The misfortunes of Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville mother who is serving a 20-year, minimum mandatory sentence for aggravated assault with a firearm, have moved to tears news readers across continents. She recently won a new trial, but her fate will be decided by the facts and the law, not the news stories, petitions, websites and commentaries, so let's recap:
On Jan. 11, 2011, Alexander had a screaming argument with her husband, Rico Gray. Gray had previously abused her and been arrested for domestic battery, though the state didn't prosecute.
Amid the cursing and screaming, Alexander ran into the garage, took a semi-automatic pistol from her car, racked in a round and cocked the hammer, then went back into the house. In the living room, with her husband present and two children looking on, she fired a shot at body height. The shot hit a wall then ricocheted into the ceiling. Gray and the children exited the house. Alexander hunkered down and came out later when confronted by the SWAT team.
When you look at the Free Marissa websites, the change.org petition and the many media accounts, you see the situation portrayed differently, often as an apparent counterpoint to George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Like the Zimmerman case, people were horrified when jurors returned their verdict. They believed the heart-rending story, not the gnarly, ugly facts.
The ugly facts are these: Alexander, though she was previously the victim of domestic abuse, had no marks on her at the time of her arrest; after her arrest and free on bail, Alexander in fact drove to her husband's house and beat him about the head until he bled (she later pleaded no contest to domestic battery); she may have feared for her life, but once she escaped her abuser, that fear was no longer a legal excuse for firing the gun; she was not standing her ground in any legal sense.
Alexander's greatest misfortune is to have been badly advised. …
Who knew that the squalls left over from Hurricane Trayvon were heading north? During George Zimmerman's trial, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey allegedly — no, counselor, I didn't forget — neglected to turn over to defense lawyers a prosecution report on some myth-destroying photos found on Trayvon's cell (Trayvon apparently smoking pot, someone holding a handgun, video of two homeless men fighting). Constitution-wise, that's a no-no.
Ben Kruidbos, the info-dweeb who wrote the report, ratted out his boss' withholding of evidence, under oath and in front of TV cameras. He was duly canned, frog-marched out of the Fourth Judicial Circuit and deposited on the pavement.
Corey is herself familiar with this hallowed ritual, having been fired by her predecessor, Harry Shorstein, for being abusive and unprofessional toward interns. So too is her No. 2, Cheryl Peek, who in 1990 was accused of dismissing a grand jury panel and then immediately seating another in order to get an indictment. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that this wasn't jury tampering, but her boss, then-State Attorney Ed Austin, decided it was outrageous and dismissed her.
Kruidbos is now suing Corey et al. for $5 million. Thus it was that on Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. sharp, assorted attorneys and I assembled in the chambers of Judge Lawrence Haddock.
The electricity was palpable. Would Trayvon Nation storm the Palace of Justice? Would Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton parachute into the atrium? Would 10,000 whackazoid bloggers from Planet Zim leap to their keyboards and hack the secrets of all and sundry? We waited for a circus. We waited for chaos. We waited for the judge — 10 minutes, 20, 45.
"Omigod," I thought. "He knows this one's hot."
At last, after nearly an hour, His Honor emerged and, through steepled fingers, informed us that there was a conflict. He was a longtime friend of the Corey family and the recipient each year of a plate of stuffed grape leaves made by the …
From the depths of Police Zone 1, I offer a Christmas gift to the parents of teenagers throughout Northeast Florida. This gift cannot be bought in stores. Its price is spiritual, mental and physical; its value is beyond price. This gift cannot be given, only encouraged. When it appears, it will come, mysteriously, from the depths.
The gift is a project, a difficult and worthy goal for your children. As they mature, nature will push them away from you and out into the world. They should stride into life with direction and purpose. They should never wander, lest they enter my world of jails, prisons, courts, cops, guns and corpses.
As I research a book on the death of Trayvon Martin and look at other, eerily similar cases involving other young men, one thing stands out: boredom. Bored, too, are all the kids locked up in that horror house on Eighth Street we call the Duval Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Absent a project, human beings regress to simple biological imperatives. Boys need to be manly, so they become tough. Sometimes, as with Trayvon, things go horribly wrong. The girls? Biology tells them to have men and babies. So they do.
You can't push a project. You can only encourage it. More important than the achievement itself is developing character, discipline and the habit of hard work. The fire must come from within. Remember, to a young person, ambition is an absolutely new experience. Unlike a wish, it doesn't evaporate with the next phone call or text. It stays, burning warm or hot, day after day. A worthy project, powered by ambition, forces the development of a mental ability rare in young people: the ability to project oneself mentally into the future.
Kids with projects can say, "In two years, I will have accomplished this. I will no longer be here. I'll be there." With future projection comes prudence and the ability to make choices. Goal-oriented kids have less trouble with drugs and sex because these things mess up the project. …
Ladies know what to do when men beat them up. There are hotlines to call, counselors on hold, handy pre-printed brochures and a sympathetic, mostly female Florida State Attorney's Office ready to kick some ass. There's even a safe house in which to hide during the abuser's prosecution. (Alas, this lovely refuge is located a few blocks from me in ever-cheerful Police Zone 1. At least the women there can drift off each night secure in the knowledge that the hoodlums on all sides are interested in killing each other and not them, which must be a great comfort.)
But what happens when a woman starts pounding you, guys? What do you do when the yelling advances to in-your-face screaming — and then out comes the crockery, with the rolling pin and the skillet close behind? Maybe she'll grab a butcher knife or a gun. Need I remind you what infuriated women can do with scissors?
And to make matters worse, women in this condition, like the Hindu goddess Kali, often seem to have eight arms, so while they're whaling on you, they're simultaneously stomping your iPad, chopping the Xbox, and launching your jeans, jackets, jock straps and NBA-licensed sneakers through the window. Worse yet, one of those Kali-like arms will have a cellphone that has already dialed that three-digit number. The po-po are on their way — and they're not coming for her.
As I said, ladies have an infrastructure in place to help them. But men? You poor bastards. All you've got is me. Listen up, because Uncle Wes knows what to do:
• Shut the fuck up. You cannot win arguments with out-of-control people, and you certainly can't win arguments with cops.
• Turn around, exit through the door, keep walking — not a word. Once outside, do not run. This makes you easy for cops to spot. Do not drive your car. Why? Cars have colors, makes, models and license plate numbers and are easy to track because they're located where the cops are, on the streets. A friend can …
When last I saw a medical marijuana advocate, he'd just jumped the back fence of the condos and was booking up Market Street with two popo in pursuit. We were evicting said advocate because both he and the condo's owner had forgotten to pay rent, condo fees and the mortgage for several years and the condo association, the association's president (me) and CitiMortgage Inc. were peeved.
During the trash-out, (being a condo association president is similar to being a janitor), I discovered, as expected, brochures about the wondrousness of marijuana as a medicine and the cruel injustice of a state that allows — nay, encourages — the consumption of alcohol but bans the magic herb. I also found methamphetamine, crack cocaine, baggies, bongs big and bongs small, bongs with water and hubble-bubble hoses and two electronic scales as cute as lace pants.
This mope was using the condo as a dope hole, which is cop-talk for a combination drug office and storeroom. Anyone whose IQ tops three digits knows not to live near the stuff. That can be hazardous for your freedom and problematical for your existence. On the desk were wrappers for $20,000 in C-notes and fifties, lists of customers running tabs, with accounts receivable, and lists of suppliers with whom he was running tabs, with accounts payable. There were bank statements from Grand Cayman, which didn't surprise me, and parts for a .38 revolver, which did. That's not much gun for the dope biz.
This guy, who was a beach boy from Ponte Vedra, was challenging, unwisely, the exclusive franchise of The Brothers to sell Schedule I narcotics in Springfield. By now, I'm sure he's duly dead and has been duly dumped into Hogans Creek to float therefrom into the vastness of the St. Johns.
What is truly surprising is the astonishment, possibly unfeigned, of elected officials in legal marijuana states like Colorado and Oregon. According to the Nov. 30 issue of the Wall Street Journal, they're shocked to …
Every jerk in the 'jects and every twit in the trailers knows you can call the cops to settle scores. Just dial 911 and say you've been raped/assaulted/robbed or that your wife/husband/fuckbuddy is beating, scaring, threatening you, etc. The cops don't mind being played because they win by busting people. Arrests keep the jail full and the Palace of Justice humming with hearings. They enable every elected official, whether right-wing freakazoid or liberal squish, to add "crime buster" to their bumper stickers before election day.
Recently, the realization has spread through the Land of the Low that you can testify to 911 and put your version of events into the official record. If something grisly goes down, the 911 call will make its way to radio and TV stations and into court. Best yet, with 911, you can have your say without being quizzed by cops, who ask questions rapid-fire in a confusing manner and have a habit of saying, "Do you know that lying to a law enforcement officer is a felony?" If matters go to court, your 911 statement can't be cross-examined under oath by annoyingly articulate state attorneys.
Playing cops and prosecutors via 911, like staging a crime scene, is a high-risk game. First, you can contradict yourself. Later, after you've had advice of counsel, you might find it advisable to say something different, but it will be too late. You're already on the record. When peeved about perjury, judges can sentence you to a year of busting up lime rock to plant vegetables or cutting grass with scissors along state highways.
Second, if you really get jammed up on the witness stand, you might find it difficult to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A prosecutor will say, "Your honor, the defendant has already spoken on this matter!"
Lest you forget, those 911 operators —courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent — work for the cops! If you talk too long and too convolutedly …
One of the ironies of law is that it is sometimes necessary, for the upholding of sacred principle, to disculpate a scumbag in the prosecution of his scumbaggery. Thus, the Supreme Court will rule soon if a shotgun, held to the heads of California citizens by Walter Fernandez so as to relieve them of their lawful goods, money and chattels, may be adduced as evidence to remand the aforementioned felon to an extended stay in a sunny Golden State prison.
While searching a neighborhood, LA cops knocked on Fernandez's door. He was, at the moment, rearranging his girlfriend's face into bloody hamburger. The cops rudely interrupted, then arrested him for domestic battery. They asked to search the place; Fernandez said no.
Once Walter was jugged, the popo returned and asked again. This time, the no-longer-hemorrhaging girlfriend said, "Come on in!" Cops recovered the shotgun, ammo and knife Walter used for his robberies. A judge tagged onto his sentence an additional 14 years, during which he will get to worry each day if an MS-13 banger will stick a shiv in his guts, then stir.
The point is this: Fernandez was a lawful tenant. He refused a search. The cops then entered, searched and seized without a warrant. If the state persuades the court that other people, who are neither co-owners nor tenants of your home, can waive your Fourth Amendment rights, we're cooked.
If a girlfriend or boyfriend can waive your rights, who else can? The plumber, the kids, some yob you let watch your tube because his flat screen's on the fritz? There's no end to this.
It gets worse. In Massachusetts, lawmakers, in their concurrent, consensual and concupiscent wisdom, want to authorize cops to make no-warrant, no-knock raids any time 24/7 in order to check if you have lawfully secured your lawful firearm in its lawfully mandated childproof box.
"Just checking, sir and ma'am. Got to protect the children. You can go back to sleep now."
In Washington state, legislators …
The most horrific consequence of the shooting of Trayvon Martin was that it set the floor price for dead black boys at $1 million. That's the amount paid by the insurers of The Retreat at Twin Lakes Townhomes on a lawsuit threatened by Benjamin Crump and Daryl Parks on behalf of Trayvon's divorced parents.
The essence of the action was the assertion that George Zimmerman, coordinator of the condos' Neighborhood Watch and Trayvon's shooter, was an agent of the townhome, which was therefore liable to pay for Trayvon's death. In actuality, cops, not condos, direct Neighborhood Watch programs, absolutely and minutely. Unfortunately for the litigious, the boys and girls in blue have a liability cap of $200,000, with no interest or punitive damages, granted by the Florida Legislature. To a big law firm, that's chump change.
Besides, cities, states and the police are notoriously difficult to sue. In the Trayvon matter, no civil trial was necessary. With the media howling race killing, the insurance company rolled over like a spanked puppy and spit up the policy limit.
Had the condominium and its insurers held out for 18 months, which is easy to do in court, they would have had to pay absolutely zero because George Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of his peers. After an acquittal in a self-defense shooting, all parties gain de facto immunity from civil lawsuits from Florida's "stand your ground" law.
After Trayvon's death and long before Zimmerman's trial, Crump and Parks, who are personal injury lawyers — not "family attorneys," as was endlessly parroted by the press — motored to the Capitol and appeared before the microphones. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton parachuted in from Chicago and New York and helped orchestrate a media-amplified howl for repeal of "stand your ground." The talk was about Trayvon, but the lobbying was about getting rid of civil immunity.
That went nowhere, of course. To a conservative Legislature and an even more …
When he's not shooing hogs off his back porch in Darien, Ga., criminal defense attorney Dale Carson likes to ponder constitutional questions. "There is," he notes, "no constitutional basis for pretrial punishment." This sounds esoteric; it's not.
It's not esoteric when you neglect to pay a traffic ticket, have your license suspended, then get busted and dragged to jail. After you lose your job and pay the bail bondsman, the attorney, jail fees and court fees, you'll feel punished all right, even if the judge dismisses the charges or the state decides to "null-pross," or drop, the case.
While you're pacing the concrete in the Jacksonville jail, you may vaguely recall that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution declares that you shall not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Even a short jail term deprives you of liberty and property. That's two out of three.
The law draws a distinction between imprisonment and detention and creates legally distinct institutions for those purposes. Prisons are where convicts, i.e., people convicted of a felony, are punished. Jails are where people are detained prior to appearing before a judge. In jail, you're a detainee, not a convict. That's why our lockup is called, formally, the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility.
There are only two justifications for detaining people in jails: the risk that the accused will commit another crime or flee to avoid trial. Certainly people accused of felonies need to be arrested and detained until a judge can review whether they should be released on their recognizance or bail.
But what about the 15,000 people arrested yearly in Jacksonville for misdemeanors, which are petty offenses? Do you double-bolt your doors and lock and cock your Glock to protect yourself against traffic-ticket scofflaws? Or bicyclists who fail to use appropriate lights at night? Or loiterers? Or kids who sock each other in the puss? Or spaced-out gorks with one or …
Jacksonville cops are pleasantly competent at busting themselves. Each year, several cops and civilian employees go bad and get dragged Downtown in chains and dropped, like everyone else, into the criminal justice oubliette.
Sworn officers go down for the classic cop crimes of driving drunk, smacking wives and women, and getting into stupid fights at stupider bars where a firearm might get brandished in a way that can't be ignored. Now and then they get hammered for snacking on dope and cash, on the perps or in evidence, or making watches, jewelry or cash flutter away from the property room. Civilian employees, mostly women, take the hit for making lost and found items stay lost and for tipping their badboy boyfriends about police raids and the identities of undercover officers and confidential informants.
As they say in church, it is meet and right that cops do so. It is not possible, in an organization of more than 3,400 people, that all are law-abiding. What cops don't do, alas, is bust other bureaucrats and elected officials. For this they rely on the FBI Office of Public Corruption.
That's a mistake. The FBI, although capable, has minimal manpower and money compared to local police. Cops are remarkably queasy about busting their municipal confrères for several reasons. First, they don't like the career-limiting heat that occurs when they snoop on government grandees and don't make an arrest. Second, they've become accustomed to being assigned cases (passive) instead of making cases (active).
So how, in a more perfect world, would local cops bust bent bureaucrats and pernicious politicians? Here's how:
Purchasing: When I sold commercial printing, I was never able to do business with the city of Miami because my company refused to send the buyer and his stable of señoritas to Puerto Rico, all expenses paid. To bust such oxygen thieves, you first get the undercover officers to shower, shave, pull out the piercings, and cover up …