Category Archives: Law enforcement

Rhonda, the submachine-gunner (talkin’ about the girl)

OK, this is my second attempt in as many days to get some Warren Zevon going.

This was pretty much a failure yesterday, drawing only one “favorite” on Twitter. Of course, it was about Flynn:

And if you don’t get it, here’s the song.

Today, I was sort of bowled over by this picture, with this story in The Washington Post:

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With her Nordic beauty — the icy blue eyes and the blonde pigtails — and of course her automatic weapon slung across her belly, she seemed the perfect female counterpart of Roland the Thompson Gunner, Norway’s bravest son. Except, you know, she has a head.

Yeah, I know “submachine” doesn’t work as a substitute for “Thompson” — it doesn’t scan right, or the metre’s wrong, or something. (I’ve long ago forgotten exactly what those terms mean, although I remember that “outfielder” is a dactyl. That’s not from school, though; it’s from Herman Wouk’s novel City Boy.) In any case, too many syllables.

Go ahead, sneer at my poetry. I just thought I’d share. And I hope that Boris Roessler and the European Pressphoto Agency don’t mind my showing you their photo of the lovely, well-armed cop…

Did Comey just do MORE harm to Clinton (and the country)?

I like this screenshot, because among other things it shows you just how little time is left before voting as this story breaks.

I like this screenshot, because among other things it shows you just how little time was left before voting.

So did James Comey on Sunday lift the cloud that was hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the election Tuesday?

I suspect not. In fact, he may have done more harm than good. Why? Because I think she gets hurt every time her emails get mentioned, period.

Everyone recalls his big announcement over the summer when he said the FBI had found nothing worth filing charges over. But I also recall what happened a couple of days before that, on the Saturday that the FBI had one last interview with Sec. Clinton before Comey’s announcement.

The effect was, to me, quite weird. Word of the interview came on Saturday, July 2. I remember marveling at all the bulletins I was getting about it on my phone. The reaction seemed excessive, since we knew nothing except that she had been interviewed. I wondered even more when news analysis over the next couple of days was all about how this new hurt her campaign. The Washington Post‘s take at the time:

Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.

Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.

That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….

I thought that rather weird at the time. Then, of course, on July 5 — mere seconds after I had posted about how odd it was, Comey had his long “no charges” presser. Which sorta kinda relieved a lot of Democrats (he had a lot of critical things to say, too) and infuriated Republicans.

Fast-forward to Comey’s announcement 10 days ago that the FBI was looking at some more emails. Enormous damage was done to the Clinton candidacy, with her dropping in polls, infuriating Democrats and cheering up Trump supporters. And yet — think about this — there was no substance whatsoever in the announcement. There was no indication that there would be anything in the new emails that would reflect badly on the former secretary.

But was, undeniably, bad for her nevertheless.

My theory is this: We long ago passed a point at which any sentence that contains “Hillary Clinton” and “emails” is, in the collective mind of the electorate, a bad thing. And with good reason — she shouldn’t have set up the private server to begin with.

But it’s also a sort of mushy bad thing, without clear lines demarcating “good” and “bad,” so that even if the full sentence is “Hillary Clinton’s emails contain nothing incriminating,” the less detail-oriented parts of our brains still go “bad” at hearing the first three words together.

So it is that her candidacy was harmed when Comey brought up the words again 10 days ago, even without any information letting us know whether the news was indeed bad.

And, I suspect, it was harmed again yesterday when Comey essentially said, “There’s still nothing incriminating in Hillary Clinton’s emails.” As far as the political effect is concerned, we all heard only the last three words.

Here’s what I mean: I doubt the news tipped many people from planning to vote for Trump to planning to vote for Clinton. Or even from staying home, or voting third-party, to voting for Clinton.

But it once again infuriated the Republican base — including, I suspect, a lot of Republicans who were reluctant to vote for Trump, but who now are freshly reminded of how much they despise Hillary Clinton. They were kind of coasting along there experiencing various degrees of satisfaction from 10 days ago, and then BAM! — they’re outraged. Which can’t be good for her.

Please tell me I’m wrong…

 

What IS the deal with Comey?

This business of the FBI director’s letter last week has a lot of puzzling aspects that we could discuss.

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Comey’s official FBI portrait. I almost don’t recognize him, smiling.

I almost did a post yesterday based on a couple of headlines out there, one of which was this: “Did FBI Director James Comey’s Email Announcement Break The Law?” To that, I could only say, Who cares? What if it did? Sure he could be prosecuted, fined, jailed, whatever — it wouldn’t affect what he has done to this election, whatever that is. The damage can’t be undone. If his actions result in the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, keelhauling him might make a lot of us feel avenged, but it wouldn’t save the country.

Another headline — which I can’t seem to find now — said he may have a report on what is found in the new emails before the election. To which I could only say, whoop-te-frickin’-do. When would that be? Election eve? So if the news is detrimental to Hillary Clinton, or merely leaves a cloud over her, that could be the finishing stroke. And if it clears her of any further culpability, Republicans will charge to the polls in a fine lather, willing even to vote for Trump to express their ire.

There’s a lot more this morning. I was intrigued by an interview I heard on public radio this morning with Donald Ayer, deputy U.S. attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1990. He made a fascinating point. He said that when Comey had his announcement/speech back in the summer, everybody kind of went, OK, so Hillary did some irresponsible stuff, but it didn’t rise to the level of being prosecutable. Republicans were outraged and Democrats relieved, but everyone went on with their lives.

And, Mr. Ayer said, no one stopped to think just how wildly inappropriate it was for someone with prosecutorial power to make a lengthy speech about the merits of a case he was deciding not to prosecute.

Anyway, the point was that that error set up this one. Having told Congress and tout le monde that he was done investigating and there was nothing to prosecute, he felt honor-bound to say last week, Uh, fellas, I found something else we need to take a look at….

(Being bound by honor is a very fine thing and all too rare these days. But I confess I’m on the verge of losing patience with Mr. Comey’s delicate sensibilities…)

So now we have this situation in which everybody’s mad at him — Democrats for possibly throwing the election to Trump, and Republicans for not telling us all right now just how much these emails damn Hillary.

Here’s another interesting wrinkle: “Comey was concerned publicly blaming Russia for hacks of Democrats could appear too political in run-up to elections.”

Yeah, right? He had his excuses for why he was concerned about the FBI’s purity in that case and not this one (and you should read the story), but still…

Finally… As y’all know, Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, has written some extraordinary columns lately damning Trump and all-but-endorsing Hillary. Today, he had one simply headlined, “Resign, Mr. Comey.” An excerpt:

These aren’t partisan acts. They are self-regarding ones. Mr. Comey is a familiar Washington type—the putative saint—whose career is a study in reputation management. He went after investment banker Frank Quattrone. He threatened to resign from the Bush administration over its warrantless wiretap program. He vouchsafed the case against Steven J. Hatfill, the virologist accused of the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, in internal White House deliberations. He appointed his close friend Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the leak of CIA analyst Valerie Plame’s name.

One common thread in these cases is that Mr. Comey was always on the right side of Beltway conventional wisdom. The second is that he was consistently on the wrong side of justice….

FBI directors are supposed to be above politics, not in them. President Obama has the authority to fire Mr. Comey but will be hard-pressed to do so politically. That goes double if Mrs. Clinton is elected. Who knows what a President Trump would do.

All the more reason for Mr. Comey to do the right thing. He has lost the trust of his political masters, his congressional overseers and the American people. Wanting to spend more time with family is the usual excuse.

Mr. Stephens is understandably ticked.

One wonders where Mr. Comey’s conscience will take us next. Although what it’s done so far is quite enough…

 

The Hamlet routine: to press or not to press (charges)

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this...

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this…

Monday morning, my wife asked me if I’d done anything with our mailbox at the house — put anything in, taken anything out, whatever. No, I hadn’t. She said she’d come home mid-morning and found it open. And two pieces of mail she had placed in it Sunday afternoon, both containing checks to pay bills, were missing.

So we speculated that maybe the postal worker had come freakishly early or something — J vaguely recalled having seen the mail truck in the neighborhood on Sunday and wondering what it was doing — and made plans to contact the folks to whom the checks were mailed to make sure they arrived.

Then, a couple of hours later, I got a call from our credit union, with whom we have that checking account. Someone we had never heard of had just been in their Irmo office trying to cash a check from us for $680.42.

One of the checks we were mailing was for $130.42. Think about it.

While I can see how someone made that change, I still don’t know how anyone managed to change what was in the TO space. The check was to Lexington County, to pay a vehicle tax, and the name it had been changed to wasn’t even close.

Anyway, the credit union refused to cash it, the person left with the check, and the teller — who remembered us from when she worked in the West Columbia branch — called me.

So since the thieves have my account number and routing number, I ran over to the main office and had the account closed.

That was just the start. We had to change a couple of direct deposits, and some automatic payments — Netflix and the like. There were the two probably-stolen checks, and an earlier payment that hadn’t gone through, so we’d have to get with all those folks and arrange to pay another way.

Yeah, I know. You’re wondering why we were putting checks into our mailbox. A lot of people have asked that the last couple of days, accompanied by “Didn’t you know…?” No, we didn’t. While everyone and his brother is mentioning it now, no one had ever mentioned it to us before — and we’d gone our entire lives without anything being stolen from our mailbox. To our knowledge.

And like most of you, we don’t send out many checks anymore, usually doing electronic transfers. But that doesn’t always work out. Rest assured, if we send out checks henceforth, we’ll follow Moscow Rules — maybe changing vehicles two or three times on the way to an official U.S. gummint mailbox.

Next step, police reports. We live in the county, so I called the sheriff’s office and gave the details over the phone. Separately — since a separate crime was attempted in that jurisdiction — the credit union contacted the Irmo PD.

Which led to a bit of a dilemma for me.

Tuesday morning, the Irmo policeman who’d taken the report called me to ask whether we wanted to press charges. Not that there was a suspect in custody or anything — the police wanted to know whether they would have a case (whether we would testify that we never wrote a check to the person in question, for instance) before devoting resources to it.

I sympathized. The police need to prioritize, I understand. But being asked this question caused me concern on two fronts, having to do with opinions I’ve long held and expressed:

  • I’m all for looking out for crime victims, but I am adamantly opposed to them making decisions about prosecution. You’ll hear people say that “The victim’s family should decide” whether to pursue the death penalty in murder cases, for instance. That’s an outrageous suggestion in my book. We don’t have police and courts to act as agents of personal vengeance for individuals. Our laws against murder and passing bad checks exist because we, as a society, don’t think people should be allowed to kill other people or steal from them — such things are disruptive to civilization. (This is related to my oft-stated opposition to abortion on demand — to me, it’s a violation of the ideal of a nation of laws and not of men to have the one most interested person on the planet have absolute power over life and death.)
  • As y’all know, I don’t think we need to be locking up people who commit nonviolent crimes. Many if not most of the women in prison, from what I’ve heard in the past, are there for trying to pass bad checks. Don’t know if that’s still true, but that’s what I used to hear.

Add to that the fact that aside from being greatly inconvenienced, I had lost nothing, thanks to the smart actions of the teller who refused to cash the check (I told her supervisor she should get a gold star for that). The credit union wasn’t out anything, either — aside from time spent on this.

So I dithered. I asked the officer if I could call him back, and promised to do so by the end of the day.

I polled people about it, and everyone I talked to said of course you want them to prosecute. Still, I did the Hamlet routine — to press or not to press?

I finally decided that I had no choice, for the simple fact that it wasn’t about us, even though it felt like it. Whoever had stolen the checks, and whoever tried to pass the forged one (which could be more than one person), might do it again. For all I know, the person or people in question might do this all the time.

And that needed to be stopped, if possible. It wasn’t about what had or hadn’t been done to us; it was about protecting the rest of society. If we didn’t follow through, additional crimes might occur. If we didn’t proceed, the social contract would fray a bit more.

You know me — once I had it framed in my mind in communitarian terms, I called the officer and asked him to proceed.

If anything else interesting happens, I’ll keep y’all posted…

By the way, what would y’all have done (I mean, besides not putting the checks in the mailbox to start with)?

‘A bidness doin’ pleasure:’ Cindi on how Ron Cobb changed us

I hope y’all saw Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how the late Rob Cobb, the most infamous lobbyist in South Carolina history, changed our state:

I DIDN’T KNOW Ron Cobb back when he was buying up a tenth of our Legislature for the FBI.

Didn’t even recognize his picture when FBI agents subpoenaed campaign disclosure reports for all 170 legislators, and legislators and fellow lobbyists started whispering that Mr. Cobb was somehow involved in what would come to be known as Operation Lost Trust.

In fact, while I would learn and write a lot about the cigar-chomping lobbyist who hummed his signature “It’s a bidness doing pleasure with you” while the hidden video camera recorded him counting out crisp $100 bills for legislators who promised to support his horse-gambling bill, I didn’t actually meet him until five years later…

He certainly had a big impact on Cindi and me. We did some of our best work ever chasing the Lost Trust story. Before it was over, Cindi herself had gone to jail, and I had spent a year explaining everything that was wrong with government in South Carolina. Our coverage of the scandal, and my “Power Failure” series, played a big role in my becoming editorial page editor later.

All because of Ron Cobb buying votes and wheeling and dealing from his room in the former Townhouse, just yards from where I now sit. That hotel is undergoing a huge renovation, much as our political life did as a result of Cobb’s actions:

Our news department launched a yearlong examination of how the Legislative State produced not only corruption but a hapless government that answered to no one, and pushed along by that “Power Failure” series, Lost Trust and Gov. Carroll Campbell, the Legislature voted two years later to hand a third of the government over to the governor.scoppeonline3-2x2tighter-2-2x2tighter-2

Lawmakers unleashed the powerful State Grand Jury to investigate political corruption cases. They passed a reporter shield law after a judge ordered me and three other reporters held in federal custody for two days for refusing to testify in one of the trials. And voters elected a target of an earlier vote-buying scandal to fill an open Senate seat in the middle of all this, lawmakers amended the constitution to bar felons from holding office until 15 years after they completed their sentences.

There are still a lot of problems with the way our government operates — the Legislature still holds far too much power over state and local agencies, too many agencies still effectively answer to no one, the ethics law even after this year’s improvements remains far short of what it should be.

But those reforms did a lot of good. And Ron Cobb paved the way for every one of them.

Oh, and speaking of Warthenesque writing… I also appreciated this column because its style was more like my own than Cindi’s. Finally, it seems, I’ve rubbed off on her.

Cindi has always been very task-oriented. When she goes into an interview, she’s all business. When she writes a column or editorial, she intends to accomplish this and this and this, and she lays out her arguments in a perfectly disciplined form.

My own way of approaching interviews or writing has always been like the method Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ Holistic Detective, employed whenever he got lost: “My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be.”

I loved this digression into purely superfluous detail:

It was June 26, 1995, and I was working on a “where are they now” package of news articles for the upcoming five-year anniversary of Lost Trust becoming public. We met near the interstate, and I followed him to his townhouse overlooking the 10th hole of one of Greenville’s premier golf courses.

Longtime girlfriend-turned-wife Shelley was there to greet us, and they showed off their rooftop garden, where Ron was growing tomatoes and cucumbers, and the Stairmaster he said he used for 10 to 15 minutes every day after work, and he talked about how his values had changed since his career as a lobbyist ended. Of course we also talked about Lost Trust and the Legislature and what he thought had and hadn’t changed, and Shelley talked as much as Ron did.

I don’t remember all those details; I got them from reviewing my notes from our lengthy visit. The only clear memories I have of that rarefied encounter are the rooftop and Bella — the cat who kept running toward the wall and hurling herself into it. Ron and Shelley laughed each time, and assured me the cat was fine, that she just did that for attention….

Kathryn on problems in university neighborhood

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Kathryn Fenner wins the prize. I’m not sure what the prize is, but she wins it for being quoted prominently in a front-page news story headlined: “Naked college students push neighbors to breaking point.”

This is something to which I’m sure many of you have aspired, but Kathryn got there first.

But let’s shove our envy aside and soberly consider what she had to say about the problems in her neighborhood:

Aside from calling the cops and filing reports, residents like Kathryn Fenner would like to see the continued expansion of police patrols.

“USC police have extended their patrol area to include University Hill,” Fenner said. “When they started doing that, we noticed that things got a whole lot better in our neighborhood.”

Plus, she has learned that students fear the university’s disciplinary board, which if used aggressively, could help curb bad behavior by off-campus students. USC shouldn’t be so desperate to keep students that they’re willing to put up with appalling behavior, Fenner said.

Fenner said she also worries that if someday she wants to move, she’ll have to sell her home to a future landlord. It would take a special kind of person to live in her neighborhood, she said.

“You’re losing some of the in-town residents,” Fenner said. “There are people who have just had it.”…

Which the story points out is bad because the more resident homeowners who leave, the more rentals available to unruly, and possibly naked, students.

Speaking of which — the story’s opening anecdote reminds me of the situation my wife and I ran into in the area several years ago.

Anyway, it sound like USC is onto something with the patrols in the residential area. What else do y’all think should happen?

The SC Supreme Court sides with Pascoe against Wilson

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Which surprises me. I haven’t read the decision yet, but John Monk’s story doesn’t explain how the court got around the fact that you can’t call a statewide grand jury without the attorney general.

All it says is that the court has essentially ruled that, for the sake of this investigation, Pascoe is the attorney general. Huh, seems like that would surprise those involved in writing the state constitution. But hey, they’re the experts, not me.

An excerpt:

The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Attorney General Alan Wilson can’t stop his special prosecutor, David Pascoe, from investigating possible corruption in the General Assembly.IMG_david_pascoe

Although Wilson tried to stop Pascoe – and apparently halted Pascoe’s investigation several months ago – the Supreme Court made it clear in its Wednesday ruling that Wilson acted unlawfully in trying to keep Pascoe from continuing his probe. Pascoe was working with SLED on the investigation.

“…the Attorney General’s Office’s purported termination of Pascoe’s designation was not valid,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 opinion.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that Pascoe now is the effective acting Attorney General for the purpose of Pascoe’s General Assembly investigation – and Wilson can’t stop him from proceeding….

The Court seems to have essentially sided with the popular narrative that Alan Wilson was trying to stop an investigation into his political buddies — which I know a lot of folks accept as gospel, but which I don’t believe for a second. It seemed to me that Pascoe acted outside the law in trying to call the jury on his own — something that Wilson made it clear he was ready and willing to do for him.

Of course, Wilson didn’t do himself any good with that raging press conference — but that wouldn’t seem to change the law, just his political image.

But maybe the court ‘splained it in a way that negates my concerns. We’ll see…

Dallas chief talking about the jobs cops have to do

I saved this yesterday from The Wall Street Journal and forgot to share. I thought it was good:

From Dallas Police Chief David Brown at a July 11 press conference:

We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. We just ask of us to do too much. download (8)Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental-health funding. Let the cop handle it. Not enough drug-addiction funding. Let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we got a loose-dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women. Let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems, and I just ask for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us. . . .

Serve your communities. Don’t be a part of the problem. We’re hiring. We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.

OK, now THIS was news: FBI chief recommends ‘no charges’ on Clinton email

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Seconds after I posted wonder why the chattering classes went ape over Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI, actual news was made on that front.

Here’s how I characterized what FBI Director James B. Comey had to say:

We’ll continue to argue over her judgment in setting up and using the private server. We will rightly be concerned over the potential for hostile governments and private actors to have obtained access to classified material, thanks to her carelessness.

But there will almost certainly be no indictment, unless federal prosecutors completely disregard the recommendation of the FBI.

Which could happen, but which seems unlikely.

I’m guessing that those pundits who said the FBI interview was part of a terrible week for Clinton will now be touting this as a big win. And this time, they’ll be right.

Explain to me how FBI interview exacerbated Hillary’s problem

On the way to the beach Saturday, I had my phone off my hip, plugged into the car and sitting perched on the ashtray pulled out from the dashboard. My wife, who insists on continuing to use a flip phone and is not accustomed to such distractions, kept picking it up to look at it when a tone would announce a news alert.

There were some bulletin-worthy items, such as the death of Elie Wiesel and the arrest of Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah on domestic violence charges. But one puzzled her:

FBI

Why, she wondered, was that interesting enough to bother people with? I couldn’t really answer that, since I thought the same thing. It was a turn of the screw in an ongoing process, very much dog-bites-man. Maybe you take note of it in the course of the day’s news; it might even have its own headline. But even in this bulletin-mad era we lived in, it was hardly worth asking people to stop what they’re doing to read about it.

Others seemed to disagree. In fact, it was treated like some major blow to the Clinton campaign, on a level with Bill “It’s All About Me” Clinton’s idiotic tête-à-tête with the attorney general.

As The Washington Post said,

Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.

Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.

That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….

OK, y’all, explain to me why this was a big deal, or any kind of a deal. If she had refused to be interviewed, that would be news. If they interviewed her and learned something new and told us about it, that, too, would be news. But this? How is it more than a take-note-of-in-the-name-of-transparency thing?

We knew the FBI was investigating Hillary’s emails. They’ve been doing so forever. That’s why it was a big deal that Bill chatted with the AG.

The FBI interviews the subjects of investigations. I mean, right? Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like the headline was “FBI interviews Clinton and decides to charge her.” That would definitely be bulletin-worthy, because it would mean that it’s even more likely that a neofascist will occupy the White House. It would be more than news. It would be history. And not the good kind…

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…

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.

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…

SC not the only place where cops throw girls around

Not that that’s much comfort, but since we had that awful incident here, I thought y’all might be interested in seeing this.

It happened in San Antonio, and the officer was fired:

A Texas school police officer who became enmeshed in controversy after he was captured on video seemingly body-slamming a sixth-grade girl has been fired from the San Antonio Independent School District.

District officials said officer Joshua Kehm was terminated Monday amid an investigation into an incident last month at Rhodes Middle School, in which he appeared to restrain and then throw down 12-year-old Janissa Valdez.

“We understand that situations can sometimes escalate to the point of requiring a physical response; however, in this situation we believe that the extent of the response was absolutely unwarranted,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “Additionally, the officer’s report was inconsistent with the video and it was also delayed, which is not in accordance with the general operating procedures of the police department….

Yeah, Apple, that’s some heavy-duty security ya got there…

When the news broke a few days ago that the government thought it had a way to get into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone without Apple’s help, someone on the radio made the point that this development meant both sides were losers:Apple_Logo_Png_06

  1. The government had to admit it was wrong that they could only get into the phone with Apple’s help.
  2. Apple, which based its refusal to provide this service to the country on the claim that it was just so important that its security remain intact, and that even Apple itself coming up with a way in would compromise the truly awesome security of its phones to an unacceptable extent, would be exposed as having lame security if a third party could indeed break in.

Here’s today’s news:

The Justice Department is abandoning its bid to force Apple to help it unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack because investigators have found a way in without the tech giant’s assistance, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Monday.

The government said that investigators had now “accessed the data stored on” the shooter’s iPhone and no longer needed Apple’s help. They asked a court to vacate an earlier ruling forcing Apple to provide assistance….

It’s good that law enforcement can now see whether there’s any intel of value on the phone. It’s bad that we didn’t establish the precedent that Apple has to cooperate with law enforcement. But I console myself on that point with the fact that Tim Cook now has egg on his face because his vaunted security has been shown to… I believe the technical term is “suck.”

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….

‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ makes list of biggest canards

As you probably know, The Washington Post has a fact checker feature which involves regularly checking the veracity of various claims that make news, and awards “Pinocchios” to indicate the relative level of falsehood. The biggest lies get four Pinocchios.

The Post has now published a year-end list of “The biggest Pinocchios of 2015,” and as you might expect, the list is dominated by the 2016 presidential candidates. In just six months, Donald Trump has earned 11 Four-Pinocchio ratings — far more than any other candidate.

Politicians, of course, are easy targets. Their statements are regularly subjected to great skepticism and close scrutiny.

What struck me as most intriguing (and not just because it was more of a 2014 thing than 2015) is that the Post chose to include, on this list of biggest lies, the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme out of Ferguson. In other words, the Post is highlighting that thousands of morally outraged people who thought they were speaking truth to power were in fact perpetuating a falsehood.

The belief that Michael Brown raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot!” was embraced without question by protesters across the country, and helped to launch the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The thing is, though, that to the best of our knowledge, it did not happen. As the Post states, “But various investigations concluded this did not happen — and that Wilson acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown.”

The irony here, of course, is that there are other incidents across the country more deserving of protesters’ indignation — Walter Scott being shot multiple times in the back, the shocking killing of Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner suffocating in a police chokehold.

But unfortunately the Michael Brown killing — which was never as clear-cut a case of police brutality as other incidents — was the one that got the ball rolling. And it’s appropriate, in the interest of historical accuracy, to take note of the fact that the protesters didn’t know what had happened.

Reminds me of the Boston “Massacre.” The British soldiers involved were later acquitted, and rightly so (John Adams was their defense attorney, which took a lot of guts and a profound faith in the rule of law).

That didn’t mean the Revolution that followed was without merit. On the whole, I’d call our independence an excellent thing. But sometimes people are initially radicalized by the wrong things…

Supt. Hamm’s letter about Spring Valley incidents

I’ve finally, finally, finally gotten caught up on my email for the week, so I’m belatedly sharing with you this message from Sen. Joel Lourie. He sent it out to member of the Richland County legislative delegation, with this note:

Dear Fellow Members of the Delegation –

By now, each of you should have received the attached letter from Dr. Hamm regarding the incident at Spring Valley High School.  I have heard from many parents throughout the district who have indicated their support for the way this crisis was handled, and a strong sense of optimism in moving forward.  I believe there will be positive changes that come out of this unfortunate situation.  On a statewide level, we should re-visit the “Disturbing Schools” section of state statute to insure that we are not criminalizing incidents that could be handled administratively.  I also want to thank Dr. Hamm and the administration and board for their professionalism and sensitivity in dealing with this matter.

Best regards always –

Joel Lourie

I’m in complete agreement with him that the “disturbing schools” law needs to be addressed — in fact, I see that as the one legitimate response the delegation may have to these school matters.

I would copy here the contents of the note from Dr. Hamm, but unfortunately, it’s one of those PDFs that won’t let you copy and paste the text.

But you can read it by clicking here