Sunday, November 25, 2007
For those of you who've been on vacation on a Greek Island, or are just logging onto your computer from a remote location in China, the incident sparking the worldwide uproar is the Monday arrest and tasering of Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student.
Meyer barged in line to harangue Massachusetts senator John Kerry during a campus talk that day. The student refused to pipe down after being asked to by the forum's organizers, and after he carried on pressing Kerry for answers, police hauled him off. They forced him to the ground, and tasered him.
Several versions of the incident are up on YouTube, and there's a debate about whether Meyer, known as a prankster, staged the incident in Sacha Baron Cohen-style or not.
Whatever its true nature, the altercation whipped up a tornado of rhetoric that is whirling across forums on the Web, including here at Threat Level.
Policemen, Intensive Care Unit trauma unit nurses ... even concerned individuals on the other side of the planet in Australia -- everyone is weighing in on whether Meyer was acting like an ass, and whether he had it coming to him. The incident has opened up the floodgates of an eye-opening debate over First Amendment rights here in the United States, police brutality and the limits and boundaries of how we as a society should deal with the unruly among us.
"This was really sickening to watch. In the video the kid offers to leave and walk out on his own, but instead more and more of those officers try to force him on the ground and into handcuffs.
What a horrible way to handle such a simple situation," writes "Aaron," one of Threat Level's readers.
"The University and its police department should be ashamed of themselves and embarrassed of the way they looked in front of a US Senator. Totally unacceptable," he adds.
Meanwhile, "Nightwatch," who says that he's with a university police department, weighed in and says that he and his colleagues agree that the Florida police handled the situation badly.
Taserprotest_7 And "Jon in Austin" writes that as an intensive care unit trauma nurse, he's concerned about the safety of the devices.
"I am an ICU Trauma Nurse, and I know there have been numerous deaths resulting from the use of the Taser device -- and no one knows who that next victim is going to be! It could be any one of us.
"If we don't stand up against the use of the Taser, who will be next?"
(Taser International says its technology is a "safer use-of-force option" on its web site.)
"I don't believe that asking a question at a town hall meeting, EVEN IF it is long-winded and perhaps even a little combative, should lead to this," writes Jon.
"I think it's foolish to run and flail from the police like that, but I can tell you that this could have been avoided had the police taken him out of the auditorium and explained when and where (or IF?) he broke the law, THEN talk about arrest (but that seems stupid when they could have just kicked him out).
Seems to me, that the real people who caused the disturbance, were the POLICE themselves, who carried it to an entirely absurd and potentially deadly level of risk to this student."
Those wanting to somehow cash in on the notoriety of the phrase, or who perhaps were like cultural tourists wanting to hold onto a keepsake of the moment, went ahead and registered domain names.
Someone by the name of Johannes Feldberg registered donttasemebro.com yesterday, and Alexander Shkirenko, who apparently was chairman of the college Republicans at Georgia Tech a decade ago, registered donttazemebro.com. The list goes on.
Michael Sarfatti in San Francisco grabbed Dontasemebro.com at 1 am this morning as he was listening to a radio show discussing the now infamous incident.
When asked why he bothered, and what he intended to do with it, Sarfatti, the founder of a baby boomer technology-related consulting firm in San Francisco, laughed heartily.
"I'm not sure why I did it -- other than it's going to be an expression in our society for a long time," he says. "I went to [domain name registrar] GoDaddy, and there was a whole bunch of people who had already registered various versions of it -- I was actually surprised to get it."
"I think it's a hilarious expression -- it's a classic phrase," he adds. "It's such a brilliant line -- to be honest, I think it was a set-up, but it was a brilliant ploy. I'd hire that guy in a heartbeat if indeed it was."
Asked how anybody could want, or plan to be tasered, Sarfatti implied that it's not an uncommon occurrence. He says that he's heard that there are games that people play that involve tasering each other.
"As an engineer I'm curious [about how that works] but as a human, I think I'll take a pass," he laughed.
Addendum: My question for readers: There's been a lot of debate [see comments section below] about whether Meyer "deserved" to be tasered, or not. But the question in my mind is not whether he would have otherwise received a bullet in his chest (as some of you have suggested he would have.)
The question is whether the use of this new technology is justified. In a world without tasers, he would have just been subdued by the police officers until he surrendered his wrists to be cuffed. The worrying aspect of this incident is the trigger-happiness of the law-enforcement authorities.
Several police officers already had him on the ground -- why did they need to taser him? It's an important question: I think we need to define the limits of what we find acceptable, and what we don't with the uses of relatively new technology, since that is how we formulate policy: On consensus. To our police officer readers: I've never been tasered (I pray that I never will,) so I can't appreciate how extreme of an act it is. It certainly looks extreme. But what if an individual has a heart condition, or any other condition that the taser would have interfered with?
The trigger-happy aspect of this disturbs me since there's been a lot of disquieting news on the subject, recently.
After officer Rafael Perez, who was present at the shooting, was allegedly caught stealing about 600,000 pounds of seized cocaine from a police locker, a new story of the Ovando shooting was revealed.
Perez has traded testimony against his fellow officers for a lighter sentence, and now claims that Ovando was unarmed and shot in the head while he was lying on the floor in handcuffs.
This incident and other corroborated stories have touched off the largest corruption scandal and subsequent investigation in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Investigators are probing at least seven other 'unjustified' shootings. At least 13 officers have been relieved of duty, with more incidents likely to surface as the internal scrutiny continues. Another 50 officers are known to be under suspicion, and almost 200 criminal prosecutions could be overturned.
The officers involved in the Ovando case may have been given orders to plant the weapon. A sergeant with the department's anti-gang unit allegedly instructed officers under his command to plant guns on unarmed suspects to back up a shooting or questionable arrest.
Brazen officers from the elite anti-gang unit known as CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) consistently imitated the street gangs they were supposed to be eliminating. Sporting gang tattoos, it has been alleged that 'death parties' were held to celebrate fatal shootings of suspects. They are accused of dealing drugs, robbing banks, framing innocent citizens, shooting unarmed civilians and lying under oath.
Other corruption cases under public scrutiny include: police officers supposedly rented an apartment for on-duty sexual liaisons with prostitutes also enlisted to sell drugs officers had stolen from dealers; a 35-year veteran Los Angeles police officer was arrested for possession of heroin he stole during a sting operation; another officer was allegedly caught stealing $600,000 worth of seized cocaine from a police locker; two Pasadena deputy city marshals, one reserve deputy, one police officer and two former police officers are charged with theft, burglary and manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance.
Amnesty International has sent representatives to Los Angeles to investigate these incidents, similar to others covered in its new report, "United States of America: Race, Rights and Police Brutality."
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and LA Police Chief Bernard C. Parks have publicly expressed their disgust at their officers' flagrant disregard for the law.
Even though Javier Ovando has been released from prison and is free now, he will be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A day of reckoning is due this victim. Ending the Drug War would restrain the police violence and corruption of which Javier Ovando and countless other victims have greatly suffered.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Apparently, the department had received an anonymous tip that Lillian Fletcher, who has a history of mental illness, was home alone and in need of assistance.
When Fletcher refused to open her door, police were called. Although Fletcher cracked the door, she still refused to let her visitors into the house.
But police officers wouldn't take no for an answer and pushed their way in. Fletcher ran and got the hammer she keeps beside her bed.
"My grandmother is easily confused," her granddaughter, Traci Taylor, said Monday. "She probably didn't know what was going on."
Taylor is one of her grandmother's caregivers. She said her grandmother has schizophrenia and dementia.
Normally Fletcher is looked after by a homemaker or by her own daughter and Taylor. Only recently did these women find themselves between homemakers.
"She can be belligerent," Taylor said. But she's 82 years old, 5 feet 1 inch and weighs no more than 160 pounds, she added.
"I just don't think they should be Tasing 82-year-old women. That's ridiculous."
Officers Al Brocchini and Detective Nick Chilles arrived at the high school and took Michael down to the attendance office where they interrogated him relentlessly. They wanted information on a burglary and subsequent shooting. Michael didn’t have any information for them; he claims he wasn’t there. But police kept after him, threatening and making promises throughout the entire morning.
Michael wanted the session to end. The police told him repeatedly that he would not be prosecuted as long as he cooperated with them and provided information about other gang members who were involved in the burglary and shooting. They told him that even if he was the shooter, he would not be booked. And they said that if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, he would be sent to jail.
Worn down and confused, Michael told them what they wanted to hear. He made a false confession. The police put words into his mouth. In reviewing the 169-page transcript, an expert on police interrogations called the statement "grossly" coercive.
Then, true to their word, the cops took him home. When he got there, Michael explained the false confession to his father. The father called the police and said that his son had lied. The police responded by returning and arresting Michael for lying. He was then charged with 11 counts of attempted murder and remained incarcerated for the next year.
During that time Michael recanted his confession. The police, using their coercive methods once again, were able to extract statements from two other youths who claimed that Michael was involved. Michael ultimately took a lie detector test which showed that he was not involved in the burglary and shooting.
When Michael was first arrested, he was placed in juvenile hall. Inmates cannot post bail to get released from juvenile hall. When it was later determined that he would be tried as an adult, he was transferred to the men’s jail and bail was posted at $250,000. This amount was too high for Michael’s family to pay. So Michael remained in jail. In order to do his best for his client, Michael’s attorney had to request a number of delays of court appearances and Michael remained in jail.
Finally after Michael had passed two polygraph tests and repeatedly denied that he was involved, a deputy district attorney asked the Superior Court to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.
Michael is now free. But I cannot imagine what spending a year in an adult jail for a crime he did not commit has done to someone so young. Not only was Michael unfairly punished, police focus on the wrong boy let the real perpetrator to go free.
Police told his mother that she could not take him home unless she signed a waiver allowing Chad to become an informant for the police. If she didn’t, Chad would face serious jail time. They told Mrs. Mac Donald that the drug charges would be dropped in exchange for Chad’s work as an informant. The mother agreed to sign the waiver and in so doing doing agreed to something she could not fully understand.
Chad worked with the police in at least two drug arrests. But soon, Ms. MacDonald realized that Chad was being pressured by the police to participate in larger and larger drug buys. Concerned that Chad was becoming involved in something quite dangerous, Ms. MacDonald called the district attorney’s office in an effort to end the arrangement. But the police pressure did not stop; they continued to pressure Chad to participate in bigger buys in exchange for dropping all charges. To hammer this home, the DA’s office filed charges against Chad for possessing and transporting methamphetamine.
Chad, feeling under tremendous pressure, set off to score a really big buy so the charges would be dropped. On his own initiative, Chad went to make a drug buy at a house in a nearby town that was well-known for drug and gang activity.
It appears that when the gang later learned that Chad was an informant, they kidnapped Chad and his girlfriend; both were both tortured and strangled. The girlfriend somehow survived and was found in Angeles National Forest. Chad was found dead in an alley in south Los Angeles.
Thoughtless, aggressive cops exploited Chad to beef up their arrest statistics. The police and the district attorney’s office treated Chad in a reckless manner which directly led to his death and endangered the lives of others. They showed no concern for the danger they were putting Chad in and are now busy covering up their actions.