Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Donnie Myers makes list of America’s 5 ‘deadliest prosecutors’

And it’s getting lede treatment by The Guardian, in keeping with that newspaper’s fascination with us barbarous Americans with our guns and capital punishment.

Excerpts:

The five are profiled in a new report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. Titled America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors, the report highlights the lion-sized role in the modern death penalty of just four men and one woman. Donnie Myers

They are: Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; Bob Macy of Oklahoma County; Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County; and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas….

Myers is the only one of the five who is still in office, with plans to retire at the end of the year. The lawyer, the one with the electric chair paperweight on his desk, did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about his inclusion in the top five club of deadliest prosecutors.

He achieved 39 death sentences in the course of his 38 years in practice but labored under a 46% rate of misconduct that was later discovered. Six of his death sentences were overturned due to problems in the way he had secured a capital sentence – often involving discriminatory exclusions of jurors based on race.

The report notes that Myers once rolled a baby’s crib draped in black cloth in front of a capital jury and, crying profusely, told them that a failure to return a death sentence would be like declaring “open season on babies in Lexington County”. In another death penalty case, he referred to the black defendant as “King Kong”, a “monster”, “caveman” and “beast of burden”….

Myers, of course, will be replaced by former deputy Rick Hubbard, after Hubbard’s victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Here’s part of what Cindi wrote about Hubbard in The State‘s endorsement of him:

Mr. Hubbard doesn’t speak ill of his former boss, but he does acknowledge that there have been problems in the office. He does note that he does not share Mr. Myers’ “old-school style of doing things.” And he makes a convincing case that he would represent a clean break….

Mr. Hubbard also seems to have the deepest appreciation of the three of the moral duty of a prosecutor to seek justice regardless of public opinion, and to seek justice even when that means losing a case. As he put it, “A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing and to do it for the right reason.” After 40 years of a win-at-any-cost solicitor, the people in Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties deserve a prosecutor who is deeply committed to putting justice first, always, and who has the experience and expertise to deliver that justice in a steady, reliable way….

Response to Post series from James Flowers

I got this comment over the weekend from James Flowers, Leon Lott’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for Richland County sheriff:

Brad Warthen. You should have reached out to me before writing this article so that you would have actual facts instead of what is written in this article by the civil attorney. First of all, as a SLED agent we investigate CRIMINAL actions. This was a CIVIL deposition. My only purpose is to gather the facts and provide them to the James FlowersSolicitor. What you obviously don’t know is that the Solicitor’s office, the FBI, and the US Attorney’s office reviewed my report and had ZERO issues with the work. The Solicitor’s office made the determination that there was no criminal action on the part of the law enforcement officers not Me or SLED. Also, when 3 certified law enforcement officers that are serving 2 valid warrants have any sort of weapon pointed at them, they should by all means respond with deadly force. A real law enforcement leader stands behind and supports law enforcement officers 100% when they are right. Even if he has to be arrogant to do it. This article is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by an overzealous civil attorney who has a different legal standard than law enforcement does in reviewing shootings. I also noticed that you didn’t mention the unflattering second article about your friend Lott. So please do some due diligence prior to your next blog. Thank you. James Flowers.

As it happens, the last person to get on my case for not having contacted him before posting something was… Leon Lott. And he kind of had a point, from his perspective, since the point of the post he called about was to wonder aloud why the sheriff hadn’t done a certain thing. Turns out that he had an answer to the question that he wanted to share.

I will always, always be on the defensive when people say I should have contacted them before posting something. But here’s the thing, folks: This is  a commentary blog, not a primary news source. I read things, and I react to them. And invite you to react to my reactions. On the rare occasions that I have time to go out and cover an event myself, I do so. Look back — you’ll see that’s my M.O. It’s not optimal; I wish I could afford to blog full-time. But WYSIWYG.

As it is, I don’t find time to comment on as many things as I’d like to — not even close to it. I’m very straightforward with you about the basis of my comments, so you can look at what I’m looking at and challenge my conclusions. And your comments, like Mr. Flowers’, get posted as well.

In this case, I spent way more time than I usually spend on a single post because it took so long for me to read that 7,000-word Washington Post article on which it was based. As I said, I’d read that one story and the fourth piece from the series by Radley Balko (more accurately, I skimmed the fourth piece). Now that Mr. Flowers has said Lott looks bad in the second installment of the series, I’ll go read that, and share what I find. I probably won’t have time to read the third piece today, but if you get there ahead of me, please share what you find.

Oh, and I don’t plan to call Leon before sharing what I find in that second installment. The story says what it says, and that’s what I’ll be reacting to — as per usual.

Although if I can find the time later, this subject is interesting enough that I might go above and beyond (in other words, take the kind of time I did back when I got paid to do this) and give both Lott and Flowers a call. But it remains to be seen whether that will be possible between now and next Tuesday’s primary.

Maybe some of my colleagues out there in the community who still get paid to do such reporting will get to it ahead of me. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, I welcome Mr. Flowers to the conversation.

WashPost raises serious questions about SLED probes — and about Lott’s primary opponent, James Flowers

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. It raises loud alarms.

I regret that I failed to read any of this series from The Washington Post until our own Jeff Mobley brought it to my attention. I remember seeing a rather lurid headline about law enforcement in SC, noting that the story was very long (more than 7,000 words) and meaning to go back and read it later. I never did.

I should have.

Basically, the series reports that while South Carolina has looked pretty good for investigating officer-involved shootings in the last couple of years, those few cases don’t tell the whole story by a long shot. In fact, this series suggests that our system of having such shootings investigated by SLED (everywhere but in Richland County) looks good in theory, in practice it falls far short of providing a credible check on police.

The series begins with the horrific story of the death of Lori Jean Ellis, a 52-year-old black woman, at the hands of cops in 2008.

There was a lot in police accounts of her killing to raise questions, but none more dramatic than the weapon with which she was supposed to have fired at the officers before they fired back with deadly effect. They reported see a flash and smoke from a weapon that, based on its loud report, could only have been a high-powered rifle.

It was a pellet gun. Which means, for those not hip to such things, that it would not produce smoke, a flash or a bang. And it’s not entirely clear that she fired it at them, or even aimed it at them.

And yet the officers were never questioned about this discrepancy, a lapse that this report suggests is all too common in SLED investigations.

You might think Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott would come out looking pretty bad in these reports, since his department doesn’t even go in for the window-dressing (at least, these reports suggest it’s only window-dressing) of SLED investigations, preferring to handle such shootings internally.

But, at least in the two installments I’ve read so far, is not the case. In fact, in one case, he comes out looking better than others — as the only officer who spoke to the journalist who wrote the series, Radley Balko. (Although his comments dismissing the need for outside investigations didn’t inspire confidence.)

On the other hand, his opponent in this month’s primary looks pretty horrible.

James Flowers was the lead SLED investigator in the shooting of Lori Jean Ellis. And he showed a shocking lack of concern over the discrepancies in the officers’ account. From his deposition in a lawsuit brought by the estate of Ms. Ellis:

Phillips: So did anything prevent you, from the moment that you found out it was a mere BB gun, to say, “I want to go back and talk to this deputy . . .”

Flowers: Nothing prevented me from doing that.

James Flowers

James Flowers

Phillips: Okay. Why didn’t you go back?

Flowers: Because I didn’t feel it necessary.

Phillips: So someone telling you something that you’ve never seen before, that doesn’t compel you to maybe follow up?

Flowers: No. Not in all cases . . .

Phillips:  . . . so if I tell you something that can’t physically happen, you’re just going to take my word for it?

Flowers: See, here’s the thing. As the lead investigator for the state’s premiere law enforcement agency, it is my responsibility to put this case together. After looking at this information, I deemed that it was not necessary to interview that officer again. And that was the decision that I made….

As a police expert interviewed for the series notes,

““The arrogance here is stunning,” Downing says. “This response either reveals Flowers’s incompetence or his bias. Either way, he should not be conducting investigations of officer-involved shootings.”

You should go read the whole thing, or at least that first installment. It’s disturbing.

By the way, there are mentions in the series about legislation to make changes to such procedures in S.C. I’m unclear as I write this as to what happened to that legislation in the session that ended yesterday…

What about those of us who just lust in our hearts?

Wendy from "Breaking Bad"

Wendy from “Breaking Bad” — glamorous and empowering, right?

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. As much as I fondly regard Jimmy Carter, the setup proved irresistible:

To curb prostitution, punish those who buy sex rather than those who sell it

May 31

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is founder of the nonprofit Carter Center.

It is disturbing that some human rights and public health organizations are advocating the full legalization of the sex trade, including its most abusive aspects. I agree with Amnesty International, UNAIDS and other groups that say that those who sell sex acts should not be arrested or prosecuted, but I cannot support proposals to decriminalize buyers and pimps.

Some assert that this “profession” can be empowering and that legalizing and regulating all aspects of prostitution will mitigate the harm that accompanies it. But I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women. Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification. If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold….

Makes sense to me, although I think human behavior is a bit more complicated than that. “John and pimp bad; prostitute innocent victim” is a formula that works much of the time, but it’s not always perfect. Still, an approach that gets women out of situations in which they see no alternative to selling their bodies is a good start.

As for the joke in the headline: Jimmy was right. In the licentious ’70s it was fashionable to mock him, but he was right. Rather than turning up his nose at the Playboy interview, he refused to be holier-than-thou, saying we’re all sinners, him included. And what better venue than a publication whose business model was entirely based on its readers looking and lusting?

c_fith_1280q_80w_720-http-images-origin.playboy.com-ogz4nxetbde6-uxVOyAPHTqmUWYWeI0cOa-7f93f23ce257bb3586059c01c1492198-cover_jimmy-carter

Feds to seek death penalty for Roof

BBC Roof

As you see above, some South Carolina news is leading the BBC.

Here’s John Monk’s version:

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced their intent to seek the death penalty against accused hate crimes Charleston church killer Dylann Roof.

“Dylann Storm Roof has expressed hatred and contempt towards African Americans, as well as other groups, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders charged in the (last July’s) indictment,” the notice said.

Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white. All his victims were African American.

“Roof targeted men and women participating in a Bible-study group at the Emanuel AME Church in order to magnify the societal impact of the offenses,” the notice said.

David Bruck, one of Roof’s lawyers, said Tuesday the defense team would have no comment on the government decision….

Thoughts?

Personally, I’m always against the death penalty. Of course, if you’re going to have one, this would seem to be the sort of case it would be designed for.

That said, and once again if you are going to have capital punishment, it seems more legitimately the province of state government, and not the feds. And certainly not for Thoughtcrime, which seems to be the federal interest in this. This is the one thing that can bring out libertarian impulses in me, especially if you’re talking about executing people for having the wrong ideas, however abhorrent.

Roof stands accused of committing a horrific, unspeakable crime upon good people who were our neighbors here in South Carolina. I think our laws, and our courts, are perfectly capable of dealing with him.

This is definitely not the way one behaves at one’s club

I may look down upon the Palmetto Club from the lofty vantage point of my own (we are, after all, located more than 20 stories above it), but at least they have standards:

George McMaster, the brother of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, was banned for life from the premises of the Palmetto Club and will never be allowed to be a club member again as part of a criminal sentence handed down on Thursday by a circuit judge.

In a 15-minute unannounced hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Judge Tanya Gee also sentenced McMaster to 30 days in jail, suspended on six months’ probation for assault and battery, third degree….

According to a statement of facts… read in open court, McMaster – then a member of the Sumter Street club – accosted a waiter at the club on May 13, 2014, started advising the waiter on his clothing, then cursed him, pulled his pants down to his ankles and touched him on his genitals and rear. At least part of the event was witnessed by another Palmetto Club employee, Bodman said….

Oh, wait — that was the court having standards, not the club. For its part, the club merely says it was “responsive” to the incident. Whatever that means. Presumably, the club is party to the ban from the premises, so that’s something.

Anyway… what bizarre, outrageous behavior. I don’t know what’s going on with the McMasters these days, but this is appalling. I mean, you know, WTF? That poor waiter…

Just the facts, ma’am — please

Cindi Scoppe’s picking on my girl Nikki again, and unfortunately, she deserves it. Did you see Cindi’s column Thursday?

FOR ALL THE good she has done on several issues, Gov. Haley retains two deeply troubling flaws: her disregard for the rule of law and her disinterest in the truth….

During a visit to a Columbia prison, Gov. Haley assured an inmate that police officers aren’t “out to get you.” Because of the state’s new body camera law, she said, “every one of those officers has to wear a body camera, and the reason is, that way it’s fair to them and it’s fair to you. So if something happens, we can see it.”

That sounds like a great law. But it’s not the law the governor signed, as The Associated Press’ Seanna Adcox pointed out — and bless her for recognizing that one of the most important things a reporter can do is to tell us what the facts actually are rather than simply regurgitating what public figures say the facts are.

The law does not actually require “every one of those officers” to wear a body camera; each department gets to decide which officers wear body cameras, and it won’t necessarily be every uniformed officer who wears a gun.

The requirement does not actually kick in until the state pays for the program — projected to cost up to $21 million, or about $18 million more than it has provided so far. (Ms. Adcox noted that the Legislature passed a law 18 years ago requiring all drunken-driving arrests to be videotaped, but the state still hasn’t provided cameras for all police cars.)…

Thanks, Cindi. And thanks, Seanna. But you know, it would be nice if governor would just state the facts so that journalists don’t have to run around behind her setting things straight. I mean, they have their hands full without that.

It gets worse, by the way:

Most significantly, the law the governor signed will not actually let us see the video. The law the governor signed says body-cam videos aren’t even public records. It does require police to turn over the video to people who are arrested or who file a civil suit involving the incident recorded, but the only mechanism for obtaining that video is filing a lawsuit — or being charged with a crime. Otherwise, it’s entirely up to police to decide whether we get to see the video when an officer shoots someone….

The initial error is probably innocent enough (I suspect it felt true to the governor), although disturbing — we’d really like our governors to know what they’re signing.

But the worst part of this tale is that when given a chance to set things straight, the governor’s office did not. And about that, Cindi said:

When someone says, “The law the governor described is not the law she signed,” the correct response is not, “She’s so proud of that law.” The correct response is: “Oh, my goodness; you’re right. She is so sorry about that.”

By refusing to let her spokeswoman say that, the governor continues to make herself un-credible. And in this case, she is doing something worse: She is reducing the chance that we’ll ever get the law she told that inmate we have. The law that would be something to be really proud of.

The way to get that law is not to say it exists when it doesn’t. It’s to acknowledge that it does not exist, and to work to convince the Legislature to pass it.

Yep.

WSJ: ‘Politics Is Not a Crime’

I’m sharing this for the headline as much as anything else.

When I saw that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was arguing before the Supreme Court that he “had engaged in nothing more than politics as usual,” I thought, how sleazy can you get?

But then I saw the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal make the same argument, and this time I paid attention:

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

A jury convicted Mr. McDonnell in 2014 for taking more than $170,000 in gifts from a Richmond businessman who was also a family friend. The gifts included a $50,000 loan, $15,000 to finance their daughter’s wedding, fancy dresses, a Rolex watch and vacations. Let us stipulate that this is reckless and sleazy, and that the businessman hoped the Governor would take actions to promote his diet-supplement business.

The legal problem is that Mr. McDonnell never provided much of any quo for the quid. Virginia law lets politicians accept gifts, and prosecutors never charged him with violating state law. They charged him under federal law with performing “official acts” to benefit the business, but none of those acts influenced policy or changed a government decision.

Mr. McDonnell was convicted for attending a lunch at the executive mansion where the businessman’s company gave out grants to universities, for attending a reception with the businessman, for asking an aide about research pertaining to the company, and for arranging a meeting with his staff and the man.

This stretches the bribery statutes to criminalize the normal transactions of politics…

So basically, yeah, taking all those gifts was sleazy, but the man did not commit a crime. And they make a good case for that position.

For the WSJ, this fits with their overall limited-government guiding principle; they see the federal prosecutors as overstepping. It also afforded them the excuse to include this subhed: “If Bob McDonnell is guilty of corruption, then so is Hillary Clinton.”

But the larger point is also worth making. Just because we find something about politics distasteful doesn’t mean it’s a crime.

Often, it isn’t even sleazy — in this case, taking the gifts stank to high heaven, but what McDonnell did for the giver was in no way corrupt. As the Journal notes:

Public officials routinely act as boosters for local businesses. They also frequently meet donors and introduce them to others. Citizens also have the First Amendment right to petition their elected officials. If arranging a meeting for a benefactor qualifies as corruption, prosecutors will be able to target any politician in the country.

And that would be wrong.

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

BRP-Prk10

Bluff Road Park, one of the facilities overseen by RCRC.

This is an interesting wrinkle:

Four members of the Richland County legislative delegation now are asking Sheriff Leon Lott to turn over an investigation of the Richland County Recreation Commission to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

In a letter sent Friday to Lott, Sen. John Scott, Sen. Darrell Jackson, Rep. Jimmy Bales and Rep. Christopher Hart ask Lott to engage the Solicitor’s Office in investigating any possible criminal activities of the legislative-controlled Recreation Commission….

Two weeks ago, Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Beth Bernstein and Rep. James Smith, asked the sheriff’s department to investigate the commission in light of further recent reports of possible criminal activity.

“We think it is a more appropriate channel” to have the solicitor investigate, Jackson told The State. “Our goal is just to get down to the bottom of this. If something criminal has happened, then we need to take action. … If there are no criminal activities, then we hope we will put this to rest.”…

So… what’s that about? Why the solicitor instead of Lott? I hope it’s not just as simple as a superficial analysis would suggest. This matter is rife with racial tension — until now, you’ve had white officials seeking an investigation of black officials. Is it meaningful that three white lawmakers sought for the white sheriff to investigate, while three black lawmakers and one white one want the black solicitor to be in charge?

Perhaps, in the minds of some, both white and black.

One thing I’m sure of: Anyone who would accuse Lourie, Smith, Bernstein or Lott of racism would be light years off base – and I can’t see Jackson, et al., doing that. So what’s the real reason for the other four lawmakers choosing this other course?

The story doesn’t mention, by the way, where the four stepping up on the issue today would back the call by Lourie, Smith and Bernstein to turn the commission over to county council — which is the most obvious reform measure from a legislative perspective…

FYI, Bobby Harrell is once again out there, in the public eye

Harrell

This is certainly just coincidence, but as the struggle between Alan Wilson and David Pascoe has been in the news, I keep running into Bobby Harrell on Twitter.

There he is, popping up with some frequency, still using the @SpeakerHarrell handle, even though the content is purely business, and “Speaker” is something he will never be again.

It has seemed to me that this started just as the ongoing legislative investigation hit the front pages again, but his re-emergence on social media predates that a bit.

Harrell was absent from Twitter from 10 Sep 2014 to 14 Apr 2015, and after that Tweeted infrequently and with no apparent aim for several months — two Tweets in April, one in May, none again until September. But in December he launched his campaign, Tweeting 32 times, then 43 times in January and 43 again in February, rising to 45 in March.

The content ranges from the blandly seasonal…

… to the kind of content meant to position himself and his company as authoritative on insurance-related matters:

And no, I haven’t seen him weigh in on politics even once.

It’s interesting that he decided to use his own feed, his own identity (complete with “Speaker”), to promote the business — as opposed to having an employee Tweet via a feed branded more directly with the name of the business (which is the approach he takes on the Facebook page). Apparently, he’s decided the value of his name recognition outweighs other considerations.

No, I don’t have any particular editorial point to make here. I just thought these renewed sightings were interesting…

Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Angry, indignant AG Wilson says Pascoe chose politics over proper procedure

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

An angry, indignant Attorney General Alan Wilson, backed silently by three former attorneys general, said this afternoon that Special Prosecutor David Pascoe would have had the State Grand Jury investigation he says he wants if only he had met with Wilson’s office Friday as requested.

Instead, Wilson said, Pascoe chose to file a complaint about Wilson with the state Supreme Court, and apparently tip the media off that he had filed it.

Throughout his press availability Wednesday, Wilson insisted that a State Grand Jury investigation can only be called for by a joint request from the SLED chief and the attorney general, and the fact that he recused himself from the case does not change that requirement. (He also drew a distinction between his own voluntary recusal in “an abundance of caution” and involuntary “disqualification” by a judge.)

He said he stands ready to give that ratification for an investigation at the request of an “untainted” prosecutor — which he does not consider Pascoe to be.

“I’m here today to say that not only do I support a state grand jury investigation, but I’m here to tell you there will be a state grand jury investigation,” he said at the outset of the presser. “But it has to be done lawfully, and by someone who is not tainted.”

Wilson recounted the history of his involvement with Pascoe, going back to “the legal battle of our lives” trying to prosecute former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014.

He said “Solicitor Pascoe was not my first choice, nor my second, nor my third, nor my fourth, nor my fifth…” because “The solicitors wanted no part of this case… they saw the living hell I was going through…”

“I had reservations, he said, “about Solicitor Pascoe’s temperament.” He said he was also concerned because someone related to Harrell had worked in Pascoe’s office.

In the end, he found the charges that Harrell pled to “disappointing,” but said “we were tired, and we just wanted to move on.”

As Pascoe continued investigating possible legislative corruption, Wilson said, the AG’s office had concerns about how Pascoe was conducting it a number of times, but let it pass.

When Pascoe tried to call for state grand jury involvement, “We had concerns… we wanted to fix his mistake…” So, he said, Pascoe was invited to meet with the AG’s office on Good Friday.

Pascoe declined to meet, and instead filed with the Supreme Court his petition for a writ of mandamus saying that Wilson was acting improperly.

Wilson said this document contained as “outright lie” — that he had sought to impede the investigation. He insisted that “at no time has anyone on my staff” done such a thing.

Wilson was mad about that. He was also mad that John Monk knew to show up at the court to get that petition Monday. When Wilson invited questions at the end of his statement and the first one came from John, he said he would answer the question if John would tell him how he knew the document had been filed. (Moments later, he apologized to John for being so confrontational.)

In the end, Wilson’s position is that he will ratify a request from an “untainted” prosecutor. But with Pascoe insisting Wilson can’t fire him and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson declining to take over unless there is a definitive ruling on the matter of Pascoe’s firing, it’s unclear who that untainted prosecutor might be.

To all his critics, Wilson issued a challenge: “Keep doing what you’re doing… You do your worst, I will do my best.”

Anyway, that’s what Wilson had to say. This isn’t a complete news story until we hear from Pascoe and others. And we likely won’t know where all this is going until the Supreme Court makes a determination. For that matter, had I been in the room instead of watching this on a live feed from WIS, I’d have had some questions of people in the room.

But it was an extraordinary live performance by a very angry AG. When I find a complete video recording, I will embed it. (HERE’S THE VIDEO.)

Wilson

Our own Kathryn Fenner on the pellet-gun vandalism

I’ve been extremely busy the last few days — my wife was out of town and I was among other things filling in for her taking care of grandchildren part of the time — and I just now saw this, brought to my attention by Doug Ross.

For the sake of Kathryn and her neighbors, I hope they got the right guys

 

Apple against our duly constituted authorities

In a Tweet on Friday, I put it as plainly as I could in 140 characters:

And since then, I’ve not seen a word that even comes close to justifying the outrageous position taken by Tim Cook. There was certainly nothing in his public letter that excused his behavior.

Probably the most outrageous part of the letter is when Cook essentially condescends to say the FBI’s intentions are no doubt quite honorable, and that Apple has cooperated with authorities (when Apple approved of how it was being asked to help), but the poor, simple creatures just don’t understand what they’re asking now. Fortunately we have the unelected wise men of Apple to countermand the requests of our duly constituted law enforcement authorities.

And I’ve seen quite a bit to confirm me in my view of the matter. Such as this piece today in the WSJ:

Apple was asked to adjust its software that wipes iPhones clean after 10 failed passwords, to enable the FBI to find the password. Prosecutors want this only for Farook’s phone, to “mitigate any perceived risk to Apple iOS software as to any other Apple device.” The local agency that employed Farook owns the phone and wants Apple’s help. “The user was made aware of his lack of privacy in the work phone while alive,” prosecutors note.Apple_Logo_Png_06

There’s no risk to encryption and the dead terrorist has no privacy rights. So what is Apple trying to protect?

The answer, according to the Justice Department, is a “business model and public brand marketing strategy.” Apple admitted as much last year in explaining to a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., why it refused to unlock the iPhone of a methamphetamine dealer. The company had unlocked some 70 iPhones in criminal cases since 2008, so the judge was surprised by its sudden refusal.

Apple’s lawyers explained that customers are so concerned about government access to data that compliance with court orders would “substantially tarnish the Apple brand.”…

Yeah, I bet the families of those murdered by the phone’s owner sit up nights worrying about poor ol’ Apple’s brand.

You want to improve your brand? How about not selling me a phone set to destroy all my data after 10 failed passwords?

I’ll anticipate my libertarian friends’ arguments and say you’re right — I don’t understand the technology. And maybe the fact that I don’t believe Apple when it says it can’t crack one phone without making all iPhones immediately insecure makes me an ignoramus. But I don’t believe it. And even if I did, I would consider granting Apple the power to choose which court orders it will obey to be far too high a price to pay for having an unhackable phone….

A local case in which armed citizens stopped a crime

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

… and killed a suspect in the process.

Bryan, our friendly neighborhood gunslinger, rings to my attention this story that was in The State (and which I admit I read right over), in which local armed citizens stopped a crime… cold:

Elmurray “Billy” Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.

Minutes later, Bookman and one of his customers drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run just before 7 p.m. Friday.

“The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering,” Bookman said. “I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers.”

About 20 people, including several women and children, were at the barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard. It sits behind the Applebee’s restaurant on Devine Street, across from the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods….

Thoughts on this, gentle readers?

Putin probably LIKES being accused in Litvinenko death

Russia is issuing denials, but it occurs to me that on a certain level, Vladimir Putin relishes the British report that concludes he “probably” ordered the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 10 years ago.

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both...

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both…

He’s likely to be congratulating himself that the whole world — and especially the part of it that consists of critics of his regime — thinks he gave the order. And having his old KGB cronies believe he did it in such a Dr. Evil kind of way, with polonium-210 slipped into the victim’s green tea, should be enough to have him hugging himself with delight. That impatient Obama can blow people up with drones, but this was real artistry by comparison. What a way for one spy to do in another!

Such reports would be embarrassing to most world leaders, but not to Putin. Really, what penalty is he ever likely to have to pay for this?

At this moment, he’s probably fighting the urge to strip his shirt off and go running through the countryside, holding a rifle. Or not. Fighting it, I mean.

Newman and Washington face tax charges

Both Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington and former Columbia City Councilman Brian Newman have turned themselves in to authorities in connection with a tax investigation, and Newman’s attorney says he will plead guilty today.

Here’s The State‘s story, which I assume will soon be updated:

A former Columbia city official and a current Richland County councilman turned themselves into law enforcement Tuesday to face tax charges stemming from an ongoing investigation by the S.C. Department of Revenue.

Former Columbia City Councilman Brian Newman, 33, a local attorney who owns his own practice specializing in criminal defense, will plead guilty to two counts of willful failure to file timely tax returns for a total of $201,179 and be sentenced at a hearing scheduled for 2 p.m., his attorney Bakari Sellers said.

“He wants to get this wrapped up,” Sellers said. Already Newman has filed his back-tax returns and has paid his back taxes, which total about $9,800, Sellers said.

Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington, 51, is charged with three counts of failing to file income tax returns for 2012, 2013 and 2014 for a total $426,000 in alleged unreported income. He is represented by attorneys Mike Duncan, Tim Rogers and Rep. James Smith, D-Richland….

It’s somewhat unclear at this point whether there’s any direct connection between these charges and the county’s penny sales tax, the handling of which the state Department of Revenue is investigating, except in this sense: “In a detailed audit such as the…  one DOR has done of the penny sales tax program, it is routine for auditors to check the income tax records of top people involved.”

But who knew Newman was even involved in that? The big shock in today’s news (to me, anyway), is the name of Brian Newman. The voters of District 2 just can’t seem to catch a break — first E.W. Cromartie, now this. Here’s hoping they fare better with Ed McDowell

336 days, 355 mass shootings

I got this from The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog. How is a “mass shooting” defined for the purposes of this count?

The San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year, according to a mass shooting tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit. The Reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire.

The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting — the old FBI definition focused on four or more people killed as part of a single shooting.

It would be also be the second mass shooting just today — in the early morning hours, one person was killed and three were injured in an incident in Savannah, Georgia.

Speaking after the Colorado Springs shooting last week, President Obama urged Americans to not let this type of violence “become normal.” But the data show that this type of incident already is normal. There have been more mass shootings than calendar days so far this year…

So if only three people are hit, it’s not a mass shooting, by this count.

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.