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April 2020
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Texas Court Says City, PD Must Answer Questions About Botched Drug Raid Led By A Crooked Cop

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The Houston Police Department's botched drug raid that resulted in the killing of the home's two occupants continues to cause problems for the PD and the city of Houston. The raid was predicated on a phone call from an unbalanced, vengeful neighbor with a history of calling in bogus crime reports. Probable cause was bolstered (if that's even the word) by dirty cop Gerald Goines, who fabricated a confidential informant and provided evidence for drug trafficking allegations by pulling heroin from the console of his cop car.The end result was the execution of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas -- a couple who had been together for 21 years and whose house contained nothing more than personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. There was no evidence of the heroin dealing alleged by Goines' nonexistent informant.Goines is now facing murder charges and a handful of other felony charges. The PD's drug task force has been disbanded. And Rhogena Nicholas' mother -- who was at one point falsely named as the person behind the anonymous tip Goines supposedly received -- is suing the city for its failure to properly oversee the police department. (via Courthouse News)The city has so far refused to cooperate with the lawsuit. Nicholas wants to depose city officials about the raid but the city has chosen to continue its stonewalling and obfuscation. The city (and the PD) have done everything they can to avoid giving Nicholas anything to work with, starting immediately after it became clear the raid wasn't justified and had been led by an incredibly dirty cop. Here's the Texas appeals court's description [PDF] of the city's post-raid recalcitrance:

After the Harding Street Incident, the City did not contact Petitioners and did not respond to Petitioners’ request to publicly correct or retract what Petitioners contended were factually incorrect statements. For example, Rhogena’s neighbor provided a cell phone video that suggested a different account of what happened at the Harding Street home than that set forth by the City. The City has resisted efforts by Petitioners to secure the 911 records related to the Harding Street Incident. Moreover, HPD has refused to disclose what physical materials may have been removed from the scene.
Weird. I always thought this was something guilty people did -- you know, "nothing to hide, nothing to fear," etc. I understand there's no reason to hand plaintiffs ammo to use against you, but the city was unwilling to do anything to correct the record even before it was sued.The order also points to the independent forensic examination of the crime scene which made it clear Houston PD investigators were either horrifyingly inept or trying to cover something up.
Petitioners retained an independent forensic investigator to conduct an independent investigation at the Harding Street home. After analyzing the scene, the investigator concluded that HPD failed to conduct a full ballistic recovery and left significant forensic materials untouched and unrecovered, preventing a full reconstruction of the incident.
The plaintiffs also pointed out a legitimate investigation includes confidential informants that actually exist and controlled drug buys that actually occurred. None of that happened here and Nicholas alleges the city and PD officials continued to refer to the residence as a "drug house" even when it presumably had been made aware of Goines' fakery.And there was oh so much lying by Gerald Goines.
Petitioners further plead that local news media revealed that in the last 109 cases filed by Gerald Goines based on a sworn affidavit in support of a search warrant: “In every one of those cases in which he claimed confidential informants observed guns inside, no weapons were ever recovered, according to evidence logs Goines filed with the court.” On this basis, Petitioners request the depositions of the two HPD managers responsible for oversight of Gerald Goines in the HPD Narcotics Division.
The city and the PD argued the court had no jurisdiction to tell it to comply with these pre-trial discovery requests. The appeals court says the government is wrong.
[T]he statutory probate court has subject matter jurisdiction over the anticipated action under the Estates Code. Hence, the trial court did not err in denying the City’s plea to the jurisdiction regarding the Rule 202 proceeding. [...] The City’s issue is overruled.
The city and PD will have to face questions from the relatives of people officers killed during a completely unjustified drug raid. Good. They have a lot to answer for. And the more they talk, the more obvious it will be no one in power really cares how the Drug War is carried out, just as long as it never stops.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Apr-2020
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How The Public Domain Coronavirus 'Beauty Shot' You Now See Everywhere Came To Be

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By now, you've probably seen this image of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 a million times:

It's freaking everywhere. And it's in the public domain. That's because it was created by employees at the CDC, and as a work of the US government it is exempt from copyright laws, meaning anyone can use it. Which is probably why everyone uses it. One of the many reasons why a public domain is so useful.The NY Times has a nice story about how the image came to be that's well worth reading.
On Jan. 21, the day after the C.D.C. activated its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus, Ms. Eckert and her colleague Dan Higgins were asked to create an identity for the virus. Something to grab the public's attention, she said. Ms. Eckert expected that whatever they came up with might appear on a few cable news programs, as their creations had in the past.Instead, as the pandemic spread and intensified, their rendering's reach did, too. It started popping up around the world, she said.
The story goes into a fair bit of detail about how it was created and also some of the design choices that Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgns made to make that design so memorable.
They chose a stony texture, wanting it to seem like something that you could actually touch, Ms. Eckert said. Other details like the level of realism and the lighting, which has the spikes cast long shadows were calibrated to help display the gravity of the situation and to draw attention, she said.
After reading about that, I discovered that there were a variety of other images of this particular coronavirus used around the globe. Here's just a few (there are so many more...):
Indeed, this is the image that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has been using:
Not quite as nice as the CDC's... and thanks to more murky copyright laws in the EU, not as clear if it's in the public domain, so wasn't nearly as likely to catch on and become the symbol we all associate with COVID-19.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Apr-2020
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Strange Times: During The COVID-19 Outbreak, Evictions Get A Pause...In Final Fantasy 14

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As the world navigates the reality of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, we've already noted several ways that the outbreak has changed our daily lives. Me being me, I noticed just how many professional sports organizations were moving into broadcast versions of their eSports as a way to fill the void. That of course isn't the only way video game life has changed.Another appears to be the odd case of Final Fantasy 14, an online MMORPG. The game has had a vibrant, if congested, real estate economy involving the buying of virtual homes and properties. Due to the outbreak, the game recently announced that, similar to real life in many cities, evictions were on a pause.

In an announcement yesterday, the Final Fantasy XIV team announced that they would freeze housing evictions within the game due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic affecting the world. Automatic demolitions on abandoned houses in the game’s fantasy world of Eorzea are on hold for the foreseeable future.“Taking into account the world-wide spread of the COVID-19 (also known as “novel coronavirus”) and the financial consequences of various cities going into lock-down, we have decided to temporarily suspend automatic housing demolition,” the announcement said.
We're in a state where it's hard to generate much sympathy for anyone who would lose a virtual house while real life folks are losing their jobs, their well-being, and their lives. That isn't the point of this post. Instead, I find it somewhat interesting, after years of video games being looked down on by older generations, the industry is ingrained in every day life to the point that there is some sort of mirroring effect going on. Evictions in real life get stayed, evictions in virtual life get paused. COVID-19 effects the real economy, COVID-19 effects the virtual economy.This is interesting, but not meant to replace any of the real world work and danger that currently exists. Still, you have to wonder coming out of this whole ordeal whether we'll see real world effects on entertainment choices as well.

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Apr-2020
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Judge Benchslaps Cops And Courts For Turning Law Enforcement Lies Into 'Objectively Reasonable' Mistakes

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It's always fun to read a good benchslap of cops who've tried to turn nothing at all into "probable cause." It doesn't happen very often because courts are far too obliging far too often. The standard law enforcement officers are held to -- objective reasonableness -- rarely seems reasonable, no matter how objectively you approach it.This ruling [PDF] by a Florida federal court does not coddle the officer who made a mockery of both objective reasonableness and probable cause. You can tell this is headed into unconstitutional territory during the recounting of the events that led to the arrest of Jorge Sanchez. (via FourthAmendment.com)Local officers were working with the DEA on a drug trafficking investigation. They decided to pull over someone heading away from the house they were surveilling. But the officers had nothing approaching probable cause. All they had was someone driving away from a house they suspected might be tied to drug sales. But that wasn't going to stop them from stopping Sanchez. So, they did what they had to do.

Deputy Steuerwald asked Sgt. Beuer to “develop his own probable cause and conduct a traffic stop on the car.”
This would be a lot more shocking if it wasn't nearly pretty much every pretextual stop ever. You can't fish unless you have someone else's (drivers) license in your hand, so any real or imagined traffic violation will do. Only this one was so imaginary the court's not having any of it.
Sgt. Beuer did so—or at least he thought he did (more on this later)—and pulled Sanchez over for violating the Florida “stop bar” statute.
The "more on this later" is the best part of the suppression order. The bogus stop led to a search of the vehicle and the arrest of Sanchez. None of that matters any more because Sgt. Beuer was objectively awful at creating probable cause.The state's stop bar statute says this:
[E]very driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering the intersection.
And here's what Sgt. Beuer testified Sanchez had done:
At the hearing, Sgt. Beuer identified this intersection and confirmed that Sanchez brought his vehicle to a complete stop at a position in relation to the stop sign as depicted in this photo.
There's no stop bar on the road and the vehicle is stopped "where the driver has a view of approaching traffic."The government said Sgt. Beuer's lie was reasonable enough to generate probable cause for a stop. The court disagrees, using evidence Beuer agreed was true, as well as his own testimony about the stop.
While generally familiar with stop bars, and believing them to be fairly ubiquitous, Sgt. Beuer acknowledged he was not overly familiar with this area of Rockledge, Florida. (Doc. 30.) But Sgt. Beuer had walked back and forth on Skelly Drive at or near the intersection with Florida Avenue, so he had an opportunity to view the road surface condition and the general “lay of the land,” both in his vehicle and on foot.Looking at the photographic evidence, which Sgt. Beuer accepts as properly depicting the scene (Doc. 31-5; Doc. 32-8, p. 8), it is difficult to imagine how a motorist might, at this particularly odd intersection, have any ability to see oncoming traffic from the left if stopped anywhere short of the point where Sgt. Beuer concedes Sanchez stopped his vehicle on this night. An added stop bar would have made the situation worse from a safety perspective.
This isn't even subjectively reasonable, says the court.
In short, it was not objectively reasonable for Sgt. Beuer to believe that Sanchez violated Florida Statute § 316.123 by failing to stop at a stop bar that not only was not there, but where there was nothing about this intersection to suggest it would be there—quite the contrary. When you add the fact that Sgt. Beuer actually traversed the area on foot, the reasonableness of his predication is further undermined.
Now, here's where the order gets really good. The court not only slaps the government, but judges who are far too willing to overlook blatant Constitutional violations by law enforcement officers because it's presumably too difficult to do police work and respect rights at the same time.
If these facts qualify as “objectively reasonable”, then the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure is simply not applicable to a pretextual traffic stop. The Court should stop imbuing the “objectively reasonable” officer with a cloak of constitutional comfort for justifications that strain credulity and discount the facts out of deference to their necessary “game time decisions”. See Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d at 1276. While deference is a necessary component of the analysis, it does not warrant a rubber stamp. The Fourth Amendment still has some teeth in a traffic stop.
Courts are supposed to act as a bulwark against government overreach, not as an enabler of unconstitutional behavior. But qualified immunity, the good faith exception, and other defenses cops can raise when accused of illegal behavior -- defenses that aren't available to citizens -- have turned the courts into an entity that rarely allows for the actual redress of grievances.

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Apr-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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