Tag Archives: evidence

LA Supreme Court: It’s Reasonable to Believe “Give Me a Lawyer Dog” was Request for a Dog Who is a Lawyer

Lawyer Dog Louisiana Supreme Court Canine Attorney

Lawyer Dog should really ask Grumpy Judge to recuse herself. #JusSayin

Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a ruling on a motion to suppress evidence against Warren Demesme, who is currently awaiting trial in New Orleans. By a 6-1 majority the court denied that motion, which maintained that statements Demesme had made should be thrown because the police had ignored his request for legal counsel during interrogations.

What’s gotten a lot of attention (and rightfully so) since that ruling is the courts’ contention that Demesme’s request was ambiguous and unclear. But even more so for the reasoning behind the ruling. Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly argued in his response to the motion that Demesme’s statement, “just give me a lawyer dog,” could be misinterpreted by a “reasonable officer” based on the use of the words “lawyer dog.”

In a brief accompanying the decision, Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton agreed that the defendant’s use of “lawyer dog” could be misconstrued to mean something else and therefore did not qualify as a request for counsel.

Via the Washington Post:

Warren Demesme, then 22, was being interrogated by New Orleans police in October 2015 after two young girls claimed he had sexually assaulted them. It was the second time he’d been brought in, and he was getting a little frustrated, court records show. He had repeatedly denied the crime. Finally, Demesme told the detectives:

“This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.” The punctuation, arguably critical to Demesme’s use of the sobriquet “dog,” was provided by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office in a brief, and then adopted by Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton.

Demesme subsequently made admissions to the crime, prosecutors said, and was charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile. He is being held in the Orleans Parish jail awaiting trial.

The public defender for Orleans Parish, Derwyn D. Bunton, took on Demesme’s case and filed a motion to suppress Demesme’s statement. In a court brief, Bunton noted that police are legally bound to stop questioning anyone who asks for a lawyer. “Under increased interrogation pressure,” Bunton wrote, “Mr. Demesme invokes his right to an attorney, stating with emotion and frustration, ‘Just give me a lawyer.’” The police did not stop their questioning, Bunton argued, “when Mr. Demesme unequivocally and unambiguously asserted his right to counsel.”

Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton

Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton

Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly responded in his brief that Demesme’s “reference to a lawyer did not constitute an unambiguous invocation of his right to counsel, because the defendant communicated that whether he actually wanted a lawyer was dependent on the subjective beliefs of the officers.” Daly added, “A reasonable officer under the circumstances would have understood, as [the detectives] did, that the defendant only might be invoking his right to counsel.”

Bunton’s motion to throw out Demesme’s statement was rejected by the trial court and the appeals court, so he took it to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in a ruling issued last Friday and first reported by Reason, could have denied the appeal without issuing a written ruling, which it does in most cases. But Justice Crichton decided to write a brief concurrence “to spotlight the very important constitutional issue regarding the invocation of counsel during a law enforcement interview.”

Crichton noted that Louisiana case law has ruled that “if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal . . . the cessation of questioning is not required.” Crichton then concluded: “In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview.”


There’s a lot of things wrong with that decision. The most obvious issue is that they didn’t actually provide him with a dog who is a lawyer, as they claim they thought he had requested. It’s probably not the wisest move to request a dog to represent you in court, but if he’s a good boy and graduated from an accredited law school, who am I to cast aspersions?

Of course, that’s kind of the biggest problem with the “logic” of this ruling. They couldn’t give him a “lawyer dog” because, outside of memes on the internets, it’s not an actual thing. At this point in history, not one single dog has ever managed to pass the bar exam. Not Lassie, not Rin Tin Tin, not Benji, not even Snoopy. Scooby Doo is way to high to even think about taking the SAT’s, let alone the LSAT’s, and don’t even get me started on Marmaduke.

If any dog could have pulled it off, it obviously would have been Brian Griffin, but he died tragically after eating chocolate out of the garbage years ago. So, he’s not available right now.

What it boils down to is, if somebody asks for legal council, as is their constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment, you shouldn’t just be able to pretend you didn’t understand them because they used some (not uncommon) slang. In fact, if for some reason they ask for a “lawyer dog,” but there aren’t any available (or willing to work pro bone-o), then you give them a lawyer human instead.

It’s hard to have a lot of faith in the U.S. Injustice System, especially after rulings like this (not to mention all the coerced confessions and false convictions they allow for). However, you would hope that some sense of common decency and shame would compel the next appeals court this goes in front of to render a proper ruling on this nonsense.

I have a suspicion this might be a big part of the reason why the State of Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.

Update: Mike BlueHair of FTP PDX Arrested During Protests Against Portland Police Contract

Technically, this is a prequel, rather than an update, since he was arrested prior to the protests I wrote about here at the CopBlock Network last night.

The video begins with a voice over during footage of the protests in which Mike states that a third of the people who follow his Youtube channel want to see him get arrested and this will make them happy because he was finally arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

In the portion of the video that actually shows the arrest, Mike is heard responding to an unheard statement by asking, “I’m under arrest?” He’s then told to step down from a wall he is standing on, presumably to get a better view for filming the protest, by a group of riot cops. After he discusses wanting to have the SD card from his camera placed into evidence, Mike then asks why he is being arrested. One of the police officers replies, “for being in the street” and then asks, “how many warnings did you have to come out of the street?” At that point, Mike states, “I’d like to invoke my right to remain silent; I’d like to speak to a lawyer, please.”

The video then returns to a voice over in which Mike states that he gives the officers who arrested him credit for being professional and treating him with dignity and respect. However, he also states that he wishes the police would have treated the protesters at City Hall with the same respect and that he is “livid” over the way things were handled by police there.

Related Posts:

Mike BlueHair films the police in and around Portland as part of “Film The Police Portland,” also referred to as “FTP PDX.” In addition, he has traveled to various other parts of the country to film the police. He has a very active Youtube channel, which he has uploaded thousands of videos to.

In fact, it could very easily be questioned whether the police should be ordering him to leave the street (the stated basis for his arrest), based on his years of work as an independent journalist documenting protests and other activities, if he was simply observing and not actively participating at the time. (I happen to know has a press pass, because I made one for him.)

Mike has been featured many times over the years in posts on CopBlock.org. Below are links to posts in which Mike has been involved in or mentioned within.

Police Lineups, False Identifications, And Wrongful Convictions

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network anonymously, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. It was originally published at the Pacific Standard by Sue Russell in September 2012 and reposted at Salon.com.

Why Police Lineups Can’t Be Trusted

The single biggest cause of wrongful convictions is mistaken eyewitness identification. Is there a better way?

Studies have shown that memory and recall are more fallible than failsafe. That finding undermines eyewitness identifications—a critical prosecution mainstay—revealing them as far more fragile evidence than imagined. Just ask Rickey Dale Wyatt of Dallas, Texas. On January 4, 2012, he was released from prison after serving 31 years of a 99-year sentence for a rape he did not commit.

Police were sure that a single rapist had committed a cluster of rapes when they arrested Wyatt for three assaults.

The third victim, who had been grabbed from behind and dragged at knifepoint to a dimly lit area, was the first to identify Wyatt. Ultimately, all three picked Wyatt from photographic lineups. All had described their rapists as being between 170 and 200 pounds, between 5’9” and 6’, and as having no facial hair. Wyatt is 5’6”, was close to 140 pounds—and he had abundant facial hair and a mustache.

While Victim No. 3 identified Wyatt in the photo lineup, she had failed to do so in a live lineup (which wasn’t recorded). That failure, and knowledge of the lineup’s very existence, was withheld from Wyatt’s defense attorney.

Wyatt stood trial for one rape: the first. While his nephew testified that he’d never weighed more than 140 pounds, a police officer testified that after Wyatt’s arrest the suspect had lost approximately 30 pounds in 10 days.

Wyatt, then 25, declined a plea deal for a 5-year sentence and defended his innocence in front of a jury. He lost.

There was much that jurors did not know. Innocence Project lawyers who eventually fought to free Wyatt found that police and prosecutors held back exculpatory photographic evidence of the physical appearance mismatch—then-recent photographs showing Wyatt with facial hair, weight approximately 135 pounds. They also alleged that a report in which the third victim put her attacker at around 200 pounds was suppressed; at his sentencing hearing, the third rape victim publicly identified Wyatt as her rapist.

Wyatt’s complex case had more problems than just lineup problems, starting with an inadequate legal defense. Body fluid tests did not link Wyatt to the rape, and his trial lawyer failed to challenge it. The attorney also failed to present evidence like recent hospital records that would have shown Wyatt had facial hair.

Wyatt’s conviction was vacated thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project and Dallas’s Conviction Integrity Unit and District Attorney’s office, which pushed for DNA testing. Also key: the city of Dallas’ propensity for saving physical evidence likely to have been discarded elsewhere to save on the cost of storage.

The need to reform eyewitness identification procedures has been recognized in recent years, but actual changes have lagged. Although the Department of Justice issued its “Eyewitness Evidence, A Guide for Law Enforcement” (pdf ) in 1999, calling for written protocols on eyewitness evidence, many U.S. police departments still lack written protocols. Last June, 10 states including Texas enacted legislation requiring all law enforcement agencies to create written procedures.

Misidentification is the single biggest common denominator in wrongful convictions, and a factor in 72 percent of cases overturned by DNA nationwide. In 50 percent of those convictions, shaky eyewitness testimony was not shored up by physical evidence or other corroboration like a confession or informant testimony.

In 2001, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to adopt federally recommended guidelines on witness identifications after mounting awareness of the old methods’ fallibility (such as eyewitnesses being influenced by unintentional verbal or body clues from investigators).

But those improvements still didn’t go far enough, said experts.

The 2004 case of Larry Henderson, sentenced to 11 years for reckless manslaughter and weapons possession in connection with a fatal shooting in Camden, pushed New Jersey to examine its standards again.

In his appeal, Henderson argued that police had failed to follow the guidelines adopted in 2001 and that the police photo lineup conducted 13 days after the murder improperly swayed a witness to pick him out. The witness later testified that a police officer had moved the photographs around as if hinting which to select and that “there was pressure” to make a choice.

An appellate panel in 2008 called the Henderson lineup “a charade” and ordered a new hearing on the photographic evidence’s admissibility. The state appealed. In response, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that before it would address the issue, it wanted a full inquiry into procedures used in the state’s eyewitness identifications.

That’s when, says Barry Scheck, cofounder and co-director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, “they did something that courts should do much more with science and the law. … They remanded it to a special master, a very smart retired judge”—in this case former New Jersey State Appellate Judge Geoffrey Gaulkin.

Gaulkin’s task was to determine if New Jersey’s identification procedures were scientifically sound. He held hearings and reviewed more than 2,000 pertinent scientific studies published since the 1977 introduction of the Manson test. The test is a two-step process that first decides whether the eyewitness procedures police used to identify a suspect were impermissibly suggestive. If so, courts must then determine, using a five-part reliability factor test, whether the identification still should be admissible. Bottom line: even if there are problems with the procedure, unless there is a “very substantial” likelihood of an “irreparable” misidentification, courts must allow the identification into evidence.

In a June 2010 report (pdf), Gaulkin wrote that the short answer to the court’s question whether the test and associated procedures were “‘valid and appropriate in light of recent scientific and other evidence’ is that they are not.”

His report called for a major overhaul of the legal standards governing whether or not eyewitness testimony is allowed in court. And he recommended that memories be treated as “fragile, difficult to verify and subject to contamination.” During his research, he’d come to view them as more akin to trace evidence: “a fragment collected at the scene of a crime like a fingerprint or a blood smear, whose integrity and reliability needs to be monitored and assessed from the point of its recovery to its ultimate presentation at trial.”

 Not only can law enforcement unconsciously lead a witness towards identifying a suspect, he noted, but they—along with other witnesses or family members—can unconsciously contaminate a witness’s memory. What those people say and do can bolster, indeed overinflate, a witness’s level of certainty in their identification.

Cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror of the University College of London points to psychological research that shows  “time and time again no correlation between confidence and accuracy.” Yet heightened confidence can easily be mistakenly read that way, leading a court to allow improperly overstated evidence and jurors to give it too much weight.

Gaulkin recommended that judges and juries alike be made fully aware of all scientific facts that can impact eyewitness identifications’ trustworthiness and that the burden be on prosecutors to provide proof that evidence and testimony is reliable. He concurred with Innocence Project recommendations that courts examine scientific variables that can impact accuracy by hearing testimony from eyewitnesses and police officers pre-trial at admissibility hearings.

“That was a very big deal,” says Barry Scheck. “For years, we’ve been working with experimental psychologists on eyewitness identification issues and on getting the courts to change their standards for assessing that evidence, and on changing the way they do pretrial reliability hearings to make them more in accordance with the science.”

Professor Daniel Medwed of the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, also favors pre-trial review. “It just enhances decision making at the front end,” he says. “And the better the decision on the front end, the better everything will play out. Because once you make a decision, because of cognitive bias, people often become very wedded to that initial decision. You can call it tunnel vision, confirmation bias, expectancy bias, whatever…but it’s very common.”

New Jersey set aside the Manson test in August 2011. Now eyewitness identification procedures must be captured by cameras. New Jersey judges also must hold hearings—mid-trial if necessary—to weigh fairness when a defendant presents evidence that an identification procedure was unfairly suggestive. And judges must convey to juries that memory is imperfect and that recall can be wrong or distorted. Jury instructions must explain factors that may affect identification dependability, including lighting, poor eyesight, the length of an encounter, whether a witness was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whether a weapon was being brandished.

Plus, studies show people have more trouble differentiating faces of races not their own and more mistakes happen in cross-racial identifications. Innocence Project research found that to be the case in 53 percent of mistaken-identification cases where the race is known.

The Innocence Project wants states to mandate uniform procedures that include recording lineup proceedings and having blind administration: lineups with pictures or people shown one at a time by officers who don’t know if a suspect is even present. And it recommends witnesses write “confidence statements” immediately after they view a lineup, expressing—in their own words—their level of faith in any identification.

In 2006, a year-long field study conducted by Illinois state police seemed to contradict earlier research, which consistently found fewer mistaken identifications if eyewitnesses view lineup participants one at a time when making identification decisions. But the Illinois study’s design was deemed flawed, more research followed, and a recent study conducted by the American Judicature Society has added to earlier research showing fewer errors in lineups that are sequential rather than simultaneous.

Specifically, it found that viewing lineup participants singly rather than simultaneously—where witnesses must rely on their memories and not on making comparisons—doesn’t significantly reduce the number of accurate positive identifications. Nor does it impede a witness’s ability to make an identification. But it does lead to a significant reduction in witnesses selecting “fillers”—the non-suspects put in lineups. In simultaneous lineups, fillers were picked out 18.1 percent of the time but only 12.2 percent of the time in sequential lineups.

According to eyewitness expert and American Judicature Society study co-author Gary Wells, the future is likely to see a shift to computer-generated lineups designed to reduce bias or investigator influence. Wells also is studying what happens to an eyewitness trying to identify a perpetrator when their memories fail.

“Instead of the person sort of bailing out when memory fails and saying ‘Gee, I don’t know’ or ‘I guess I’m not going to identify anyone,’ secondary processes kick in,” Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor exploring these issues for 35 years, explained in a statement. “And rather than the primary processes, which are automatic, these secondary processes require more thinking. We call them deliberative. People tend to be more conscious of these. They’re engaged in a process of reasoning and they tend to be more verbal.” As far as misidentifications go, says Wells, these processes “tend to be the dangerous ones.”

Lineup designs, meanwhile, continue to improve, as do legal protections. Thanks to its Supreme Court ruling, New Jersey now has the nation’s toughest guidelines and offers a blueprint—“a new legal architecture,” as Scheck calls it—that may spur nationwide reform.

False Arrest and Assault at Menards After Refusing Search

The following post and video was shared with the CopBlock Network by Charles M. Waters, via the Cop Block Submissions Page.

Along with the video description, Charles states:

I would love if everyone could spread, embed, and post my video. I am also trying to get a crowd funding campaign going to pay for my attorney, to take this fight to THEM.

Date of incident: March 27th, 2016
Officers Involved: Officer Newbury,  Badge #147; Officer Kirchner, Badge # 131; Officer Madson, Badge #85
Department Involved: Coon Rapids Police Department
Phone No.: (763) 767-6481
Address: 11155 Robinson Dr NW, Coon Rapids, MN 55433

I never participate in “receipt verification”, and previously have never had a problem. I have a real issue (apparently due to autism) with my privacy and property, and never felt OK with having to submit anything I own to “inspection”. I feel that if a store wishes to treat paying customers like assumed criminals, they have no business being in business.

So on this date, I had already given my receipt four times to three different people just to get my merchandise. I showed my receipt AND proof I actually picked up my merchandise, to the gate guard. He insisted I open my trunk, but I refused. He said “You could have anything you want in that trunk”, to which I asked if he had any evidence I took anything I did not pay for.

They refused to open the gate, so I called police as I was being falsely imprisoned at this point. Police arrived, and although I was the complainant, they only spoke with the manager of the store. Then they demanded I open my trunk. I refused. They said they would get a warrant, I invited them to do so.

Instead, they searched me, THEN handcuffed me and placed me in a squad car. I was told that they would just leave me there and I would not be let out until I complied with a search they could not get a warrant for. Then they went after my wife, told her neither of us would leave “today” until she opened the trunk. She reluctantly complied, out of fear they would do the same to her.

Whatever you may think of what I should or should not do with respect to opening my trunk, these facts remain:

  1. I had not committed any crime, nor had I even been ACCUSED of one.
  2. I was the one calling to report a crime that Menards was, in fact, committing against ME, and all the elements of that crime were readily apparent to officers.
  3. They said they would get a warrant, but they knew they could NOT.
  4. Knowing that they could not get a warrant, they caused deliberate harm to compel us to do something they could not lawfully accomplish.
  5. Upon being proven innocent, of a crime no one accused, I was deliberately assaulted without any cause or reason.

The Chief of Police has said in so many words his officers actions were appropriate and within the confines of the Constitution.
They can literally just cuff you and put you in a squad car, and threaten to keep you and your wife from your children indefinitely, when they can’t get a warrant. They can “compel” you to “comply”.

Here is where you can tell the arresting officer how you feel.
Coon Rapids Police Department

And feel free to review the police derp-artment here:
Coon Rapids Police Department – Reviews

– Charles M. Waters

At Least 2,000 Baltimore Cases Being Reviewed For Improper Electronic Surveillance

This post was submitted by Sulu Kelley III, via the CopBlock.org submissions page. Along with the submission, Sulu states:

If the judiciary is concerned, what outrage should the general public be displaying right now?


Stingray SurveillanceAt least 2,000 cases in Baltimore, MD, are being reviewed by defense attorneys following recent revelations concerning police surveillance. Maryland requires defense attorneys be informed about electronic surveillance, which conflicts with the Non-Disclosure Agreements, or NDAs, which police departments are required to sign before purchasing cell-site simulators, or Stingrays.

These devices function by telling your phone that the device is a cell tower, and pinging it for the phones location data. Simply removing the battery from the phone is not sufficient to stop the location signal. A device called a Faraday Cage, similar to that sold to protect credit cards from RFID theft, is necessary to completely block the location signal.

Consider what might happen if you were found holding a cellphone that was tracked using this technology. In a current case in Baltimore, Anthony Todd claims that he found a ringing phone under the porch of a vacant house. Todd does not match the description of the person wanted for the murder he is accused of, and surveillance video shows other people looking at the porch the phone was allegedly found under.

Stingray Surveillance TruckThe key problem in the use of cell-site simulators lies in the NDA. That agreement prohibits disclosing the use or existence of Stingrays to, well, anyone. The knowledge of them seems to come out in things such as invoices for training or “cellular equipment” that are obtained through requests for public records. This extends to motions for discovery in criminal cases. (These motions are for when the prosecution, the government, tells the defendant, the person accused of the crime, what evidence the prosecution has that the accused committed the crime. This is so the accused can defend themselves against the charge, and is a central concept to how our criminal justice system is supposed to be organized.) If the accused is unaware of how the evidence against them was gathered, then they cannot mount a defense against it, by any number of methods. Questioning the training of those who gathered the evidence, the accuracy of the equipment, and the lawfulness of the method itself are the first three methods which spring to this writers mind.

Even if these cases are reviewed by the defense attorneys, there is no guarantee that a motion for a mistrial will be filed. It depends on how the information was presented in court. If the cell-site simulator was used to reverse-engineer a case, then there is no opportunity to argue against its use, as it is not presented in court.

How Stingray WorksIf the defendant is not informed of the methods used, they cannot mount an effective defense. This is an affront to our system of criminal justice. The concept that an NDA could stand against discovery is best summed up by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams addressing Baltimore City Police Det. John L. Haley “You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court.” Judge Williams then threatened to hold Detective Haley in contempt. In a related exchange, Florida Circuit Court Judge Frank Sheffield thundered to the state’s attorney, Courtney Frazier, that “Inhibiting law enforcement’s rights are second to protecting mine!” As is apparent, when the judiciary is knowledgeable about the use of these devices, there is concern over the safeguards in place to protect the public from misuse.

-Sulu Kelley III

Get more knowledge at the CB Library

Get more knowledge at the CB Library

Don’t Let Coroner’s Inquest Reforms Become Yet Another Victim of Police Intimidation

Las Vegas Coroner's Inquest

Why are Las Vegas area police so afraid of transparency and accountability?

Tomorrow, Dec. 4th, beginning at 9:30 AM the Clark County Commission is scheduled to vote on proposed reforms to the Coroner’s Inquest process in which killings by Las Vegas area police are reviewed and facts surrounding them are made public.

If you have any desire to see transparency in cases where police shoot people and accountability for those innocent people amongst that rapidly growing number you should do everything you can to attend that meeting and let your feelings be known. (See map below.)

Reportedly, with the exception of Chris Giunchigliani, the commission is preparing to vote against the proposed reforms, which would effectively end the Coroner’s Inquests.

As has been well documented, the original Coroner’s Inquests served more as a dog and pony show where the official cover story was pushed and contradictory evidence and witnesses were minimized or outright withheld. All of which only served to exonerate police when they murdered innocent people rather than as a true fact finding investigation.

The inevitable criticisms and lack of confidence in such an obviously orchestrated and dishonest process led to demands for reforms from the families of people killed by Las Vegas police under suspicious circumstances, several communitty organizations, as well as both the NAACP and ACLU on behalf of victims. The resulting reforms, while not a perfect solution provided for several changes in the Coroner’s Inquest process to bring more transparency and increase the chance for true accountability, such as the ability for the victims to be represented by a lawyer that would have the ability to question witnesses. This in and of itself was an important step forward, since the District Attorney, who controls all the evidence and witnesses presented during the Coroner’s Inquest, has demonstrated a bias toward the police officers involved.

Las Vegas Coroner's Inquests

An all too common in the Las Vegas area lately.

Not surprisingly, the police and in particular the Las Vegas Police Protective Association (LVPPA) have very little interest in a transparent process that might expose the murders their colleagues have committed. The LVPPA in it’s misguided attempts to “protect” police regardless of how glaringly wrong individual cops might be in a case or how negatively that affects the ability of other cops to do their job, has advised police not to cooperate with the new inquest should it be implemented. They also attempted to have the reforms thrown out as unconstitutional via a lawsuit that failed, but required that some minor procedural alterations be made to who was in charge of the inquest proceedings.

Unfortunately, largely because of that refusal to participate by local police, the County Commissioners are reportedly ready to buckle to pressure and scrap the Coroner’s Inquest process altogether. This would be bad for many reasons, not the least of which are that the alternatives are dramatically worse than the already inadequate original version of the Coroner’s Inquest was.

In most cases since the Coroner’s Inquests were put on hold, District Attorney Steve Wolfson has been issuing statements to explain his lack of desire to hold officers accountable for their actions. The fact that he recently stated that Henderson police are actually trained to kick defenseless people in the head repeatedly as a reason for not punishing a police officer in one of those statements doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in that as a viable substitute.

Nor does the use of grand juries as the other apparent option hold much hope for a fair outcome. As was pointed out on this site a while back, grand juries are highly secretive and in pretty much every other respect, including the DA’s exclusive control over witnesses and evidence, have all the same flaws that the previous Coroner’s Inquest process contained.

The lack of accountability for their actions up to and including outright murder has lead to a shoot first mentality amongst the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and other area police. It’s actually getting to the point where it is hard to keep track of the instances of police involved shooting because they happen so often. Recently approved reforms are the only way to ensure transparency and justice for the families of the victims of questionable shooting by local police.

Further Info and Reasons to Support Coroner’s Inquest Reforms:

Erik Scott

Erik Scott was murdered by Las Vegas Metro police on July 10, 2010. The obvious problems with the Coroner’s Inquest proceeding in his case were likely the final straw that lead to the current reforms.

Statement (via Facebook post) from Bill Scott, Eric Scott‘s father:

Per Lisa’s appeal (below), please consider being at the County Commissioners’ meeting on 4 Dec.

Potential Outcome 1: If the commissioners cave in to the PPA (police union), only the District Attorney will be deciding whether officer-involved shootings were justified. As DA Steve Wolfson has demonstrated, to date, he NEVER finds fault with Metro shootings, because he relies completely on Metro’s flawed “investigations” of OISs.

In a recent case, Wolfson “chose” to not review high-definition security-system video evidence that clearly proved Metro officers shot and killed a young man for no reason (the Olivas murder). If the DA can’t be bothered to look at indisputable data/evidence that counters Metro’s cover-up narrative, how will 1) victims’ families know the facts surrounding their loved ones’ death, and 2) rogue/bad police officers be held accountable for shooting innocents?

Potential Outcome 2: If the county commissioners decide to eliminate the NEW coroner’s inquest process and go back to the long-ago-discredited grand jury process, reviews of OISs will be a secret, closed-door process. The grand jury would be stacked with “citizens” who are cop-friendly, and, again, rogue/bad cops would be routinely exonerated. That outcome is virtually guaranteed, because appointments to the grand jury would be carefully controlled by those friendly to Metro and beholden to intransigent obstructionists, the PPA union.

If the community is to have any hope of holding its police force accountable, getting rid of dangerous “cowboy cops,” and stopping the epidemic of senseless, deadly OISs, it’s imperative that county commissioners modify the NEW coroner’s inquest ordinance to ensure it complies with the recent Nevada Supreme Court ruling.

That’s a simple change to the existing ordinance, but the PPA union is fighting reinstatement of inquest hearings under the new procedures, and any other credible means for “civilians” to hold police officers accountable for their deadly behavior.

Unless hundreds of Las Vegas-area citizens show up on 4 Dec. and explain to the commissioners that murders-by-cops will NOT be tolerated, the PPA will prevail, and the commissioners will cave to union and DA pressure. And killer-cops will never again be deterred from shooting, when less-than-lethal alternatives would be more appropriate.

As you think about whether to expend the time and effort to attend the 4 Dec. meeting, please consider: If Officer Wm. Mosher had been TRULY held accountable for his 2006 shooting, he might have been either in prison, or fired from the Metro police force and not on the streets of Las Vegas on July 10, 2010. And my son, Erik, would be alive today.

Letting PPA union thugs run roughshod over county commissioners and a community has deadly consequences. Erik paid for Metro/PPA thuggery with his life. Who will be the next killer-cops’ victims?

Thanks for your kind support of this vital campaign to restore justice.

Bill Scott

The post referencedby Bill Scott in his statement:

When the Government Prosecutes one of Its Own, the Scales of justice are Tipped Heavily Against the Common Citizen


The Clark County Commission will be discussing the coroner’s inquest process for officer-involved homicides on December 4, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. We need the Commission to pass a simple housekeeping measure to allow the inquests to proceed. The Commission needs to understand that the public does not want it to abandon or water down the coroner’s inquests for officer-involved homicides. The LVMPD has a very high rate of officer-involved homicides, and the public deserves to know the facts when a member of the community is killed.

Meet outside the County Commission building at 9:15 a.m. on December 4, 2012. We will have free t-shirts so you can tell the Commission: “START THE INQUESTS. WE DESERVE TO KNOW.”

What is the inquest process?
In December of 2010, the coroner’s inquest process was reformed into a transparent, public airing of the facts when the LVMPD kills a member of the public. The 2010 reforms did not make the process adversarial. They replaced the jury and verdict with a panel and neutral factual findings. To help get at the truth and ensure fairness, they also provided for participation by the officers, family members, and the public. The reforms were responsive to widespread concerns from citizens and the product of a democratic process and public input. The Sheriff supported the reforms and they also had broad public support (including from PLAN, the Las Vegas NAACP, NACJ, and the ACLU).

Why haven’t we had any inquests since reforms were passed?
Unfortunately, the Police Protective Association (PPA) has fought the implementation of the new inquest process, trying to avoid transparency. The Nevada Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court of Nevada have both rejected the PPA’s arguments that the process violated their rights, finding that the coroner’s inquest is a fair process. The Nevada Legislature also refused to abolish the inquest.

How can we fix the inquests?
The Nevada Supreme Court recently held that justices of the peace cannot preside over the inquests under current law. The Clark County Commission can easily fix this technical, procedural issue if it has the political will to stand up to the PPA. The issue regarding who should oversee inquests was not part of the 2010 changes. The pre-2007 had hearing master, oversee inquests. Just like justices of the peace, hearing masters are attorneys. They already oversee non-officer homicide inquests and are qualified to preside over inquests into officer-involved homicides.

Why should the inquest be fixed?

Stanley L. Gibson

Stanley L. Gibson, a disabled Army vet, was murdered by Ofc. Jesus Arevalo on Dec. 12, 2012

The public deserves to know what happens when the LVMPD kills a member of the community, and transparency is needed to restore the trust between the LVMPD and the public. The County has spent significant sums of money and time on the 2010 reform process, to defend the inquest in court, and to lobby at the legislature. That money should not go to waste.

Most importantly, since the 2010 changes were passed, there have been 22 officer-involved homicides. This means that a total of twenty two families now stand in line waiting to learn the facts about how their loved ones were killed. Without an inquest, there is no way for families to get direct access to information about their family members’ deaths. The families and the public that employs police officers want and deserve an open and transparent process in place so they can assess the facts surrounding office-involved homicides themselves.

Is there any reason to wait?
There is no reason to keep delaying. While the PPA has appealed the case it lost in federal court to the Ninth Circuit, there is no stay or injunction in place and nothing stopping the inquest from moving forward. In fact, both the Nevada Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court have already determined that the process adequately protects the rights of officers. Even if the PPA continues to improperly refuse to allow officers to participate regardless of whether the officers have any right to the protection of the Fifth Amendment claim, the inquests can move forward. Enough other evidence—evidence such as dispatch records, other witnesses, reports, and even video in some cases—can tell the story of what happened.

No more excuses. Start the inquests. We deserve to know.


Be there and make your voice heard!

View Larger Map

Justice for Stanley Gibson or Just an End-Around Coroner’s Inquest Reforms?

Stanley L. Gibson

Stanley L. Gibson, a disabled Army vet, was murdered by Ofc. Jesus Arevalo on Dec. 12, 2011

Within the last few days, it’s been reported that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is close to reaching a decision regarding the murder of Stanley L. Gibson by a member of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Additionally, reports have stated that Wolfson is “99% sure” that he will seek an indictment against Jesus Arevalo, the officer that fired 7 shots from an AR-15 into the Gibson’s back as he sat unarmed and clearly visible inside his car, which had been pinned and immobilized by several police vehicles. While there has been no official statement regarding what exactly this imminent decision might be or what charges may be sought, informed sources have indicated that within the next sixty days Wolfson will make up his mind whether the case will be put before a grand jury for a possible indictment against Arevalo.

At first glance, putting things in the hands of a grand jury would seem to be a step forward, in that it at least presents a possibility of Ofc. Arevalo being held accountable for his actions that day. Las Vegas police have a long and storied history of avoiding any sort of consequences for their heavy-handed tactics, no matter how blatant and deadly they have been. Steve Wolfson himself hasn’t exactly risen to the occasion when given the opportunity to make Las Vegas area law enforcement pay for their misdeeds.

A large part of the blame for this lack of accountability can be attributed to the long standing practice of determining whether police shootings were justified through the quasi-judicial Coroner’s Inquest process. Badly weighted in favor of exonerating the police rather than investigating the circumstances involved, the Coroner’s Inquests functioned more as a dog and pony show to construct a cover story than a fact finding  effort. As such, it should come as no surprise that only one single police killing was ever found to be unjustified (the DA still declined to prosecute the cops involved). The sheer odds of that being true over the course of 40+ years, including 378 shootings since 1990 alone, attest to the imbalance inherent in such a system.

William Mosher testifies during Coroner Inquest into the shooting of Erik Scott

Accelerating rates of officer involved shootings, many resulting in killings, along with outrage generated by the subsequent questionable exoneration of the police, led to demands to amend the Coroner’s Inquest. An overhaul of the Coroner’s Inquest was approved by county commissioners, including provisions to have victims represented by independent council in order to make the process more fair. However, this revised system of investigating shootings has never been implemented, due to the union representing Las Vegas area police (who not coincidentally believe Arevalo did nothing wrong) has advised them not to participate in Coroner’s Inquest proceedings because of their “adversarial nature.”

However, many of the original flaws within the Coroner’s Inquest system continue to exist and in some cases are even worse when grand juries are used to determine whether police and other officials should be prosecuted for questionable actions. Like the Coroner’s inquest, grand jury proceedings are conducted exclusively by the District Attorney’s office, who works closely with, and is often dependent on the cooperation of, police officers in order to secure convictions in cases they bring to trial. It is entirely up to them what evidence will be presented, who is called to testify, and how those witnesses  are questioned. In the past, prosecutors have often displayed a tendency to construct their cases in such a way so as to paint police in a favorable light. This conflict of interest was one of the most cited issues with the Coroner’s Inquest.

When the Government Prosecutes One of Its Own, the Scales of Justice are Tipped Heavily Against the Truth Coming Out

Even worse is the secrecy of grand juries. Nevada conducts their grand jury proceedings under what amounts to a full gag order. Nobody involved in a grand jury may  publicly disclose any of the evidence presented to the jury, information obtained by the jury, events or statements occurring in front of the jury, or even the results of an investigation by the grand jury. The lone exception to this is individual witnesses, who are limited to discussing their own personal testimony. Breaking these restrictions is a criminal act.

What this effectively means is that the DA’s office and the courts have complete control over what information goes before the jury and what is disclosed to the public afterwards. As lopsided as the Coroner’s inquest was, at least it was a public spectacle that was available to be scrutinized by the community at large. No such transparency exists with grand juries. Basically, a prosecutor can call only sympathetic or unconvincing witnesses and do a half-hearted  effort while questioning them to ensure the jury doesn’t find enough evidence to support a criminal charge and then hold their failure to issue an indictment up as  proof that a shooting was justified. Nobody outside of the grand jury room would be able to refute this assertion since everything took place behind closed doors and none of them are allowed to speak about what they saw.

Fact is, using a grand jury to determine whether police shootings should be prosecuted violates pretty much every aspect of the proposed reforms (from the Nevada ACLU) for the Coroner’s Inquest:

  • Allow the attorneys for both the officers and the victims to participate directly in the process and ask questions during the inquest;
  • Have a neutral presenter of facts that is not the District Attorney’s Office;
  • Be limited to relevant questions about the decedent and the involved officers;
  • Make determinations of fact and leave decisions about whether criminal charges should proceed to the District Attorney;
  • Follow the same Rules of Evidence used in courtrooms (this is one singular exception); and
  • Be fully transparent and open to the public.

Historically, indictments of police through the grand jury have been hard to come by. In general, bringing cases before the grand jury are the exception rather than the rule and there’s a reason for that. As stated by the attorney for the family of a man murdered by police in White Plains, NY after the grand jury decided not to indict the cops:

“…the grand jury is often used to cover politically for a figure, for a district attorney. So if the grand jury indicts, it’s not the district attorney’s fault. They simply presented the evidence, and the grand jury indicted. If the grand jury chooses not to indict, well, then the grand jury essentially is blamed, but that’s an anonymous group of 23 individuals.”

Nor is the idea that grand juries might be used as a smoke screen to protect rather than punish police a new concept. Just a few months ago Albuquerque, NM. suspended the use of grand juries to investigate police shootings after criticism of their use and the fact that (like Vegas) not one single shooting has ever been ruled unjustified:

For more than two decades, police officials have countered criticism of dozens of officer-involved shootings in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County by noting that every case is reviewed by a grand jury…

No one involved in the process can recall a single “unjustified” finding since the process was put in place in the late 1980s in response to criticism of police shootings at the time — even in a case in which the officer was fired and the city paid big bucks to settle a civil lawsuit.

Critics say that’s by design.

“It looks to me like a device that’s designed to give police a pass on shootings,” said Ray Twohig, a longtime civil rights attorney. “The public should have no confidence whatsoever in this process — there’s no independent investigation … The goal is: ‘Let’s not indict any cops…’ ”

Attorney Shannon Kennedy said…it is designed to treat officers differently from ordinary citizens.

“They are basically operating above the law,” she said. “Officers in APD know about this process; they know they will be exonerated. This contributes to more and more police shootings, because there is this culture of no accountability.”

District Attorney Wolfson himself hasn’t exactly inspired a lot of faith that he will do the right thing in cases of police abuse. In “DA statements” that have taken the place of the Coroner’s Inquest since they were put on hold, Wolfson has determined that cops shouldn’t be punished for kicking a restrained man suffering from diabetic shock in the head first because it “wouldn’t be in the community’s best interest” and later because Henderson cops are trained to kick people in the head while arresting them.

That there is enough evidence to support charges shouldn’t be in doubt being that there is a video of the shooting clearly showing that Stanley Gibson didn’t represent an imminent threat and statements by sources within LVMPD have confirmed that Jesus Arevalo knew about the plan to force Gibson from the car without using deadly force. If there was a video of anyone else unnecessarily shooting an unarmed person, that person would be sitting in jail awaiting a trial, not sitting at home on paid vacation like Jesus Arevalo is right now.

To ensure that there isn’t even the appearance of any sort of official favoritism being extended to police officers (or other government employees) Wolfson needs to do the right thing by charging Arevalo directly and placing this case in the hands of a trial jury, rather than gambling on a grand jury issuing an indictment first. A gamble that members of this community aren’t so sure he is willing to go “all in” on. Furthermore, any charges brought should include charge of murder, since that’s what truly happened that day.

The Myth of Fingerprint Identification Reliability

It’s a pretty accepted idea that fingerprint evidence is an airtight method of proving that an accused person was at the scene of a crime. However, contrary to what we are told constantly in movies, books, and actual courtrooms; fingerprints are not the judicial bedrock they have been portrayed as. The issue isn’t so much that fingerprints themselves are unreliable, but rather that finding a perfect set of fingerprints to compare to a suspect at a crime scene is very rare. As pointed out in the LA Times, there has been doubt about the reliability of fingerprint identification since shortly after it was first used to convict people and that uncertainty has been revived in recent years:

The year was 1905. Forensic science was in its infancy. Scotland Yard had only recently begun collecting carefully pressed fingerprints from criminals, stashing the cards in pigeonholes of a makeshift filing system…After learning that a man named Alfred Stratton had been seen near the crime scene, he collected the unemployed ruffian’s thumbprint and compared it with the one left at the crime scene. A close inspection showed there were 11 minute features that the two prints shared.

The prosecutor at Stratton’s trial told jurors the similarities left “not the shadow of a doubt” that the crime-scene print belonged to Stratton.

But the defense had a surprising ally at their table: Henry Faulds, a Scottish doctor who two decades earlier was the first to propose using fingerprints to solve crimes.

Faulds believed that even if fingerprints were unique — there was, after all, no scientific basis for the popular assumption — the same was not necessarily true of “smudges,” the blurry partial prints accidentally left behind at crime scenes in blood, sweat or grease.

A single bloody thumbprint, he felt, was not enough evidence to convict anyone of murder…

…Today, fingerprints are once again on trial.

In 2007, a Maryland judge threw out fingerprint evidence in a death penalty case, calling it “a subjective, untested, unverifiable identification procedure that purports to be infallible.”

The ruling sided with the scientists, law professors and defense lawyers who for a decade had been noting the dearth of research into the reliability of fingerprinting. Their lonely crusade for sound science in the courtroom has often been ignored by the courts, but last month it was endorsed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

The actual question isn’t whether fingerprints themselves are reliable. No case has ever been found of two people with the same fingerprint. Even identical twins’ fingerprints are slightly different. The problem lies in finding a quality fingerprint impression at a crime scene. Unlike when you stick your finger in ink and deliberately roll it back and forth, most fingerprints found by investigators consist of blurry, smudged prints that greatly limit the amount of common points that can be used to identify the actual perpetrators of a crime.

(Originally posted on EYEAM4ANARCHY)

Police Drug Kits Aren’t So Good at Figuring Out the Difference Between Oregano and Pot Either.

A seventy percent rate of false positives is nothing to get alarmed about. Let’s be optimists and think of the glass as thirty percent full.

(Originally posted at EYEAM4ANARCHY)