Jacksonville has a hard jail:
• No TV, no radio, no Internet.
• Few classes, no jobs.
• No prison yard and no sun. You can play basketball on concrete courts, but you'd better be able to dunk.
"Hard" is a technical, not a pejorative, term in criminal justice. It means a facility where security and safety come first, comfort and happiness second.
Contrast this with a soft lockup. Franklin County, Pa., has the snazziest jail I've ever seen. Inmates gather in a lobby fit for a resort hotel to drink espresso (ah!), to read uplifting periodicals and to watch educational television in high-def. Sunlight floods through a crystalline atrium.
Outside, inmates can work all day trimming grass and pruning roses. Inside, they attend 12-step meetings, chat up prison society visitors and enjoy music for every mood. Vendors deliver goody boxes of chocolates, meats and a fine selection of cheeses. School is in session every day. All this makes you want to rush up to Chambersburg, slap a cop and join the fun.
Other things occur in soft jails. Since visitors can sit with and touch inmates, they often arrive with cheeks and fannies stuffed with narcotics, knives and the occasional derringer. Using cellphones delivered by Rectum Express, inmates order hits on witnesses and shakedowns of other inmates' families. Inside, the homeboys, the carnales and the skinheads clique up, port arms and charge into battle. Forget about the cheese and the chocolates. Murder is always at the top of the menu.
Jacksonville's jail, by contrast, is rock hard. It's miserable for inmates, but good for them and their families, for several reasons.
There is extraordinarily little violence, considering the thousands of men and women jammed in there like Spam in the can. Corrections officers move inmates frequently between floors so they can't clique up, conspire and fight. Visitation occurs behind bullet-resistant glass, so the only thing visitors can pass to inmates is …
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. …
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 …
Warning: This column will disgust you. It's supposed to.
Want to kick your enemies' butts but are afraid to do it yourself? No prob. The cops will do it for you for free. Here's how:
Invite your enemy, unarmed, to a party. Have two confederates there, equipped with cellphone cams. Set these to snap stills or take video. Turn off the audio, since non-consensual speech recording is a felony.
Make nicey-nice. Offer the enemy some fine Schedule I (illegal) or Schedule II and III (prescription) narcotics. For a chaser, serve a well-iced adult beverage. Smile. Stick to beer or wine yourself. After 30 minutes, when things are buzzy-fuzzy, whisper into your enemy's ear the appropriate racial or ethnic slur or use an all-purpose line such as "Your wife purred like a kitten [or your husband roared like a lion] when I … "
Cameras up, gang. Here it comes!
If you're lucky, the stooge will land a haymaker and the evil minx a swipe with the nails or the purse. Take it on the puss if you can. Faces bleed well, and turn usefully purple, without too much damage. If you get a shove, fall back, then hit the floor — softly. Screech out, "My back!" Once is enough. Once the fracas is fried onto memory cards, exit, stage left, el quick-o.
Drive directly to an emergency room to generate written records. Make sure the docs take photos of bruises and lacerations. The next morning, march down to the Florida State Attorney's office and swear out a complaint. Keep it simple, keep it corroborated and make sure your story tracks with the photos and video. Within a week, the state will issue a warrant, and your enemy will be on ice.
Invite your despised ex-husband or lover to a party. See the paragraph above about drugs and booze. When the desired chemical confusion is attained, invite the ex to a back room for old times' sake. Now, off with the clothes, off with the lights and let nature take its course.
When what's going to happen …
At first glance, George Zimmerman's painting of State Attorney Angela Corey, executed in vermilion, carnelian, rhodamine, yellow and orange, is bizarre. With its rough strokes, it resembles the maniac wall daubs that are de rigueur for television serial killers who always have human blood around to paint runes, witchcraft symbols and mysterious messages.
To Duval County Courthouse denizens, however, it's hilarious. Corey is famous for the erubescent rages for which her predecessor, Harry Shorstein, fired her. When she terminated Ben Kruidbos, the IT director who testified that she withheld evidence from Zimmerman's attorneys, the rubor of the ensuing litigation and the uproar in the press were of equal magnitude.
Among criminal defendants, she is the scarlet virago of maximum charges, maximum bail and maximum sentences. To her supporters, she is justice incarnate; to her detractors, outrage incarnadine.
Red becomes her.
Who knew that George was a wit? Not the nattering classes, which pegged him as a loser and cop wannabe, terms repeated endlessly, like echoes in the empty canyon of modern journalism. I suspected otherwise, initially when I listened to him speak Spanish, his best language, and later when he arrived at trial with a quarter-million bucks he'd scored on the Internet for his defense. The sale of his first painting, of an American flag with blue stripes, for $108,000, reinforced this impression.
In exacting some tiny payback on his tormentor, his choice of weapons was interesting. Nearly all prisoners, under a rough blanket in the solitude of a cell, dream of smashing the skulls of the prosecutors who put them there. Zimmerman chose, instead of a club, the paintbrush.
This is insightful. Most elected officials are notably humorless and irony-challenged. When teased with a funny painting or a bon mot that has more than one meaning, they're helpless.
Zimmerman made his artwork by projecting a photograph onto canvas and painting over …
Watching a man cheerfully and unwittingly confess to first-degree murder is like watching a circus clown leave the ring, then walk to a guillotine, stick his noggin under the lunette, and drop the blade. It’s fascinating, in the way that bullfights and beheadings are fascinating.
Michael David Dunn, 45, foredoomed himself by an indirect confession, made on video and without presence of counsel, the day after he shot Jordan Davis, 17, at a Southside Boulevard convenience store.
Here’s how it went down: On Nov. 23, 2012 — Black Friday — Dunn, in town for a wedding, drove into the convenience store. Across the parking lot was a Dodge Durango, from which four teenaged boys boomed a Chief Keefe rap about bitches and snitches and acted annoying in that special manner reserved for youth.
Dunn asked them to turn down the music. He stated that one of the kids shouted, “You’re dead, bitch!” He said he thought he saw a shotgun.
Dunn opened the glove box, grabbed a Taurus nine, racked in a round and fired — bang, bang, bang, bang. The Durango drove away. Dunn fired again, four more.
“As they were fleeing?” asked the detective.
“Yeah,” Dunn replied.
That’s a confession; that’s murder one; that’s game over.
The reason? Under Florida’s self-defense laws, you cannot — repeat not — pursue, and shoot, an attacker who is fleeing. When an attacker flees, you no longer are in danger of “imminent death or great bodily harm,” the statutory requirement for self-defense.
The shotgun? When the kids pulled away in the Durango and realized Davis was dead or dying, they stopped several hundred yards away and returned to the store. Cops arrived within minutes, searched for the shotgun, and found nothing. Even in my neighborhood, where guns have wings, the jits can’t grab a boo-yaa that fast.
The detective conducting the interrogation is masterful. Unlike TV cops, he doesn’t bully or shout. He’s trained, and he’s …
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 properly executed, the political fix is as mysterious as the movements of a conjuror's fingers. The marionettes may prance in full view upon the boards, but the hands that move their limbs and mouths are hidden in the shadows of a black velvet curtain. Before the media can glom onto the goings-on, the illusionist vanishes into the governmental gloom, then tiptoes out the stage door unheard and unseen.
Sheriff John Rutherford, a master of the bureaucratic arts, was uncharacteristically clumsy in his recent voiding of traffic tickets and a Notice to Appear issued to WJXT's Ashley Mitchem. First, the background: Mitchem is an on-air reporter for Channel 4. A beautiful, cheerful scofflaw, she regularly roared along First Coast thoroughfares at speeds prohibited to the lumpen law-abiding. Twice-warned, she was, on strike three, issued a traffic ticket and an NTA — a criminal summons — for the improper display of a Fraternal Order of Police decal, which is a misdemeanor most maleficent in our Sunshiny State.
The lady howled; the sheriff fixed. Usually, this would be a ho-hum exchange of favors among the media and political elite. This time, however, some emails leaked; the Times-Union clamped onto the story like a starving pitbull, and the sheriff, astoundingly, admitted to the fiddle in print.
This surprises. A more deft politician would have whispered a word to the state attorney and presiding judge and the entire matter would've been null-prossed into oblivion with nary a trace leading back to Police Memorial Building.
The moral drawn from this roadside episode was that a bullyboy cop had mistreated the lady, and the issuance of a criminal citation for a bumper decal was an outrage that cried to heaven itself for justice! No ordinary person, etc.
This conclusion is incorrect. The fraternal decal statute is one of those absurdities the Legislature routinely writes into law to pacify clamorous lobbies with no expectation that it will actually be …
'Twas the night before Christmas,
And Glocks were on butts,
The knives were in jeans,
And kids texted, "WAZZUP?"
"SCRAP," someone said.
Damn straight, U SUKR!
The cops said the kids who were fighting around the Regal River City Marketplace Stadium 14 theater on Christmas Eve weren't using social media. I don't believe that. New scrappers kept arriving though nobody sent up a flare. When it comes to the Internet, cops are behind the times — circa when Facebook was cool.
The kids know that cops, parents, friends and frenemies can search their phones. Maybe they used apps like SnapChat that let texts pop up on friends' phones and then vanish into the ether seconds later. Cops can retrieve them from the smartphone's flash chip, but that requires a data extractor and a warrant.
Perhaps that's how messages similar to the doggerel at the top of this column flashed across screens in Jacksonville's raggedy Northside, and why 600 teenagers who did not have Christmas Eve dinners to attend showed up ready to rumble. According to the arrest and incident reports I read, and the video I saw, the mob attempted to flash-rush the building but bounced off the locked doors.
Inside the theater itself, off-duty Officer B.R. Smith called it in, and within minutes, 60 cops came swarming. In the parking lot, the popo were on the receiving end of some "fuck-you-cracker" taunts, while girls pulled hair and clawed at boobs and faces and the boys jumped on the roofs and kicked in the body metal of those wretched Impalas local cops use as cruisers.
The police deployed pepper spray to melt hearts and minds, moved the mob away from the theater, separated out the little kids so they wouldn't get hammered, organized a parent pick-up zone for non-combatants and made five arrests — three juveniles and two teenagers over 18. Laurie-Ellen Smith, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office flack, was dispatched to explain things to …
It's nearly spring, a time when college students tire of N-dimensional geometry puzzles, the raptures of Wordsworth and the difficulties of deciding if Napoleon was a hero or a monster. Soon they will flock to Florida to spend their parents' money and give Anheuser-Busch distributors a second Christmas.
The dummies will go to Daytona Beach to find chill winds, a cold ocean and sharks too sluggish to nip off hands and feet as they do so playfully in summer. The smarties will head south to Key West, where temps will be in the 80s and the hibiscus in bloom.
Even better, Key West cops will have changed procedures. Instead of making misdemeanor arrests, they will issue Notices to Appear for indiscretions such as carrying open booze and beer containers, wee-weeing on historic buildings, ralphing corn dogs and fries into the crystalline waters, indecorous display of magnificent breasts, and the usual scuffling over women, sports teams and manhood.
The miscreants will be processed immediately through ad hoc Spring Break courts, fined $40 and assigned eight hours of picking up beer cans, sandwich wrappers and used condoms from city streets. The punishment is condign and leaves enough credit on Mater and Pater's cards to stoke local merchants, hoteliers and restaurateurs before the next hurricane comes.
Under this mild regime, roisterers are duly restrained and returned to school without criminal records that cause annoying problems with future job interviews and scholarship applications. It's all quite civilized.
These NTAs work in Key West at Spring Break, but they could work everywhere all the time. Consider Jacksonville's petty offenders. They are, alas, less frolicsome than the college kids. They drink, drug and brawl through the Kit-Kat and other noisome clubs. They holler at, pound, bite, scratch and yank out the hair of their spouses and fuck-buddies. They don't use lights on their bicycles at night and — horrors — often walk on streets …