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Missouri

Race is one reason for constant police hassle in towns like Ferguson. Revenue is another. In a Cato post yesterday, I note that court fees are the second biggest source of revenue for the small city, and that the Ferguson municipal court last year issued three arrest warrants and presided over 1.5 cases per household. As a result, many residents of the town “wind up interacting constantly with law enforcement because of a culture of petty fines” — enough to make for tense relations between the community and the police even aside from the racial divide. Similarly: Alex Tabarrok, who wrote on related issues two years ago. More: Amy Alkon; Brian Doherty at Reason says his colleague Scott Shackford reaches a lower estimate of the importance of fines in the Ferguson budget.

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All-Ferguson edition, including my CNBC exchange last Friday, above:

  • Typically good John Stossel column [Washington Examiner, syndicated, and thanks for mention] Disturbing innovations coming our way in the world of crowd/protest control include “puke cannons,” “pain rays” [Gene Healy, Washington Examiner, ditto]
  • Cause of death: failure to comply with police orders [David M. Perry, opinion] “Here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you” [Sunil Dutta (L.A.P.D. officer), Washington Post; Ken at Popehat]
  • “Expect Many, Many Lawsuits From Ferguson” [Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed]
  • Not the safe conventional move: I’m quoted on Sen. Rand Paul’s willingness to grapple with Ferguson [Politico]
  • Local commercial economies take a long time to recover from damage done by looting [Kate Rogers/Fox Business, thanks for quote]]
  • Political economy: unusual state of representation in Ferguson makes the town an outlier [Seth Masket, Pacific Standard] Police-driven budget? “Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees” [Jeff Smith, NY Times]
  • According to Victor Davis Hanson, we critics of police militarization have “empowered [radical groups] to commit violence” [NRO]
  • “What I Did After a Cop Killed My Son” [Michael Bell, Politico, Kenosha, Wisc.; civilian review]
  • “Why Are There No News Helicopters Over Ferguson?” [Peter Suderman]

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  • D.C.-area listeners: Today (Monday) I’m scheduled to join host Diane Rehm on her popular WAMU radio show, along with other panelists, tune in at 10 a.m. [update: transcript];
  • “A few people have pointed it out, but our ROE [Rules of Engagement] regarding who we could point weapons at in Afghanistan was more restrictive than cops in MO.” [@jeffclement, part of an interesting Storify on veterans' opinions of Ferguson; related on gun-handling practice of Ferguson police last week as seen by gun aficionados [Reddit via VICE]
  • Obama should call for an end to the 1033 program, which drives local police militarization, says my Cato colleague Tim Lynch [CNN, Yahoo] Pentagon surplus grants to local police don’t correlate with terror threats (state that gets most per officer: Alabama) [WP] Missouri grant angle [David Mastio and Kelsey Rupp, USA Today]
  • SWAT raids on poker games and a comedian: John Stossel’s column this week is on Ferguson [Fox] The inimitable Mark Steyn [Steyn Online] And for balance here’s a contrary view from someone who views militarization as both inevitable and necessary [Jazz Shaw, Hot Air]
  • “What I Did After Police Killed My Son” [Politico; Michael Bell of Kenosha, Wis.]
  • Asset forfeiture, federal partnerships fed St. Louis County gear acquisition [Eapen Thampy, Forfeiture Reform] More background on forces fueling militarization [Glenn Reynolds, Popular Mechanics, 2006]
  • “The Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County, and the City of Ferguson agree that public has the ‘right to record public events’” [Volokh, 2010 Cato video] “Prove the truth”: why cameras help good cops [Nick Gillespie]

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Michael Daly at The Daily Beast has the flabbergasting story of Henry Davis, who was picked up by cops “for an outstanding warrant that proved to actually be for another man of the same surname, but a different middle name and Social Security number,” then beaten by several officers at the station. What happened next was truly surreal: while denying that Davis had been seriously hurt at all, though a CAT scan found he had suffered a concussion and a contemporaneous photo shows him bleeding heavily, four police officers sought to have him charged for property damage for getting blood on their uniforms. The story emerged in part through contradictions in sworn testimony. Moreover, it developed that the department did not have a practice of placing incident reports of this sort in the officers’ personnel files, making it impossible to know how often individual officers had been involved in allegations of excessive force.

The kicker: the police department was that of Ferguson, Missouri.

P.S. Here’s a court document.

Earlier on petty fines and charges as an abusive element in law enforcement. More on the Davis case from Kevin at Lowering the Bar.

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Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone“?

As most readers have reason to know by now, the town of Ferguson, Mo. outside St. Louis, numbering around 21,000 residents, is the scene of an unfolding drama that will be cited for years to come as a what-not-to-do manual for police forces. After police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager on the street, then left his body on the pavement for four hours, rioters destroyed many local stores. Since then, reportedly, police have refused to disclose either the name of the cop involved or the autopsy results on young Michael Brown; have not managed to interview a key eyewitness even as he has told his story repeatedly on camera to the national press; have revealed that dashcams for police cars were in the city’s possession but never installed; have obtained restrictions on journalists, including on news-gathering overflights of the area; and more.

The dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.

If you’re new to the issue of police militarization, which Overlawyered has covered occasionally over the past few years, the key book is Radley Balko’s, discussed at this Cato forum:

Federal grants drive police militarization. In 2012, as I was able to establish in moments through an online search, St. Louis County (of which Ferguson is a part) got a Bearcat armored vehicle and other goodies this way. The practice can serve to dispose of military surplus (though I’m told the Bearcat is not military surplus, but typically purchased new — W.O.) and it sometimes wins the gratitude of local governments, even if they are too strapped for cash to afford more ordinary civic supplies (and even if they are soon destined to be surprised by the high cost of maintaining gear intended for overseas combat).

As to the costs, some of those are visible in Ferguson, Mo. this week.

[edited to add/update links and to clarify the issues of military surplus and the un-interviewed witness; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]

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Wurst-case scenario comes true: “The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of a baseball fan who says he was hit in the eye with a hot dog thrown by Sluggerrr, the Kansas City Royals mascot.” The court overruled a trial judge who had instructed jurors that they could find the flying foodstuff to be an assumed risk of attending a Royals game. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; earlier]

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“Concerns about insurance requirements will keep a southwest Missouri high school team from participating in the first high school bass pro fishing tournament in June.” The insurer for the Nixa High School angling team said it had only suggested, not required, “such things as having the volunteer boaters take a Coast Guard certification course at a cost of about $400 each, and to be CPR- and first-aid trained and requiring students and boat captains to wear specific safety glasses.” [AP/Houston Chronicle; Springfield News-Leader]

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  • Furor grows over Obama administration’s Operation Chokepoint program chilling bank access for legal but disfavored groups [Iain Murray, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, FDIC list (not just payday lenders but also lawful purveyors of pills, guns, ammunition, and much more), Hans Bader] Parallel, though not happening under same program: JP Morgan abruptly closes accounts of former Colombia finance minister who is a renowned international economist, apparently because he made it onto a list of diplomats and other “politically exposed persons” statistically associated with legal risks and high compliance costs [Business Insider] Update via Nolan followup: Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones quotes anonymous bank officials as claiming that some account closures are wrongly being attributed to the program, but even in defending it concedes that should banks opt for continuing to service clients in disfavored lines of business they will shoulder distinctive (maybe decisive) compliance costs from “manag[ing] these relationships and risks,” engaging in due diligence, etc. Also, lawmakers like Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) back the program; besides, this isn’t “the first time that feds have asked banks to keep an eye on their customers” since the Know Your Customer program goes back some years. So that’s comforting!
  • “Court: Standard & Poor’s is entitled to discovery supporting its ‘selective prosecution’ claim” [Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • “Plaintiff? Is That Really Necessary In A Class Action?” [Daniel Fisher on ZymoGenetics case]
  • Backed by hedge fund, lawyers exploit anti-terror law to squeeze global banks [Norman Lamont, New York Post]
  • “CEO facial masculinity predicts firm’s likelihood of being subject to SEC enforcement action” [Jia, Van Lent, and Zeng, SSRN via @brucecarton]
  • “Reflections on High Frequency Trading” [Robert Levy, Cato]
  • Banks finally lay to rest long-running litigation under Missouri second-mortgage law (MSMLA), though only after one Kansas City law firm ran up more than $600 million in settlements [Litigation Daily]

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Court order muzzles gun advocate after his arrest [ACLU of Missouri]:

To express his opinion that Officer [Jerry] Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, [Jordan] Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”

Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Meanwhile: Virginia state trooper sues police activist in small claims court over his actions and statements following a traffic stop of his car in which she participated, the videos of which wound up on YouTube.

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And the curious thing is, they’re from prosecutors. “The prosecutors’ office replaced part-time assistant prosecutors with full-time positions in 2011. Eight of the part-time employees who were replaced sued the city for age, race and/or gender discrimination, The Kansas City Star reported. … The eight former assistant city prosecutors filed their lawsuits individually and alleged different circumstances.” [Claims Journal]

“Jovan Belcher’s mother has filed a wrongful-death suit against the Chiefs, seeking unspecified damages after the former linebacker killed his girlfriend and himself in December 2012. The lawsuit… also alleges that the team … knew, or should’ve known, that Belcher showed signs of cognitive and neuro-psychiatric impairment.” [Kansas City Star]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on November 27, 2013

  • “In a nationally representative sample, higher patient satisfaction was associated with…increased mortality.” [White Coat/BirdStrike]
  • Low premiums! Few glitches! Larger states “working faithfully to implement the law with as few glitches as possible”! New Yorker’s Oct. 7 “Talk of the Town” on ACA’s smooth launch is a retrospective hoot;
  • Massachusetts Nurses Association goes all Venezuelan on hospital governance [Ira Stoll]
  • “Can a healthcare provider make an arbitration agreement with patients for resolving future malpractice disputes?” [Alex Stein]
  • “FDA Proposal To Curb Painkiller Overdose Deaths Would Add Burdens For Pain Patients” [Radley Balko]
  • Georgia DUI expert in hot water [PennLive] “Deconstructing the mechanical engineer” [Manhattan; Eric Turkewitz]
  • “FDA Suspension of Ponatinib: Serious Problem, Wrong Solution” [Richard Epstein, leukemia drug]
  • “Missouri Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Good Samaritan Law” [Michael Cannon, Cato]

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A mascot for the Kansas City Royals threw a wrapped hot dog into the stands, which injured a fan. A jury rejected his claim, but an appeals court reinstated it, and the Missouri Supreme Court is now considering whether the traditional principle that cuts off liability for foul balls and other expected projectiles should cover even the wurst case. [AP, earlier] More: Lowering the Bar.

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“Shannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Radley Balko]

More of the week’s awful-police-happenings coverage: Atlantic City beating and canine attack [Tim Lynch, Cato]; Ames, Ia. police shoot and kill son after dad calls to report he’s taken truck without permission [Des Moines Register]; “Man Dies In Jail Cell After Misdemeanor Pot Offense” [Snohomish County, Wash., severe allergies; Radley Balko again]; New Mexico man’s lawsuit alleges “worst traffic stop ever” [Jalopnik, Popehat, Lowering the Bar and more, Orin Kerr, Michelle Meyer/Faculty Lounge]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on October 25, 2013

  • Sen.-elect Cory Booker (and Mayor Bloomberg too) on liability reform and fixing health care [NJLRA] How plaintiff’s lawyers get around caps [Alex Stein, Bill of Health] Missouri protects health volunteer workers [John Ross]
  • Like an Ayn Rand novel: Massachusetts ballot initiative pushes confiscation of private hospital profits [Ira Stoll, NY Sun]
  • Advice: plan now to lower your 2014 income to get valuable ObamaCare subsidies [San Francisco Chronicle]
  • Medicare comes off poorly: “Quality Of Care Within Same Hospital Varies By Insurance Type” [Tyler Cowen]
  • Revisiting a panic over alleged mass drug injury: “Avandia’s posthumous pardon” [David Oliver, earlier here and at Point of Law]
  • Louisiana lawmakers use malpractice statute to discourage abortion [Alex Stein, Bill of Health]
  • Georgia committee looks at plan to replace med-mal suits with administered compensation [Georgia Report via TortsProf, Daily Report Online (constitutionality), Insurance Journal]
  • Uwe Reinhardt on professional licensure and doctors’ monopoly [David Henderson]

At 5 a.m., although the seating area of the fast-food restaurant was closed, the drive-through window was still filling orders. Some people were partying in the parking lot when Ali Aziz and a friend arrived. The friend got into an altercation with the partiers, Aziz stepped in and was beaten and nearly killed, suffering brain damage. Lawyers proceeded to argue that the fast-food chain should have trained its employees better and failed to follow its own procedures for handling disruptive customers. “The jury award was actually for $25 million but was reduced to $20.5 million because jurors found Aziz was partially to blame for his involvement in the fight.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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Labor and employment roundup

by Walter Olson on February 28, 2013

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