Two Bad Misconceptions About the Law

This is a fun job. It really is.  So fun, in fact that everybody wants to do it.

Maybe that’s a stretch. It seems that everybody wants to comment on it, though.  I’ve pointed this out before, but there aren’t a lot of other jobs where people without any real experience are so open to tell you what the laws should do, what your job should be (and why they could “never do your job”).  Nobody tells the accountant at the Thanksgiving table that they have to defend/attack/comment on something they heard Nancy Grace or Jon Stewart talking about on TV.  Nobody asks the plumber at the party how he could dare install plumbing for “those people.”

Not that I’m complaining. It goes with the turf.  It’s part of the job. Continue reading “Two Bad Misconceptions About the Law”

“We dropped $200k on this armored truck and there hasn’t been a murder since,” said no police department, ever.

For a couple of reasons, I’m what you could call in interested observer of the militarization of our local police forces.  First, it scares the hell out of me see how many of the local departments that can’t consistently make solid DUI arrests have no problem getting their hands on better weapons than most countries around the globe.  Second, and more importantly, I’m interested in anything that affirms my belief that if the police spent less money on deadly toys and more money training themselves to deal with the mentally and developmentally disabled, we’d all be better off.

So, I do things like keep an eye on this list of small towns that the federal government has given armored ambush vehicles to.  Doing that and “interacting” with Nancy Grace on Twitter is practically a full time job.  Somebody has to do it, though.

Today, during a lull in court, I decided to take a look and see if any local Kane County municipalities had soothed this apparent police “need” for war machines. Not surprisingly, google took about .2334 seconds to find one.  A few years back, it looks like the City of Elgin bought this beautiful piece of reinforced steel.   Continue reading ““We dropped $200k on this armored truck and there hasn’t been a murder since,” said no police department, ever.”

Driver sober AND get pulled over.

Nothing warms my jaded, criminal defense attorney heart more than when law enforcement comes up with cute catch phrases.  I’ve always loved it when Illinois State Troopers talk about the “Fatal 4”.  I especially love “click it or ticket” because the Illinois law really only lived up to a “watered down” version of the phrase until the decidedly “big government” Bush administration tied changes in the law to eligibility for federal funding:

SENATE BILL 50: Primary Seat belt Legislation
The new law changes the Illinois Vehicle Code’s seat belt law from a “secondary” violation to a “primary” violation. Formerly, law enforcement officials could not stop a motor vehicle solely on the basis of a violation of the seat belt law. This law removes that exception, enabling law enforcement officials to stop vehicles solely on the basis of seat belt violations. The law provides that a law enforcement officer may not search or inspect a motor vehicle, its contents, the driver or a passenger solely because of a violation of this law. The law took effect immediately upon signing by the governor. Illinois is the first state this year to enact primary safety belt legislation and the 19th state across the country.

No discussion of cute-catch-phrases-tied-to-federal-funding would be complete without “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” though.  As I explained back in December, that propaganda (and, more accurately, the funding behind it), is why you start seeing news of all the “checkpoints” that pop up everywhere around the holidays (I really should go back to see exactly how many St. Charles DUI arrests were made as a result of that weekend… and then check that number against the number of DUI arrests made on a “normal” weekend to see if the the money and resources spent were actually justified).

Nevertheless, I’m very saddened to read today that not everywhere lives by “drive sober or get pulled over.”  In fact, in Wisconsin, it looks like they’ve bought into quite the opposite- drive sober and get pulled over:

Tanya Weyker was hurt so badly, she couldn’t blow into a breath-testing device or perform field sobriety tests. But a Sheriff’s deputy arrested her for drunk driving anyway. And the County hung those charges over her head for nearly a year, even long after blood tests proved she was perfectly sober.

Wait. She was just driving down the road and got a DUI?  Nothing is that simple. Obviously, there’s a catch.  That catch is that you’ve got to let the cop run into you, first (and lie about it, second):

A Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy rolls through a stop sign and causes a violent crash. So why was the victim placed under arrest?
A FOX6 Investigation finds that a deputy’s changing story may have changed one woman’s life forever.
* * *  

Continue reading “Driver sober AND get pulled over.”

You matter less, Part III

I’m hoping that somebody somewhere steps up soon and explains this stuff to me.  Even as an attorney I’ve never understood, and I still don’t, why normal people- people like you and I- are the least important people in criminal law.  Break my stuff? That’s bad. Break the government’s stuff?  That’s really bad, right?  Steal my stuff? That’s bad. Steal from a corporate retailer, though? That’s somehow worse.

On that note, I came across this little gem the other day.  Like the first link above, it talks about damaging property:

[section_alt background_color=”]
(720 ILCS 5/21-1) (from Ch. 38, par. 21-1)

Sec. 21-1. Criminal damage to property.
(a) A person commits criminal damage to property when he or she: (1) knowingly damages any property of another…
* * *
(d) Sentence.
(1) A violation of subsection (a) shall have the following penalties
* * *
(B) A violation of paragraph (1), (2), (3), (5), or (6) is a Class A misdemeanor when the damage to the property does not exceed $300.
C) A violation of paragraph (1), (2), (3),(5), or (6) is a Class 4 felony when the damage to property does not exceed $300 and the damage occurs to property of a school or place of worship or to farm equipment or immovable items of agricultural production, including but not limited to grain elevators, grain bins, and barns or property which memorializes or honors an individual or group of police officers, fire fighters, members of the United States Armed Forces, National Guard, or veterans…
[/section_alt]
For those arm-chair attorneys not scoring at home, I went ahead and highlighted the nonsense part: the part where if somebody breaks your stuff it’s a misdemeanor.  Unless your stuff memorializes a cop or group of cops.  Then it’s a felony.

Continue reading “You matter less, Part III”

Mental Illness v. Public Safety.

I don’t know how I initially missed this story, but it’s very sad.  Apparently a suicidal man in Batavia township managed to find himself on top of a house with a rifle.  Obviously the police were called.  It sounds like there may have even been a shot fired before they arrived:

No charges in officer-related shooting death at Batavia house

By Erika Wurst ewurst@stmedianetwork.com March 4, 2014 1:20PMA Batavia man died at his house at 3S303 Elfstrom Trail in September after being shot by a Kane County Sheriff’s Department sergeant. | Erika Wurst~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 5, 2014 7:51PM
The Illinois State Police and the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office have concluded their investigation into the officer-related shooting death of a Batavia man last July.
The investigation concluded that the 20-year veteran Kane County deputy was justified in using deadly force when he shot 52-year-old Luke Bulzak to death at his home on July 8, 2013, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to 3S303 Elfstrom Trail in unincorporated Batavia Township at 11:40 a.m. that day after receiving a call about a suicidal male. Deputies were told that the man may have fired a gun.
When they arrived, deputies found Bulzak on the roof of his home with a rifle.
Sheriff’s deputies said they attempted to get Bulzak to drop his weapon, but he refused. Deputies said the man pointed the rifle toward them, and a sheriff’s sergeant shot at him…

The intersection of mental illness and “policing” is what you could call an area of extreme interest for me.  Sadly, too often people afflicted with any sort of condition affecting their normal well-being, aren’t handled in the best way by the police.  Especially when they end up on roof tops.

I’m not implying that the Kane County Sheriff’s officer who was called to this situation did anything improper.  Not that I know a whole lot about about the facts of this case, but when police are called to a man on a roof with a rifle (who may have already fired one shot) there’s going to be a tense situation that can really only end a couple of ways.  That is, of course, assuming the paper’s version of facts is true (and came from an objective source… which isn’t always the case).

What I am wondering, though, is how this might have turned out differently if your average on-the-streets patrol officer got as much training for dealing with the mentally ill as he does in firearms training, DUI detection, or any of the other matters that public has little problem funding with their tax dollars.  I’m betting that as soon as the call came in for this man, the S.W.A.T. team was getting ready to roll, and all sorts of police “resources” were being put into play. I’m betting that there was even a crisis counselor or negotiator headed towards the scene, too.  I’m not sure why they need to be called in, though.

Why not put all of these initial responders- the men and women out there in the patrol cars who are, so often, the very first people to arrive through more complete training?  Shouldn’t they all know the best way to deal with a man with Down’s Syndrome who won’t leave a movie theater, or a senile old man who doesn’t know what planet he’s on? Better yet, why not try to attract people who already have the right background into the profession?  Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing the average social worker or psychologist might be ok at dealing with people on a daily basis.

That won’t happen, though.  For whatever reason, the thinking is that police need to be modern-day warriors.  They need to be trained in the para-military arts… because it’s “them against us”.  Every one of them needs to be trained for the “worst case scenario” even if they’re in Batavia, or Elburn or Mayberry and there are already plenty of cops trained for the worst case scenario around.

I feel bad for the cop who got called to this scene and killed this man– it had to be scary as hell. I also feel bad for the man on the roof. Perhaps, someday, the general public will see the value in changing the way many of the police are trained, and we won’t have to pretend that public safety and mental illness are at odds.

Crime News… Whose Perspective?

Obviously I love to troll the press and media releases for local crime.  They amuse me.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  What’s not really amusing, though, is how much they influence what shows up in the newspaper…. and how they get there.

If you read a newspaper article and don’t know what’s going on, you’d think a newpaper reporter was sitting in a courtroom watching trials as they unfold.  That certainly does happen a lot of the time.  What happens more often is that a reporter sits in for parts of a trial.  That’s exactly what was going on when the back of my head made the Huffington Post last year. Of course, in that case, the parts of the trial the reporters weren’t sitting in on were the ones where we presented our side of the case.  Crazy how that works.

Anyhow, what seems to be happening more often (especially in Kane County) is that media and press releases are pushed out to media outlets, who then write stories based largely on the reports.  Of course, those reports are coming from the Kane County State’s Attorneys office, and the police departments.

For example, take this story in the Elgin Courior News:

South Elgin woman guilty of filing false child abuse reports

From Submitted Reports December 6, 2013 4:42PM
Updated: December 9, 2013 12:30PM
A South Elgin woman has been found guilty of making a false report of child abuse that included coloring her young son with ink and claiming it was bruising caused by the boy’s stepmother, the Kane County State’s Attorney Office said.
Kimberly Carlyle, 47, of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, was convicted Friday in a trial before Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles of two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony

This story says it’s from “submitted reports” on December 6, 2013.  I wonder what “submitted report” that might be?

It’s not hard to find, really.  On December 6, 2013 the twitter account for the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office posted as follows:

If you follow that link, it takes you right to a prepared, pre-formatted press release from the Kane County prosecutor’s office.  If you go ahead and look through the Kane SAO twitter account, you’ll find all sorts of links to press releases, too.

It doesn’t take much investigation to figure out that that press release was a major source for the newspaper story.  According to the press release:

Kimberly Carlyle, 47 (d.o.b. 7-29-1966), of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, South Elgin, was convicted today by Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles or two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony.

Carlyle waived her right to a jury trial.

According to the newspaper:

Kimberly Carlyle, 47, of the 200 block of Nicole Drive, was convicted Friday in a trial before Circuit Judge Susan Clancy Boles of two counts of disorderly conduct, each a Class 2 felony.

Carlyle waived her right to a jury trial.

Press release:

On Sept. 6, 2009, Carlyle called the Kane County Sheriff’s Office to report that her young child had been physically abused during a visit with the child’s biological father and his wife. Carlyle claimed that bruises she said appeared on her child were the result of physical abuse. When a sheriff’s deputy told Carlyle that she had contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to investigate further, Carlyle acknowledged that the bruises were actually ink that had since washed off. When contacted later by DCFS, Carlyle apologized, acknowledged that the bruising marks were actually ink and said that she had no reason to believe that the child was being abused.

Newspaper:

According to prosecutors, on Sept. 6, 2009, Carlyle called the Kane County Sheriff’s Office to report that her young child had been physically abused during a visit with the child’s biological father and his wife. Carlyle claimed that bruises she said appeared on her child were the result of physical abuse. When a sheriff’s deputy told Carlyle that she had contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to investigate further, Carlyle acknowledged that the bruises were actually ink that had since washed off.

When contacted later by DCFS, Carlyle apologized, acknowledged that the bruising marks were actually ink and said that she had no reason to believe that the child was being abused.

I could keep going on, but I won’t. You get the idea- the article is practically a word-for-word regurgitation of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s media release.  It’s not so much an article as it is a rebroadcast of a prosecutor’s statement about the outcome of the case.  If the defendant had been found not-guilty, then what would the Kane County State’s Attorney’s press release say?  There wouldn’t be one, of course.

This happens nearly every day, all over Chicagoland.

So, when you’re reading the news are you really reading the news? Or are you reading propaganda from a prosecutor or police department?  I certainly have my opinion on that.

An amazing “coincidence.” What are the odds?

What are the odds that the police would have an eye on a house because they think a burglar lives there?  That, while they’re keeping an eye on the house, some completely random person comes up and asks them to go into the house for a “well being” check?  That fire and rescue, along with the police, enter the house to find two people they say need medical assistance, but who don’t need it so bad they’re willing (or required) to go to the hospital?  That a subsequent search of the home (the cops are already in, so why not, right?) turned up not only the stolen items but the alleged burglar?  That all this happened on the same day in the same town at the same house?

What are the odds?

Pretty good if you take the Oswego Police department’s version of things.  From today’s Beacon News:

Well-being check leads to burglary arrest in Oswego

BY ERIKA WURST ewurst@stmedianetwork.com November 21, 2013 5:14PM

Updated: November 21, 2013 6:05PM

 An Oswego man is facing burglary charges this week after police allegedly found stolen items in his home during a well-being check on Sunday.
Police entered the home of Zachary Harmon, 21, 800 block of Columbus Drive, to conduct a well-being check, and during a search found items linked to a recent series of burglaries.
Oswego police took two reports from residents who reported having their vehicles broken into between 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday on Manhattan Circle.
A laptop computer, a phone, a radar detector and a GPS unit were allegedly taken during the burglaries, police said.
Police received a tip from one of the victims that the items might be located at a home in the 800 block of Columbus Drive. As police were watching the home, a woman showed up, concerned about the well being of someone inside, they said…

How lucky those officers must have been?  Clearly a case of being in the right place at the right time!  If that completely random woman hadn’t happened upon them (completely randomly, I’m sure) and possibly given them an exception to the 4th Amendment’s requirement to get a warrant before going into the home that was, coincidentally, I’m sure, the subject of their surveillance, they may never have been able to go in.  All pure luck, I’m sure!

Or, there’s more going on in this one than the Beacon News was lead to believe.  My money is on option #2.

It know it’s not that much of a concern to you, though.  The police had a hunch, they got their man.  You don’t care about his rights as long as he’s guilty.

I care about his rights. I care about your rights, too.  Mostly because his rights and your rights are my rights.  That’s really what I’m worried about.

So, I read this report and I’m concerned.  Let’s just say I don’t think it was all a coincidence.

The Elgin Police Department is a little out of touch, maybe.

You know how whenever the government does something that it’s already paid to do it tells us how it did something so that we all know that it’s doing something which we expected all along, anyway?  That’s a big part of why police press releases exist.  I don’t necessarily blame the men in blue for this, though.  It’s a political system and people are always trying to cut budgets here and spend money elsewhere.  So, maybe they need to over-state what they do.

I don’t know.

I do know that a lot of the police press releases are amusing.  Like this one from the Elgin Police Department.  It seems that an officer from the Elgin PD arrested a man with a gun and, well, they wanted us all to know.  According to their press release:

On November 1, 2013 the Mulberry Court Resident Police Officer was on patrol in his neighborhood when he observed suspicious activity from subjects in a vehicle and conducted a traffic stop in the area of Allison Drive and Jane Drive. While conducting the investigation two subjects in the vehicle fled on foot. One subject, identified as 19 year old, Devonne L. Montgomery, of Crestwood, was apprehended in the 200 block of Robert Drive after a short foot pursuit, and taken into custody on two outstanding criminal warrants.

While officers continued to investigate the incident, a citizen advised officers that they observed Montgomery throw an item in the bushes where he was apprehended. Officers searched the area and recovered a loaded handgun.

Now, I’m going to go ahead and pretend my little criminal defense eyes didn’t read that first sentence.  I mean, while “suspicious activity” can be a reason for an officer to perform a traffic stop on a car, without more detail it isn’t necessarily the case that it does.  And, if it actually didn’t here, that means it’s possible the entire case might be thrown outin which case the Elgin PD would really just be announcing a bollixed case.

Without more details, we’ll just assume the stop was legitimate for today’s purposes.  It won’t be easy for me to do, but I’ll do it.

Aside from that, the part that I was surprised they included was the following (with my emphasis added):

While officers continued to investigate the incident, a citizen advised officers that they observed Montgomery throw an item in the bushes where he was apprehended. Officers searched the area and recovered a loaded handgun.

 ***

It should be noted that officers were assisted greatly by residents in the neighborhood providing witness information.  It is cooperation such as this that continues to improve the Elgin community.   

Ever watch The First 48 and wonder why nobody in the community will ever talk to the detectives?  I mean, nobody on that show ever talks- except for the defendant who, 75% of the time, seems to think that confessing is the clear path to a “not guilty” (hint: it’s not).  Nobody talks because they believe that if they do, the defendant or his buddies will find out.  If that happens, the person who talked may just be retaliated against (related sidenote: “retaliated against” is a nice way for saying “murdered” or “severely injured”).

Before you go off the deep end and accuse me of somehow endorsing this mentality- read that again.  The reality is that the quickest way for crime-riddled communities to clean themselves up is to ensure that crimes are quickly solved.  Sadly, though, the other side of that reality is that many crime-riddled communities are that way because people who talk to the police aren’t exactly embraced by the community- like it or not, that’s how it is.

So, you know who doesn’t want anybody to know who they are and that they just talked to police?  The people who just told the police that one of their neighbors threw a gun in the bushes. Did the Elgin Police Department identify those people by name? Of course not.  That doesn’t mean they should have mentioned it at all, though. Just because we don’t know who the person was (and we shouldn’t), doesn’t mean the guy who threw the gun (or his buddies on the outside) can’t figure it out.  How many people will keep talking to the police if they know that a press release posted to the public will brag about how people are giving information?

I get that the Elgin PD is trying to let us know that Elgin is looking out for itself and possibly trying to turn around an undeserved reputation among people living in other cities.  Press releases like this might ultimately be counter-productive, though.

The Algonquin Police “Get It” And They’re Not Even “Triple Crown” Accredited

Remember back a few weeks when I laughed at the McHenry County Sheriff’s Police for having gained “triple crown” accreditation?  The gist of my mockery was that the MCSP were in the newspaper talking about how they had received the “Ivy League” of police certifications.  Meanwhile, another department that was part of this “elite” club had recently killed a man with Down’s Syndrome at a movie theater because he was having a bit of an episode and wouldn’t leave.

Of course the  “Ivy Leave” of police accreditation pulled it’s certification of that department did absolutely nothing because, well, there is really no correlation between killing people who shouldn’t die and patting each other on the back.

Then there was that 95 year old Park Forest man who the police killed. He was about to be involuntarily commit and wasn’t thinking right.  They used the taser on him. And, as things tend to go with the frail, a taser that wouldn’t have killed you (but sometimes actually might) did kill him.

I’m not saying that the incident with the man with Down’s Syndrome or the crabby 95 year old man were easy incidents to deal with.  Underneath the sarcastic babbling in my posts on those, though, was the idea that modern policing models really aren’t well designed to deal with “the frail.”  There’s too much, “Respect my authority” and not enough, “If we wait another half hour, crabby grandpa might calm down.”

So, I was happy to read Joseph Bustosarticle in the Northwest Herald this morning.  It seems that the Algonquin Police Department, who is not “triple crown” accredited, is bringing on additional resources to help with encounters with people who may have mental health issues. In part, it notes:

ALGONQUIN – In order to help increase knowledge when dealing with mental health situations, the Algonquin Police Department and the McHenry County Crisis Program have started a new collaborative effort.

The two entities have partnered with each other to provide reciprocal support for when it comes to encountering people who have potential mental health issues.

The crisis program is run by Centegra Health Systems.

Under the partnership, Centegra will provide police officers with “knowledge, training and resources to deal with the potential danger and crises when dealing with the mentally ill,” Police Chief Russell Laine said in a news release.

“It will also help foster the alliance necessary between law enforcement and mental health agencies to provide much needed services to our community,” Laine added.

I suppose I could use this to point out that, maybe, when I wrote about how poorly many departments handle encounters with the mentally ill and you thought I was just taking cheap shots at the police, that I was actually speaking the truth. Otherwise Algonquin wouldn’t need to do this, right?

I won’t do that. I’ll just thank the APD.  I’m genuinely impressed and hope more departments follow in their footsteps.

I will, however, point out again that this shows how silly police accreditation can be, and how you don’t have to be among the “Ivy League” to be good to the people in your jurisdiction.

Police… and Their Integrity.

Pretty interesting piece running over in the Daily Herald.  If you’re not aware, there was a very major bust of some suburban Chicago (not anywhere in Kane County, thankfully) undercover cops who had purportedly found a way to make a little “extra income” while on the job.  Apparently the McHenry City Police Department isn’t the only office with this sort of issue.  Pretty sad.  Especially considering the cops want you to believe they’e better than regular people.

The gist of the Daily Herald article is pretty simple:

But who bears the responsibility of ensuring that officers working undercover don’t cross the line between acting like a criminal and becoming one?

I’m not going to go on a long rant about this.  I do that enough about stuff I can’t change.  I’ve got an idea, though.

People have asked me why I don’t like the cops. I really don’t have a problem with that profession.  I have friends who are cops.  I respect a lot of cops.  I come across cops all the time that are decent people doing great work.

What I have a problem with is “Meatball Police Culture.”  It’s something that, I’m sure, they start to hear at the Police Training Institute.  That’s that cops are the “thin blue line” between good and evil.  Between “us” and “them.”  If it wasn’t for the thin blue line, all of “them” would take over and kill “us” (or vice versa depending on where you stand), right?  If you don’t support the thin blue line, you’re automatically one of “them.”

Dammit, line up and get your cute thin blue line products and support the men and women keeping “them” away from “us.”

The profession can’t embrace that attitude.  It only causes itself more problems.  Cops are people just like anyone else.  It’s not “us” against anybody or the cops collectively against anybody else.  It’s easy to not keep an eye on your own buddies when your attitude is that it’s you and your buddies against the world.  That’s what the Meatball Culture does.  It’s cops looking out for cops against both “us” and “them.”

I’ve got a case right now where, on video, an Illinois State Police Trooper stops a car for a tinted window.  When he walks up to the car, he’s got his hand on his gun.  The cop is visibly agitated, swears at my client, and yells several times as though he might pull his gun out.  I guess you might need to know what side that driver is on before you can be sure you don’t have to shoot him, right?

If cops were that skeptical towards each other, maybe the debacles at places like Schaumburg and McHenry wouldn’t happen.  If a large number of cops didn’t act as though they were a righteous tribe solely tasked with keeping “them” off of “us” perhaps they’d have more energy to police the police, and less energy to harass Star Trek fans.

Just a thought.