Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Disney World, running amok with perverts; or, reading between the lines

Theme park employees from Disney, Universal Studios and SeaWorld caught in sex stings, the headline says.

Thirty-five Disney employees arrested in sex stings since 2006, that is. Thirty-five arrested over a period of nine years. Thirty-five out of 300,000 employees during those nine years.

Thirty-two of the 35 have been convicted. Well, of course they have! The other three cases will almost certainly end with a conviction, too. The article does not tell us how many of these people went to trial though I imagine the number is close to zero. Most prosecutions--not only for sex offenses--end with plea agreements.

A justice system where the prosecution never has to prove its case is no justice system at all.

The article provides details about some cases. In one case, a man was found in possession of illegal images that included "multiple scenes of nude prepubescent children engaging in sexual activity with adults and other children". For other cases, the illegal images are described only as "child porn."

Why the difference? I have a sneaking suspicion that some cases have more interesting, more shocking details than others. It simply isn't shocking to hear that someone was in possession of video that a teenager made of himself and uploaded himself. News media doesn't like to explain that the legal definition of child porn also includes images of teenagers, made by teenagers. When people hear about child porn, they assume it means images of small children being raped. What news outlet, hungry for advertising dollars, wants to get in the way of audience imaginings that will bring them back for followup articles?

Some of the arrests were of men who met a kid online and eventually tried to meet in person for sex. Where do you suppose these men were hanging out online that they met kids eager for sex? Nickelodeon? PBS Kids?

Let's think. If the men had been trolling websites meant for children, what reporter would fail to lead with that detail? Look at the headline above: It doesn't leave it at theme park employees; it says Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. If the websites had been those intended for children, the headline would have included that juicy tidbit. But it doesn't and that tidbit doesn't show up in the article, either. We are probably safe in assuming that the men were using adult websites.

But what children hang out on adult websites looking for sex? As it turns out, it seems there weren't any children looking for sex. There were only law enforcement officers pretending to be children. Is it possible that some cases did involve real children? Let's go back to the question about what news outlets would like to include in their stories. If an actual child isn't mentioned in the story, it is safe to say there were no actual children involved.

So: we have men spending time on websites meant for adults, in conversation with adults pretending to be children. Who starts those conversations? Who brings up the possibility of sex? If the pretend child introduces the idea of sex, that is very different from an adult approaching children in a chat room for children and asking for sex. The reporter does not tell us who introduced the idea of sex with the minors.

Now that Disney has been named in a headline as an employer of sex offenders, what does Disney have to say about it?
In a statement to CNN, Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said, “Providing a safe environment for children and families is a responsibility we take very seriously. We have extensive measures in place, including pre-employment and ongoing criminal background checks and computer monitoring and firewalls. 
Background checks, hey? If that means the kind of background check that would have exposed a job applicant as a registered sex offender...that must mean that none of these 35 were registered sex offenders. Once again, we see that arrests for sex offenses most often are of those who are not on the registry. Once again, we see that the registry protects no one.
“The numbers reported by CNN represent one one-hundredth of one percent of the 300,000 people we have employed during this time period. We continue to work closely with law enforcement and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as we constantly strengthen our efforts.”
Huh. Now that Disney has been named in a headline as an employer of sex offenders, they have no choice but to cooperate with law enforcement. Imagine the headlines if they did anything else.

What is said in a news article can be interesting. What is not said can be even more interesting.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

police want to force a 17-year-old boy's erection so they can photograph it

For the last week, the Internet has been chewing up a story about child pornography. Radley Balko sums it up:
...the efforts of officials in Northern Virginia to forcibly induce an erection in a teenage boy in order to pursue “sexting” charges against him has deservedly provoked national outrage. ... Manassas police have since backed down and now say that they won’t execute the warrant. Of course, there remains the problem of why the warrant was issued in the first place. No one in the Manassas Police Department, the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert or the judge who signed off on the warrant was able to see what the rest of the country saw, here: an outrageous abuse of power and an unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy. The Commonwealth of Virginia was prepared to create child porn in order to prosecute a 17-year-old kid for sending videos of himself to his then-girlfriend, who was 15 years old.
Seems clear: an outrageous abuse of power and an unfathomable violation of this kid's privacy.

Also clear: in the prosecution of a child pornography case, they were going to produce child pornography. 

As usual, it is a good idea to read all of Balko's piece. He talks about several other crazy cases in which teens landed in huge trouble for playing doctor while texting.

The trend is toward dragging more minors into the justice system.  

In an effort to register their contempt for child exploitation and sex crimes, lawmakers have defined sex offenses so broadly that a teen sending an explicit photo to a boyfriend or girlfriend can qualify. Typically, when critics point out that a new law could be used in ways lawmakers never intended, supporters point to prosecutorial discretion. They argue that it’s ridiculous, even insulting, to suggest that a prosecutor would twist a law to bring charges against someone in ways the law clearly never intended — or that a judge would allow it. That police, a prosecutor’s office and a judge all saw nothing wrong with forcibly inducing an erection in order to pursue charges against a 17-year-old kid puts the lie to that argument.
Sex isn’t the only context in which we’re ruining kids under the pretense of saving them. We’re protecting kids from drugs by arresting and jailing them for marijuana possession. We’re protecting them from the (mostly nonexistent) problem of school violence by assigning law enforcement to patrol middle and high school campuses. The presence of law enforcement means that kids who were once reprimanded, assigned detention or possibly suspended for infractions such as fighting, throwing food or truancy are now fed into the criminal justice system.
I have written about how casually cruelty is directed at the children of sex offenders, here, here, and here. As demonstrated in the cases Balko discusses and in a 2010 prosecution of sexting minors, the cruelty can be even more astounding when minors are the offenders.

More on the Virginia case from Robby Soave at Reason, from Shelly Stowe at Justice For All, and from Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids here and here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

how long is long enough?

Nebraska has a math problem.
Nebraska’s prison screw-up is much bigger than originally estimated: 873 inmates erroneously received reduced sentences over the past 20 years, state officials revealed Friday.
The fix will cost the state dearly: an estimated $50 million or more to house current prisoners for the 2,050 years just added to their collective sentences.
In a state already trying to solve the problem of overcrowding because the prisons are 58% over capacity, now this.

When the Omaha World-Herald discovered that Nebraska Corrections had been miscalculating release dates for twenty years or so, the governor's first response was that those released too early would be "rounded up."

His plans have changed. Now the State Patrol is bringing in a couple dozen people who were released too early and would still be serving time if not for the calculation errors. 

Those who were released long enough ago that their correct release date has already passed are not being "rounded up" to complete their sentences. The word is that they will be investigated to see if they committed further crimes after their early release and before their correctly-calculated release date. If they did commit more crimes, it's back to the hoosegow for them.

It's a mess. The Omaha World-Herald is doing a fine job of investigative journalism.

Another area ripe for investigation: When they discover that most of those released too early have not committed more crimes, will someone suggest that the miscalculated prison sentences appear to be quite long enough?

Monday, June 23, 2014

flash-bang grenade...the cops just couldn't help themselves

When we complain about the chaos and dangers of SWAT-served search warrants or home invasion-style served warrants, we often hear that the person who broke the law is the one to blame for a family's pain, not the cops who invade homes. A Georgia family would love to hear those people make sense of what happened to their 19-month-old boy.

Jacob Sullum writes about a 3 a.m. drug raid when a flash-bang grenade was thrown into a child's playpen, critically injuring the toddler. The police said they had no idea there were children in the home or they would not have used the grenade.
"If there's children involved in a house, we do not use any kind of distraction devices in those houses," [Sheriff]Terrell told AccessNorthGa.com. "We just don't take the chance on it....According to the confidential informant, there were no children. When they made the buy, they didn't see any children or any evidence of children there, so we proceeded with our standard operation."
Standard operation? It is standard to throw flash-bangs where the landing place is not clearly seen?

The lawyer for the family said,
"This is a stay-at-home dad who was out in front of the home, playing with the children on a daily basis. Any surveillance that was done would have revealed there was a father with four children who played in that driveway."
...the SWAT team was relying on the report of a confidential informant who briefly visited the home on Tuesday night, just a few hours before the raid...
Despite an avowed policy of not using flash-bang grenades when children are present, it seems that neither Terrell's office nor the Cornelia Police Department did anything to investigate that possibility aside from asking the informant, who according to Terrell did not even enter the home. 
So, no surveillance.
Beyond the lack of due diligence on that point, there is the question of whether tossing an exploding, potentially incendiary device into a home that may be full of innocent people in the middle of the night is A-OK as long as you are reasonably sure all those people are 18 or older.
Think about this. Laws are often described in terms of protecting the innocent and yet police take no precautions to protect the innocent or even to ascertain if there are innocents present. 

Remember those people who blame the law-breaker for the chaos? The sheriff is one of them.
Terrell continues to blame [drug]transactions for the horrible injuries police inflicted on a sleeping baby. "The information we had from our confidential informant was there was no children in the home," he told WXIA, the NBC station in Atlanta. "We always ask; that determines how we enter the house and the things we do.... Did we go by our training, did we go by the intelligence? Given the same set of circumstances, with the same information dealing with a subject who has known gun charges on him, who is selling meth, they would go through the same procedures...Nothing would change....Had no way of knowing the child was in the house. The little baby [who] was in there didn't deserve this. These drug dealers don't care."
The little baby didn't deserve this? If the grenade had landed on the bed of the baby's mother instead, the mother would have deserved it?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

fathers' day

Let's hear it for the dads who screwed up in a big way and are now showing their children how to own up to their mistakes, how to atone, and how to persevere through times of great difficulty.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

...but he seemed so helpful!

Waco, TX, has found a way to reduce the cost of indigent defense. They worried that applicants were falsifying information when requesting a public defender, so now they investigate to make sure the requester is genuinely indigent.
They send a cop to the homes of defendants seeking to apply for the public defender and have him interview and investigate them.
In fact, there’s such a problem with falsifying information on applications, that a whopping 2 people have been arrested since November.

When put in perspective, you begin to see why Edwards has seen a drop in applications. It might have to do with the fact that people don’t want a police officer coming into their homes and asking them questions.
The a public defender blog quotes the Waco Tribune so we can see what else came of investigating financial circumstances of the applicants:
Carrizales said he has made more than 20 arrests simply from following up with applicants at their homes and finding fugitives with outstanding warrants.

Colyer said the sheriff’s office expected the additional arrests because the investigation of one crime often leads to the discovery of other offenses.
Sure, the investigation of one crime can lead to the discovery of other offenses but this sheriff's detective isn't investigating a crime, he is investigating finances...or so he says when he knocks at the applicant's door.

Poor people who need a public defender may not be able to afford to let this investigator in their homes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

forcing failure to register in Chicago

In Chicago, sex offenders waiting to register are routinely turned away and told to come back another day because the police are too busy to register them. In March, WBEZ reporter Rob Wildeboer wrote about the practice.
...at 11:45 a.m., a man comes out of the registry office and tells Wright and the two dozen other men who have been waiting in the cold all morning, that they won’t be able to register today. But then it gets weirder. The police department employee tells the men they can sign a list that will prove they showed up today to register but then he tells them that even if they’re on the list, they can still be arrested for failing to register.

In a written statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Chicago Police, said the list is collected and the department “proactively sends their names to Illinois State Police … to minimize any potential criminal registration problems for the individuals.”

Of course letting the men actually register would be an even more effective way to minimize registration problems. For clarity, I asked Collins several times, aren’t the men at risk of being arrested? He simply [re-sent] a portion of his written statement.
Sex offenders TRY to register, are not allowed to, and yet they can be--and ARE--arrested for failure to register.

In a recent follow-up piece, Wildeboer talks about the sex offenders who are arrested for failure to register.
...police records show that Jerome Sanders, a homeless man, was turned away from the registration office because, not surprisingly, he didn’t have the hundred dollar fee sex offenders have to pay once a year. He was arrested less than two weeks later, February 3, for failure to register and is in the county jail, where he’s costing taxpayers $143 a day.

Or take Larry Hill. He went to police headquarters March 4, 5, 6 and 7. The records show that each time the Chicago police refused to register him because they were too busy. Finally on March 10 he made it into the office and he was arrested because something called an investigative alert had been issued for him. The Chicago police had been looking for this guy and for a week he’d been standing in a line outside CPD headquarters.

Just one more example: On March 4 Robert Mitchell went to register and was turned away. He returned on the 5th but police failed to register him again. The note on the police sign in log says he was turned away because he needed a sign language interpreter. So he wasn’t registered. He’s since been arrested and is now in jail for failure to register.
Taxpayers need to know how their money is spent. Incarcerating people for years because they were not allowed to register is very expensive.

Wildeboer further investigated the practice of collecting the names of those who were turned away "to minimize any potential criminal registration problems for the individuals." 
As officers turned offenders away, they wrote down the names of the offenders who had shown up. Using the Freedom of Information Act, WBEZ got copies of those lists. The lists have fields for name, date, time, several other things and then one space for “reason for being turned away.” In the first three months of this year the office turned people away 601 times, and in that space for the reason it put “capacity.”
Glad to see that the police are trying to help these guys out by letting the State Patrol know why they haven't registered...and then we read:
According to Tracie Newton with the Illinois State Police, which maintains the sex offender registration, that list from CPD is absolutely useless. Newton says CPD just started sending lists over one day without any discussion or explanation and there’s nothing in the statutes that allows the state police to do anything with the lists.
There is a very large part of the story missing: the scary part where we hear about all the new sex offenses committed by the offenders who did not register. That's because that is not part of the story. Sex offenders, registered or not, only rarely commit new sex offenses.

The Chicago police probably have a few reasons they are willing to let sex offenders leave without registering: one, they are deliberately setting the sex offenders up for failure to register arrest, or two,  they know full well that letting the offenders go home without registering is not a danger to the community safety.

A third possibility seems more likely. The police have been taught that it is acceptable to treat sex offenders as if they are subhuman, that the lives of sex offenders are something to toy with, that the effect on families of sex offenders is not worth considering.

Protect and serve? Not in Chicago. Believing that this kind of deliberate disregard happens only in Chicago is almost certainly a mistake.