Monthly Archives: January 2008

Me and Alderman Allen

As a blogger, I get to write about whatever interests me.

One of the things that did not interest me, however, was the upcoming Democratic primary race for Cook County State’s Attorney. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that office was up for a vote (although I probably could have figured it out…). The current state’s attorney, Dick Devine, is retiring, which leaves the race wide open.

One of the candidates for that office is 38th Ward Alderman Tom Allen. Since that’s right near where I live, the Great and Mighty Geoff at Chi-Town Daily News assigned me to interview Allen for the race.

Preparing for the interview, I read a bunch of background material about the State’s Attorney’s office, the issues in this race, and what the candidates are saying, so now I know something about it all. I’d love to blog about it too, but that might give the appearance of a conflict of interest, as far as the Daily News is concerned.

So now I’m interested, but I can’t blog about it.

I’m going to have to think more carefully about that next time I get an assignment.

Here’s my interview with Alderman Tom Allen.

Update: I might as well post the full list of Chi-Town Daily News interviews with the Democratic candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney:

We didn’t bother to interview the Republican candidates—no doubt because of liberal media bias—but here’s the complete list:

  • Tony Peraica (Cook County Commissioner)

Vote smart, everybody.

The Fear Card

Over at Drug WarRant, Pete writes about yet another way politicians and their minions use the fear card to get more money for government programs.

As part of his article, he includes a mock “FEAR” credit card. I liked the idea a lot, but I wanted to try making one that was even more obviously a credit card:


You might think the monster is so cheesy looking because I have no artistic talent, but really I did it that way as an ironic commentary on the banal fakery inherent to all fear-mongering. I swear.

A Cinderella Affidavit

Long before I got fascinated by legal blogs, I was fascinated by legal novels. Neither is a substitute for receiving actual instruction in the law, but both are cheaper. I’ve learned a few things.

Reading Scott Greenfield’s rant about informants reminded me of A Cinderella Affidavit by Michael Fredrickson. I’m not going to go into the details of the plot—they’re not that important and I can’t really remember them anyway—but the concept of a Cinderella Affidavit has stuck with me.

I don’t know if “Cinderella Affidavit” is common legal jargon or just a catch phrase Fredrickson made up for his book. In any case, here’s how it works: Say you’re a cop working narcotics, and you want to arrest a guy you’re sure is dealing drugs out of a house, but you don’t have any proof. In order to get the probable cause you need for a warrant, you’re going to have to investigate the case, gather evidence, find informants, and try to make a controlled buy. But that’s a lot of hard work, and you might not succeed.

If you aren’t too concerned about lying to a judge (also known as perjury), there’s an easier way: You make it all up. Just start writing out your affidavit and say a confidential informant told you there were drugs. (This also works if you got some information in a way you’re not supposed to, like the Herc and Carver on The Wire attributing all the information from their illegal audio bug to a phantom informant named “Fuzzy” Dunlop). The judge grants the warrant, and you bust into the drug dealer’s place of business and find what you were looking for: The drug dealer and his drugs.

Case closed, pretty much. No one will ever expect to meet the phantom informant. For one thing, most cases never make it to trial, and if there’s no need for a trial, there’s no need for his testimony. If the case does go to trial, the cops can argue that revealing his identity will ruin his value as an informant. If worst comes to worst and somebody insists, the cops can just say they can’t find their informant (which has the advantage of being true). The prosecutor doesn’t really need the informant anyway because he’s got a big pile of drugs he can show off.

On the other hand, if the cops didn’t find any drugs during the raid then the informant isn’t needed because there’s no criminal case. Either way, like Cinderella at the ball, the informant just vanishes from the scene.

Unless something goes wrong.

In A Cinderella Affidavit, a cop gets killed during the drug raid. This brings down a whole lot of attention on just why the cops raided the location and what the informant saw when he was there. It takes a novel for it all to play out.

Knowing what a Cinderella affidavit is turns out to be helpful in understanding a number of real-life stories. For example, when Atlanta cops killed a 92-year old grandmother during a drug raid, a lot of people wanted to know why the cops thought there would be drugs in her house. The resulting federal investigation alleged that although the informant was real, he made his statement after the cops framed him with planted drugs. The cops also allegedly lied about there being security cameras at the house to justify a no-knock warrant. If all had gone according to plan, the problems with the affidavit would probably never have come to light.

Then there’s the drug raid in Cheseapeake, Virginia on the 17th of this month, in which officer Jarrod Shivers was shot and killed, allegedly by the occupant of the house, Ryan Frederick. On their warrant application, police said they had a confidential informant who had seen a marijuana grow operation in the garage. Almost a week after the raid, police finally announced they had found some marijuana in the home, but they wouldn’t say how much. Meanwhile, Frederick says that no one was in his home around the time specified in the affidavit, but there were signs of a break-in. Did the cops raid this guy’s house on the word of a burglar? Did they mention that in the affidavit? Or was that something else that would vanish when the party was over?

I’ve been reading about botched drug raids for a while, and it seems that a non-trivial percentage of them turn out to have problems with the facts asserted by the officers applying for the warrant. Do you think that’s a characteristic of botched drug raids? Or do you think we’d find the same kinds of problems in all the successful drug raids if we ever bothered to look?

Business Weak

Check out this clause in the User Agreement for Business Week magazine online:

In addition, User may not:

2. use or attempt to use any “deep-link,” “scraper,” “robot,” “bot,” “spider,” “data mining,” “computer code” or any other automated device, program, tool, algorithm, process or methodology or manual process having similar processes or functionality, to access, acquire, copy, or monitor any portion of…

It’s 2008 and they don’t allow deep linking?

Aside from their lousy web etiquette (and questionable business model), I’ve always felt that legal attempts to prohibit deep linking are crazy talk.

It would be one thing if people were hacking into the site to steal data, or if people were publishing secret passwords. But Business Week isn’t using any of the web security protocols to protect their articles. Everything is wide open. How can it be wrong to publish deep links to their site when their server is programmed to honor deep links?

They claim their User Agreement is a contract that is binding on everyone who visits the site. For all I know, that may even be actual law, but it makes no sense for them to claim one thing in their User Agreement and then implement another thing in their web server. It’s like posting a “No Trespassing” sign outside your door while the people inside are yelling “Come on in!” to everyone passing by. Who are visitors supposed to believe?

(Hat tip: Don MacAskill)

Market Failure in 22-inch Winter Wiper Blades?

Chicago just got hit with some more snow, and I realized I need new wiper blades on my car. The ones I have now are not winter blades, so ice builds up in the wiper frame and prevents it from applying even pressure, allowing ice and sleet to remain on the window.

My Camry bit the dust with serious engine problems about a month ago (my mechanic says it’s a “spun bearing,” but that sounds like something he made up), so I’m driving an old T-bird that a friend is loaning me. According to the books, it takes 22-inch wiper blades on both sides.

I haven’t been able to find the blades. I stopped at three different auto parts stores, and all of them were out of 22-inch winter wiper blades. They had other blades, but not the ones I needed.

How can that happen?

I mean, obviously, winter blades are in demand because it’s winter, and I’m guessing that 22-inches is one of the most common blade sizes, so people have been buying a lot of them, and the stores have run out.

But shouldn’t the buyers at the auto parts store have realized that 22-inch winter wiper blades would be in big demand in Chicago in January? Shouldn’t wiper blade manufacturers know the ups and downs of their business and ship a few extras to stores?

I see similar economic mysteries all the time. Why is it that the ice cream section of the 7-Eleven always has plenty of Butter Pecan but consistently runs out of Dulce de Leche soon after each new delivery? Shouldn’t some computer somewhere notice what’s going on and start ordering more Dulce del Leche and less Butter Pecan?

The theory of efficient markets doesn’t require that businesses never make mistakes, but the free market does tend to doom businesses that consistently fail to take advantages of chances to make money. So what’s going on here? Is this some weird kind of market failure? Or does it somehow make good business sense to run out of Dulce de Leche ice cream and 22-inch wiper blades?

The Lima Raid and the Misuse of SWAT

My post about the Lima, Ohio SWAT team’s shooting of of Tarika Wilson and her infant son drew an angry comment from Kevin P:

Ok, First of all i would say who the fuck are you to tell them how to handle things. When you become part of the SWAT let me see how you react. I bet you have no clue how that even works do you? Do you know how hard they train. Lets keep it this way, I live over in New Jersey, And i am only 15. We go up to camden and also pennsauken, to play at a real SWAT house. This house is used for every Kind of Law Enforcement Agency. Now remember we are just playing paintball, but being traied by an Ex-Navy Seal. But do you know how your heart beats around every corner you go. I don’t think you relize what exactly goes on do you. They are pretty much trained to not shoot untill they see movement. Now if were in the swat and you were called out to go to this house, And your the point-man In the stack(If you Even now what that means) And im coming around the corner now all of a sudden someone pops out in front of you. Ohh yea are you just going to let them walk right by??? When your in there it is a whole diffrent world. How do you know that Anothny Terry didn’t have a gun. Do you know that bullets can go through walls, well if u did. Did yo ever come to think that the kid was hit by axident. What do you think thier going to be perfect?? Well anyway i just wanted to give you a little example and next time you should think twice bud. Remember Im Only 15 To!

The paintball exercises in the SWAT house sound really cool. I never got to do stuff like that.

Now let me address a few of your points…

First of all, I’m an opinionated blogger, that’s who the fuck I am. Welcome to the blogosphere.

I’m sure you know more about SWAT tactics than I do. (Folks, that’s not snark: Wargames are a fantastic learning tool, and I think paintball is about as realistic as it gets for close combat.) However, I know a thing or two about firearms safety and the ethics of deadly force.

As a general rule, except for open warfare, you are responsible for what you shoot. Whoever shot Tarika Wilson didn’t identify his target properly, or handled his weapon poorly and had an accidental discharge, or (to adopt your scenario) shot through a wall because he wasn’t paying attention to his backstop when he pulled the trigger, or…something else bad, because it’s an undeniable fact that a member of the SWAT team shot a finger off a baby and killed its mother. That can’t be right. It was almost certainly an accident, and it may have even been an excusable accident, but you can’t deny that it was a bad outcome.

(I don’t know what kind of SWAT scenarios you run through, but don’t you lose points or something if you shoot a hostage or an innocent bystander?)

Like all men under arms, a SWAT team exists to serve a political goal: Promoting law and order. However, the shooter was white and the victim was black, which has increased racial tensions in Lima. Hundreds of people have marched through the street and outside the police station. Thankfully, the unrest hasn’t turned violent.

I think the SWAT team has been stood down while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation is investigating the incident. The Ohio Attorney General’s office is observing the situation, and a special prosecutor has been appointed. The FBI has also begun an investigation of possible civil rights violations.

The Lima SWAT team may have succeeded in their mission—the capture of Anthony Terry—but in terms of the larger goals of the Lima police department and the city government, this was a disaster.

As for the hypothesis that Anthony Terry had a gun, I think we can dismiss it. Here in Chicago the police shoot people all the time, and they usually announce within hours if the offender had a gun. Two weeks have gone by since the Lima shooting, and nobody in the police department or the city government has said anything about Terry having a gun.

I was pretty angry when I wrote that original post, so I should make it clear that my anger isn’t directed at the individual member of the Lima SWAT team who pulled the trigger. Something definitely went wrong that day in Wilson’s house, but I have no idea what, and it may not have been his fault. Unless he’s a psychopath, I’m sure he feels terrible about the shooting. His life will never be the same again.

My objection is not about SWAT tactics, it’s about the SWAT mission. The original purpose of SWAT teams was to handle violent situations that were beyond the capabilities of a few cops in patrol cars, especially barricade and hostage situations. That was a great idea, and SWAT teams have worked out well handling tough problems like that.

But police departments have increasingly begun to use SWAT-like tactics for a far less vital purpose: Gathering evidence in the war on drugs. The armed dynamic entry into a home is not intended to keep police officers safe, it’s intended to prevent the occupants from destroying evidence.

In New York, drug cops don’t like to use the main SWAT team for arrests because they move too slowly and carefully to preserve all the evidence, so they have their own dynamic entry teams that work faster.

If all police wanted to do was arrest someone, there are much safer ways. A friend of mine was arrested (falsely) a little while ago. Despite a witness saying he had a gun, when the police came for him, they didn’t throw stun grenades and crash through his door. A handful of ordinary cops just grabbed him when he came out of the house. That’s because you can’t flush a gun down a toilet.

The FBI Hostage Rescue Team is probably the finest SWAT team in the world. But when the FBI went to arrest the Unabomber—the most wanted man in America—a couple of federal law enforcement officers just walked up to his cabin, lured him outside with a ruse, and put the cuffs on. Because he had no way to get rid of the evidence.

But when police needed to collect drug evidence from a home filled with children, we’re supposed to believe they went in hard and fast because it’s safer that way? I call bullshit.

As for how much training SWAT teams do and the heart-pounding stress of being on a mission, that just makes my point. SWAT work is difficult and demanding and filled with risk. All the more reason to avoid SWAT raids for any purpose other than saving lives.

SWAT teams were originally formed for the purpose of bringing violent confrontations to a close, but increasingly they are used to start violent confrontations for the purpose of stopping victimles drug crimes, and the results are often tragic.

Attorney Client Privilege: Worst Case Scenario?

In 1982, Andrew Wilson confessed to his lawyers, Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz, that he had robbed a McDonald’s on Chicago’s south side and killed security guard Lloyd Wycliffe with a shotgun. Bound by the confidentiality of attorney-client communications, the lawyers were unable to tell anyone about Wilson’s confession.

They remained silent even as another man, 54-year old Alton Logan, was arrested for the murder. He was tried, convicted, and sent to jail for life.

Although attorney-client privilege prevented the lawyers from revealing their client’s confession, they did manage to get Wilson’s permission to reveal the truth after his death.

He finally died this last November, and on January 11, Kunz and Coventry got a judges’s ruling that they could go public with his confession. After 25 years in jail, Alton Logan may be getting a new trial.

(The full story is told in a terrific piece of news writing by Tribune reporter Maurice Possley. It’s a more complicated and more interesting story than my short summary.)

I first heard about this in a post by Chicago’s own Second City Cop entitled “Kill All the Lawyers.” He has this to say:

What is truly amazing to us is it seems these two scumbag lawyers look like they want to be praised for keeping an innocent man behind bars for 26 years because they wrote a notarized affidavit in 1982 and kept it in a locked box since then.

We’ll say this – Doctor/Client privilege can be pierced in extreme circumstances. Under certain conditions, the doctor is obliged by law to report certain things. Husband/Wife privilege can be broken, most times voluntarily by one party or the other. You can’t tell us that Lawyer/Client privilege is the only thing impregnable in all circumstances? The law needs to be reformed if so.

He’s certainly got it right that this was an awful situation, but it’s hard to see a way around this without gutting attorney-client privilege. Every accused person needs counsel. As one of SCC‘s commenters points out, “I can tell you have never had a case put on you by [Internal Affairs Division].”

SCC goes on to ask,

So who does Alton Logan sue now? Kunz and Coventry? Wilson’s “estate”? Illinois?

It wasn’t Kunz and Coventry who put Alton Logan in jail for two and a half decades. It was the Chicago Police who caught the wrong man and the Cook County State’s Attorney who prosecuted him.

Wilson’s lawyers did what the ethics of their profession requires of them. The assigned role of criminal defense lawyers is to represent their client’s liberty interest at all costs. As ugly as the situation was, they were doing their job.

In yet another odd twist to this story, Andrew Wilson and his brother were arrested for murdering two police officers, and they later accused Police Commander Jon Burge of torturing them during questioning. Burge was investigated for this and other allegations of torture, and he was eventually fired.

However, too much time had passed since the alleged incidents of torture for Burge to be charged. The scandal remains controversial to this day and has arisen as an issue in the current race for Cook County State’s Attorney.

Wilson had received some accolades for his role in bringing the Burge scandal to light, but now we know that through it all he was keeping a secret that was ruining Alton Logan’s life one day at a time.

Update: I just noticed that Capital Defense Weekly has linked to this article. I guess that would be the worst case scenario. A life sentence is only second-worst case.