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Missouri

Police and community roundup

by Walter Olson on December 15, 2014

  • Oh, no: “Ferguson to Increase Police Ticketing to Close City’s Budget Gap,” because three arrest warrants per household is still too low [Bloomberg News via Zach Weissmuller (& thanks for quote), earlier]
  • In years 2011/12 alone, one Buffalo officer “killed as many dogs in the line of duty as the entire NYPD.” [WGRZ]
  • “He believed the poor had the right to buy and sell.” Tunisia yes, Staten Island too? [David Boaz, USA Today]
  • “The language of protest: Race, rioting, and the memory of Ferguson” [Abigail Perkiss, NCC/Yahoo, mentions me]
  • “Red light cameras to go dark in New Jersey” [Josh Kaib, Watchdog Wire] “Public opinion swings hard against traffic cameras” [AutoBlog]
  • On interpreting statistics on race and policing, point counter-point [Scott Alexander, Ezra Klein, Alexander] Reminder: increasing ranks of black officers does not necessarily lead to fewer shootings of black civilians [Jamelle Bouie, Slate]
  • “Sex, Spice, and Small-Town Texas Justice: The Purple Zone Raid” [Reason.tv video]

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  • At least twelve Baltimore cops sought workers’ comp for stress after using deadly force on citizens [Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun/Carroll County Times]
  • “D.C. Council votes to overhaul asset forfeiture, give property owners new rights” [Washington Post]
  • A different view on Ferguson: Richard Epstein defends grand jury outcome [Hoover]
  • “The House GOP leadership is blocking a police militarization reform bill from even getting a vote.” [Zach Carter, HuffPo, via @radleybalko]
  • Will potential cost of citizen public records requests sink police body-camera schemes? [Seattle Times, ABA Journal]
  • Marissa Alexander case, cited by critics of mandatory minimum sentencing, ends in plea deal [Brian Doherty, earlier, CBS Sunday Morning on mandatory minimum sentencing]
  • Forensics guy hired by Michael Brown’s family: “If they want to think I’m a physician, then more power to them.” [Radley Balko]
  • St. Louis County fines/fees: “Municipal courts charge $100 for Christmas gift of fake amnesty” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial]

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Ferguson decision, cont’d

by Walter Olson on November 27, 2014

PBS NewsHour “read and analyzed more than 500 pages of witness testimony and compared each statement to those given by [officer Darren] Wilson,” pulling together the results in this chart, which illuminates points where the witness testimony tended to help Wilson’s defense and where it did not; perhaps most surprising is how many questions he was apparently not asked. Prosecutor Robert McCullough managed the grand jury proceedings almost in the manner of a defense lawyer for the man facing charges, a strategy extremely unlikely to be repeated in the great majority of grand jury proceedings where the accused is not a police officer [Jacob Sullum] And Conor Friedersdorf notes that if you were looking for poster cases of wrongful use of lethal force for which police were not held accountable — even when there was video or other strong documentary evidence — many other cases would stand higher on the list than that of Michael Brown.

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I’m quoted in this Reason TV segment by Zach Weissmueller on the problem of municipalities that stake their finances on overzealous fee collection:

“When you have towns like those in St. Louis County that get in some cases, 40 percent of their municipal revenue in fines and fees, they have chosen a very expensive way of taxing their population, one that creates maximum hassle and maximum hostility,” says Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and publisher of the blog Overlawyered.

Aside from Ferguson, Mo., the piece uses as examples the notorious Los Angeles suburb of Bell, Calif., exposed in a scandal as being run for the benefit of its managers, and — a smart choice — Detroit, a city with a long-time adversarial stance toward its small businesses and others trying to do everyday business in the town:

…what really grants Detroit this honor is “Operation Compliance,” an initiative pushed by former mayor David Bing aimed at bringing all of Detroit’s small businesses up to code through costly permitting. The initiative launched with the stated goal of shutting down 20 businesses a week.

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Police and community roundup

by Walter Olson on November 24, 2014

  • “As Ferguson waits, some lessons from the Rodney King riots” [Radley Balko] “ACLU wins federal court orders on right to video police in Ferguson, elsewhere” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
  • “What charges could the Michael Brown grand jury consider, if they choose to indict?” [Paul Cassell, Volokh; related on Missouri jury instructions regarding deadly force by police, Robert VerBruggen/Real Clear Policy]
  • Quick links: things this site has published on Ferguson, on police militarization, on police issues generally;
  • Interview with University of Illinois lawprof Andrew Leipold on grand jury process [U of I] A reminder about the surprisingly high error rates of eyewitness testimony [Balko]
  • “Judges propose wide reform of St. Louis County’s municipal courts” [StL; related, holiday warrant forgiveness] Municipal court fines and fees: “Why we need to fix St. Louis County” [Radley Balko, related (Better Together report), earlier here, here from Balko, etc.]
  • “The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons.” Survey of police deadly force issue [L.A. Times] Police forces have strayed far from the “Peel Principles” for which London police were so admired [Tuccille, Reason]
  • Not much. “Whatever Happened To The White House Police Militarization Review?” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed]

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  • New Cato paper finds little evidence that pot legalization in Colorado has much affected rates of use, traffic safety, violent crime, ER visits, health, education outcomes [Jeffrey Miron working paper via Jacob Sullum]
  • Ferguson narrative changes as new evidence supports officer’s story on Michael Brown confrontation [Washington Post, Marc Ambinder/The Week, New Republic]
  • Why Obama was smart to choose Loretta Lynch as AG rather than knocking Republicans’ cap off with a pick like Thomas Perez [Cato; Todd Gaziano on confirmation questions]
  • Plea bargaining system: “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty” [Judge Jed Rakoff, New York Review of Books]
  • “There’s not much to do about catcalling, unless you’re willing to see a lot more minority men hassled by the police” [Kay Hymowitz, Time] Peer pressure seems to be a factor in restraining it [Andrew Sullivan] The “practice of catcalling is most taboo among members of the upper classes.” [Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, earlier]
  • San Diego says it retains discretion over when to release cop camera footage [Radley Balko] How body cameras can vindicate cops [same]
  • Elderly Wisconsin man “was never considered dangerous, [but] was known to be argumentative,” so send in the armored vehicle [Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar, related] “The [SWAT-raided] Tibetan monks were here on a peace mission, for Christ’s sake. Well, not for Christ’s sake, but you know what I mean.” [same] Sen. Coburn quotes Madison: standing military force with overgrown executive will not long be safe companion to liberty [WSJ]

Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2014

  • How legal doctrine changes in a state-based system: “The Diffusion of Innovations in Tort Law” [Kyle Graham]
  • Are courts growing (appropriately) disillusioned with cy pres? [James Beck and Rachel Weil, WLF; Beck, D&DL, on Redman v. RadioShack]
  • “Asbestos lawyers want $2.5 million for losing fight to keep Garlock records sealed” [@DanielDFisher on Legal NewsLine report] “Third Circuit rules against plaintiff who ‘just knew’ asbestos was used in Navy vessels” [Heather Isringhausen Gvillo, LNL]
  • Eric Alexander on the runaway $9 billion Actos verdict [Drug and Device Law, citing Dr. David Kessler, former FDA chief, as "plaintiff's mouthpiece"; earlier on Actos/Takeda case]
  • “Third-Party Bad Faith Claims Add $800M to Florida Auto Insurance Costs: IRC” [Insurance Journal]
  • Discussion of proposals to change contributory negligence for bicyclists in D.C., mucho comments [Greater Greater Washington]
  • “Missouri Supreme Court Invalidates State’s Legislative Cap on Punitive Damages” [Mark Behrens]

Perhaps because it uses police for revenue collection rather than public safety. Last year the tiny town of Beverly Hills issued six traffic tickets and two ordinance violations for each resident. An investigation of the string of towns that includes Ferguson, Mo. finds heavy reliance on speed cameras and intensive traffic enforcement on sometimes-tiny stretches of road, oversized police forces, various anecdotes of assault and misconduct, and, in the case of the town of Edmundson, Mo., a memo from the mayor in April 2014 ordering the writing of more tickets. [Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News; earlier]

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As I and many other writers have noted lately, the town of Ferguson like several nearby suburbs in St. Louis County has a reputation for raising revenue through aggressive use of tickets for minor traffic and vehicle infractions, a practice that many suspect weighs more heavily on poorer and outsider groups. Blogger Coyote, who now lives in Arizona, has some reflections about police practice in that state and also adds this recollection from an earlier stint in Missouri:

I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson. One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff. It was important to make a friend there early. In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation. A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently). All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us. I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.

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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.

P.S. The ArchCity Defenders report on problems with North County municipal courts is online (PDF). And even before Ferguson blew up, there had been stirrings of reform on some of the courts’ user-unfriendly practices [Post-Dispatch]

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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]

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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