Category Archives: Crime , corrections and law enforcement

Dodging Emails Versus Dodging Bullets

Erik Nielson, University of Richmond professor whose expertise is hip hop culture and African American literature. His recently published book is “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America”

by James A. Bacon

What the Richmond Times-Dispatch considers news this morning…

Headline: “Task force creating Richmond police oversight board publicly calls out Chief Smith.”

Excerpt: “At some point, the unwillingness to engage with this body does start to feel like arrogance. I don’t think we can overlook it,” task force member and University of Richmond professor Erik Nielson said during a public meeting Wednesday. “If you’re watching a task force creating a civilian review board that could potentially just co-opt your authority, and there’s nothing. It makes me feel like they don’t believe it or they’re just not going to deal with it. They think they can get out of it.”

Here’s what WTVR considers news today:

Headline: “Widow tired of dodging bullets in Richmond neighborhood.” Continue reading

Descano’s Unconstitutional Actions

Steve Descano. Photo credit: WTOP

by Emilio Jaksetic

Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve T. Descano has invoked his prosecutorial discretion to issue several “criminal justice reforms.” (Copies are available here.) As part of these reforms, Descano refuses:

(1) to prosecute any person for simple possession of marijuana;

(2) to prosecute any person for felony larceny for any amount less than $1,500 even though the statutory threshold is $1,000;

(3) to pursue any probation violation based on a conviction for possession of marijuana; and

(4) to request cash bail under any circumstance (even if defense counsel requests cash bail).

By implementing the cited policies, Descano has violated the Virginia Constitution. To reach this conclusion, it is necessary to consider: (1) the limits of prosecutorial discretion; (2) specific provisions of the Virginia Constitution that constrain all Virginia officials, including Commonwealth Attorneys; and (3) how Descano’s implementation of certain policies runs afoul of the Virginia Constitution. Continue reading

Crazy Talk: Jennifer McClellan

Sen. Jennifer McClellan. Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by James A. Bacon

If you’re looking for craziness in Virginia, it’s not hard to find. By “crazy,” I mean disconnected from reality. Crazy people are commonly found among the homeless, in state mental institutions, and in the General Assembly. This gem comes from Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, during a televised Democratic Party gubernatorial debate.

“I had to have the conversation with my 10-year-old son last week when he asked me, ‘Mommy, someone not that much older than me was killed by a police officer. Could that happen to me?’”

“And I looked at him and said, ‘I will do everything I can to keep that from happening to you.’ Because there are too many people who call the police for help, and are killed. I had an intern who was in the middle of a mental health crisis, and his grandmother was afraid to call the police because she was afraid that he would be killed. There are too many people who are afraid of the police, and we have to address that problem.”

I’m sorry, but this is a distorted sense of reality. Philip Bump with the Washington Post, who is as woke as an over-caffeinated night watchman, counted 22 children killed by police since 2015. Of those, a quarter were White. That averages out to about three Black or Hispanic kids per year — three too many, to be sure, but not exactly an epidemic in a nation with 47 million Black people, and certainly no reason for any child to live in fear. If you factor out kids who were armed with guns or had the misfortune to live in Chicago, a free-fire zone, the odds of a 10-year-old getting killed by police in America are essentially zero. Continue reading

More Nonsense from AG Candidates

Candidates for Republican AG Nomination Image credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch has compelled me to once again mount my soapbox about one of my favorite peeves — the misleading claims, and understanding, of the role of the Virginia Attorney General.

I will say upfront that I realize that mine is a lost cause and, furthermore, what I am reacting to is political rhetoric. Nevertheless, like Steve Haner on another subject, I need to get it off my chest.

The article profiled the four candidates for the Republican nomination for Attorney General. In their remarks, there were several themes in common:

  • Opening schools and businesses
  • Professionalism of the Office of Attorney General
  • Use of force by police
  • Qualified immunity for law enforcement

Continue reading

Mentally Ill in Jails, Part 3: Costs, Legislative Initiatives, and a Modest Proposal

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Note: This is the third, and final, post in a series examining the issue of mentally ill people being held in jails. Earlier posts can be found here and here.)

Costs. In comments to the previous installments, several readers brought up the issue of the cost of providing services for the mentally ill in jails, as well as the comparable costs of mental health services and the costs of incarceration. This is a tricky subject.

There will be costs. Programs to divert the mentally ill from jail or to provide treatment services while in jail will cost money. There is no getting around that.  How much it will cost will depend on the scope of the diversion and treatment efforts. A second question is who bears, or should bear, those costs.

Incarceration vs. treatment. Is it cheaper to treat the mentally ill than to hold them in jail? Probably not. Many advocates for diversion and treatment point to the daily cost per offender in jail. In FY 2019, the latest year for which data is available, the operating cost per inmate for all jails was $91.97 per day. The daily cost per individual jail varied from $270.55 (Fairfax County) to $48.69 (Piedmont Regional Jail). Continue reading

Virginia Pols Call for Passage of George Floyd Act

by Hans Bader

After the murder conviction of the policeman who killed George Floyd, Virginia’s progressive politicians are calling for passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would allow police departments to be sued when police stops aren’t racially and sexually balanced.

Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) said, “This verdict is a start, but it does not absolve Congress and the federal government of our responsibility to reform policing across the country, and it is a reminder of the need for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”

Virginia’s senior Senator, Mark Warner, called on his Senate colleagues to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act: “George Floyd’s life mattered. Justice has been served…we owe it to Mr. Floyd, his family, and far too many others like him to take meaningful action to reform our policing system. We can start by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”

Joe Biden also backs this bill. But it has a downside: it could lead to more racial and sexual profiling, such as gender-based stops of female motorists, or racial or gender quotas for police stops. Continue reading

Yeah, the Parole Board Scandal Really Is a Scandal

The good guy: Virginia Inspector General Michael C. Wesfall

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Rebellion has not given the biggest scandal of the Northam administration (since Blackface) the attention it deserves. In fact, we have given the matter little attention at all. Sorry, folks, we don’t have the resources to do it all. And there’s no need when the mainstream media is doing a perfectly good job. But at some point, we have to acknowledge that the scandal is ongoing.

I’m talking about the parole board scandal, in which Adrianne Bennett, chairwoman of the Virginia Parole Board, allegedly violated state law and the board’s own victim-notification procedures for releasing murderers from prison. After receiving complaints on the state’s waste-fraud-and-abuse hotline, the State Inspector General conducted an investigation and documented the allegations. Senior members of the Northam administration got wind of the report and heavily redacted it for release to the public. Republicans got wind and raised a stink. Team Northam berated IG Michael Westfall and his staff, one of the staff resigned in protest, and Governor Ralph Northam called for an investigation of the investigators.

The heavy: Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer

For once, the mainstream media has been doing its job and covering the scandal, which shows how the Northam administration does business. (If you think this is the only time Team Northam has thrown its weight around, you’re deluding yourself.)

One outlet I give credit to is the Virginia Mercury. I have taken the independent online publication to task for some of its environmental and social-justice reporting, but it has been in the forefront of covering the parole-board scandal.  Continue reading

Where Are the Parents?

by Kerry Dougherty

America has a problem. And I’m not talking about the police or racism or a political schism as wide as the ocean.

I’m talking about parents. Rather, the lack of parents.

In recent weeks the nation has been shocked by a series of horrific stories about kids being killed — by the cops and by each other — and we blame everyone but the people responsible for these children:

Their parents.

Take the case of Adam Toledo, for instance. He’s the 13-year-old who was shot and killed last week by a Chicago policeman who was pursuing him and a 21-year-old man through a dark alley at about 2:30 a.m. The two were suspected of shooting at cars.

Protesters claim Adam dropped his gun just as the officer shot him. They’re demanding Derek Chauvin-like consequences for the policeman.

But here’s the question we ought to be asking: Why was a 7th grader on the streets of Chicago at 2:30 a.m. with a handgun? Continue reading

Norfolk Sacks Police Officer for $25 Contribution to Rittenhouse Defense Fund

by Kerry Dougherty

Lemme get this straight: A high-ranking Norfolk police officer with 19 years of service was fired yesterday because he anonymously contributed 25 bucks to the defense fund of then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two people during riots in Kenosha, WI, last summer.

It appears Lt. William K. Kelly III sent the donation through his work email and was doxxed by a group called Distributed Denial of Secrets that operates on the dark web and fancies itself the heir to Wikileaks.

The anonymous $25 donation was accompanied by this message: God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.

That email might be a violation of police department policy, but a fireable offense? Continue reading

Is U.S. 460 Really a “Race Trap” for Blacks?

Fatal traffic accident on U.S. 460 in Isle of Wight County, March 2018. Photo Credit: WAVY TV.

by James A. Bacon

On April 17 The Virginian-Pilot published an article with the following headline: “Not a speed trap, a race trap: Black Virginians say they’ve been racially profiled in and around Windsor for decades.”

The highly publicized traffic-stop encounter in which two white policemen pepper-sprayed Caron Nazario, a black army lieutenant, on U.S. 460, was not an anomaly, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Quoting the experiences of eight black former Virginia State University students and faculty, the newspaper provided anecdotal evidence that blacks have been targeted for ticketing by the three Ws, the towns of Windsor, Wakefield and Waverly.

“We as African Americans have traditionally acquiesced to the racial power dynamics that are displayed throughout policing on 460,” said Zoe Spencer, an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at VSU. “And while I believe Lt. Nazario’s situation was absolutely egregious, I would hypothesize that he is in no way the only one that experienced that kind of treatment.”

Clearly, there is a perception among many blacks that they are targeted for traffic offenses along U.S. 460. But is that perception based on reality? Are black motorists in Windsor and other small towns along U.S. 460 really stopped, ticketed and even dragged out of their cars because of their race? Continue reading

Culture Wars and the Law

by James C. Sherlock

We have reported here significant evidence of the criminal harassment of two conservative students, one a student council member at the University of Virginia and the other a soccer player at Virginia Tech, for their political views.

Both have been treated as administrative matters at the two universities. That is a reflection of the political views of the administrations of those universities rather than the seriousness of the allegations and supporting evidence.

People should be able to attend school without harassment. Period. Fortunately, it is against the law. The culture wars, when they stray into federal and state crimes, need to result in criminal prosecutions. Continue reading

Mentally Ill in Jail, Part 2 — State and Local Efforts to Address the Issue

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Note:  This is the second installment of a discussion on mentally ill people in Virginia’s jails. Part 1 of this series set out the scope of the problem.)

Although senior policymakers are aware of the large number of mentally ill people in jails and acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, the state has taken only tentative steps to address the issue. Furthermore, the approach has been somewhat disjointed, primarily because of the involvement of agencies from different disciplines. Mental health, local community corrections (jails), and the courts all have a role to play  And, as is typical with government agencies, each goes off in its own direction, with little coordination among them. No one at the state level has stepped up to provide coordination and sufficient funding to support a statewide policy.

Diversion. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) has come the closest to providing leadership at the state level. Beginning in 2007, the agency’s Office of Forensic Services has supported programs that attempt to divert individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system and connect them with treatment as soon as possible. As of 2017, the agency provided grant funds totaling approximately $2.5 million annually to 14 community services boards to support the diversion efforts. In FY 2017, these programs screened 4,505 individuals and enrolled 1,102 for services. Continue reading

Journalism, Confirmation Bias and the Presumption of Racism

Windsor police officer Joe Guttierez addresses Caron Nazario after their infamous confrontation. Presumed racist until proven innocent.

by James A. Bacon

People believe what they want to believe. They seek information that affirms their worldview, and they downplay or ignore evidence that conflicts with it. Psychologists have term for this proclivity: “confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias is extremely well documented in the psychological literature. Everyone falls prey to it. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. It doesn’t matter how well educated you are. Indeed, the higher a person’s IQ and education level, the more adept one is at explaining away data that does not conform with his or her beliefs.

As a facet of human nature, confirmation bias has been with us always. But the rise of social media and cable news has compounded the problem by making it easier than ever for people to find views and facts they find comfortable and to not only dispel disconcerting information but to avoid even hearing it in the first place.

The scholars, journalists, artists, and politicians who dominate the cultural discourse in the United States are prone to confirmation bias like everyone else. But their views carry more weight because they control most of the news media, social media platforms, book publishers, academia, social-scientific research, television, movies, museums, nonprofit advocacy groups, and increasingly, K-12 schools. To the extent that there is no escaping the anecdotal facts and images that they highlight and project as reality, their confirmation biases become society’s confirmation biases. Their narratives become society’s narratives. Continue reading

Mentally Ill in Jails, Part 1–The Scope of the Problem

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Note:   This was not intended to be a long post, but, during its development, it grew like Topsy.  Being painfully aware of my tendency to be wordy and the limitations of a blog regarding long essays, I have broken the post into three parts or installments.  The first examines the extent of the problem; the second looks at what the state and local and regional jails are doing about it, and the third discusses recently-enacted legislation that represents a positive step forward.)

In meeting after meeting over the previous years, the most common lament of sheriffs has been the number of mentally ill people in their jails.  They point out that their facilities were not designed to house the mentally ill, their officers have not been trained to deal with the mentally ill, and they have not been adequately funded to provide treatment to these inmates.  In short, the mentally ill do not belong in jails.

The numbers bear out the sheriffs’ concerns.  In June, 2018 (the latest date for which data is available), there were at least 7,852 people known or suspected to be mentally ill housed in the Commonwealth’s local and regional jails.  That was almost 20 percent of the total number of inmates housed in jails that month.  Of the total number of female inmates (6,946), more than a third (2,395) were deemed mentally ill.  More than 16 percent of the male inmates were reported as mentally ill. Continue reading

Here’s What You Look Like to a Traffic Cop

by James A. Bacon

After a recent incident in which two Windsor policemen stopped black army officer Caron Nazario, pepper sprayed him, and forced him out of his car and onto the ground, the driving-while-black phenomenon is back in the news. Most people would agree that the behavior of the senior officer, Joe Gutierrez, was highly unprofessional, indeed egregious, but no tangible evidence has surfaced to suggest that the behavior was racially motivated. That hasn’t stopped the media from treating it as a racial incident and accusing the Windsor police department from profiling and halting black drivers.

I will have more to say about the Windsor traffic stop in a later post. For now, I want to make a prefatory point: It’s a lot harder to determine the race of a motorist while driving than one would think. Indeed, it is usually impossible.

I spend a lot of time walking around my neighborhood. People are friendly. When they drive by in a car, they often wave. Even though they are driving slowly — the speed limit on our streets is only 14 miles per hour — I can almost never identify the person inside the car. I wave back, but I almost never know whom I’ve waving to. That got me to thinking… Continue reading