March 22, 2015

Marty Stroud, Glenn Ford, and the Machinery of Death

Photo by Douglas Collier/The Shreveport Times
The Shreveport Times recently published a written apology from former prosecutor Marty Stroud to Glenn Ford. Stroud's words are powerful and moving, and I urge you to read the piece.

Stroud had successfully obtained the death penalty for Ford in 1984 for a murder in Shreveport, Louisiana. Ford spent 33 years in prison, the vast majority of which was spent on death row, before he was exonerated. He may now be free, but justice has not been done, and time is running out.

Louisiana, much to Stroud's surprise, but probably nobody else's, has been staunchly resisting paying Ford any sort of compensation for the years he spent in their state penitentiaries. Sadly, Ford now has stage four lung cancer; a diagnosis that speaks for itself.

I won't bore you with the details of the wrongful conviction or how Ford was finally cleared, except to point out that Ford, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury, and defended by attorneys who did not practice criminal law and had never tried a case before a jury. The remaining history can be found online or in this article in the Washington Post. The far more interesting part of this story is Stroud's open apology to Ford, which is bundled together with both express and implicit criticisms of our system of justice. The apology is set out, with a video of Stroud's commentary, in the Shreveport Times' article.

March 15, 2015

Rikers Guard Pimps, Deals, and Publishes

Courtesy of the
New York Daily News
NYC Corrections Officer Gary Heyward worked Rikers Island for a number of years. While there, he smuggled in tobacco, liquor, cell phones and drugs, provided muscle for pay back beatings of inmates, and pimped out three female officers, "copstitutes," to inmates and senior management. Or so he says in his just published memoir, "Corruption Officer."

The Daily News profiles the sordid and depressing story of a corrupt C.O. who helped make the Rikers experience all the more miserable. The article provides plenty of salacious details that I won't bother to repeat. Not surprisingly, the DOC says he's exaggerating his stories to sell books. Humorously, they also suggest he's tarnishing the department's good reputation.

Heyward was caught after an accomplice rolled over on him, and spent nearly two years in a state prison before he was supposedly, inconceivably, permitted return to work for the City in an undisclosed position. In what is probably the most outrageous and seemingly unbelievable part of his story, Heyward not only continues to work for the City, but gets to keep his pension too.

These latter claims are easily refutable, if false. The City's silence seems to suggest that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. What nobody can reasonably deny is that Rikers has long been rife with corruption and violence. The only open questions are ones of degree and whether this system can be salvaged.

March 14, 2015

NYPD editing Bell, Garner, Diallo Wikipedia pages

Courtesy of
Apparently the NYPD is tasking employees with editing Wikipedia pages concerning the killing of Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Amadou Diallo. According to an article by Capital, edits to these pages have been traced back to computers operating on the NYPD's network at One Police Plaza in NYC. The NYPD is supposedly looking into it, although, if the info concerning the network domain is accurate, then it's pretty cut and dried.

I am assuming that the allegations are true. Not so I can wag my finger and shake my head in consternation. At least not this time. There's nothing particularly shocking about a city agency trying to control the public narrative. Manipulating Wikipedia pages -- which readers ought to know often offer questionably accurate factual information -- is old hat. There's really no qualitative difference between massaging the adjectives and phrasing in Wiki entries for critical events in the NYPD's past, and the attempts by the NYPD and the City, through their supporters and various talking heads to shape the message back when these killings occurred. 

March 8, 2015

NYPD Quotas and the Blue Wall of Silence

Last week, P.O. Craig Matthews' case against the NYPD alleging retaliation for his complaining about the quota system (which the NYPD won't admit to), was reinstated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Now, according to the NY Post in two different articles (here and here), a dozen plaintiffs have come forward in a lawsuit against the NYPD alleging that the department is enforcing a quota system for arrests and criminal summonses. These plaintiffs are black and Latino officers who are alleging that the policy is racially driven as the targeted communities are predominantly black and Latino, and these officers are treated more harshly than their white colleagues when they don't meet their quotas.

The safe thing to say is that these are still merely allegations, yada yada yada. But they follow multiple lawsuits filed by officers throughout the City of New York that all generally allege that officers are told there are baseline numbers they must make and woe unto those who fall short. There's far too much smoke here to believe there's no fire crackling underneath.

March 5, 2015

The 2d Circuit's Busy Week, Pt. 3

The third civil rights decision issued by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last week promptly cost the City of New York more than $18 million. It also visited the issue of whether a convicted person seeking exculpatory evidence under state law can pursue a claim for damages under §1983 when a local government's policies frustrate or otherwise prevent the very access promised by state law, and concluded that, at least here, such a cause of action may stand.

In 1985, Alan Newtown was convicted of the brutal rape and robbery of a woman in the Bronx. The post-conviction motion practice and events are detailed in the decision below. The condensed version is that in the mid-1990s, Newton sought the DNA evidence for testing, but it was reported lost by the NYPD and the Bronx D.A.'s office. It was not until 10 years later that it turned up. DNA testing conducted in 2006 conclusively established that the DNA from the rape kit did not match Newton's, and, Newton's conviction was promptly vacated. By then, he had spent more than 20 years in prison.