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Now Ignorance of Foreign Law Is, Apparently, No Excuse

From the Wall Street Journal:

Without warning, 30 federal agents with guns and bulletproof vests stormed our guitar factories in Tennessee. They shut down production, sent workers home, seized boxes of raw materials and nearly 100 guitars, and ultimately cost our company $2 million to $3 million worth of products and lost productivity. Why? We imported wood from India to make guitars in America….

The Aug 24 raid was authorized under the Lacey Act. Originally enacted as a means to curb the poaching of endangered species, the law bans wildlife and plants from being imported if, according to the interpretation of federal bureaucrats, the importation violates a law in the country of origin.

The fingerboards of our guitars are made with wood that is imported from India. The wood seized during the Aug. 24 raid, however, was from a Forest Stewardship Council-certified supplier, meaning the wood complies with FSC’s rules requiring that it be harvested legally and in compliance with traditional and civil rights, among other protections. Indian authorities have provided sworn statements approving the shipment, and U.S. Custom allowed the shipment to pass through America’s border and to our factories.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to enforce its own interpretation of Indian law, arguing that because the fingerboards weren’t finished in India, they were illegal exports. In effect, the agency is arguing that to be in compliance with the law, Gibson must outsource the jobs of finishing craftsmen in Tennessee.

This is an overreach of government authority and indicative of the kinds of burdens the federal government routinely imposes on growing businesses. It also highlights a dangerous trend: an attempt to punish even paperwork errors with criminal charges and to regulate business activities through criminal law. Policy wonks call this “overcriminalization.” I call it a job killer.

In America alone, there are over 4,000 federal criminal offenses. Under the Lacey Act, for instance, citizens and business owners also need to know – and predict how the U.S. federal government will interpret – the laws of nearly 200 other countries on the globe as well. Many business owners have inadvertently broken obscure and highly technical foreign laws, landing them in prison for things like importing lobster tails in plastic rather than cardboard packaging (the violation of that Honduran law earned one man an eight-year prison sentence). Cases like this make it clear that the justice system has strayed from its constitutional purpose like stopping the real bad guys from bringing harm.

I testified before the Congress last fall on the overcriminalization problem.  More from Harvey Silverglate here.

If You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong, You Have Nothing to Worry About

From the Baltimore Sun:

Mary and Michael Major’s 18-year-old son, Miles, was roused from slumber and arrested at home early on the morning of Friday, April 27. He and another young man from the neighborhood were charged with first- and second-degree assault stemming from an attack by five boys on a fellow Lansdowne High School student in mid-March.

The victim claimed to have been held by one boy while another cut him several times with a knife. He showed a Baltimore County police officer more than two dozen small wounds, described in the police report as superficial.

The victim described Miles Major as a lookout for those who carried out the assault.

Mary Major’s son had never been charged with a crime.

And she had never experienced the court commissioner system.

“The commissioner set a bail of $325,000 and sent the young men to Towson Detention Center,” Mary Major says. “It happened so fast, I didn’t know what to do. I elected to obtain a bail bonds company and have [Miles] released on Saturday, as I don’t feel it would have been fair or good for him mentally to spend the weekend in the detention center awaiting a bail review.”

So she and her husband made a nonrefundable $10,000 payment — a break in the usual price, the bail bondsman told them — to get their son released until his trial.

But, ladies and gentlemen, there never was a trial.

The charges against Miles Major were dismissed a month after his arrest. Baltimore County police determined that the accusations were false. When confronted by a prosecutor, the victim had recanted his story, according to Scott D. Shellenberger, the county state’s attorney.

Of course, for the Major family, the damage had been done.

“My husband and I have had to drain our savings between paying the bail and paying an attorney $3,000, and this commissioner gets to sit back without repercussions, as well as the police officers . … Where is the justice? What happened to bringing people in for questioning first? I mean, really, how many tax dollars were wasted on this case? Not to mention my son’s loss of wages while being in jail, along with my loss of wages trying to get him released.”

Her complaints go back to the start of the process — to the “victim” who lied, of course, but also to the police who raided her house, and to the court commissioner whose actions cost her $13,000.

Bail is supposed to be about making sure a defendant shows up for trial. Miles Major hardly fit the profile of a flight risk — an 18-year-old boy with no criminal record, employed at a local restaurant, still living at home with his parents.

Can you spare $13,000?

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-19-12

Here are the 12 reports of police misconduct tracked July, 19 2012

  • Los Angeles, California: A lawsuit was filed against DA Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca that alleges the pair concealed evidence that potentially affects verdicts and pleas in thousands of criminal cases over the past decade.
  • Boston, New York: A policewoman was suspended without pay after she was arrested for driving drunk.
  • Hillsborough County, Florida: A deputy resigned after she was charged with animal cruelty. She allegedly deprived food and nourishment to two of her horses, and has been charged with one felony count and one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty.
  • Phoenix, Arizona: A police sergeant has been placed on administrative paid leave after he was caught on surveillance video pocketing several thousands of dollars in cash from a business while he was responding there on official duty.
  • San Diego, California: An officer pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of committing a lewd act in public.
  • Pueblo, Colorado: A motorcyclist was killed while fleeing police. They were attempting to pull him over for speeding.
  • Malta, Montana: A former officer has been arrested on child molestation charges. He faces four counts of sexual intercourse without consent, two counts of sexual abuse of children, and one count of solicitation of tampering with physical evidence.
  • Anderson County, South Carolina: A sheriff’s deputy was arrested for misconduct in office and is now facing an additional charge of illegally possessing hydrocodone.
  • Brockton, Massachusetts: A police officer accused of larceny, while on duty, is waiting to hear the fate of his job. He was caught on cameras, in his uniform, committing the theft and is currently on paid leave.
  • Pasco, Florida: The Sheriff’s office settled with a family for $175,000 over the death of their loved one.
  • Los Angeles, California: Occupy LA participants are filing a lawsuit against the police department claiming excessive force was used during a skirmish. They have accused the police of violating their rights.
  • Berlin Borough, New Jersey: The Police Chief was charged with simple assault in the wake of an alleged domestic violence incident with his wife. The investigation determined he struck his wife with a chair “causing injury that was visible to officers,” police said.


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-18-12

Here are the 11 reports of police misconduct tracked for Tuesday, July 18 2012:

  • Savannah, Georgia: Sheriff’s deputies deactivated a device that controls a man’s Tourette’s syndrome and allegedly beat him as “a form of amusement” when he could no longer control his physical and verbal actions. He is now filing suit against them.
  • Miami, Florida: An officer could be fired for off-duty speeding. Officer Lopez brought the spotlight on off-duty police speeding in October when he led a trooper on a high-speed chase. Caught on video, the chase and the trooper’s gunpoint confrontation was endlessly played on local television.
  • Athens-Clarke, Georgia: A high-ranking police official retired amid accusations of viewing pornography at work. “He used the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government (computer) system to receive, store, or display communications or files of a sexual nature,” said the police chief. The county manager also said “We continue to investigate to determine if there are any other actions that may be necessary, administratively or criminally.”
  • Los Angeles, California: Sheriff’s officials are investigating whether or not a deputy wrongly stomped the head of a man suspected of groping women. In a video that was taken of the incident, three deputies struggled with the man, while he was laying on the sidewalk. He was resisting being handcuffed. One of the deputies can be seen stomping his head.
  • Jefferson Parish, LA: A deputy resigned while under investigation for allegedly crashing his patrol car while intoxicated.
  • Melbourne, Florida: An officer charged with having sexual relations with prostitutes in his patrol car is waiting to learn his fate from the Chief of Police. “He is still suspended with pay and the chief has not yet made a decision,” said a sergeant.
  • Lakeside, Oregon: One person is dead and three others injured after a driver fleeing from police caused a multi-vehicle crash. The driver was being pulled over for speeding, and tried to elude the police.
  • Saginaw, Michigan: A suspended Michigan State Police trooper charged with driving drunk and crashing into another car has opted to let a judge decide whether a serious injury occurred during the crash.
  • Leominster, MA: A police officer was put on paid leave for an alleged racial slur against a Red Sox player. He engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer, according to the Police Chief and the Mayor.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: Police Sergeant was charged with assault in an off-duty incident that left a man temporarily on life support. “If there hadn’t been medical intervention, Brian Vander Lee likely would have died.”
  • Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina: An officer was arrested for driving intoxicated. This was just an unfortunate lapse of judgment,” said Police Chief Daniel House Jr.




National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-17-12

Here are the 10 stories of police misconduct tracked for Tuesday, July 17:

  • Saugus, Massachusetts: A state police officer, who admitted that prosecutors had enough on him to prove he was guilty of leading other Saugus officers on a late-night car chase, could be back on duty, thanks to a Judge who gave him a break.  
  • San Antonio, Texas: A car chase that began over a man speeding led to his death when he crashed his car on the interstate.
  • Denver, Colorado: The Denver city council approved a $60,000 payment divided between two plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged Denver Police Department misconduct. According to the lawsuit, the “police conduct was extreme, profane, and racially motivated.”
  • Scott County, Kentucky: A police officer was injured in a police chase that occurred when a speeding car refused to stop. The car being pursued and four police cruisers crashed in the incident.
  • Update: North Providence, Rhode Island: The Police Chief who was convicted of stealing cash from a stripper will be allowed to keep his pension, despite his theft.
  • Shreveport, Louisiana: A car chase that ended with the fleeing car striking a school bus, and sending 15 children to the hospital, started because the man driving was a suspect in a cocaine distribution operation.
  • Houston, Texas: “He wasn’t refusing to leave; he was leaving when he was placed under arrest,” said Adrian Peterson’s attorney, in regards to his arrest. “He did have some words with a police officer, but not anything that justifies an arrest, and he certainly never did anything physically toward them.” Peterson is saying that the police officers initiated the physical confrontation and gave him a black eye.
  • Clifton, New Jersey: When police tried to pull over a man for traffic violations and he would not stop, a high-speed chase ensued. The driver lost control of his car, and crashed.
  • Fulton County, Pennsylvania: There were no drugs or alcohol found in the body of a man who was shot and killed by a state trooper. The man’s mother is questioning his killing, and is wondering why he was shot, instead of subdued, when the only weapon he had on him was a metal flashlight.
  • Chevoit, Ohio: Two pedestrians were hit by a speeding car being chased by police because the driver was part of a heroin investigation.

Police Union to Police Chief: ‘We’re just going to kick your butt anyways, like we always have’

From the Oregonian:

In the past three decades, Portland police chiefs have fired officers who were convicted of driving drunk off duty, leaving dead animals outside a black-owned business, and selling “Smoke ‘Em, Don’t Choke ‘Em” T-shirts to officers after a man died in police custody from a neck hold.

The chiefs had to bring them all back.

More recently, an arbitrator overturned the firing of Officer Ron Frashour for fatally shooting an unarmed man in the back; the 80-hour suspensions for Officer Chris Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice following the death of James P. Chasse Jr.; and the 900-hour suspension of Officer Scott McCollister for his actions leading up tohis fatal shooting of Kendra James.

So just what does it take to discipline a Portland police officer?

Frankly, if push comes to shove and it goes to arbitration, you can’t do it.

10 Days in the Police Academy, 14 Years on Disability

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Barnes is one of two officers collecting disability because of injuries sustained while still in the police academy.

The other, Michael Terrano, injured a knee 17 years ago, underwent surgery, then refused to return to work and was fired.

Despite that, he is getting disability checks that so far have totaled more than $560,000.

Terrano is also in business. He recently was part of a company hoping to sell medical marijuana in Arizona.

Of all the Chicago cops on disability leave, Barnes spent the least amount of time on the job — those 10 days in the police academy, which he entered six months before his father retired from the police department.

Despite not making it through two weeks at the academy, Barnes stands to collect a total of at least $1.2 million from the city’s police pension fund.

He can keep collecting his annual disability payment — which now stands at $46,343 and which will increase as the salary for an entry-level patrolman goes up — until he reaches mandatory retirement at age 63. Then, he can retire with a full police pension — based on all of his years as a disabled officer.


Roadblocks and Checkpoints

It’s a common police trick–fudge a statement so the citizen thinks he just heard a police command, but, technically, it was only a request.  Here the police say “Do me a favor … and go over to secondary screening.”  Most of us think, “Oh well, something I have to do … don’t want to disobey the police.”  The driver doesn’t fall for it–he is quick to reply, “No thanks  – I want to be on my way.”   The police try to up the pressure–after all, it works all the time!–but here it fails.  Knowing they don’t have a valid legal basis for a detention, the police let this citizen go on his way.

The root of the problem in this situation is the policy, not the police officers caught on camera.  The police in the video were told to set up a checkpoint and screen drivers and passengers for citizenship.  They were professional and followed their training.  When their training  trick didn’t work, they gave up fairly quickly.  (Tho one officer, at the beginning, crossed the line and tried to coerce a response by saying, “if you don’t answer, we can detain you”).  It is good that this driver is asserting his rights and showing others how to do so. 

For additional background, go here.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-14-12 to 07-16-12

Here are the 10 reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday, July 14 to Monday, July 16, 2012:

  • Clinton, New Jersey: A former patrolman was sentenced to 5 years in prison for selling police equipment. The equipment was bought for the town’s D.A.R.E. program, which he also assisted in running. He also had to provide restitution to the municipality.
  • Broward, Florida: A sheriff’s deputy was arrested after he assaulted a 17-year-old boy. The boy had been annoying his girlfriend while driving, and she called police. The deputy then followed the teen, approached his car, and physically assaulted him.
  • Lake County, Florida: Deputies, who thought they were confronting a man suspected of attempted murder, instead knocked on the wrong door, shot, and killed, an innocent man. The man answered his door with a gun in his hand because it was around 1:30 am. The officers did not identify themselves. “He was the wrong guy and got shot and killed anyway. There’s fault on both sides. I think more so on the county,” said the man’s friend.
  • Hamburg, Pennsylvania: A police officer was suspended after he was drunk driving in his marked police cruiser.
  • Houston, Texas: A police officer’s report that she shot a man after he pulled a gun on her is being disputed by two witnesses. “He didn’t have his hands in his pocket or his shirt,” said one. When the officer searched the man after she shot him, he did not have a weapon on him.
  • Forsyth County, North Carolina: A police chief is now under investigation after he hit two men, with his police cruiser, who had already been restrained, and handcuffed.
  • Doylestown, Pennsylvania: An off-duty police officer barricaded himself in his estranged wife’s home  and was shooting at the officers outside. The incident started when police were called over a dispute, and lasted through the night. Several police cars were shot, and no one was allowed in or out of the vicinity.
  • Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina: The family of a man who was shot to death by a NC State Highway Trooper wants answers about what led to the shooting. “It’s hard to believe because of who he was and how he’s treated me and my whole gamily and all of his friends. It’s just unfathomable that this could happen to this man,” said the man’s nephew.
  • Kansas City, KS: Two teens that were in an SUV being pursued by the police died when it crashed. The officers started the chase because the SUV was being driven suspiciously. All seven teenage passengers were thrown from the vehicle and taken to the hospital
  • Lake Charles, Louisiana: A police officer is under intense scrutiny after he fatally shot a family’s dog. The officer was in pursuit of a robbery suspect, who had left the back gate open, where the dog ran out. The owner said the officer saw the dog running and shot him 4 times from point blank range. The police chief said it is too soon to judge whether the officer used his gun appropriately.


After Knocking on the Wrong Door, Police Shoot Homeowner


Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies shot and killed a man they assumed was an attempted murder suspect on Sunday, but they now know they shot the wrong man.

 In the early morning hours, deputies knocked on 26-year-old Andrew Lee Scott’s door without identifying themselves as law enforcement officers. Scott answered the door with a gun in his hand.

“When we knocked on the door, the door opened and the occupant of that apartment was pointing a gun at deputies and that’s when we opened fire and killed him,” Lt. John Herrell said.

Deputies thought they were confronting Jonathan Brown, a man accused of attempted murder. Brown was spotted at the Blueberry Hills Apartment complex and his motorcycle was parked across from Andrew Scott’s front door.

“It’s just a bizarre set of circumstances. The bottom line is, you point a gun at a deputy sheriff or police office, you’re going to get shot,” Herrell said.

Residents said the unannounced knock at the door at 1:30 a.m. may be the reason why the tragedy happened.

“He was the wrong guy and he got shot and killed anyway. There’s fault on both sides. I think more so on the county,” Ryan Perry said. “I can understand why he [the deputy] did it, but it should have never gone down like that,” Perry said.

Brown was arrested near the same building where Scott was shot. Brown and another suspect in the same case, Anthony Rodriguez, were booked into the Lake County Jail over the weekend.

I am sure the police involved regret what happened.  They did not set out to shoot an innocent person–they were looking for a dangerous guy.  But their actions were nonetheless reckless.  By knocking, unannounced, on a door at 1:30 am, what’s a innocent homeowner to think?  This is just terrible.




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