Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.
Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.
A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.
When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.
Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle
Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.
This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.
Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.
These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.
When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.
Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.
Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals
Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.
Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.
Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.
Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.
Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.
Julian Adorney Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.
The fired Balch Springs cop who fatally shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury.
Jordan’s family and their attorney said they were “cautiously optimistic” after Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment against 37-year-old Roy Oliver.
Oliver was also indicted on four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant for firing his rifle into a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29. Jordan, who sat in the front passenger seat, was struck in the head. His two brothers and two friends were also in the car.
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the Chevrolet Impala was aggressively reversing toward Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross, but body camera footage contradicted that story. Oliver was fired and arrested on the murder charge in May.
Johnson said prosecuting Oliver is not a “political statement” but rather the right thing to do, something she believes most police officers would agree with.
“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,'” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”
Oliver’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said he was pleased to see Johnson go forward with plans to prosecute Oliver, something that other district attorneys might not do in similar police shootings.
“Far too often we see cases where there’s been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving,” Merritt said after the announcement. “We are satisfied with this step.”
That case was investigated more thoroughly after Jordan’s death. Originally Dallas police said no crime occurred.
The attorneys for Jordan’s family have been critical of how Dallas police handled the road-rage incident.
“Had Dallas taken some action on that particular night when they knew that this officer placed a gun to someone’s head, Jordan would be with us here today,” said attorney Daryl Washington, who also represents the family.
Oliver faces up to life in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him. Although no date has been set for Oliver’s trial, Johnson said prosecutors will first pursue the murder charge against Oliver.
Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the case, but said she is dedicated to “seeking justice for Jordan.”
“We believe we have a very strong case,” Johnson said. “We’re planning to win this case.”
Many who have been strongly advocating that prosecutors move forward with the case have questioned whether the district attorney’s office could win a conviction after so many officers nationwide have been acquitted in shootings of unarmed black men.
But another attorney for Jordan’s family, Jasmine Crockett, said she is no longer one of them.
“There’s no question now in my mind whether he’s going to be locked up,” she said.
In the meantime, Oliver is free on a $700,000 bond related to the murder charge and aggravated assault charges stemming from the road-rage incident. A judge did not increase that bond for the four new aggravated assault charges.
Kitia Harris is a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter in Detroit. Recently, she picked up a minor traffic ticket for “impeding traffic” totaling $276 in court fines and fees. Living off just $1,200 a month in disability payments—not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other basic needs—she was unable to pay her traffic fines.
Because she cannot afford her outstanding court debt, Michigan suspended her license.
Kitia has never committed a crime, and for many years she worked hard in low-wage jobs to support herself and her daughter. In 2014, she was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition with no cure that prevents her from working.
Without a driver’s license, everything is more expensive. Kitia’s disability requires regular medical treatments. Now, instead of driving herself to her appointments, she must pay others to drive her. And because Detroit has the worst public transportation system of any major city in the country, she must also pay for rides for daily tasks like grocery shopping, or picking up her daughter. By forcing her to pay more just to get around, Michigan has trapped her in a cycle of poverty.
This is not fair, and it’s not justice.
Like Kitia, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have lost their driver’s licenses simply because they are poor. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt or failure to appear.
These residents have not been judged too dangerous to drive; they are not a threat behind the wheel; they have not caused serious injuries while driving. In the vast majority of cases, their only “crime” is that they are too poor to pay.
Michigan’s model creates two different justice systems based on wealth status. For the rich, a minor infraction (like changing lanes without a turn signal) would result in a fine of maybe $135. For those who are poor and unable to pay, the same infraction could eventually lead to a license suspension. This suspension scheme violates our commonly held standards of justice: States should not dole out punishment simply based on wealth status.
But perhaps more importantly: Michigan’s scheme is terrible public policy.
These suspensions laws are trapping productive residents in a cycle of poverty. It’s crushing for Kitia and her daughter, and it is especially bad for Michigan. As a state famous for its poorly managed fiscal situation, Michigan should help its residents pay back their court debt. Instead, the state is making it much harder for them to do so.
On May 4, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Michigan for this wealth-based suspension scheme. Our lawsuit seeks to return licenses to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who have had their licenses suspended solely for the inability to pay court debt, and it asks the state to cease poverty-based suspensions in the future. We are not asking Michigan to change the way it treats drivers who are truly a threat on the road. Nothing we’re asking would allow a driver to commit reckless driving offenses.
We’re only asking that the state stop punishing people for being poor.
We are also asking that Michigan consider alternatives that many other states successfully employ. There should be an ability-to-pay hearing before any license is suspended. If someone is unable to pay due to poverty status, they should be given alternatives, like community service or payment plans. Some states offer payment plans as low as $5 per month.
Some supporters of Michigan’s suspension law claim that those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets should drive more carefully. But this argument is exactly the kind of unequal justice we must fight against. Our justice system should not be premised on the notion that the rich get to buy their way out of trouble while the poor live under a sword of Damocles for not using a turn signal.
Others say that it’s unfair for poor people to get out of fines just because they’re unable to pay. What I ask of those folks is empathy. For many people—including Kitia Harris—poverty is not a choice. Kitia was raised without a mother or father, spending the majority of her childhood in foster care.
Now 25, she has never had a reliable, supportive adult in her life. She has lived her life in poverty. Calling it “unfair” that Kitia keep her driver’s license even though she cannot pay her court debt misses the fact that Kitia is doing everything in her power to make ends meet.
If she could pay her court debt, she would.
Instead of punishing someone who cannot pay their court debt, Michigan—and every other state—would be better off if people like Kitia were helped to break the cycle of poverty and repay the debt they owe.
Rather than making life harder and more expensive for Kitia, Michigan could provide her with the tools she needs to get back on her feet. Especially in a place like Detroit, which offers no meaningful public transportation option, Kitia needs a way to get around.
She needs empathy from us, and justice from our justice system.
Phil Telfeyan is founding director of Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, DC based nonprofit that challenges “wealth-based discrimination.” He served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice for five years, where he specialized in employment discrimination and immigrants’ rights. He welcomes comments from readers.
The right answer is All of the Above. Politicians have ruined lives and wasted money in a futile campaign to stop people from recreational drug use.
It may be true that people who use drugs are being stupid. Or even immoral. But the key thing to understand is that it’s a victimless crime.
Actually, that’s not true, there are victims. They’re called taxpayers, who have to finance the government’s drug war. And there are secondary victims thanks to bad laws (dealing with asset forfeiture and money laundering) that only exist because of the drug war.
A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns … the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures.
Here’s the jaw-dropping part of the story:
… $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.
In other words, the government took people’s money even if they weren’t charged with a crime, much less convicted of a crime.
Drug users also can be victims. Heck, sometimes people are victims even if they’re not users, as we see from this great moment in the drug war:
“They thought they had the biggest bust in Harris County,” Ross LeBeau said. “This was the bust of the year for them.” A traffic stop in early December led to the discovery of almost half a pound of what deputies believed to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested LeBeau and sent out a press release, including a mug shot, describing the bust. According to authorities, the arrest was due to deputies finding a sock filled with what they believed to be methamphetamine … After the arrest, LeBeau was fingerprinted and booked into a jail where he spent three days before being released. The problem came after two field tests, performed by deputies, came back positive for meth. Later a third test was conducted by the county’s forensic lab which revealed that the kitty litter was not a controlled substance. The case was later dismissed.
And more bad things like this are probably going to happen because the Justice Department now wants a more punitive approach to victimless crimes.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and maximum possible sentences available, reversing an Obama-era policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug crimes … the overall message is clear: Federal prosecutors have the green light to go hard after any and all drug offenses … The shift marks the first significant return by the Trump administration to the drug war policies that the Obama administration tried to moderate. In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain low-level offenders with drug charges that triggered long mandatory sentences. The federal prison population dropped for the first time in three decades in 2014, and has continued to fall since.
Some Republicans are unhappy about this return to draconian policies:
“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice … Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), although he did not directly criticize Sessions, wrote in a tweet Friday morning that “to be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”
For what it’s worth, Sessions isn’t the only one who deserves blame:
While it’s easy to point the finger at Sessions … Congress ultimately passed the laws the Justice Department is tasked with enforcing. Lawmakers in Congress had a golden window of opportunity over the past three years to revise federal sentencing laws—with bipartisan winds at their back and a friendly administration in White House—and failed miserably.
… the Office of National Drug Control Policy … Trump plans to reduce the agency’s budget by 95 percent … there are plenty of actual harm reduction advocates who would be happy to see the agency close up shop.
Though don’t get too excited:
… you know what federal agency with drug policy ramifications is not dormant? The Justice Department … In the grand scheme of the drug war, who might occupy the ONDCP’s bully pulpit matters less than the army Sessions is building.
So don’t hold your breath waiting for better policy.
Here’s another reason why the war on pot is so absurd. As reported by the Daily Caller, people without access to marijuana are more likely to get in trouble with opioids:
Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ. The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.
Last but not least, an article in Reasonexplains how greedy politicians are undermining the otherwise successful pot legalization in Colorado:
Colorado … voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, transforming the popular stuff from a prohibited vice to a substance that could be produced, bought and sold without the hassle of hiding dealings from the authorities and the fear of arrest for voluntary transactions. Yet the marijuana black market is still going strong over four years later, with many sellers and customers willing to take a chance on legal consequences rather than make a risk-free deal … the driving force behind the black market … is taxes so sky high and regulations so burdensome that they make legal pot uncompetitive. “An ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars,” according to PBS correspondent Rick Karr. “At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.” Colorado also piles on expensive regulatory requirements to get a license.
This is not a surprise.
I wrote back in 2015 that the tax burden was excessive.
Indeed, I even wondered if legalization in Colorado was a good thing if the net result was a big pile of tax revenue that could be used to expand government.
The libertarian part of me says Colorado made the right decision, though the fiscal economist part of me definitely sees a downside.
And that downside may become an even bigger downer:
Governor John Hickenlooper wants to increase the marijuana sales tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. “It seems kind of odd that at the same time they’re trying to do something about the black and gray markets they’re going to ratchet up the taxes and drive more people to the black and gray markets,” state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) commented.
P.S. I wonder if Senator Steadman realizes he just embraced the Laffer Curve?
Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.
Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier has issued her first statement since former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence for leaking intelligence, saying on Tuesday she wants to help others after she is released from prison next week.
Chelsea Manning has served nearly seven years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, the biggest such breach in U.S. history.
Her case became both the focus of debate over government secrecy and a rallying cause for civil liberties advocates, who saw the punishment as too severe and an attempt to chill whistleblowers from speaking up about government misdeeds.
“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” Manning said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others,” she added, giving thanks for her upcoming release.
Obama granted Manning clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers. Congressional Republicans criticized the commutation as a dangerous precedent.
Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a statement on Tuesday the sentence was “far too long, too severe, too draconian.”
Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.
Manning has previously said she released the files in the interests of transparency and accountability.
She twice tried to kill herself and has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the men’s military prison. In her statement, Manning said her time in prison included periods of solitary confinement and struggles with restricted healthcare.
Georgia State representative Allen Peake has been fighting for medical marijuana in his state for some time now, being instrumental in a recent expansion of Georgia’s cannabis oil law that made it through the state House and Senate.
The Associated Press recently sat down with Rep. Peake to talk about medical marijuana and his efforts to get cannabis oil to patients in Georgia who need it. Even though there are patients who are qualified for the medicine in the state, they have no way of accessing it.
So every month a box arrives from Colorado at Rep. Peake’s office, full of cannabis oil. Peake then distributes that oil to patients. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to be able to help get the product to these families, these citizens who have debilitating illnesses,” Peake told AP.
Peake gives away the oil, as selling it would be illegal in Georgia. The process that gets it to his office is a federal felony, but Peake maintains that he doesn’t inquire about that part. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how the product gets here,” Peake said.
When boxes arrive Peake makes donations to a foundation in Colorado that supports the research of medical marijuana, to the tune of about $100,000 a year (Peake is independently wealthy due to his ownership of more than 100 franchise restaurants). In this way, Peake stays (barely) within Georgia law.
He is also scrupulous when it comes to who gets the oil; patients must be among the roughly 1,300 that are registered with the state and are legally allowed to receive the oil. With the spotlight on his activities, Peake has to be careful. But he says it is worth it to be able to help sick people all over Georgia.
Rep. Peake even procured a medical marijuana card from the Georgia Department of Public Health to show to people as he promotes the state’s program. And even though he is not a qualified patient, “a card is a card, enabling Peake to legally possess the cannabis at his office,” according to AP.
From Peake the oil goes into an informal distribution network of patients and caregivers, people like Shannon Cloud, whose daughter suffers from the rare seizure disorder Dravet’s Syndrome. “It shouldn’t be this way,” she said to AP. “You shouldn’t be meeting at a gas station or a Target parking lot to get medicine to somebody. You should be going to the place where it is produced and tested to get it dispensed to you in a regulated manner, but this is what we’re forced to do.”
If ever one feels the need to dole out criticisms, Congress is reliably low-hanging fruit. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, once in a blue moon Congress does something that is not a complete affront to liberty.
Having Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General in the era of Trump has had civil liberty advocates on edge from the get-go. As one of the last remaining champions of marijuana prohibition, Sessions would erase all progress made toward decriminalization over the last several years—if given the chance.
Luckily, Congress has taken precautionary measures to ensure that the Trump appointee cannot get his regulatory claws on medical marijuana legislation passed by 29 states.
Congress is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization. Saved by the Amendment
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was included in the newly revealed Congressional budget, would block any federal impediment on state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana by barring any federal dollars from being spent on enforcing national drug laws.
Slipped into the budget bill that would keep the government sufficiently funded until September, the text of the amendment clarifies that states that have legalized medical marijuana are safe from federal intrusion, specifying:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana
Nothing about this amendment is particularly out of the ordinary since medical marijuana has been subtly protected in budget bills since 2014. However, this year’s inclusion represents more than a symbolic gesture, given Attorney General Sessions’ outdated views on marijuana legalization.
Sessions had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine. In a rare turn of events Congress, the governing body known for having little to no respect for American civil liberties is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization, at least for medical purposes.
Sessions’ track record on the issue has done little to assure opponents of the drug war that states will continue to make strides towards allowing patients to seek and use marijuana for medical purposes.
As recently as February, Sessions made comments expressing his dissatisfaction with states exerting their sovereign right to make laws in the best interests of their constituents. Clarifying his stance he stated:
“States, they can pass the laws they choose, I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
As more states have legalized pot, opiate use is down nationwide. While this statement would be outlandishly false regardless, to make say such things while an opiate epidemic is plaguing the country is not only ignorant, it’s especially dangerous considering Sessions’ powerful position when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws.
Fortunately, this move represents Congress’ reluctance to roll back any victories seen on the marijuana legalization front, at least medically-speaking, which, albeit small, is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, this amendment only protects medical marijuana laws, meaning Sessions could potentially make a power grab and go after the eight states that have legalized pot on a recreational level, nine including the nation’s capital, although doing so would be wildly unpopular and out of line with an American public that now largely skews in favor of marijuana legalization.
While Sessions is surely the personification of the uneducated reefer madness era, he has yet to act on the issue aside from veiled threats that rhetorically resurrect an archaic sentiment.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday complained about a “disturbing trend” in which the U.S. Supreme Court appears more likely to intervene on behalf of police officers than the people they shoot.
Sotomayor lobbed her complaint in a dissent from a cert denial (PDF) in an excessive force case. The dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, included a footnote that read, “Some commentators have observed the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.”
Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted a case that involved Ricardo Salazar-Limon, who was shot in the back by a Houston police officer as he walked back to his car. The officer said he shot Salazar-Limon in October 2010 because the suspect ignored his order to stop, turned toward the officer, and raised his hands toward his waistband. Salazar-Limon had said he was trying to walk away from a confrontation.
The shooting happened after Salazar-Limon was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and then resisted being handcuffed. Salazar-Limon sustained “crippling injuries” as a result of the shooting, according to Sotomayor.
Because there were competing accounts of the incident, the case should not have been decided by summary judgment, Sotomayor said.
The cert denial, Sotomayor wrote, “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. … But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred in the cert denial in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said Salazar-Limon never refuted the officer’s claim that he had reached with his waist.
“It is clear,” Alito wrote, “that the lower courts acted responsibly and attempted faithfully to apply the correct legal rule to what is at best a marginal set of facts.”
Alito also said that Sotomayor had not cited any cases in which the Supreme Court failed to grant cert on behalf of an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct that was similar to the cases in which it granted relief for police officers.
“This is undeniably a tragic case,” Alito wrote, but the court rarely grants review when a petitioner alleges a lower court erred in applying a settled rule of law to particular facts.
The case is Salazar-Limon v. Houston. SCOTUSblog has coverage.
Twenty-three years after the fact, incontrovertible evidence that officers at both the street and command levels allowed their professionalism to be compromised by the cavalier treatment of evidence at the scene of a murder is on the brink of being put on the public record as the result of a lawsuit brought by two current members of the Fontana Police Department.
The mishandling of evidence – the body of the deceased – was the product of, at best, a racially insensitive moment of jest on the part of one or more officers and, at worst, a manifestation of racism that may have allowed the perpetrator of murder to escape being brought to justice.
The larger implication of the incident, now nearly a quarter of a century in the past, is that not only the members of the department who were involved, many of whom are now retired but the department’s administration and now by extension the city’s municipal management, political leaders and its attorneys have been brought in on what amounts to 23-year running cover-up, which they are seeking to perpetuate into the future.
What all this comes down to at this point is whether Superior Court Judge Wilfred J. Schneider, Jr. will permit the evidence that will establish the tampering with evidence took place, delineating the Fontana Police Department as a bastion of racism that is devoted more to perpetuating a culture of prejudice than to ensuring equal protection under the law.
On June 30, 2016, David J. Moore Sr. & Andrew Anderson, represented by attorneys Bradley C. Gage and Milad Sadr, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the City of Fontana, alleging discrimination, retaliation and failure to take corrective action.
According to the suit, the 189-member Fontana Police Department is comprised of sworn officers who are predominantly white, such that it has never had more than four African American officers on the force at any given time, despite African Americans comprising more than 10 percent of the city’s population, while employing fewer than thirty Latino officers – roughly 15 percent – even though Hispanics comprise nearly 70 percent of the city’s population. According to the suit, the police department’s administration is even more lopsidedly out of step with the city’s demographics, which has perpetuated an atmosphere in which the department has condoned the mistreatment of minorities.
Manifestations of the culture include, according to the suit, officers referring to African Americans as “niggers, “silverbacks” and “wild monkeys” and to Hispanics using derogatory terms such as “wetbacks and beaners and pink panties.”
The suit maintains that because of the general dearth of minority officers on the force and because of the growing reluctance of the department’s white officers to engage in certain enforcement activities involving blacks and Latinos, Moore, who is African-American, has been detailed to an overwhelming number of calls involving Fontana’s minority community. Among those are what the lawsuit designates as difficult and politically sensitive cases such as those referred to by department members as Acute Political Emergency (“APE”) cases. It is alleged that several of these APE cases are racially charged. If these cases are not handled properly and with the utmost care and correctness, it could cost the investigator his or her career. Other corporals in the department are not assigned to these cases. This has led to the perception that the department’s upper chain of command is engaging in some “strategic planning” to better the chances of Corporal Moore making a mistake and being terminated, according to the suit.
Anderson, who is of mixed background but self-identifies as a Latino, has sought to become a field training officer with the department. Those efforts have met with rejection, based upon the department’s assertion he lacks the requisite experience. Several Caucasian officers with less experience than Anderson have been given field training officer assignments.
Moreover, according to the lawsuit, the Fontana’s Police Department’s administration has reserved plum assignments and its most prestigious positions for white officers, with just a few token promotions of Hispanics. One such example cited in the suit is that of the Special Enforcement Detail (SED), the most hallowed of the department’s divisions and from the ranks of which all, or nearly all, of the department’s commanders, are promoted. Currently, in the SED, there are 19 white members and one Hispanic. There are no African American Members.
The suit alleges that in 2006, upon receiving an electronic Martin Luther King doll which played the “I have a dream” speech as a retirement gift, Lieutenant Tim Newsome mutilated the doll’s speaking mechanism and Lieutenant Bob Morris tied a noose around the doll’s neck and then lynched it in effigy from a ceiling rafter inside the department’s crime prevention unit.
Moving beyond atmospherics, one element of the case Gage and Sadr are attempting to present is how the ingrained racist policies in the department endangered public safety by interfering with a murder investigation. According to the suit, in 1994 an African American male murder victim, Jimmy Earl Burleson, was discovered behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery on Sierra Ave in Fontana. A cop while at the scene of the murder thought it would be funny to place a piece of chicken in the Burleson’s hand, to make it look like he was stealing a chicken from the restaurant before he was killed. A photograph was taken, and then circulated around the department for years.
This behavior by a Fontana Police Department officer or officers would potentially have been prosecutable as a felony under PC 141, which pertains to the planting or tampering of evidence, which is an obstruction of justice crime. In the specific instance of the deceased man at KFC, the manipulating of his body could be viewed as tampering with evidence.
In this case, the tampering with evidence was done as some order of a joke or prank, intended to be taken in a comical spirit among police officers. This action on the part of a police department member or members was also potentially prosecutable as a violation of the California Health and Safety Code Section 7070.5, which states that every person who knowingly mutilates, disinters, wantonly disturbs, or willfully removes any human remains in or from any location is in violation of the law.
Best Best & Krieger attorneys Howard B. Golds and Joseph Ortiz, who are seeking to defend the City of Fontana and the police department in the face of the Anderson/Moore lawsuit, will be filing court papers, referred to as motions in Limine, seeking to exclude certain evidence from being considered at the trial. One of those items of evidence for which exclusion will almost certainly be sought is the photo of the deceased Burleson, Kentucky Fried Chicken leg in hand.
Coming as it does at this time, the Anderson/Moore suit has even greater implication than it might at another point. In April, a date for the trail will be determined. The case will go before a jury in April, even as advocates of removing Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren from office will be turning what is anticipated to be the final corner in attempting to obtain a sufficient number of signatures of Fontana voters to put a recall question against her on the ballot.
In most city governments, municipal departments work hand in hand with one another to ensure the safety of the city and its citizens. The fire department and the police department usually function as a well oiled machine under the ultimate control of municipal administration and in unison with the other city divisions to make sure this happens. The fire and police departments, along with the city government, work collaboratively and with the best interest of the other departments in mind. In Fontana this is no different. Fontana’s mayor, Acquanetta Warren, as commander and chief of the city, works with the city council, the city manager, Ken Hunt, the police department, fire department, as well as other entities to make sure that the city is protected, prospering and, as the mayor is often quoted as saying, on the, “up and up.”
Ethics in any type of government is a pillar of its success. When the people in the important positions like mayor, city manager, city council, and police chief have a sense of duty and ethics in the way they conduct themselves, it shows in their productivity. At all stages of government, there is an occasional occurrence of unethical behavior. The philosopher David Hume stated that the mental faculties, secret propensities and animal passions of man are so interwoven, it is sometimes difficult from his actions to detect the impulses, or nominate the emotions, by which he is incited or induced to act; and he often acts under a combination of influences. Because there are so many different forces and factors that encompass a person and weigh on him, such as societal, social, and behavioral elements, making the rightful and honest choice in any decision is difficult.
Hume also stated that man is naturally selfish and this quality of human nature is dangerous to society and seems on a cursory view incapable of remedy; and there is no element in human nature which causes more fatal conduct than that which leads us to prefer what is present to the distant, which makes humans desire objects more according to their immediate situation than their intrinsic value. Because of this, men will falsify reports, steal, be negligent, or engage in a host of other wrong actions to do anything that assures their continuity in the present. The problem with this is that they are not worried about the important intrinsic fundamental values that are overall more important than one individual, especially in the community sense. Those values are honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.
Some see in the Anderson/Moore lawsuit an attempt to hold government officials accountable, to register in the public record that the leaders of a city government – in this case Fontana – have been presented with information about a systemic problem – racism – within the city. Whether Judge Schneider will permit Gage and Sadr to paint as stark of a picture of that systemic problem as they intend is a yet outstanding question. Whether Mayor Warren and other city officials such as city manager Ken Hunt will choose to close their eyes and look the other way is another question that is pending. Given the current accusations of negligence lodged against her as a consequence of the recall, Warren is in the position of being perceived as an accessory after the fact to the activity in the police department that is now about to go under a microscope.
Penal Code 32 states the definition of accessory: When a person not actually or constructively present but contributing as an assistant or instigator to the commission of an offense —called also accessory before the fact. Second, a person who knowing that a crime has been committed aids or shelters the offender with intent to defeat justice —called also accessory after the fact.
Gage and Sadr are looking to make a case that police department supervisors knew a crime occurred but failed to act, or failed to report the illegal actions of the racist officer who altered a crime scene. Later they aided in the crime by demanding or otherwise arranging that the evidence of the altered evidence – the photos of Burelson – be removed from booking, Gage and Sadr allege. They maintain this cover-up formed into a major conspiracy to obstruct justice. California Penal Code Section 182 PC makes it illegal to be part of a criminal conspiracy. Conspiracy is a felony-level offense that can carry severe consequences for those convicted.
The Sentinel has confirmed that the photo of Burleson, with a chicken bone in his hand, does in fact exist. The half-eaten chicken leg was visible in the decedent’s hand as the autopsy was being performed. One photo taken during the autopsy clearly depicts an African American man cut open on the coroner’s table, while the chicken bone remained in his hand. According to witnesses at the time, the bone was placed in Burleson’s hand as a cruel, racist joke.
The photos in question were brought to the attention of, and submitted to, Fontana Police officials. Once this information reached the command level, there was no investigation of the incident. Instead, the offending photos were removed from the compendium of photos which were to be booked into evidence. This was the first attempt to cover-up the crime of tampering with a corpse and police evidence. Nevertheless, the photos were allowed to circulate within the department and many cops passed the photos around and made fun of the horrible crime. This showed, according to Gage and Sadr, the openly racist environment of the Fontana Police Department during that time. The supervisors who covered up the crime rose in ranks and were promoted at the Fontana Police Department, composing what is today the police department’s top administration.
Moreover, the incident has implication beyond the confines of the Fontana Police Department. In one picture, the deceased, an African American with the partially eaten chicken bone clenched in his hand, is shown lying filleted on an autopsy table at the San Bernardino County Morgue. The photo shows the corpse on the examiner’s table and that an autopsy was conducted or is in the process of being conducted. The photo was taken from behind his head while he was lying on the autopsy table.
This crime occurred while those who perpetuated it were on duty, during the time, while, as agents of the law, they were sworn to professionally investigate the Burleson’s violent death. Unknown, precisely, was when the chicken bone was placed into the deceased’s hand, whether it was prior to or after arrival at the morgue, where a licensed doctor was present.
One Fontana police officer would go on record, or at least attempt to do so, protesting the desecration of a human corpse and the tampering with evidence. Former police Corporal Ray Schneiders did bring the incident to the attention of his supervisors, but he was ignored. Later he found himself targeted for retaliation for speaking up.
Schneiders was ostracized and harassed for years. Ultimately, he filed a civil lawsuit against the department and was subsequently granted a medical retirement. Using taxpayer money, the city used its hired legal guns – the law firms of Best Best and Krieger and the Jones and Mayer – to keep the word of the alteration/destruction of evidence relating to a homicide under wraps. Burleson’s murder was never solved.
According to sources inside and outside of the Fontana P.D, information pertaining to the police department’s alteration of evidence impacting a homicide investigation and the racist motivation behind it was provided to Mayor Acquanetta Warren, city manager Ken Hunt, the city council, former chiefs of police Larry Clark and Rodney Jones and other police officials.
Warren finds herself in a dilemma. She stands at a political crossroads, with a growing number of her constituents seeking to remove her from office. At the same time, she has wedded herself to the city’s establishment, which includes the police department. It is unclear what political, personal and ethical calculations she will make. She can maintain her alliance with the establishment, which might offer her support against the grass roots organizations looking to dislodge her. At the same time, she lives in a city where 81 percent of the population is either Hispanic or African American. If, on behalf of Anderson and Moore, Gage And Sadr succeed in pushing into the public consciousness the details about how the police department has operated, political expedience and her own desire for political survival may persuade Warren to join the chorus seeking reform in the Fontana Police Department and show, in her own words, that she really is on the “up and up.”
Written by Carlos Avalos
Carlos is an Investigative Journalist focusing on Police Corruption. A graduate of Cal State San Bernardino-B.A Political Science/ International Relations. California Democratic Delegate 47th District 2012-2016 Arizona State University- Masters in Public Policy.
What started out as an undergraduate paper at my alma mater Cal State San Bernardino has turned into an obsession and quest for the truth. I still remember my professor, Dr. Al Mariam, one of the brightest individuals I have ever had the opportunity to meet, tell me, “You should get this published or start your own blog.” What Dr. Mariam was referring to was a paper I prepared for the Fontana Police Department. The class was Judicial Process and little did I know at the time this paper would transcend the classroom and lead me into me talking about issues that have and continue to impact the people who live in the city where I was raised, and put a spotlight on the corruption, racism, nepotism, and unethical behavior of a police department that has been in place and intact for more than five decades. At the end of 2014, I dug up my ten-page paper and decided to adhere to the opinion of my old professor Dr. Mariam.
It is well known in academia that it is relatively hard to get one’s work published in a scholarly forum or write a book. I set about fluffing my resumé and taking a crack at trying to add more to my undergraduate paper to see if I could get it published. I had no idea where to start. So I decided that I would write about the Fontana P.D and the Fontana city government, beginning with the Fontana P.D. So I started by requesting the names of all of the police chiefs in Fontana’s history.
I started with Henry Youngue. I decided to go online, type in the names of the chiefs and see what popped up. Not real scientific, but I had to start somewhere.
The information I have gathered was astounding. I have come across everything from billboards in Fontana being used to recruit Ku Klux Klan members, killing after killing at the hands of the Fontana P.D being labeled as within policy, blatant racism, and a host of other things. On October 22, 2015, my first letter to the editor at the Fontana Herald News was published. It was entitled Fontana Is Still Affected By Racism. I put this out because I felt compelled N. I knew it was the right thing to do, and although I knew I was not reinventing the wheel, I felt like I was heading down uncharted territory. In this article, I touched on Fontana’s KKK history and issues that I had received from my social media acquaintances about people’s opinions and or problems with the department. The people responded with accounts of sobriety and insurance check points that are suspected of targeting minorities through racial profiling, corruption, abuse of power, and a history of racism in the police department and local city government.
On March 18, 2016, I wrote my second letter to the editor. It was entitled Police Force Should Resemble Community. In this article, I wrote about the ethnic, racial disparity in law enforcement. I looked at the city of Colton, Rialto, San Bernardino, Pomona, and Fontana. I took into account the total number of these cities’ minority populations and compared them to the number of minorities working on each specific city’s police force. The cities mentioned do not have police forces that resemble the communities they serve. Even cities with a smaller minority population and sworn police force have more African American officers than Fontana and, with the exception of Colton, more Hispanic officers. The result of my findings was that Fontana had fewer minorities by percentage working on its police force than any other city mentioned, despite the fact it boasts a larger minority population overall.
Before I put out this second article, I came in contact with current and retired people in law enforcement, specifically the San Bernardino County Sheriff and the Fontana P.D.
I told them that I was researching and planning on publishing something hopefully about Fontana and its police department, and they responded that they could help me. I told them cops do not tell on cops and inquired as to what was going on. They said we are on the same mission that you’re on. “What is that?” I asked. As one put it, “To reveal the true nature of the Fontana Police Department.” At this very moment, I was reminded of that scene in the Matrix where Morpheus asked the Keanu Reeves character Neyo, “Do you want to know the truth?” Morpheus gave Neyo the option to take the blue pill, and the story ends and he believes whatever he wanted to believe, or if he takes the red pill he stays in never land, and he gets shown how deep the rabbit hole goes. Without hesitation, I took the red pill.
My third letter to the editor came out on April 28, 2016; it was entitled Back at The Lion’s Den, 13 years Later. This article was a little more personal because it had to do with my personal encounter with the Fontana P.D. In 2003 I was a senior at Henry J. Kaiser High School. That same year a South Fontana native named Jose Galvez was murdered at an ATM on Cherry Avenue and Live Oak. For weeks after the murder of this man, there were no suspects or leads in finding the person or persons responsible for this murder. About one month after the killing of Jose Galvez, I had a knock on my door. The Fontana P.D wanted to question me about something at the station. They did not give me a reason or say I was under arrest, but they did want to speak to me. Being young and naïve, I accompanied and accommodated them when I shouldn’t have. During the interface, it became apparent to me that the investigators were trying to frame me for the murder of Jose Galvez. They told me they had my fingerprints at the scene of the crime. I was interrogated and bullied for hours and eventually let go because one of my friends corroborated my story and timeline.
There was a four-month gap between my previous article and my next one which was published by the San Bernardino County Sentinel on August 22, 2016. The reason for this was because the two outlets I was using to publish my work stopped accommodating me. Inland Empire Politics, I.E Politics is an online type newspaper/blog that was run and created by a woman named Sharon Gilbert. I had contacted her and told her that I had valuable information I was receiving about the Fontana P.D. and I wanted to publish the information on her website. She told me sure thing, and for a series of two months, I published one article on her website. Gilbert had built a reputation with her website that she was not a person afraid to tell it how it is and put people on blast for their unethical behavior.
I released an article on I.E politics that was entitled “The Fox Is Now Guarding The Hen House.” This article was about Robert Ramsey getting a promotion to become Fontana’s chief of police after the former chief of police Rodney Jones was forced to resign. This article specifically talked about the off-duty behavior of Robert Ramsey. Pictures surfaced of him providing alcohol to women who could have been minors, but Chief Ramsey did not care to find out or even ask the young woman their age, according to sources.
After this article, I emailed a submission for another article, and she did not respond to me. I went online to the I.E politics website, and my article had been taking down, and I no longer had access to it or was able to publish as I had previously. I continued emailing her and got no response. Since Gilbert was still allowing other work to be published, in my mind, the only logical explanation is that the Fontana P.D compromised her by threatening her. To this day I no longer speak to her nor have I written anything for her website.
On August 22, 2016, the San Bernardino County Sentinel published an article by me entitled 14 Years Later; Questions Remain Over Spate of FPD In-Custody Deaths.
This article was about three deaths in the matter of six months in 2002. Ismael Banda, David Michael Tyler, and Fermin Rincon were the names of the three men who died. My sources strongly conveyed to me that the deaths of these three men were due to an unjustifiable use of force; all police reports were withheld from the public’s view, and this incident was not investigated by an outside agency. What is odd about the three deaths of these men was that the same three officers were involved in all three deaths; which were Obie Rodriguez, who retired prematurely; William Green, and Robert Ramsey, who was not directly involved in the deaths but did play an advisory or supervisorial role.
On September 4, 2016, the Sentinel released an article of mine that was entitled Two Fontana Cops Allege FPD Is Riddled With Racism. This article was about a current lawsuit that is making its way through the San Bernardino Courts. Case number CIVDS1610471 is David J. Moore v Fontana. This particular suit brought forth by two Fontana P.D officers alleges racism, corruption, unfair hiring practices, retaliatory practices by an employer, along with many other disturbing events.
Supposedly there is evidence that shows a Martin Luther King Doll was tied with a noose around its neck and hung from a rafter in the Fontana P.D. This lawsuit makes mention of an African American man who was murdered at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Sierra Avenue in Fontana. There is supposedly a picture of this man with a partially eaten chicken leg was strategically placed in his hand after he was dead, put there as a joke to make it look like the man was killed but still managed to hold onto a piece of chicken. This picture was supposedly taken by law enforcement and was circulated around the department for years.
The Sentinel reached out to David Moore and Andre Anderson, to obtain proof regarding the allegations of their lawsuit, but they refused to produce tangible evidence to support the serious allegations of the lawsuit. Is there any proof that this crime was more than an isolated incident or set of incidents? What would happen if the murder victim family learns that a relative’s corpse was desecrated and the crime scene was contaminated by a racist crime? Has the crime of tampering with a corpse ever been properly investigated?
My next article came out on September 17, 2016, and it was titled “Culture Clash Sent Former FPD Officer of the Year Packing.” This article told the story of a Mexican American Iraq War Veteran who was a Fontana P.D officer; who experienced racism at the department and gave an account of the nepotism that characterizes the department.
On November 19th, 2016 I wrote an article called “FPD Nepotism: One-Third Of Officers Related By Marriage, Blood, or Sex.” This article touched on the fact that the Fontana P.D is filled with nepotism, back scratching, and sexual relationships that police departments are not expected to engage in.
All of these articles that I have written are facts that can be confirmed by police officers. These police officers want the truth to be revealed about a corrupt police department and are prepared to engage in the uphill battle to fight against an entity that has never been held accountable for its members’ violation of the law.
This behavior that has taken place in the Fontana P.D takes place every day all over the United States in police agencies. What I have uncovered and am still in the process of uncovering is only the tip of the iceberg.
I encourage anybody listening who wants to know more information about what is going on at the Fontana P.D to please contact the San Bernardino County Sentinel. I also encourage news and media outlets to contact the Sentinel.
I especially hope and encourage people in Fontana, San Bernardino County, and anyone interested in following the civil lawsuit against the city of Fontana, David J. Moore v. Fontana, which starts on January 9 in San Bernardino Superior Court. Will Fontana settle the case quickly and make it go away as it has in many other cases? Will the two plaintiffs if they are paid money to keep quiet, take it and run, and forget about the slogan that runs across the Fontana P.D police vehicles – Service With Integrity? Only time will tell. One way or the other the truth will eventually set you free, and the darkness will always come to light.
According to the Sentinel’s sources the Fontana P.D has engaged in activity that includes but is not limited to murder, falsifying documents, engaging in and promoting racism, unfair hiring practices, retaliatory practices against employees, physical abuse of citizens, racial profiling, falsely accusing citizens of murder, providing alcohol to minors, excessive force, tampering with dead bodies, tampering with evidence, promoting a racist work environment and falsifying evidence.