Friday, August 30, 2013

From the Files of the Nineveh PD

Life was uncomplicated for emissaries of the Assyrian Empire. They weren’t burdened by conscience, or hindered by the need to make moral distinctions. Their role was to extract tribute for the king in Nineveh, destroy all potential resistance to his rule, and maintain order. To that end they dispensed aggressive violence without pretense or pity, and didn’t flinch from targeting women – including expectant mothers

At some point within the last decade or so, American police adopted a modified version of the Assyrian model of law enforcement. This helps to explain why it is now considered permissible for a police officer to assault an uncooperative but non-violent pregnant woman. 

Rochester, New York Police Officer Lucas Krull was recently captured on video assaulting a 21-year-old expectant mother named Brenda Hardaway, who had allegedly interfered with the arrest of her 16-year-old brother, Romengeno.
Police claim that they had arrived at the house to investigate a “disturbance” involving several people in the neighborhood. By the time they arrived, the fight – assuming that one had taken place – had dissipated. Rather than making sure nobody was hurt and then leaving, the police claimed that “tumultuous behavior” justified their involvement.

That “behavior” consisted of 16-year-old Romengeno calmly asserting his rights by refusing to speak to a police officer and denying him consent to come onto his property. The government-employed gangster replied by snarling that the young man was a “smartass” and placing his hands violently on the teenager. That provoked his sister to come to his defense. Krull claims that Brenda grabbed a can of pepper spray and ordered the police to leave. 

That’s when Krull escalated the incident by assaulting Brenda. As Krull threw her up against a vehicle, Brenda cried out, “Get off of me, you’re going to kill my baby” just seconds before the officer punched the woman in the back of the head and hurled her face-first to the ground. In the video, the victim is heard moaning, “My baby, oh my baby” as the officer continues his assault, kneeing her in the back and forcing her to put weight on her stomach.

Rochester PD Chief James Sheppard defended the actions of his trained 
simian, praising him for using “tremendous restraint.” He blamed Miss Hardaway for the assault she suffered, and described the blow to the back of her head as a “distractionary” strike. “When we receive resistance from an individual, we may strike you in a way that changes your channel, so to speak,” the chief smugly explained. “In a way that changes your resistance.” 

And when this tactic fails to subdue a pregnant woman, the Assyrian mercenaries under Sheppard’s supervision feel entitled to throw her face-down onto a sidewalk.

Romengeno was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and a single count of resisting arrest. Miss Hardaway was booked on several charges, including felonious assault on a law enforcement officer. 

It’s worth remembering that all of this was supposedly justified because the police were dealing with “tumultuous behavior” – that is, the impermissible offense called “contempt of cop.”

This is not the first occasion on which a Rochester Police Officer has inflicted gratuitous violence on a pregnant woman. In an earlier incident, a young pregnant girl was kneed in the stomach by one of three Rochester Police Officers who were restraining her during an arrest. The assailant had just been informed that the victim was an expectant mother – which apparently prompted him to target her for a blow to the abdomen. 

A pregnant mother and an elderly woman were collateral victims in yet another episode involving “tumultuous” behavior. In April of last year, three Rochester cops swarmed and beat an innocent 25-year-old man named Jose Lugo, who was hospitalized after being subjected to “distractionary strikes.” 

Lugo was walking on a street near the home where he had lived for several years when a Rochester police cruiser suddenly screeched to a halt next to him and decanted three officers – Kevin Flanagan, Joel Hasper, and Richard Doran – who seized the bemused young man and started to drag him away.

When Lugo asked why he was being abducted, the assailants threw him to the ground, kicked him, beat him, and tasered him at least three times.  The thugscrum expanded to fifteen as reinforcements arrived. Lugo’s aunt, Annette Velzquez, pleaded with the officers to stop beating her nephew, then informed themthat she was going to call Chief Sheppard, whom she had met while working in the local school district. Backup officer Benjamin Mitchell responded by shoving Velazquez, stealing her cell phone, pepper-spraying her, and arresting her. A pregnant mother and an elderly mother were also attacked by Mitchell or his comrades. 
While Lugo was in the hospital – where he was kept under armed guard by the gang that had inflicted his injuries -- he was charged with “assaulting” the armed bullies who had put him there. 

This follows long-established procedure: Any time a police officer goes “hands-on” with an innocent victim, the victim is charged with a crime to consecrate the laying-on of hands as a ministration of official justice, rather than an act of criminal violence. Lugo had to endure six months of expensive and unnecessary legal harassment before being acquitted of the spurious charges.

Raven Dozier of DeKalb County, Georgia was likewise charged with a crime after she and her then-unborn child were assaulted by a police officer. Dozier, who was nine months pregnant, was present when police arrived to deal with a domestic dispute between her brother and his girlfriend. She had actually been urging her brother to cooperate with the officers – until the point at which they threw him to the ground, attacked him with “distractionary strikes,” and tasered him.

“He’s on the ground!” Dozier cried in horror. “You don’t need to do that!”
Displaying the refinement that typifies those who follow his loathsome profession, one of the officers snarled at Dozier to “Shut the f**k up!” To punctuate that directive, Officer Jerad Wheeler strode up to the sobbing and horrified woman and kicked her in the stomach with sufficient force to open a door. 

Dozier’s brother was dragged out of the house, and several police conferred on the front porch. After one of them pointed out that they had a problem because Wheeler had “kicked a pregnant woman,” another observed that they had to “charge her with something.”
Raven Dozier's injuries.

A few minutes later, Dozier – who was recovering from the assault – was approached by the on-scene supervisor, who in a voice of affected concern said that the officers needed to take her photograph. He instructed her to put on her shoes and follow him outside. 

The instant Dozier crossed the threshold of her home, Dozier was arrested for “obstruction” and taken away in handcuffs to the DeKalb County Jail. The intake officer, who possessed some residual decency, refused to book the victim. He demanded that Dozier be taken to the hospital, where she passed a small issue of blood and amniotic fluid.

Her son, Levii, was born by way of an emergency C-section a few weeks later. Doctors informed her that the kick to her abdomen had been delivered with sufficient force to cause the child to defecate in utero – which means that he had the sh*t kicked out of him by a police officer before he was born. 

Wheeler is a police officer, which means he is trained to lie, given social permission to lie, and does so without hesitation. In his official report of the incident, Wheeler falsely claimed that he was dealing with an “aggressive” woman and that he used “a front push kick to the abdomen, as [I] was taught to do at the academy” – once again, as a “distractionary” strike. It was only after he arrested this “aggressive” woman that he supposedly noticed her condition. His potentially fatal act of criminal violence was ratified by his superiors, who blithely stated that it was “within policy.”

Police in Ocean City, Maryland also “acted appropriately” when they tackled and assaulted 24-year-old Dalima Ekundayo Ibironke Palmer, who was part of a group being investigated for – what else? – “tumultuous” behavior at a local beach. Palmer was nine months pregnant, a fact that was obvious to horrified onlookers who pleaded with the police as they wrestled with the woman. Shortly after being abducted, Palmer underwent an emergency c-section – but not before being hit with four charges, including assault on a police officer.
In at least two separate cases, police have attacked pregnant women who went to them seeking help.

Jacksonville, Florida resident Melanie Williams, who was seven months pregnant, went into premature labor and called 911. Bleeding and dizzy, Williams decided not to wait for help and drove herself to the hospital, running a red light en route.

When she was pulled over, Williams frantically told the officers that she was losing her baby, sped off to the hospital, and dashed inside. However, the officers pursued her into the building, tackled her, and handcuffed her as she screamed, “I’m pregnant – someone help me, I’m bleeding!” One of the officers thoughtfully responded to that plea by putting a boot on her neck, and them stomping on her back, before she was dragged from the emergency room and put into a squad car. Thankfully, the child survived the vicious attack on her mother.

Valreca Redden was tasered by police in Dayton, Ohio when she visited a suburban police station to request that her one-year-old son be taken into protective custody. After speaking briefly with the police, she changed her mind and said, “I’m leaving.” Despite the fact that Redden wasn’t suspected of a crime, she was told that she wasn’t free to leave.

Officer Michael Wilmer grabbed the thirteen-month-old child with one arm and used the other to shove the mother to the floor. A second officer materialized and attempted to handcuff the screaming woman. When she resisted, he applied a taser to the back of her neck. Redden was charged with “resisting and obstructing”; as she was being checked into jail, one of the officers discovered that she was visibly pregnant.

Seattle resident Malaika Brooks was seven months pregnant when she was stopped for speeding while driving her 11-year-old son to school. When presented with the extortion note, Mrs. Brooks refused to sign it, assuming that by doing so she would be admitting guilt. The officer then attempted to arrest her for violating a “law” that defines such a refusal as a “crime.” Not surprisingly, Mrs. Brooks didn’t allow herself to be kidnaped without putting up as much resistance as possible.

Three officers were dispatched to put down this intolerable act of defiance. Officer Juan Ornelas twisted Brooks’ arm behind her back while Officer Donald Jones applied a taser to her left thigh, then her left arm, and then to her neck. Mrs. Brooks, who was left with permanent scars, was later found guilty of refusing to sign the ticket –a misdemeanor charge – and acquitted of resisting arrest.

Once again: The infraction that supposedly justified the use of electroshock torture was a misdemeanor.

Brooks filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle and its Police Department. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the police had used excessive force. The court also decided that the officers enjoyed limited immunity because in 2004, when the incident occurred, it had not been clearly established that using a taser in “drive-stun” mode against a very pregnant woman suspected of a traffic violation constituted excessive force.

That ruling provoked a paroxysm of theatrical outrage from police unions, and an appeal by the officers who had attacked Brooks. In their petition of certiorari to the US Supreme Court (which was rejected), the officers whined that the ruling “effectively strips officers of the authority to use any pain compliance technique to control an actively resisting arrestee.” 

In an amicus brief filed on behalf of the officers, the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association predicted that the limited exoneration granted to the thugs who assaulted Brooks (and her unborn child) threatened the existence of “the rule of law” itself.

“It won’t be long before the word spreads throughout society’s criminal underground that the Ninth Circuit hasn’t simply given them a `get out of jail free’ card, but a `never have to go to jail in the first place’ card,” insisted the brief.

In other words: Unless police have unrestricted “authority” to beat and torture pregnant women suspected of trivial offenses, lawful order will collapse. One can easily imagine similar claims being made by the revenue-gatherers and dispensers of punitive violence who were employed by Sargon II or some other ancient Assyrian ruler. 
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Dum spiro, pugno!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Killing Without Consequences: "Counter-Insurgency" Warfare in Greenfield, California

SWAT operators assault Rogelio Seartto's home.

After eluding the police for more than a week, Alejandro Gonzalez surrendered in San Jose on January 10, 2011. The 22-year-old was the suspect in a non-fatal shooting that had taken place on New Year’s Day at a local bar called the Mucky Duck. 

As should be expected, the police had done nothing useful to solve that crime. Their only contribution to the case was to stage a lethal SWAT raid against a man who had been nowhere near the bar when the shooting took place, and had nothing to do with it. 

Four days after the Mucky Duck shooting – in which three people suffered non-life-threatening injuries -- a multi-agency SWAT team invaded the home of 31-year-old Rogelio Serrato, Jr.  Serrato, who was known as Roger to friends and family, was not a suspect in the shooting. 

The search warrant issued for Serrato’s house should have been executed by a small group of deputies. Although police contended that Serrato was “connected” in some way to Gonzalez, there was no reason to suspect that he was harboring the fugitive. 

Serrato did have outstanding misdemeanor warrants, however, and apparently this was considered sufficient justification for sending in two dozen paramilitary drag queens who arrived in an armored convoy that included a Bearcat combat vehicle.

For about an hour, the invaders broadcast surrender demands via a “thunder-hailer” megaphone. One young female left the house and was taken into custody. Serrato – who, it is believed, was intoxicated and perhaps unconscious – didn’t comply. 

A three-member “break and rake” team approached the house, shattered a window, and threw in a flash-bang grenade, which lodged itself between two highly flammable polyurethane sofas that were next to an artificial Christmas tree. One of the sofas immediately ignited. The fire quickly propagated itself through the house, generating a dense black cloud of highly toxic smoke.
Roused by either the sound of the grenade or the subsequent fire, Serrato began screaming and trying to leave the house. The sight of the unarmed man, clad only in his underwear, threw a scare into Sergeant Joseph Banuelos, who had supervised the “break and rake” team.

“Suspect!” shrieked Banuelos. Rather than rushing into the home to arrest the suspect, the intrepid sergeant – acting in the interests of that holiest of all considerations, “officer safety” – ordered his team to retreat to the Bearcat vehicle. The SWAT team then trained its weapons on the house, which effectively prevented the victim from escaping from the burning building.

Significantly, the use of a flash-bang grenade as a “scare tactic” was part of the raid’s tactical plan, rather than an improvised measure. Deputy Mark Sievers and Detective Al Martinez, who were part of the “break and rake” team, had previously ignited fires with flash-bang grenades, so they were aware of the potential fire risk involved in using that device. That the raid posed a potentially fatal fire danger is further demonstrated by the fact that the Greenfield Fire Department had been notified of the planned raid and was on standby.

The Fire Department responded quickly once fire enveloped Serrato’s home – but the SWAT team held them at bay for nearly a half-hour while the screaming victim was trapped inside. By the time the firefighters could enter the home, Serrato was dead.
Aftermath: Serrato's aunt in the remains of his home.
Just a few days ago, Monterey County agreed to a $2.6 million settlement with Serrato’s family, which was paid by the county’s insurance carrier and absolves the sheriff’s office of legal responsibility. Speaking the language of institutional self-exculpation with remarkable fluency, County Attorney Charles McKee insisted that Serrato was to blame for his own death and that the officers should be “commended for trying to resolve a very tense situation.” 

It’s often said that police are the country’s most dangerous street gang. One significant distinction between police and their private sector counterparts is that street gangs don’t expect to receive commendations when they kill innocent people.

It would be a wonderful thing if people could develop the intellectual equivalent of a computer utility that would remove uniforms, badges, and titles from news accounts of fatal police raids. Subtracting the indicia of “authority” would enhance the ability of people to see the truth about acts of aggressive violence, and recognize them as crimes irrespective of the claimed identity of those who commit them. 

The killing of Roger Serrato was an act of murder through depraved indifference. The assailants had no justification to attack his home; they knew that their plan of attack posed the risk of a catastrophic fire; once that fire began, the assailants took no action to rescue the victim, and impeded the efforts of others to do so. 

The SWAT raid was a specimen of police overkill born of opportunism: What’s the use of having a SWAT team unless it can be deployed to arrest people with outstanding misdemeanor warrants? 

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that police officials chose to attack Serrato’s home simply because his location -- unlike that of the actual suspect, Alejandro Gonzalez -- was known. If the police had actually investigated the Mucky Duck shooting, rather than seizing on it as a chance to preen on camera in paramilitary attire, they would have learned that Gonzalez was not a threat to the public. 

A lawsuit filed by Todd Graham, one of the shooting victims claims that before he went to his car to get his gun, Gonzalez had seen several of his friends abused by a group of bouncers who had “escalated” a minor altercation into a life-threatening situation. At one point, a friend of Gonzalez named Mark Rosso, was thrown to the ground and pinned down by a bouncer and a bartender while another bouncer identified as “T.K.” beat and kicked him.

In pre-trial testimony, Monterey police detective Michael Bruno admitted that witnesses had described that assault to him. Witnesses also claimed that Gonzalez went to his car and grabbed a gun while his friend was being beaten.
Graham, a bystander who was leaving the bar when the shooting began, insists that Gonzalez’s decision to get his gun was made “in response to the actions of the bouncers.” Graham and two of the bouncers were the only ones who were shot. 

As Judge Pamela Butler acknowledged in Gonzalez’s pre-trial hearing, the shooting was at least in part motivated by the desire to defend his friend, who was pleading for help and most likely in fear for his life. However, Judge Butler, a former gang prosecutor, insisted that Gonzalez’s alleged affiliation with the Norteno street gang meant that the shooting was “gang-related.”

This gave prosecutor Cristina Johnson a rationale for charging Gonzalez with ten felonies. The charges included not three, but four counts of attempted murder: One for the shooting of Graham, the innocent bystander; two for the bouncers who were attacking Rosso; and one more for the bartender who was helping to hold the victim down. While the bartender wasn’t shot, Johnson insisted that he be treated as a victim because he was in the “kill zone.”

The memory of man runneth not to an instance in which a police officer who used deadly force was charged for attempted murder because of the presence of an innocent victim in the “kill zone.” Where “qualified immunity” ends in such cases, “professional courtesy” takes over. 

Witness the case of Robert Shawn Richardson and Paul Bradley Rogers, who were convicted of second-degree manslaughter after shooting and killing a five-year-old boy in Noble, Oklahoma six years ago while trying to kill a poisonous snake. Because they received deferred sentences, the officers served no time in prison, and their records have been expunged. Where the “law” is concerned, the incident never happened, and the victim, Austin Haley, never existed.

“If the roles were reversed and I had shot the gun, it would be much different,” observes Austin’s mother, Renee Haley. “I would’ve been sent to jail and the sentence would have been done more harshly.”

This is incontestably true. Austin wasn’t a cop; he was one of the “little people.” The same was true of Roger Serrato.

As Serrato’s grandmother tearfully told a Greenfield City Council meeting, he was not a saint – but he was a human being who should not have been summarily executed. 

In seeking to justify the murderous raid on Serrato’s home, police applied the counter-insurgency template used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and applied it to “gang enforcement.” 

In Gonzalez’s pre-trial hearing, Detective Bruno reported that a search of the suspect’s home found “clothing and other items” indicating that he may have been associated with the Norteno street gang. While he admitted – under cross-examination – that the Mucky Duck shooting was at least in part motivated by self-defense, he insisted that it had the effect of enhancing the gang’s image “by instilling fear in the community.”

That sort of thing never happens when masked Berserkers in military attire lay siege to a residence, of course. 

Shortly after his associates murdered Roger Serrato, Greenfield Police Department spokesliar Phil Penko told a local television station that “whether he was at the Mucky Duck is irrelevant” because “someone connected to the house” was allegedly there at the time of the shooting. 

This is a specimen of what counter-insurgency experts call “pattern of life” analysis. All that is necessary to justify potentially lethal action against any individual is to create a “link” or “connection” between that person and a “suspected militant” (or, in this case, a suspected “gang associate”) or an incident involving someone who meets that description. 

In Afghanistan, “connections” of that kind have been used to justify midnight raids by kill teams. In Pakistan, the same analysis is used as the basis for drone strikes. We’re seeing plentiful examples of the former here domestically, and we can expect to see the latter approach rolled out in the “Homeland” within the next few years.  

 A reminder -- and a few requests

We hope to be able to finish a full-length documentary about the Rita Hutchens case, which would be the first in a series entitled "Snapshots of Soviet America." We could really use any help we can get where funding is concerned -- and it would be great if you could share this teaser video with everyone you know.

Here's something else that you can do to help. Sandpoint, Idaho is among the finalists for "Most Beautiful Small Town" in Rand McNally's "Best of the Road" contest. The town won that competition in 2011 -- the same year that Rita was assaulted by a police officer in her own front yard, and then prosecuted for "obstruction" by the city attorney's office. After a judge ruled that Rita's arrest was unlawful, the same official -- Deputy City Attorney Lori Muelenberg -- denied Rita's damage claim.

Sandpoint is an astonishingly beautiful town ruled by a squalid municipal clique that is determined to ruin the life of a harmless, innocent woman who dared seek restitution for her abuse at the hands of a police officer. It would be worthwhile to let the folks at Rand McNally (@randmcnally, or #bestoftheroad) know what lurks behind Sandpoint's beguilingly photogenic facade.

Dum spiro, pugno!