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A daily report on important news nationwide from Ted Gest of Criminal Justice Journalists, plus commentary and research highlights.

 San Franciscans Cite City's 'Wrong Track' on Crime

Many in San Francisco take pride in the city's liberal politics and social programs. The pandemic, however, caused people to leave some parts of the city and highlighted its shortcomings, including human and dog feces on sidewalks, break-ins to homes and vehicles, overflowing trash and a laissez-faire approach to drugs, the Associated Press reports. “There’s a widespread sense that things are on the wrong track in San Francisco,” said Patrick Wolff, 53, a retired professional chess player and a longtime resident. To express their frustration San Francisans will vote on whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Critics say he is too lenient on crime. Supporters say there is no crime surge and crimes like corporate wage theft are more important.

“Where’s the progress? If you say you’re progressive, let’s get the homeless off the street, and let’s get them mental health care,” said Brian Cassanego, a San Francisco native. He expressed feelings of dissatisfaction over the widespread drug trade occurring on the streets of San Francisco, causing him to worry about his wife's safety at night. He couldn't take it any longer when he saw a man with his pants pulled down, bleeding with a syringe in his hip. He went upstairs and told his wife they were moving, and they did, to California's wine country. Larceny and theft are up almost 17 percent but overall crime has been trending down for years. San Francisco's problems are well publicized and conservative news outlets have jumped on it.

 Simulations, Role-Playing Help Reduce Police Use of Force

Police officers are using new training tactics in an effort to reduce the use of force. For officers in Inglewood, Ca., simulation training seems to be helping, as they learned to slow their responses and look for alternate solutions. During an altercation last year in which a man who insisted he was armed approached them, officers fired less-lethal foam projectiles and detained him for psychiatric evaluation, the Washington Post reports. "The officers did feel the training prevented them from using deadly force," said Sgt. Joseph Cupo, who oversees Inglewood training. "It gave them the knowledge to recognize the event for what it potentially could be, and to go through some alternative methods to bring it to resolution."

Now that police forces are under increased scrutiny, training simulations are being employed to reduce the number of times police discharge their weapons. The training may include live action role-play or projection of videotaped scenarios and virtual reality headsets that generate computerized scenes as in a video game. Experts say each approach is valuable if it feels realistic. The key is having officers act out situations until it becomes second nature. "Giving police officers the ability to practice these scenarios, particularly when they're very young in their careers, is really important," said Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at University of Maryland. Both he and Robin Engel, a criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati, found that police officers spend a lot less time on de-escalation training than on firearms practice, despite most police interactions being with unarmed citizens. Engel saw a 28 percent decrease in use of force and 36 percent in officer injuries when the Louisville department began using de-escalation training. 

 D.C. Police Unions Sold Whiskey Illegally, Probe Finds

An umbrella group for police unions in Washington, D.C., violated six provisions of local law by setting up a "Jack Daniel's Fundraising Committee" that sold and shipped hundreds of bottles of whiskey without proper licenses, found an investigator's report for the city's alcohol control board, reports the Washington Post. The report by investigator Kevin Puente confirmed details about the liquor-selling operation at the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge that were reported by the Post. The lodge, representing thousands of active and retired police officers, sold more than 3,000 bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey between 2017 and 2019, taking in more than $500,000. Many bottles were shipped to customers in other states. The lodge never obtained a license to sell liquor by the bottle or to ship it across state lines.

Puente said he had questioned the lodge president former D.C. police officer Gerald Neill Jr., who did not dispute his findings. The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will hold a hearing to consider potential penalties against the lodge. Neill has said that the liquor sales were permitted by past lodge presidents and that he shut them down after taking office in 2020. The lodge's Jack Daniel's committee began in 2017, at a time of financial distress at the lodge. It was led by a lodge officer named Michael Kruggel, who had never been a D.C.-area police officer but who worked as a security guard at a Nashville, Tn., Walmart. Under Kruggel's leadership, the D.C. lodge began buying whiskey in bulk, engraving the bottles with pro-police slogans, and selling them at police conventions and over the Internet. After the whiskey sales were stopped, the lodge was left with cases of unsold whiskey. 

 White Nationalist 'Cowboy' Gets 10-Year Prison Term

A self-professed member of the Proud Boys from Texas who traveled to Portland, Or., to confront protesters there last year was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting a man in the eye with a paintball gun, spraying people in the face with bear mace and aiming a loaded handgun at a crowd, the New York Times reports. Alan Swinney, 51, was a “white nationalist vigilante cowboy,” who went to Portland to engage in political violence during protests in the summer of 2020, prosecutors said. In social media posts, he made threats against “the left” and “antifa,” and tried to recruit people to form a militia to fight in what he believed was a civil war.

Swinney caused a serious eye injury by shooting a man in the face with a paintball gun, and he discharged bear mace on multiple occasions — spraying some people directly in the face — and aimed a loaded Ruger .357 magnum handgun at a crowd, prosecutors said. Sweeney was found guilty by a jury in October of 11 charges, including second-degree assault, fourth-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon with a firearm, prosecutors said. Swinney's attorney argued that he had been defending himself against “agitators” who were harassing him and that he saw himself as a “protector” who came to Portland to stand between demonstrators clad in black causing mayhem and “Back the Blue” protesters, The Oregonian reported. Prosecutors argued that the evidence showed that Swinney had “no remorse for his actions, no desire to change and every intention of engaging in future acts of violence.”

 Social Media Posts Raise Sentences for Jan. 6 Rioters

Many of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 incriminated themselves on social media, posting videos, images and text before, during and after the insurrection that are being used in their sentencing, the Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson in Washington, D.C., read Russell Peterson's social posts aloud during his sentencing. Peterson posted on Facebook, “Overall I had fun lol.” Jackson told him the posts made it "extraordinarily difficult” for her to be lenient. “The ’lol’ particularly stuck in my craw because, as I hope you’ve come to understand, nothing about January 6th was funny,” Jackson added. “No one locked in a room, cowering under a table for hours, was laughing.” The FBI has used public social media posts to identify rioters and build cases against them. Of the 50 people sentenced for a federal crime related to the insurrection, at least 28 of them had their social media posts factor into the stricter sentence they were given.

Many of the rioters used social media to brag about the riot or to post hateful rhetoric. Others used it to promote conspiracies, downplay their own actions and spread misinformation. Some 700 have been charged with federal crimes since the insurrection, 150 of whom pled guilty. Over 20 have received jail or prison sentences and over a dozen have been given home confinement. After prosecutors recommended probation for Dona Sue Bissey of Indiana, Judge Tanya Chutkan disagreed, sentencing her to two weeks in jail based on her social media posts. “When Ms. Bissey got home, she was not struck with remorse or regret for what she had done,” Chutkan said. “She is celebrating and bragging about her participation in what amounted to an attempted overthrow of the government.”

 CBP Used Terrorist Tracking Databases to Investigate Journalists

A unit of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency used government databases that are supposed to track terrorists to investigate journalists, including Pulitzer Prize winner Martha Mendoza. The unit also asked about records of congressional staffers and possibly members of Congress, the Associated Press reports. Agent Jeffrey Rambo called the practice routine. “When a name comes across your desk you run it through every system you have access to, that’s just status quo, that’s what everyone does,” Rambo said. This news has many calling for an explanation. “We are deeply concerned about this apparent abuse of power,” said Lauren Easton of the Associated Press. “This appears to be an example of journalists being targeted for simply doing their jobs, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”

Customs and Border Patrol claimed that “CBP vetting and investigatory operations, including those conducted by the Counter Network Division, are strictly governed by well-established protocols and best practices. CBP does not investigate individuals without a legitimate and legal basis to do so.” Rambo described efforts to establish a relationship with Mendoza after vetting her and establishing her credibility in efforts to convince her to write about forced labor. Rambo's supervisor said that “CBP discovered that one of the phone numbers on Mendoza’s phone was connected with a terrorist." In response, AP said it "demands an immediate explanation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection as to why journalists including AP investigative reporter Martha Mendoza were run through databases used to track terrorists and identified as potential confidential informant recruits.”

 Will More Parents Be Punished for Roles in School Shootings?

“School Shootings,” Joshua O’Connor titled his journal, above a reconstruction of the Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead. Joshua, who’d just turned 18, described a detailed plan to carry out his own massacre: the shotguns, pistols, rifle and ammunition he would buy and the bombs he would build; the route he would take on his killing spree; the moment that he would end his own life. “I Need to make this shooting/ bombing... infamous,” he wrote in 2018. “I Need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can.” Catherine O’Connor, a retired probation officer who was Joshua’s guardian, searched his room and found a rifle in a guitar case. Then she did what many parents of school shooters never do: called police to report that a child she loved posed a threat to his classmates, his community and himself, the Washington Post reports. O'Connor was arrested and eventually sentenced to 22 years in prison. The shooting at Michigan's Oxford High School that left four students dead and seven other people wounded, has focused unprecedented attention on the responsibility parents bear when their children shoot on campuses.

For decades, mothers and fathers have overlooked clear warning signs that their teens were capable of violence, but adults almost never are held accountable when their negligence leads to bloodshed. That’s what makes Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of the 15-year-old charged with the Michigan shooting, so unusual. They each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, almost certainly the most serious charges ever brought against an alleged school shooter’s parent. Since 1999, children have committed at least 175 school shootings. Among the 114 cases in which the weapon’s source was identified by police, seventy seven percent were taken from the child’s home or those of relatives or friends. Yet there were just five instances when the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock them up. Another three cases in which adults were charged, including the one against the Crumbleys, are pending.

 KC Violence Spike Rooted in Public Health Issues

Over the last week, the Kansas City area has been plagued by a high pace of violence that caused Mayor Quinton Lucas to criticize publicly the city’s approach to violence reduction. Since Nov. 29, 12 people have died and more have been injured in shootings and homicides, the Kansas City Star reports. On Monday, the deadliest day of week-long violence spike, four separate shootings left three people dead and sent three others to hospitals. In Kansas City alone, there have been 145 homicides this year. By this time last year — the deadliest year on record — the city had suffered 176 homicides. In 2019, there had been 143 homicides by this time. 

The Star’s investigations have found that inadequacies in public health factors, housing and food security, for example, increased availability of guns, systemic inequality, a lack of trust in police and domestic violence. Those are major causes of gun violence and homicides both across the metropolitan area and statewide. Solutions to curb gun violence require much more than increased policing, and should involve investing in improvements in underlying life conditions that put people at greater or lesser risk: income, housing and food security, schools and living environments. Missouri has failed compared to most other states when it comes to public health. The state ranks sixth-to-last in the nation for public health system funding. Of the 10 census tracts in Kansas City with the highest rates of shootings in 2020, eighty percent were low income areas without access to a supermarket or grocery store for at least half a mile.

 Police Misconduct Whistleblowers Suffer Retaliation

After George Floyd's death at the hands of police, USA Today set out to examine why so many officers seem to look the other way when they witness egregious misconduct. Reporters spent a year building a database of cases from the past decade of officers exposing the alleged misconduct of their co-workers. Most cops who stepped forward said they faced retaliation in the form of demotions, firings and threats from their supervisors and peers. In the hundreds of cases reviewed, a similar pattern emerged: Whistleblowers who brought their claims or sought help from an agency outside their own department didn't fare much better. Labor boards, district attorneys, licensing officials and other agencies often sided with the same law enforcement agency against the whistleblower. 

Police chiefs and sheriffs who want to make an example out of whistleblowers have millions of taxpayer dollars at their disposal to fight them in court. Prosecutors usually take sides against officers, leaving them powerless to defend themselves from the same laws they swear to uphold. After Saginaw County, Mi., Sheriff's Deputy Garrett DeWyse accused co-workers of mishandling money, he said his sheriff gave him a new job assignment – picking up roadkill. DeWyse looked to courts for help. In 2016, he sued the sheriff's department, alleging that the reassignment was retaliation for whistleblowing. One court after another threw out his case, due to a narrow 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped free speech rights from public employees like DeWyse. "When you speak up, you're just a small fish in a big pond and you're going up against the system itself," DeWyse said. "In government class we learn about branches of government and separation of powers, but when you go through something like this, you realize the branches are not as separate as you think."

 Sentencing Project Hails Successes in State Justice Reforms

The Sentencing Project described many successes at the state level this year in enacting legal reforms to reduce prison admissions and recalibrate punishments to limit extreme sentencing practices. Among them: California restricted the use of sentence enhancements for alleged gang crimes and codifies practices defining “patterns of criminal gang activity” used to lengthen prison terms. Another law repealed mandatory prison and jail sentences for qualifying drug offenses involving heroin, cocaine and other substances. A third statute will help scale back the impact of more than 150 sentencing enhancements triggered by certain factors, including prior convictions and gun possession during a crime. Colorado and Illinois addressed felony murder statutes for cases when individuals did not directly cause the death of another person. 

Mississippi built on earlier laws reducing time served requirements prior to parole eligibility for nonviolent and violent offenses, Mississippi consistently ranks among states with the highest levels of incarceration. Virginia lawmakers abolished the death penalty. Washington state policymakers established a "second look" resentencing policy for certain robbery offenses. Maine lawmakers authorized a racial impact statement policy. Maryland established a pilot program that includes racial impact statements. Nationally, more than 20 percent of prison admissions are caused by technical violations of the more than four million people on probation or parole supervision. In 2021, lawmakers restricted prison admissions for persons with probation or parole revocations. Several states enacted legislative measures to reduce prison time served as an incentive for good behavior and successful participation in rehabilitation programs that include vocational training, education, and substance abuse treatment. Eight states — Alaska, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah — adopted legislation to remove youth charged as adults from jails and prisons to comply with the federal Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act. 

 OK Executes Oldest Inmate in Its History

Oklahoma executed Bigler Jobe "Bud" Stouffer II without the issues that caused the last three lethal injections to be described as botched, The Oklahoman reports. "No vomiting, no erratic movements or anything like that. Just, you could see his chest moving as he appeared to breathe. That's about it," said a media witness, Sean Murphy of the Associated Press. In a policy change, Stouffer was allowed to have his personal spiritual advisor, Baptist minister Howard Potts, in the execution chamber with him. At 79, Stouffer was the oldest inmate in Oklahoma history to be executed. He was the nation's second oldest inmate to be executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Stouffer was put to death by lethal injection for the fatal shooting of Putnam City elementary school teacher Linda Reaves in 1985. He maintained to the end he was wrongfully convicted. Three more executions are set next year. As many as 26 more could be scheduled next year if death row inmates lose a legal challenge to the lethal injection process in Oklahoma City federal court. The trial is set to begin Feb. 28. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Stouffer's last request for a stay about 8 a.m. Thursday. His attorneys also had sought clemency for him. Gov. Kevin Stitt rejected a recommendation to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

 Columbus Settles for $5.75M With Anti-Police Protesters

Columbus, Oh., reached an agreement to pay $5.75 million to 32 plaintiffs who said they were injured and that their constitutional rights were violated by police during social justice protests in the summer of 2020, reports the New York Times. After the killing of George Floyd, the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit were among many in Columbus who participated in protests that swept the nation. In announcing the settlement agreement, which is subject to City Council approval, the Columbus City Attorney's Office said that during the protests the police had "made arrests and used force including, but not limited to, pepper spray, tear gas, wooden baton rounds, and sponge rounds." Some plaintiffs were "significantly injured," said Zach Klein, the city attorney.

"While this has certainly been a difficult and painful moment for our community, it has yielded important, and in some instances long overdue, reforms to policing practices, policies, and oversight," Klein said. Earlier this year, three Columbus police officers were charged with misconduct in connection with the protests, and Klein said that others could face charges. Chief Judge Algenon Marbley of U.S. District Court granted a preliminary injunction that barred police from "using nonlethal force, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, wooden pellets, and more on nonviolent protesters." As part of the settlement, the city would agree to make the injunction permanent. Chanda Brown, a lawyer for demonstrators, said change was needed to "address the reality that many officers target anyone who questions their authority."

 Jussie Smollett Convicted of Lying About Attack

Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was convicted Thursday for lying to police about a racist, homophobic attack, nearly three years after his report of a horrifying hate crime, the Associated Press reports. Smollett was accused of recruiting two brothers to fake an attack so it could be recorded by a surveillance camera and posted on social media for publicity. The brothers testified that Smollett paid them $3,500 for the hoax and gave them lines to yell, including about “MAGA country,” a referring to then-President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Smollett, who is Black and gay, maintained that he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by people who yelled racist and anti-gay slurs and put a noose around his neck.

The report made headlines around the world and prompted a massive manhunt in Chicago. It drew criticism from Trump, who called the police department’s handling of the case “an absolute embarrassment to our country.” Smollett’s attorney declared his innocence again after the jury found him guilty on five of six counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police. Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal and is “100% confident” his name will be cleared by an appellate court. Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27 and will sentence Smollett later. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

 Josh Duggar Guilty on Child Pornography Charges

A jury found reality TV star Josh Duggar guilty of receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography, CNN reports. Duggar was arrested on April 29. He allegedly downloaded material that depicted the sexual abuse of children under the age of 12. Homeland Security agent Gerald Faulkner told a court that pornography picturing children ranging from 18 months to 12 years of age was found on a desktop computer at Duggar's business in Springdale, Ar. Faulkner said in his 11 years as an investigator those images are "in the top five of the worst I have ever had to examine."

Duggar is the oldest son of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, whose large family and devout conservative Christian upbringing were the subject of the TLC show "19 Kids and Counting." The show was canceled in 2015 amid allegations that Josh Duggar molested girls when he was a teenager. He was never charged in that case. That same year, Duggar admitted that he had used Ashley Madison, a website designed to help married people cheat on their spouses, after his name was released when the website was hacked.

 DEA Agent Sentenced to 12 Years for Money Laundering

A once-standout U.S. narcotics agent who used his badge to build a lavish lifestyle of expensive cars, parties on yachts and Tiffany jewels was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison Thursday for conspiring with a Colombian cartel to launder money, the Associated Press reports. As José Irizarry admitted to his crimes, he blamed former colleagues at the Drug Enforcement Administration for fostering a culture of corruption “When my client joined the DEA he was schooled in how to be corrupt, he was schooled in how to break the law,” his attorney, María Dominguez, said in court. “In this alternate universe it became easier and less suspect to accept money and gifts” from criminal informants who worked with the DEA. U.S. District Court Judge Charlene Honeywell expressed disgust with the DEA for its failings and said other agents corrupted by “the allure of easy money” also needed to be investigated.

Irizarry’s allegations underscore the oversight he received when he was entrusted with the government’s use of front companies, shell bank accounts and couriers to combat international drug trafficking. Honeywell sealed “sensitive” documents, saying their disclosure could potentially impede an ongoing criminal investigation, cause targets to flee and hinder cooperation from other witnesses. So far, other than Irizarry’s wife, Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry, and a Colombian customs worker, nobody else has been charged. Irizarry pleaded guilty last year to 19 federal counts, including bank fraud, admitting he parlayed his expertise in money laundering into a life of luxury that prosecutors said was bankrolled by $9 million he and his co-conspirators diverted from undercover money laundering investigations. At Thursday’s sentencing, Irizarry broke down in tears, saying the biggest punishment was not being able to explain two his two young daughters why he would be going away for so long. He said when he became a law enforcement agent two decades ago he did so with a sense of pride.

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