 percent of the population.

Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe faces felony murder charge in shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, as DA finds no reason to fear for life or safety

Fulton County DA Paul Howard

A former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy's parking lot is facing criminal charges, including felony murder, the Fulton County District Attorney's Office announced yesterday. The news probably comes as a surprise to many Americans, who have heard a number of public figures -- including U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson -- state they viewed the shooting as a possible justifiable use of deadly force.

That suggests two things: (1) Ben Carson should have stuck to neurosurgery; (2) You never can rely on a Trumpie to provide an accurate depiction of the law. Fulton County DA Paul Howard certainly seems to know a thing or two about the law, and here are his findings from yesterday's press conference, as reported by ABC News:

A former Atlanta police officer is facing charges including felony murder and aggravated assault after fatally shooting Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy's parking lot last week, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Brooks, a black man, "was running away at the time that the shot was fired" by Officer Garrett Rolfe, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. said.

"At the time Mr. Brooks was shot," Howard said, "he did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury."

Prosecutors have spoken with multiple witnesses, consulted with a Taser expert, looked at physical evidence and viewed surveillance video, dashboard camera and witness cellphone video, Howard said.

Howard said he concluded that Rolfe was aware that the Taser Brooks was holding had been fired twice. Howard explained, "Once it's fired twice, it presented no danger to him or to any other person."

After Brooks was shot, Rolfe "kicked Mr. Brooks while he laid on the ground, while he was there fighting for his life," Howard said. "Secondly, from the videotape, we were able to see that the other officer, [Devin] Brosnan, actually stood on Mr. Brooks' shoulders while he was there struggling for his life."

Howard's findings are in line with Georgia law, which allows a person to use deadly force "only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person."

Georgia law mirrors the U.S. Supreme Courts' findings in Tennessee v. Garner, a 1985 case that governs the use of deadly force nationally. The central finding in Garner:

This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon. We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Brooks was not a suspected felon, and DA Howard determined that Rolfe knew the Taser had been fired twice and posed no danger to anyone. Here is more from ABC News:

Surveillance video showed Brooks running through the parking lot with the officers behind him. At one point, Brooks turned and allegedly shot the stun gun at an officer, who drew his weapon and opened fire.

At the time the shot was fired, Rolfe made an "excited utterance," and said, "I got him," Howard said.

Brooks died from two gunshots to his back, the medical examiner determined.

After Brooks was shot, medical attention wasn't provided for 2 minutes and 12 seconds, Howard said.

"The demeanor of the officers immediately after the shooting did not reflect any fear or danger of Mr. Brooks, but their actions really reflected other kinds of emotions," Howard said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation continues to look into the matter, and there has been no determination if Rolfe could face federal civil-rights charges.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Deputy shot and killed Missouri resident Hannah Fizer in a traffic stop where he claims she threatened o shoot him, but investigators found no gun in her vehicle

Hannah Fizer

 A Missouri sheriff's deputy shot and killed a young white female motorist on Saturday night (6/13/20) after claiming she threatened to shoot him during a traffic stop. According to news reports yesterday, no gun -- or any other weapon -- was found in the car Hannah Fizer, 25, was driving.

Police violence has been happening so frequently of late that many Americans probably are growing numb to it, with victims tending to be black men -- most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. But this shooting, near Sedalia, MO, falls outside the norm. Hannah Fizer wasn't black, wasn't male, and family members said they never knew her to carry a gun. Now, that we know she wasn't carrying a gun, the cops' version of events tends to fall apart. From an Associated Press report:

Investigators found no weapon inside a vehicle driven by a Missouri woman who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy over the weekend, authorities said Tuesday.

Hannah Fizer, 25, died Saturday night after being shot by a Pettis County deputy following a traffic stop.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the shooting, initially said Fizer was shot after she said she had a gun and threatened to shoot the deputy.

Investigators who searched her car did not find a weapon, patrol spokesman Bill Lowe said Tuesday. He said no new information was available to explain why the situation escalated into a shooting. No one else was injured during the confrontation.

Fizer was stopped after she ran a red light as she drove to work Saturday night, the patrol said. She kept going even as the deputy tried to stop her, but she eventually pulled over.

Fizer’s family and friends expressed doubt that she had a gun. Her father, John Fizer, said Monday that his daughter never carried a gun and she was not likely to become belligerent with law enforcement officers.

No body camera or dashcam video of the encounter exists. Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond told TV station KOMU that the department’s deputies stopped wearing cameras about three years ago because of technical difficulties and a lack of funding.
Lowe said the Fizer investigation is a priority for the patrol, but that it could be up to a month before all reports are complete and information is compiled to send to the district attorney, who will determine if anyone will be charged.

All of this leaves these questions: What's the real reason Hannah Fizer was pulled over? Why was she killed, when its unlikely she threatened an officer with a gun she did not have? From an early AP report on the incident at the Columbia Daily Tribune:

The father of a Missouri woman who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop said Monday that nobody who knew his daughter believes she had a gun or threatened the deputy before he shot her.

Hannah Fizer, 25, was killed Saturday night in Sedalia, a city of 21,700 residents about 90 miles southeast of Kansas City.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the shooting, said Fizer was shot Saturday night after she said she had a gun and threatened to shoot the deputy.

“The suspect allegedly threatened the deputy by stating she was armed and going to shoot him,” the patrol said in a news release. “The incident escalated and the deputy discharged his weapon, striking the suspect.”

Fizer’s father, John Fizer, said Monday that she never carried a gun and he doesn’t believe she became belligerent with the officer. He suspects his daughter had her phone in her hand “because she always had her phone in her hand.”

Hannah Fizer
 He said he couldn’t imagine what could have occurred to lead the deputy to shoot his daughter, and he questioned why the deputy didn’t use a Taser, instead.

Hannah Fizer was driving to her job as an assistant manager at a convenience store when she was stopped. She was pulled over because she ran a red light while speeding and kept going as the deputy tried to stop her, patrol Sgt. Bill Lowe said Monday.

Further details about why the situation escalated have not been released. John Fizer said law enforcement officers haven’t yet discussed the shooting with the family.

Hannah Fizer "always had her phone in her hand"? Is it possible she recorded the officer doing or saying something crude, and that got her killed? Was the real threat to the officer from a cell phone, not a gun?

This seems to be pretty clear: Someone in the sheriff's department is lying.

Below is a video, with comments from Sheriff Kevin Bond about no gun being found in Fizer's vehicle.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Joann Bashinsky, of the Golden Flake Snack Foods family, is not the only Alabamian to experience torment and chaos in Jefferson County probate court

Jefferson County Courthouse
Joann Bashinsky, of the Golden Flake Snack Foods family, is not the only Alabama resident to become ensnared in a Jefferson County probate court that appears to revolve around a number of dubious actors -- including Judge Alan King, Conservator Greg Hawley, and Balch Bingham lawyer Amy Adams.

Susan Evans and her father, former baking industry executive James Belew, are going through a similar wrenching experience, as described by Apryl Marie Fogel at Alabama Today. Fogel begins by encouraging readers to walk in the footsteps of Evans and Belew:

Imagine you’ve done everything right to prepare your family for the realities that come with aging. You’ve created a power of attorney that specifically notes that your daughter is to be your conservator and guardian, should the need arise. You and your second wife have a prenup to protect your assets, and spell out the use of funds for your future. You think you’re ready.

Then the day that you and your family hoped never would come, does, and with advancing age, slight dementia begins. All that’s left to do is execute your pre-planned system.

Your daughter goes to court, documents in hand, but the judge won’t hear her case. It turns out that after the dementia sets in, the step-mother also had a power of attorney signed.

So the judge appoints a “temporary” conservator and a guardian ad litem until a full hearing can be held. The father tells the guardian ad litem he has chosen his daughter and wishes for her to be the conservator, but again the court refuses to listen.

Hearings come and hearings go, and the daughter’s voice is failed to be heard, her father’s wishes go unmet. What’s worse, in one hearing a witness tells the court the two family members have argued in front of the father, and the judge uses that as the basis to make the temporary conservatorship permanent. The witness statement — untrue according to the daughter. complete fiction.

Five years go by and the daughter still has not had her day in court. Meanwhile, the court-ordered conservator has been paid $15,000 plus expenses and is on track to be paid at a minimum another $15,000. Unless of course he can either wait it out or convince the family to liquidate assets such as selling property. Then he’s paid even more.

In addition, the costs of attorney fees for the family totals nearly $65,000 of which $55,000 is being paid out of the estate. Money that could and likely should have stayed with the family and estate, if not for the judge’s order.

How did the Evans case reach this point? Fogel provides details:

This is the story of Susan Evans and her father, James Belew.

Evans is the only child of Belew. Her mother, his first wife, passed away in 2008. He remarried in 2012. Belew was in the baking industry and was the general manager of the Dolly Madison Plant in Columbus, Ga. when he retired.

Evans, a mother of two and grandmother of one, just retired after 18 years at Viva Health.

The judge is none other than Jefferson County Probate Judge, Alan King.

The conservator is none other than veteran litigator and probate lawyer, Greg Hawley.

The witness whose alleged false and unconfirmed testimony caused the court to move the temporary conservatorship to permanent? Is none other than Hawley’s own assistant, Margaret Holland.

If you’ve been following along in this series those names will sound familiar. They’re the same two players involved in the Joann Bashinsky case. As a matter of fact, they’re the same players as a number of cases in Jefferson County, Alabama. I’ll be writing about more of these horror stories in the coming days. (Don’t worry, if you’re missing Hawley’s “friend” Amy Davis Adams from Balch Bingham, she too will return in several future installments of this series beginning later this week.)

Most Alabamians probably have no idea what transpires in the state's probate courts. But many of them likely will wind up there someday. Fogel, and the Evans case, provide a valuable lesson in the vulgar realities of some courts:

Evans is one of a handful of people who personally reached out to me after seeing my first story in this series. I’ve spoken to her several times. Her father’s case is as frustrating as the Bashinsky case because it was Evans herself who went to the court with no reason to doubt that the judge would hear her case and allow her to perform the role her father chose her for. Of course, that’s not what happened as Judge King seemingly went against her father’s expressed written and verbal wishes.

I want to bring attention to some specific points of her case and hopefully, I want to give you something you can do to help this family, yourselves, and others.

Individual judges have unquestionable amounts of power and discretion with little to no accountability

Evans echos the sentiments I’ve heard from a number of people wrapped up in the conservatorship system. It’s designed in such a way that the judge might as well be a God.

In her father’s case, Hawley’s guardianship was initially meant to be temporary. This is a familiar refrain from those with loved ones and family members involved. However, hearing after hearing, it became clear that unless something changed, Hawley will be Belew’s conservator for the rest of his life.

Lack of transparency and accountability

Until this week, after five years of Hawley being the conservator, Evans had not had a full accounting of her father’s assets or of the costs associated with the conservatorship. This week Holland provided that breakdown for the first time. You may remember Holland from the first post. Holland is the assistant who sent Bashinsky's confidential medical and financial documents to  Adams “accidentally”.

It states, “Fees are based off of a percentage of the Estate which in total is roughly 9%. It is calculated only at a Partial and/or Final Settlement Hearing. This is an Alabama State Statute = 2.5% of what’s received, 2.5% of what’s disbursed and 4% attorney’s fees.”

As I mentioned, records indicate that thus far, $15,000 has been paid to Hawley’s firm.

The incestuous nature of the lawyers and those who work for them

One of the often unspoken problems faced by family members fighting the court orders is the closeness of the attorneys and judges involved in the cases. Evans has had two attorneys, paying approx. $22k of her own money, in order to fulfill her father’s wishes. The step-mother has also hired an attorney.

If you couple this with the fees associated with Hawley’s representation, and the fees associated with Evan’s step-mother’s lawyers, this amount balloons.

The costs to families aren’t just monetary

The monetary costs aren’t necessarily even the biggest problem for those involved. Many have explained it’s the stress of the unknowns and the time associated with fighting the judge’s order, working through the conservatorship process, and making sure their loved one is taken care of, and not exploited, that is the part that really takes a toll.

“What bothers me the most about the money… my dad was a frugal man who made a good living and lived within his means," Evans said. He saved so that my children and I could have it. He worked hard for it and scrimped and saved, and now there’s not much left.”

We need to do better as a state. We need to demand our lawmakers require more of our courts. We need more transparency and accountability within the system. We need for families to be kept together and not set against one another. We need change.

Follow this series for more one-on-one stories with those involved in the system here. Beyond those, we’ll be sharing detailed reports of what’s happening in Jefferson County and how you can get involved to reach out to lawmakers to fix this broken system.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Recent history in Walter Scott case suggests Atlanta cop who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks at Wendy's could face severe penalties if feds pursue criminal charges

Rayshard Brooks and Atlanta cop Devin Brosnan

The Atlanta police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man Friday night at a Wendy's restaurant in Atlanta could face 20 years in federal prison, based on legal precedent. The killing of Rayshard Books sparked fiery protests in the city on Saturday night, with the Wendy's being set on fire. (See video at the end of this post.)

Garrett Rolfe was one of two officers dispatched to the Wendy's on Friday night. What happened next? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) describes it:

Friday night, police were called to the Wendy’s on University Avenue to a report of a man asleep in his car and blocking the drive-through window. Officers confronted Brooks, 27, who authorities said failed a field sobriety test.

A struggle broke out as police officers attempted to arrest Brooks and he resisted. Video shows Brooks wrestled a Taser away from officers and fled.

Restaurant surveillance video released late Saturday by the GBI shows Brooks running away and then turn and appear to fire the Taser at the pursuing officers when he is shot.

The officer who shot and killed Brooks has been identified as Garrett Rolfe. He was fired Saturday and a second officer at the scene was placed on administrative duty.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office are conducting investigations into the incident.

The Brooks killing is similar, in a number of respects, to the 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC. Officer Michael Slager conducted a traffic stop because Scott had a broken brake light on his vehicle. Apparently concerned because he was behind on child-support payments, Scott fled, only to have Slager pursue and shoot him five times in the back.

Slager pled guilty to criminal civil-rights charges and received a 20-year prison sentence, which the UK Guardian called "unusually severe in a police shooting." Here is more from the Guardian report:

A white former South Carolina police officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a federal judge on Thursday for the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist, an unusually severe sentence for a police shooting.

The judge had earlier ruled that Michael Slager, who shot and killed Walter Scott after a traffic stop in 2015, committed second-degree murder, paving the way for the sentence.

Slager had already pleaded guilty to the use of excessive force on Scott in May, but it fell to US district judge David Norton to determine if the shooting qualified as murder or manslaughter. The murder designation meant that Norton was working from sentencing guidelines recommending Slager spend 19 to 24 years in prison, and he sentenced the former officer to 20 years.

As in the Scott case, the Brooks incident started with a traffic issue; he was looking at a charge for drunk driving and only became uncooperative when police tried to put handcuffs on him. As in the Scott case, Brooks fled and was shot in the back.

Is it a cinch that Officer Rolfe will receive a sentence similar to the one that Slager received? No. In fact, we are a long way from knowing if federal prosecutors will even pursue a case against him; for now, state agencies are investigating the matter. But Brooks did engage in several aggravating actions that might work in the officer's favor:

* After initially being cooperative, Brooks resisted when officers attempted to apply handcuffs and engaged in a scuffle with them, grabbing one of their tasers;

 * Surveillance video appears to show that, as he was fleeing, Brooks turned and fired the taser toward the officers. It's not clear if the taser was in range to harm anyone.

Rolfe likely will argue that he feared for his life. But it might be hard to make that argument fly in court. The standard for use of deadly force is well established. Here is how attorney Martin A. Schwartz describes it in a recent New York Law Journal article:

This Supreme Court’s §1983 Fourth Amendment excessive force jurisprudence starts with the decision in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) that police use of deadly force violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures unless the suspect poses a threat of death or serious harm to the officer or others.

Brooks was running away from the officers, and a taser is considered a non-lethal weapon under Georgia case law, so it's hard to see how an argument that Brooks posed a threat of death or serious harm could prevail. Officers had his ID and car keys, so finding him later should not have been difficult.

Were the Atlanta cops concerned about Brooks' condition after the shooting? Apparently not, reports the New York Post:

The Atlanta cops involved in the deadly police shooting of Rayshard Brooks collected their shell casings rather than giving first aid — and waited more than two minutes before even checking his pulse, a lawyer for Brooks’ family claims.

Witnesses said that “the officers went and put on plastic gloves and picked up their shell casings after they killed him — before rendering aid,” attorney L. Chris Stewart said at a press conference Saturday, a day after Brooks was shot dead trying to avoid a drunk-driving arrest.

“They appear to be caring more about covering their tracks than providing aid,” he said of the officers, Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan.

“Aid that could have saved his life if allegedly he was taken to the hospital and died in surgery. But they didn’t give that to him.”

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Poor training and lack of federal standards form the root of U.S. policing problem, but experts say new laws also are needed in the wake of George Floyd death

America's policing problem starts with poor training that lacks federal standards, according to a report at Axios.

In an article titled "America's broken system of training cops," reporters Margaret Harding McGill and Erica Pandey write:

The structural failings in American policing begin with officers' training, which largely focuses more on using force than reducing the need for it.

While holding officers accountable is most important in stopping them from using excessive force, training that focuses on empathy, fairness and de-escalation could lead to fewer violent conflicts between officers and the communities they serve, according to law enforcement experts.

There are more than 18,000 police departments in the U.S., but there's no federal standard on how officers should be trained. And the training that officers do receive has little to no emphasis on empathy, says University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert.

Poor training leaves many officers not knowing when it is appropriate to use force:

"The real issue is not how to use force, it's when to use it," Alpert told Axios.

Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institute and the University of Maryland, who leads implicit-bias training for police departments and the military, notes that "police departments do a lot of tactical training. They don’t do a lot of training that is focused on social interaction. ... But nine out of 10 times, or even more, their job is simply having a conversation."

The discharge of firearms needs to be sharply reduced, one expert says:

Franklin Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley professor and author of "When Police Kill," says it's possible to cut the number of fatal shootings by police in half by creating "don't shoot and stop shooting rules."

"It means a lot of confrontations will last longer, will involve more police officers, and will be very frustrating," Zimring said. "But from the standpoint of the value of civilian lives, that stuff isn’t rocket science."

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has heightened concerns about the need for police reform;
The outrage over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis echoes the nationwide protests against officer conduct sparked by the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Ferguson prompted the Obama administration to create the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which recommended improvements to officers' training such as teaching de-escalation tactics for creating space and distance in tense encounters, task force co-chair Laurie Robinson told Axios.

"Since Ferguson, there's been a greater emphasis on de-escalation," Ray said. "That's good because when departments require de-escalation, it results in 15% fewer killings per capita."

"Even though those recommendations exist, there are many police agencies that are not doing them because we fell short," Chris Burbank, a former police chief who is now vice president of law enforcement strategy for the Center for Policing Equity.

"We got a nice commission, but there was not the will to put in place the law to force everybody to participate."
The Minneapolis Police Department has trained its officers on de-escalation tactics as part of crisis intervention training, department spokesperson John Elder said.

On Friday, the city agreed to ban the use of chokeholds.

The department also has instituted some of the other reforms outlined in the Obama report, including making use-of-force data publicly available and requiring officers to turn on body cameras at the beginning of each call, reports the Wall Street Journal.
But the efficacy of those changes is dwarfed by the city's powerful police union that protects officers from punishments, WSJ notes.

Police reform must go beyond officer training, some experts say:

Training can only do so much — which is why reform advocates also want changes in the law. The Center for Policing Equity is among several organizations pushing for reforms at the federal and state level, including a national standard on use of force.

A 2016 report on guiding principles around use of force from the Police Executive Research Forum said "there is significant potential for de-escalation and resolving encounters by means other than the use of deadly force."

"We have not changed law enforcement," Burbank said. "Our first reaction in all these circumstances is always train the officers, train the officers, train the officers. Well, no, let's do a little change the law, change the law, change the law."

After Rodney King, Michael Brown and George Floyd, experts say the need for change is clear, as are the specific changes needed. What's lacking is a will to implement them.

"The data is there telling departments what to do," Ray said. "But until police departments are mandated to do it, they won’t do it."

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

White cop in Decatur, Alabama, punches black liquor-store owner Kevin Penn and breaks his jaw, knocking out teeth, after confusing him for a robbery suspect

Store owner Kevin Penn

Just when you think you've seen everything under the Jeopardy category "Cops Gone Bad," along comes a story like this one: A liquor-store owner in Decatur, AL, called police to report a robbery and even did most of the cops' work for them -- holding the suspect at gunpoint until they arrived. What did owner Kevin Penn, who is black, get for his trouble? A broken jaw and several dislodged teeth, when a white officer entered the store and punched him. But the nuttiness does not end there. From a report yesterday at al.com:

A black business owner armed with a gun was mistaken for a robbery suspect when a police officer punched him in the face, Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen said today.

The situation happened nearly three months ago on March 15 but has become public now because of a surveillance video clip released on social media over the weekend. The video shows a police officer walk into Star Spirits and Beverages, a liquor store on Sixth Avenue in Decatur in north Alabama, and immediately punch the owner, 47-year-old Kevin Penn.
Yes, Alabama cops can't tell a victim from a suspect. And in this instance, after brutalizing the VICTIM, they charge HIM with a crime -- interference with government operations. No kidding! Gee, do you think one of the coppers pulled that -- a classic "cover charge" out of his anus? That goes to one of the most serious problems with U.S. policing; many cops lie as easily as they breathe.

Like so many "Cops Gone Bad" stories, this one reminds Mrs. Schnauzer (Carol) and me of our own experiences with cops. The Kevin Penn dumpster fire is reminiscent of what sheriff's deputies in Greene County, MO, did to Carol during an eviction that was unlawful in at least 10 ways. Here is how we described Carol's experience in a December 2017 post:

About 30 minutes later, as the eviction was nearing an end, a male officer in a blue shirt grabbed Carol from behind as she was trying to enter the apartment -- as she had been given permission to do -- to retrieve our cat's litter box. The officer body slammed Carol to the ground, butt-first, and then yanked viciously on her limbs -- breaking her left arm into more than two pieces and leaving her right armed bruised deep purple for pretty much its full length.

In reality, Carol was the victim of a vicious assault, but cops (Sheriff Jim Arnott) accused HER with a crime -- misdemeanor assault on a law-enforcement officer -- even though the officer in question, Jeremy Lynn, admitted he initiated contact with Carol, grabbing her as he entered our duplex apartment, meaning (under Missouri law) she could not have assaulted him.

Kevin Penn knows how such a bogus criminal charge can materialize. Cops seem to have an automatic "cover your ass" instinct. And did we mention that cops lie? They did it in the Penn case, in Carol's case, the George Floyd case in Minneapolis, the Martin Gugino case in Buffalo . . .

In the Alabama case, Penn was fortunate that most of the incident was captured on surveillance video. (Video embedded at the end of this post.) But that didn't stop Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen from making excuses for his officers:

Allen said because police were called to investigate a robbery and Penn was armed, they believed he might have been the suspect.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Decatur police played body camera video, in which an officer can be heard telling Penn to put down his gun and Penn refusing to do so. . . .

Penn moved his hand over a gun lying on a counter next to him, said Allen. The chief said the man was holding a magazine in his other hand, which police at the time may have believed to be a gun. . . .

Penn was taken to the ground, handcuffed and arrested on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental operations. Police accused him of obstructing their investigation of the robbery, according to court records.

But police today said rather than a robbery, a simple shoplifting had taken place at Penn’s store. Body camera video appeared to show the suspected shoplifter lying on the ground inside the store. Police say a shoplifting suspect was arrested that day, but they haven’t released the person’s name or charges. . . .

Cole said Penn showed the gun to the officers to make sure they knew he was armed, then took out the clip and ejected the bullet from the chamber.

None of the cops' excuses, of course, explains why officers punched Penn -- or failed to ask, "Who is the owner that called us, where is the suspect?"

Carol underwent eight hours of trauma surgery to repair the comminuted fracture in her arm. Penn also has experienced significant pain and suffering:

As a result of the punch, Penn suffered a broken jaw and some of his teeth were knocked out, his lawyer, Carl Cole, told AL.com. Penn underwent several weeks of treatment, including having his mouth wired shut, his lawyer said.

Penn should have a major civil-rights lawsuit -- not to mention possible criminal charges against the cops. Meanwhile, Chief Allen sees the punch as sort of a good thing:

Asked today whether the punch amounted to excessive force, Allen said officers should use the “least amount of force necessary to get the job done.”

Many cases involving an armed suspect end with police shooting the person, he said.

“I would much rather have a punch than an officer-involved shooting,” the chief said.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Dubious actions by federal prosecutor Jay Town to protect Alabama Power and Balch Bingham are drawing scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice

Jay Town and Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite

Jay Town, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has drawn scrutiny from the Department of Justice for a series of dubious actions that appear designed to protect Alabama Power and the scandal-plagued Balch Bingham law firm, according to a report from Publisher K.B. Forbes at banbalch.com. Writes Forbes:

During the pandemic quarantine, we, the CDLU, received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice dated April 7, 2020, confirming that the Office of the Inspector General had reviewed our formal complaint from December against the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Jay E. Town, and had forwarded the matter to the Office of Professional Responsibility and the General Counsel of the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys.

Providing the Department of Justice with hard copies of the jaw-dropping photos of Town chugging down cocktails with former Balch Bingham partner and Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite, we also supplemented our complaint with two additional packets of evidence and information.

Town’s alleged dirty work for Balch (a half-baked deposition) and refusal to investigate the Newsome Conspiracy Case, allegedly blocking the FBI at least four times, has caused keen interest in his behavior, including possible prosecutorial misconduct.

Town reportedly has at least four times blocked the FBI from investigating the Balch-led effort to steal the lucrative collections practice of Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome by, in part, framing him for a bogus criminal act? Yikes, that is nasty and crooked stuff. In fact, Forbes puts a nice description on it -- which seems to fit snugly:

Prosecutorial misconduct?

Yes, Town’s alleged secret deal to keep Alabama Power “unmentionable” during the North Birmingham Bribery Trial.

Town had a bright future ahead but threw it all away because of a half-baked deposition and alleged misconduct that appears to help his friends at Alabama Power and Balch.

As we wrote to the DOJ:

"[We], the CDLU, have sought the affirmation of inherent goodness and best practices from Balch Bingham, Alabama Power, and the U. S. Attorney’s Office in this fight against injustice and unsavory conduct regarding the Newsome Conspiracy Case. All three parties have disappointed us. In our 19 years of advocacy, working closely with law enforcement and federal investigators, we have never, ever been blocked or derailed. We believe you, the Office of Professional Responsibility, have the ability, the tenacity, to correct a wrong."