Let’s Pretend The Truth Is Important (For Just A Minute, Anyway).

Kids who may be victims of abuse are put through something called a “victim sensitive interview.” Since children, in theory, don’t necessarily want to talk about being abused the entire interview process is a staged affair with few onlookers (that the child knows about, anyway) in a comfortable setting.  These interviews are (or should be) conducted by investigators with lots of training as conducting them wrong runs the potential double-hazard of either not getting enough information from the child, or getting suggested (ie. unreliable) information from the child.

We spend millions of dollars each year in an attempt to get objectively genuine information from children who may not know how or may not want to discuss what happened.We want the truth from those kids and we want it in a way that it can’t be questioned.

That makes sense.

There is no shortage of studies explaining both best techniques to produce the most reliable information as well as the techniques that produce garbage information. There are experts who have dedicated their careers to the study and even set up labs to test the suggestibility of interviewed subjects.

There’s a lot of time, money, and effort spent ensuring the truth comes out- after all, if the interviewer screws it up the consequence may be failing the most frail and vulnerable of people.

Potential abusers go through interviews, too. They’re not called “victim sensitive interviews” because they aren’t anything like the “victim sensitive” process. They’re called “interrogations.”

Since potential defendants, in theory, don’t necessarily want to talk about being abusers the entire interrogation is a staged affair.  It typically takes place in a spartan room devoid of comfort which may have a couple of investigators and who knows how many more watching over a video monitor.

These interviews are conducted by a trained investigator using a psychologically suggestive technique called the Reid Technique. Like the victim sensitive interview techniques, the Reid method has been studied and analyzed for years yielding no shortage of people who’ve acquiesced to the psychological games and confessed to crimes (even murder) that they factually did not commit.

While it can be reliable it also can be extremely unreliable- with the difference often not being in the training of the interrogator, but rather the interrogator’s preconceived belief of what the defendant should be saying.

If the risk of a poor child sensitive interview technique is an abuser going free, decades of exoneration have shown us that the risk of poor Reid Technique is caging up people that the police have already determined are guilty even when they aren’t.

Notwithstanding the number of both practical (ie. Numbers of “confessed” criminals being declared actually innocent in post-trial proceedings) and scholarly negative review of interrogations done with Reid, it’s still commonplace in interrogations throughout the country. You’d think that a system which so poorly distorts the truth might be jettisoned in favor of something more reliable but, sadly, the system is focused only on “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” (and not truth).

Both victim sensitive interviews and interrogations use well-researched methods to try and convince people who’d remain quiet to tell their deepest secrets to strangers.  The stark contrast in reliability between the two has less to do with the subject of the interaction than it does the beliefs and leading nature of person conducting the interview.  This is troubling.

What actually happened or what was actually in somebody’s mind should be more important than the beliefs of the interviewer, and it only makes sense that we should be constantly working on better and more objective ways to get at that information.

Of course, we would only do that if the truth really matters. Which, with respect to the criminally accused, it likely never will.

 

Making a Murderer: Did Steven Avery Actually Do It?

“What do you think about Making a Murderer?”  By the end of December I had to answer that question several times a week.  The answer was, of course, “I don’t know.”  I hadn’t really planned to watch another criminal trial documentary.

I don’t own the remote, though. I bought the remote. Paid for it with my own money, even.  I don’t get to touch it in any substantive way other than passing it over to The Boss, though.

Now I’ve seen the whole series. People are still asking me what I think about it. I still don’t know if he is “really innocent” or guilty.  I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Continue reading “Making a Murderer: Did Steven Avery Actually Do It?”

The Regular Person Standard.

I don’t know much about a lot of things. Nobody will dispute that. I might know a little about a few things. At least, people ask me questions as though they think I do. Of course, I’ve got a philosophy degree so I know that I really know nothing. That’s what the bearded, hippie, teaching assistants told me, anyway. I don’t know enough to disagree with them, that’s for sure.

My favorite legal questions are when friends and family of people without much exposure to law enforcement have that first “experience” and want to know what to do.

  •  “The police were banging on my brother’s door and screaming for him to come outside. What should he have done?”
  • “Some investigator showed up at my friend’s house and asked him to come talk at the station. The Investigator wouldn’t say what it was about. Is that normal?”
  • “The police wouldn’t let me answer my phone and were asking me weird questions. Why would they do that?”

Continue reading “The Regular Person Standard.”

The Kane County Sheriff’s “Candidate Forum” That Should Have Happened.

Look like I missed a great opportunity to learn a little about the next Kane County Sheriff last night. According to the Kane County Chronicle, there was a “forum” that covered all sorts of interesting stuff.  Compelling topics like who was hired by who’s dad to be a deputy in the Sheriff’s Office in the 1970’s, and how many degrees everybody has:

Each touted their advanced degrees and extensive experience as reasons why they should be sheriff – but also exchanged a few barbs.
Kramer’s father George Kramer was sheriff from 1978 to 1986 and hired him in 1979, giving him his start at the sheriff’s office. 
Kramer said he was one of 12 who passed the test and all were hired. 
“We both talked about our fathers who were previously in law enforcement. At the end of the day, they are not running for Kane County Sheriff,” Mayes said. 
“We talk about master’s degrees – I could make as compelling an argument about experience,” he said. “A degree without experience is nothing. But experience with a degree really allows you be able to work and continue moving forward.”

Continue reading “The Kane County Sheriff’s “Candidate Forum” That Should Have Happened.”

Policing and the Mentally Ill: presented without (or with very little) comment.

It’s not hard. Why does it get messed up so often?

When you don’t know what to do, beat and kill.

I think I’m developing a reputation as the guy who doesn’t like it when the mentally ill or disabled get beaten-.  Or, at least it looks that way from the news stories my friends send over.  It might have something to do with my thoughts on that poor dude with downs syndrome who the police killed because he wouldn’t leave the movie theater.  Or the mentally disabled man that the police in Michigan made sing and dance like a chimp. Or the old man with the cane that the Park Forest cops killed. Or… you get the point.

I’m not going to re-hash everything I’ve already said about what is quickly becoming a cop-versus-the-weak epidemic.  I’ll just say, though, that the more we want our cops to act like the military, the less patience and more force they seem to be willing to exhibit towards the mentally ill. The police are trained to take control and exert their authority over any and every situation… not to wait for the man with downs syndrome, or the old man with the cane, or even the dog running loose to calm down.  Beat and kill first, it will all be justified in the end, right?

That’s why I say it’s an epidemic- there are too many cop-beats/batters/kills-disabled-man stories for me to deal with.  Sometimes I don’t even bother opening them because I find them so disturbing.  Tonight, after The Boss turned on Sale of the Century or whatever it is she’s into watching these days, I flipped back through some of the links people had sent.  I could use something to rile me up a bit.

I got as far as this video depicting the police “interaction” with Mario Crump.  Mr. Crump is a man who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disordertwo things that, no doubt, can make him a very difficult man to deal with.  Mr. Crump’s family was, apparently, struggling to deal with his bad mood and called the police for help.  When they arrived, it looked like this: Continue reading “When you don’t know what to do, beat and kill.”

Late to the party.

The process of going from being a “regular” person to being “accused” is an interesting one.  If you’re charged with a felony, it usually means you were charged with a criminal complaint and later either a judge (at a preliminary hearing) or grand jury (by an indictment) found there was probable cause to charge you.  People are typically charged with crimes as soon as the police and state’s attorney’s office think they have enough evidence against you- usually the same day or shortly thereafter.

Sometimes, though, the charges come months or even years later. That’s what just happened in Woodstock with the deaths of Gloria and Nick Romano:

Son charged with 2006 slaying of parents

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 12:58 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 11:12 p.m. CST
By CHELSEA McDOUGALL – cmcdougall@shawmedia.com
More than seven years after they were found shot to death in their McHenry County home, the son of Gloria and Nick Romano has been charged with killing them.
Michael W. Romano, 54, was arrested Tuesday in Las Vegas, charged with first-degree murder in his parents’ 2006 double homicide.

So, you ask, why did it take so long?  You know they’re not going to sit on a murder charge for no reason.  They’re going to charge this sort of thing as soon as they can.  Especially because he was a suspect the entire time:

Police long have suspected Michael Romano. Formerly of Algonquin, he left the area shortly after his parents’ death and was working as a cab driver in Las Vegas, sheriff’s police said.
As the 2006 investigation progressed, Michael Romano stopped cooperating with detectives and would only speak with them through an attorney, according to Northwest Herald reports from the time.
It’s unclear what new evidence, if any, connects Michael Romano to the killings. McHenry County State’s Attorney Criminal Division Chief Michael Combs would not comment on the investigation.

That last paragraph hits the nail on the head.  “It’s unclear what new evidence, if any…”  These media people have to say this sort of thing because they’re not supposed to speculate.  I’ll speculate, though.

In my experience there’s almost always new evidence with these late charges.  Typically, charges coming after a long delay occur because either an informant came forward, or there’s new lab/scientific evidence purportedly linking the accused to the crime.  Lab/scientific evidence can be delayed because new techniques or tests were developed to analyze existing evidence in a different way (like is happening with all of the exonerations in the pre-DNA cases).

Informants, though?  Why do they wait?  Why would that sort of information take so long to come out?

It’s not usually because some upstanding citizen has a change of heart six years later– your average “upstanding citizen” is going give the police any and all information he can on an unsolved crime as soon as he can.

It’s what you and the police may call an “informant”, many of us refer to as a jailhouse snitch.  Those guys don’t want to talk to anybody about anything. Then they get themselves in trouble and need a quick way out.  They start to talk.  It’s just like when I wrote about the Lance Armstrong doping fiasco.  People who don’t want to talk will often talk when given the right “incentive”. It can take time for that incentive to form (meaning, it takes time for them to get arrested on their own serious charges first).

Sometimes they give the authorities truthful information in an effort to help themselves. Other times they don’t have truthful information, but they tell whatever story they think might be helpful.

I don’t know anything about the Romano case other than what I’ve read in the paper.  I’d hazard a guess that there’s new information- probably from an informant.  We’ll know soon enough.

Like I said about that Woodstock police officer… it’s not over.

I’m not saying “I told you so” because it’s not like you disagreed. Instead, I’ll just say that I’m not surprised.

Today’s update from the Northwest Herald on the Chip Amati/Woodstock police “sexy pics” saga informs us that he’s been “demoted”:

Woodstock Sgt. Amati pulled from spokesman post

Published: Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 1:24 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 1:41 p.m. CST
By SHAWN SHINNEMAN – sshinneman@shawmedia.com
WOODSTOCK – Police Sgt. Charles “Chip” Amati has been removed from his position as public information officer following revelations that he sent inappropriate texts to a 12-year-old girl and misused a law enforcement database.
Woodstock Police Chief Robert Lowen and Deputy Chief John Lieb will take over as the department’s go-between with the public. Lowen said he made the decision Wednesday.
“I just feel it’s more appropriate at this time to remove those duties from Sergeant Amati and to place them with myself and Deputy Chief Lieb,” Lowen said.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the news on the suspension.  Earlier reports (or rumors, I forget which… and it’s difficult to tell the difference these days) were that he would serve his 30 day suspension in piecemeal fashion.  There was an implication the he could pick and choose what days he’d miss, just as long as he sat out 30.  Shawn Shinneman’s article today says that’s not true:

The 30-day suspension will be served on days the department deems it won’t “impact the operations of the police department or the city,” Lowen said – not at Amati’s discretion, as previously reported.

I still say that this thing isn’t over.  It seems like the general Woodstock community is pretty fired up.  Like I said yesterday, you never know what went on behind the scenes and who investigated what. It wouldn’t surprise me if the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office as well as the Woodstock Police Department’s disciplinary responses are a direct result of the investigation they were handed by the Illinois State Police.

I suppose we will find out as the details unfold.

That Woodstock Cop Was Suspended for 30 Days and… Something Tells Me This One Isn’t Over.

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Update, December 5, 2013: The NW Herald ran an updated story today reporting that Amati has seemingly been demoted.  I’ve posted more about it here.

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Every once-in-a-while I read some crime related story and think to myself, “Hmmm… I’m not sure we’re getting the whole story.”  When I say, “every once-in-a-while” I mean it happens every single day, actually.

That’s not a gripe about media coverage, either.  Our friends in the press can only report on the trash they’re given.  The people “giving” them the information are typically the police or prosecutors office, as well.  There’s only so much detail you can report on when all of the information you have comes from an intentionally vague police report.

That’s not what happened with this story on the Woodstock Police Officer suspended for misusing the police database and asking for “sexy pics” from a 12 year old.  The story still left me wondering if there’s not a lot more to both the story and the reasoning behind the punishment, though.  As reported by the Northwest Herald in a story written by Kevin Craver (kcraver@shawmedia.com):

Woodstock cop gets 30-day suspension for texts, database misuse

WOODSTOCK –  The Woodstock Police Department’s spokesman has been suspended for 30 days after an investigation into inappropriate texts to his former girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter also revealed misuse of a state law enforcement database to look up the girlfriend’s criminal record.
Sgt. Charles “Chip” Amati, a 24-year veteran of the force, was suspended without pay for 30 days by the city’s Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, Police Chief Robert Lowen said Wednesday. But he will not face any criminal charges for either texting the girl or misusing the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System to check her mother’s background…

Because of the nature of the request for the pics and the fact that, “[m]isusing the system in Illinois constitutes official misconduct, a Class 3 felony punishable by two to five years in prison” there has been a fair amount of outrage, to say the least.  Amati has not only not been charged with a crime, he’s only been suspended 30 days.

Here’s the part where, for me, it gets weird:

Lowen said he asked the Illinois State Police to investigate on Aug. 23 after the mother came forward with the texts. State police subsequently discovered that Lowen had used the LEADS system to run her background, and submitted its findings to McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi’s office. Attempts to contact the state police’s press offices in Chicago and Springfield were not successful Wednesday.

I’ve underlined the parts I find most interesting.  People are outraged at the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office for not filing charges.  The interesting part to me is that Bianchi’s office didn’t do the investigation.  The ISP did.  I don’t want to read too much into the article, either, but it might be significant if the thrust of their investigation focused more on Amati’s use of LEADS than the pics, as well.

I’ve noted before that there is, at times, no greater way to get intimidated than to be a witness to potential police abuse.  This is pure speculation on my part, but if the ISP conducted this investigation in the same manner I’ve seen them investigate other allegations of police abuse, it’s possible that the the findings they’ve turned over to Bianchi’s office on the “sexting” issue didn’t leave Bianchi’s office much to prosecute.  You can read into that what you’d like- I really have no idea what actually happened.

So, I’m going to venture a guess that there’s a lot more going on with this case than meets the eye. What, exactly, I have no idea.  It’s just pretty clear that it’s not going away any time soon.  It could get interesting.