Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

These are the only 3 Republicans in the House who voted to close Guantanamo Bay

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Most Republicans oppose President Obama’s plan to close the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, where terrorists are often held indefinitely and without trials. But in a recent House vote, three Republicans—congressmen Mark Sanford, Justin Amash, and John Duncan—broke ranks and supported an amendment that would have shuttered the controversial holding facility.

Sanford explained to McClatchy DC that his opposition to Guantánamo is consistent with his concerns about indefinite detention, a controversial provision that was added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, under which those merely suspected of terrorism could be held without constitutionally required due process.

“Indefinite detention is not consistent with the values that America was based on,” said Sanford. “I think if you look at the military tribunals, there was finality to the process: ‘We find you guilty in military tribunal, we’ll take you out back and shoot you, or we’ll let you go.’ It was not, ‘We’re going to hold you for the next 40 years.’”

From a libertarian or constitutional conservative standpoint, Sanford’s outlook makes sense. It’s not that we aren’t going to punish terrorists—he mentioned military tribunals, after all. It’s that throwing someone into a prison like Guantánamo Bay on the mere suspicion of terrorism and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial is anti-American from a human rights and constitutional standpoint.

The issue of closing Guantánamo has resurfaced recently, as Obama struggles to fulfill a promise he first made over seven years ago.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” said President Obama earlier this year. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”

That’s a nice statement, but civil liberties advocates on both the right and the left have reason to be skeptical. After all, Obama signed reauthorizations of the Patriot Act and new indefinite detention provisions into law, even after talking a big game about what a civil libertarian he was.

Nevertheless, the president does seem committed to at least attempting to move past the wartime abuses of his predecessor, while acknowledging the difficulty of the logistical challenges.

As Obama said: “The plan we’re putting forward … isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened. This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

Obama doesn’t have nearly the support he needs from Congress to close Guantánamo. The recent amendment, even with backing from the three Republicans, failed by a margin of 259-163.

These cops tried to use civil asset forfeiture to steal money from a Christian charity

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Civil asset forfeiture, under which law enforcement can seize your property even if you aren’t convicted of a crime or arrested, is a nationwide problem. The state of Oklahoma, however, has a particularly well-documented knack for asset forfeiture abuse.

The latest example comes from the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. He brings us the story of Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee and American citizen who lives in Dallas, and the volunteer manager of the Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Christian rock band from his home country. Wah had been on a months-long tour with the group, which was raising money for a Christian college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand.

That didn’t stop Muskogee County cops in Oklahoma from automatically assuming he was tied up in the drug trade—and using that as a justification to steal the Christian rock band’s charitable proceeds.

Writes Ingraham:

[S]heriff’s deputies in Muskogee County, Okla., pulled Eh Wah over for a broken tail light …The deputies started asking questions — a lot of them. And at some point, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted on the car. That’s when they found the cash, according to the deputy’s affidavit. …

Eh Wah managed the band’s finances, holding on to the cash proceeds it raised from ticket and merchandise sales at concerts. By the time he was stopped in Oklahoma, the band had held concerts in 19 cities across the United States, raising money via tickets that sold for $10 to $20 each.

So the drug-sniffing dog barks. No drugs were actually found. Yet the cops interrogated Wah for several hours, threatened him with jail time, and took $53,249 allocated to Christian students and orphans in a highly vulnerable part of the world without justification. Then they let Wah go!

If this isn’t a gross abuse of the system—which is directly tied to the countless injustices baked into the War on Drugs generally—then what is?

Luckily, the Institute For Justice, a libertarian civil liberties law firm that represents clients like Wah for free, was on hand to help. This week, Muskogee County finally did the right thing, two months after the initial interrogation Wah faced.

“We are thrilled that District Attorney Loge has dropped the criminal case against Eh Wah and offered to return the money to the band, the church and the orphanage,” said IJ attorney Dan Alban. “The intense public scrutiny generated by this outrageous case led to justice being served.”

But as Alban points out, Wah was a highly sympathetic victim. There are many other people all over the country without his sparkling backstory who have had their basic civil liberties violated through civil asset forfeiture abuse.

The truth is, much work remains to be done. The Oklahoma state legislature recently rejected a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture. But the fact that such legislation even exists, and that reforms have been passed elsewhere, is a step in the right direction. Shining further light on these abuses must continue to be a priority.

As Wah so eloquently says:

This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.

After his truck was stolen by law enforcement, this cop is working to reform civil asset forfeiture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Stephen Mills is a 24-year army veteran turned Apache, Oklahoma, Chief of Police. He also owns a ranch in nearby Grady County, where he employed a worker who was arrested for stealing oil field equipment while driving one of Mills’ work trucks. This happened in 2010, before Mills became an officer in the area.

As Mills explained in a video produced by The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, “I assumed [the police] were seizing [the truck] as evidence of the crime. I called them to ask when they were going to be done with it, and I could get my truck back. And what I was told was it wasn’t being taken as evidence. They were seizing it under civil asset forfeiture, because it was used in a crime.”

The Daily Signal’s Melissa Quinn summarized the problem well:

“Civil forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to take people’s cash, cars, and property if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity. The procedure was expanded in the 1980s and hailed as a tool law enforcement needed to fight the war on drugs.”

While the War on Drugs excuse is a standard explanation used by law enforcement to justify the practice of deeming property, not just people, as culpable in a crime, it’s clear the practice is abused far beyond that scope.

The ranch hand who was arrested in Mills’ vehicle wasn’t charged with drug trafficking. He was caught stealing property from an oil field – in a truck that didn’t belong to him! Yet the vehicle was seized, no questions asked. In many cases, property is stolen by cops under this standard, even when no crimes were committed by the owners.

State Senator Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma Republican who introduced a bill to reform this practice, explained to The Daily Signal that, “Every way across the board in different agencies, city, county, statewide agencies, the system is fraught with abuse.”

Added Loveless, “Innocent people’s stuff is being taken. The system is so perverted that it is like climbing Mount Everest to get your stuff back.” As Loveless concluded, “[I]t comes back to should the government be able to take someone’s stuff and keep it without charging them or proving it, and I say no.”

While civil asset forfeiture remains a major issue, there’s more bipartisan awareness about its problematic nature now than ever before. State legislatures across the country are working to tamp down on this practice.

Unfortunately, many police unions and prosecutors continue to support civil asset forfeiture, largely because, as State Senator Loveless explained, they use the property seized to make up for budget shortfalls. But reform is possible if there’s enough public outcry about this unconstitutional practice.

Ultimately, Mills is right when he says, “The Constitution protects our personal property. When the government uses civil asset forfeiture laws to go in and deprive a person of their property, whether they’re taking it from drugs or not, they’re circumventing the due process that is written into our Constitution.”

A twenty-three-year-old drug charge is preventing this man from serving on his city council

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a small city outside of Pittsburgh, held a routine municipal election last November. Corey Sanders, a husband, father of four, small business owner, and deacon at a local church, was elected to the suburb’s city council.

Voters were aware that Sanders, now forty-five, made some poor decisions in his youth, but also saw him as an upstanding member of the community who had turned his life around.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, in his early twenties, Sanders pleaded no contest to felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He served a four-year term in prison, during which he honed his skills as a barber.

This led to Sanders opening a barbershop in downtown McKeesport, accompanied by a focus on mentoring young men with backgrounds similar to his own on how to stay out of the trouble that plagued his youth.

Looking at Sanders, voters saw a story of redemption and an example of how a man can turn his life around and contribute to his community. This week however, when it was time for the new McKeesport city councilmembers to be sworn in, Sanders hit a roadblock. It was one he had anticipated, but hoped to avoid.

In September, Sanders became aware of the fact that an anonymous complaint had put him on the Allegheny District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s radar. A letter addressed to Sanders from Zappala read, “Although I personally believe that the electorate should decide who they want to represent them, I regret that your record precludes you from seeking and/or holding public office.”

The warning from Zappala’s office was prompted by the fact that according to Pennsylvania’s constitution, a convicted felon may not represent citizens even if they duly elect him or her.

While the Allegheny District Attorney’s office stands on valid legal footing in this case and many of their representatives have expressed personal disagreement with the constitutional provision, critics believe the law is being applied unevenly.

Fawn Walker-Montgomery, a McKeesport city councilwoman who has expressed support for Sanders said on Monday during a meeting where new city council members were sworn in, “There’s like five elected officials that law could have been used for, but you use it for Mr. Sanders, something that’s more than 20 years old?”

Walker-Montgomery was referencing at least two of her colleagues with that statement: Solicitor Jason Elash who was convicted of a DUI, and Dan Carr who has been brought up on gambling charges. It is not clear whether either of these charges were felonies, however.

Sanders, knowing he wouldn’t be sworn in at Monday’s meeting, had gone to a judge in Pittsburgh to be sworn in independently, and sat with the council after they went through the process. That’s when the arguments started.

Hopefully, Pennsylvania’s constitution can be amended to allow felons who have turned their lives around a second chance and an opportunity to represent their neighbors. The same goes for other states that bar former felons from fully re-entering society once they’ve paid their debts.

As enthusiasm for criminal justice reform continues to rise nationally, many states are focusing on how to make sure felons don’t reoffend and are able to improve their lives. Sanders’ example is a positive one, and one of many that speaks to why these efforts are important.

Meanwhile, Sanders is seeking a pardon from Pennsylvania’s governor, which would allow him to serve the citizens of McKeesport that elected him.

After the Paris attacks, Britain plans to bolster its police state with military troops

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Originally published at Rare

In the wake of devastating terror attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a plan to shake up his nation’s counterterrorism strategy. British newspaper The Sun reports that Cameron plans to have thousands of troops on standby to deploy and subdue potential bombers or gunmen.

Said Cameron of his new “Strategic Defence and Security Review” plan: “We have put in place a significant new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks. Under this new operation, up to 10,000 military personnel will be available to support the police in dealing with the type of shocking terrorist attack we have seen in Paris.”

This ramp-up is occurring in light of concerns that police officers in European cities aren’t equipped to handle large-scale terror attacks. Police chiefs will have control over these “rapid reaction” troops, calling upon them to engage in active terrorist situations if it becomes necessary.

“It gives the police an additional power in a time of great need. If there were a terrorist attack and we needed to surge, people would be happy to see the military do that role,” Cameron said.

In addition to beefing up its own security, Great Britain has pledged to work closely with France, offering a British base in Cyprus to the French if needed, in addition to cooperating with ongoing airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Britain’s defense minister, however, has said that Britain will not put boots on the ground as part of this effort.

As for the United States, we will continue cooperating with European allies as far as intelligence sharing goes, which France admits it failed at in light of recent attacks in Paris. As President Obama said during a joint press conference with France’s President François Hollande after the Paris attacks, “Building on our recent intelligence agreement, the United States will continue to quickly share threat information with France.”

Debates will continue both in Europe and the United States over whether Britain’s kind of heavy-handed military response is necessary in today’s world, or if it’s leading to an unnecessarily large police state.