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Fake subpoena issue continues to haunt New Orleans District Attorney

Orleans Criminal District Court

Fake subpoena issue continues to haunt New Orleans District Attorney

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro announced in April that his office would no longer send out fake subpoenas to witnesses after he was roundly denounced for the practice.

But the issue hasn’t gone away, and now one of those fake subpoenas could put a high-profile conviction in danger. According to the New Orleans Times Picayune and The Lens,Cardell Hayes, convicted of manslaughter in the death of New Orleans Saints football player Will Smith, is citing the fake subpoenas in an effort to get a new trial.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro

The mother of Hayes’ son, Tiffany LaCroix, got one of the fake subpoenas before Hayes went on trial in 2016, court documents said. The documents had the word “subpoena” on them but were not signed by a judge, meaning that the law didn’t require the person to comply with the document

A lawyer for LaCroix later showed up in court to quash the subpoena. Cannizzaro’s office then sought to issue a real subpoena that had been signed by a judge. But LaCroix never testified at the trial.

The fake subpoena is one of 13 issues that defense lawyers are raising in appealing Hayes’s conviction.

A judge has ordered Cannizzaro to reveal the names of all prosecutors in his office who issued fake subpoenas. But Cannizzaro is appealing that ruling, saying it would be too time consuming.

Cannizzaro’s office stopped using the fake subpoenas after the issue was publicized while insisting there was nothing wrong with the practice. Protesters called for Cannizzaro to be removed from office.

The issue got attention after Cannizzaro’s office threatened to jail a domestic violence victim after she didn’t respond to a fake subpoena.

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

Oklahoma sheriff indicted for jail death

Oklahoma sheriff indicted for jail death

Anthony Huff tragically died in the Garfield County Jail in Oklahoma last year, after staff restrained him in a chair and failed to hydrate and feed him for two days, according to court documents unsealed and released to the public on July 25. But in a rare move, prosecutors in the state decided to hold the sheriff who oversees the jail and five other employees accountable for Huff’s death. At the urging of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, a district attorney presented evidence to a grand jury in March to determine if a criminal case should proceed.

Last week, the jurors decided to charge all six defendants with second-degree manslaughter.

Details of the defendants’ involvement haven’t been revealed, but a separate civil lawsuit filed by Huff’s family outlines the events that led up to Huff’s death on June 8 of last year. Four days earlier, police had arrested the 58-year-old for public intoxication and brought him to the jail run by Sheriff Jerry Niles. Huff had previously been locked up at the facility, so staff allegedly knew he had various health problems— including heart disease, hypertension, depression, alcoholism— that required medication. But according to the suit, Huff didn’t receive a medical evaluation upon his arrival, and was restrained in a chair two days later. Routine checks weren’t conducted, cameras weren’t turned on to monitor him, and defendants “failed to ensure that Mr. Huff received sufficient food or water” for several days. The autopsy allegedly shows that very little medication was in Huff’s system when he died, indicating that staff also neglected to give him his prescriptions.

Huff perished “due to conditions related to his withdrawal from alcohol, and the effects it had on his body and system,” the suit says. Moreover, “lack of food and water from June 6, 2016, through June 8, 2016, exacerbated the conditions…and further caused or contributed to the death of Mr. Huff.”

Sheriff Niles is named as a defendant in both the civil and criminal cases. Last week, a grand jury made up of residents from all over Oklahoma decided that there’s enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case against him and five others, including his daughter-in-law.

Months before the grand jury convened, Attorney General Hunter tapped District Attorney Chris Boring to investigate Huff’s death. The Garfield County District Attorney had recused himself due to his relationship to the sheriff. Boring did what so many prosecutors are unwilling or unable to do: convince jurors that members of the law enforcement should stand trial for their behavior.

Approximately 1,000 people die in jail each year — many from sheer neglect or violence committed by correctional staff. But prosecutors are generally reluctant to charge anyone involved — or present strong cases to grand juries — for the same reasons they’re reluctant to charge police officers who kill. They have a cozy relationship with the rest of the law enforcement community — including the sheriffs running county jails — and hold them to a different legal standard than the rest of the public. They also hesitate to prosecute cases they think they’ll lose. Notably, neither Sheriff David Clarke nor lower-ranked staff have been charged for four deaths that occurred in the Milwaukee County Jail last year — even though a grand jury recommended charges be brought against seven people for cutting off a man’s water supply and letting him die of thirst.

Prison deaths are handled no differently than jail deaths. In Florida’s Dade Correctional Institute, Darren Rainey was forced into a scolding hot shower by four guards who then ignored his pleas for help. The 53-year-old, who suffered from schizophrenia, was found dead in the shower two hours later. Nobody was charged.

Last week’s grand jury indictment in Garfield County gives Huff’s relatives a rare chance to get justice. If convicted, Niles and the five other defendants involved could spend up to four years in prison.

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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Does Summer Stephan think she’s Olivia Benson?

Does Summer Stephan think she’s Olivia Benson?

Viewers know that Olivia Benson is the leather jacket-wearing detective on Law and Order SVU, an icon to law-abiding women everywhere. In a recent Women of the World biography, the newly-anointed district attorney for San Diego Summer Stephan received comparisons to Olivia Benson for her tough-as-nails approach to offenders. Stephan has taken over the top prosecutor job, handpicked by her predecessor Bonnie Dumanis, who stepped down last month, and plans to run next year to officially keep the post. Stephan has largely touted her success prosecuting sex crimes and reaching across the aisle to increase use of pretrial diversion.

But is Summer Stephan really the crusading hero she would like people to think?

In her application for district attorney, Summer Stephan called the botched prosecution of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe one of her crowning moments — where she claims she “did the right thing.” But Stephan seems to have conveniently forgotten the facts of the case. She claims that she came into the case uninformed mid-way, and, as a result, prosecuted three kids for a crime they didn’t commit. But like many wrongful convictions, the prosecution of Michael Crowe should be reexamined as an example of the typical misbehavior that prosecutors rarely must reckon with.

In 1998, 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was stabbed multiple times in her bed, crawling to the door before dying. Her 14-year-old brother, Michael, and two of his friends were quickly arrested for the crime. After hours of interrogation without his parents or lawyer, in a manner known to be coercive and prone to generating false statements, Michael gave the police incriminating statements. One friend made a false confession. Much of the theory of the cases rested on Michael’s penchant for video games, medieval imagery, and the game Dungeon and Dragons. There was no direct physical evidence tying them to the crime.

Summer Stephan was one of two prosecutors on the case during the grand jury indictment of Michael and his friends, and she remained heavily involved throughout. Throughout the course of the investigation, not only did Stephan refuse to question the coercive interrogation of 14-year-old boys, but she also concealed evidence showing that the prosecution’s theory of the crime was wrong. Prosecutors insisted the Michael Crowe had lied and, therefore, was guilty, but in fact, that theory was wrong.

Michael Crowe and the other boys were never tried — investigators ultimately found DNA matching someone else and never pursued the case. But the case against Michael Crowe wasn’t formally dropped for years, largely because Stephan persisted in believing she was right. In 2012, a judge declared the boys factually innocent. The likely murderer was found, but due to the botched investigation and prosecution, his first conviction was overturned and he was acquitted on retrial. (The second accused murderer’s defense was in fact the police investigation of Michael Crowe and his friends.)

During the San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting that ultimately resulted in Stephan being appointed as interim district attorney, the Crowe family submitted a 22-page letter saying that Stephan had mistreated them and had wrongly accused them of “not cooperating” with the investigation. (The Crowes won a civil lawsuit against the city for its treatment of Michael.) The Crowe family pointed out that Dumanis herself had said during her campaign that her opponent’s office, including Stephan, had botched the case.

Stephan has argued weakly that she took over the case after it had begun and that she had nothing to do with the patently flawed theory of the case. Yet Stephan had clearly courted the spotlight the Crowe cases generated, calling Michael and his friends “evil.” And during the intervening decades, she’s done nothing to rectify her mistake, instead insisting that she is proud of her work.

So should the people really trust Summer Stephan to make the right choices now that she is the lead prosecutor for San Diego?

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