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Police reform activists “cautiously optimistic” about new Portland chief

Police reform activists “cautiously optimistic” about new Portland chief

Last year, Portland, Oregon Mayor Ted Wheeler successfully ran on a platform that championed police reform as a major priority. But since he took office, Wheeler has repeatedly drawn the ire of local criminal justice reform activists and organizers. On Monday, Wheeler took a step that could begin to heal his relationship with concerned Portlanders by appointing Danielle Outlaw, a 19-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department to lead the Portland Police Bureau.

“My life’s passion is policing,” says Outlaw in a statement from Wheeler’s office. “I want to make a positive difference in the lives of my fellow officers and the residents of the community.’’

Outlaw, who will be the first African American woman to head the troubled bureau, has her work cut out for her. Following Trump’s election, Portland police have repeatedly used militarized force against nonviolent protesters, injuring some of them, including a 66-year-old woman. The department also has an ugly reputation for its raciallybiased policing, and a pattern of using excessive force against the mentally ill, which attracted a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in 2011. And Outlaw’s new role has historically belonged to a series of scandal-ridden chiefs.

Though it’s too early to know if Outlaw will ultimately be able to tackle this litany of problems, there is reason to believe she’s up to the task. Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who repeatedly sued the Oakland Police Department, tells The Portland Mercury that Outlaw is “a progressive thinker” with the skills required to overhaul the department. Outlaw comes to Portland from a police department with a reputation that is arguably far worse than Portland’s, yet Burris depicts Outlaw as utterly unlike her former colleagues, who’ve been caught planting drugs, making bad arrestsassaulting people, and sexually abusing Oakland residents.

“Transparency and accountability are issues she firmly appreciates and understands,” Burris tells the Mercury. “I think she’ll be a chief who’s progressive in thinking and understanding of these kinds of issues.”

Following the sex scandal that rocked the Oakland Police Department in 2016, then-Deputy Chief Outlaw helped implement changes to the police academy in an effort to prevent future misconduct, downsizing classes and introducing a more rigorous background check procedure for new officers.

Amid what appears to largely be a record of policing with a progressive bent and an eye toward strengthening community relations, there is one blemish. In July, when Oakland’s City Council voted to rescind a data-sharing agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Outlaw was a vocal opponent. The city council vote came as many so-called sanctuary cities across the country actively work to distance themselves from the Trump administration’s policies and shield immigrants from deportation. In spite of the council’s unanimous vote, Outlaw advocated to preserve the city’s cooperation with the federal government, saying the police department’s relationship with Homeland Security “allows us to have that federal arm and to have that transnational piece that we just as a local municipal agency do not have access to.”

That stain on an otherwise progressive record seems not to have tarnished the views of hopeful activists. Portland’s Resistance, a group of local organizers formed after Trump’s election, have pressed Wheeler on police reform and led recent local efforts to bring the hiring process for the new chief out of the shadows. As a leading voice for local police reform, the group says they are “cautiously optimistic that [Outlaw’s] hiring will mark a new direction for policing in Portland,” in a statement issued on the group’s Facebook page.

“We have no illusions that this new police chief will be perfect,” the statement continues. “Nor can a single person reform our incredibly corrupt and violent police department. However, this could be a step in the right direction.”

Romance leads to removal of Kentucky prosecutor (again)

Hopkinsville Justice Center in Christian County KY

Romance leads to removal of Kentucky prosecutor (again)

The Christian County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has been removed from handling a murder case after a judge found that Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor had a conflict of interest from previously dating the lead detective.

Pryor, who took over as top county prosecutor in January 2007, and her entire office are now off the murder case of Jarred Tabor Long due to Pryor’s relationship with Christian County Sheriff’s Office Captain Ed Stokes.

Long was arrested in 2012 for the murder of Vincent Goslyn. Pryor and Stokes subsequently dated for a number months in 2013. Long’s defense attorneys argued that the relationship created a conflict of interest which merited removing Pryor. As the Journal Sentinel reported, Long’s attorneys asserted that criminal defendants have a right to trial by a “disinterested prosecutor whose vision is not clouded” and “an intimate relationship between a prosecuting attorney and a lead investigative detective would be considered anything but disinterested.”

Judge Andrew Self agreed and said Pryor’s participation in the case would “undermine confidence in the integrity of the judicial system and potentially the integrity of the verdict in this case.”

Long was initially released on bail, although that was revoked earlier this yearafter Jessie Goslyn, Vincent’s wife, agreed to plead guilty and testify against Long. Long’s new bail is $1 million.

Authorities claim that Jessie Goslyn was having an affair with Long and lured her husband out to a remote area of Christian County where Long was waiting to kill him.

A romance between a prosecutor and law enforcement officer became a relevant issue in another murder case on the other side of Kentucky earlier this year.

David Wayne Dooley had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Michelle Mockbee, but the conviction and sentence were thrown out after a judge ruled that the Boone County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office withheld material information from the defendant, including a video showing an unknown man trying to enter the building where Dooley and Mockbee both worked hours before the killing occurred.

During the post-conviction proceedings, an illicit affair came to light between Boone County Commonwealth’s Attorney Linda Talley Smith, who was married to a judge, and Boone County Sheriff’s investigator Bruce McVay, the lead investigator in the case.

Talley Smith and McVay contradicted one another about whether they ever discussed the video in question. McVay said he told Talley Smith about the video; she denied ever hearing about it.

Dooley now faces a retrial, which will be handled by the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office.

Talley Smith has faced an avalanche of criticism, including calls for her to resign. A special prosecutor was recently appointed to investigate her conduct.

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Not quite free at last: Fred Weichel and the inability of prosecutors to fully let go

Norfolk County Superior Court, Dedham, MA

Not quite free at last: Fred Weichel and the inability of prosecutors to fully let go

Norfolk County (Massachusetts) prosecutors announced on Monday that they do not intend to retry Fred Weichel, a South Boston man who spent 36 years behind bars for a murder the existing evidence suggests he did not commit. Yet the district attorney’s office took pains to clarify that the decision not to re-prosecute falls far short of an exoneration. On the contrary, the prosecution insisted that it “remains committed to retrying this defendant for the murder . . . if sufficient evidence were to become available.” The prosecutors’ unwillingness to release Weichel from the specter of prosecution, much less their reluctance to proclaim him innocent, creates a cloud that will hang over him for his remaining days.

In April, Superior Court Judge Raymond Veary, Jr., granted Weichel a new trial in a case that contained two hallmarks of many innocence cases: a dubious eyewitness identification and government misconduct. (Note: I serve on the Board of Trustees of the New England Innocence Project, a group that aided one of Weichel’s lawyers in the proceedings before Judge Veary.) Weichel’s saga began with the murder of Robert LaMonica outside his apartment in Braintree, Massachusetts, one night in 1980. A teenager told the police that he saw the assailant get into a car and rush away from the scene. Even though this witness had just polished off a six-pack of beer and was roughly 180 feet away from the crime scene, the police relied on him to help produce a composite sketch of the perpetrator. The police later escorted the witness to South Boston where he saw Weichel on the street and identified him. Despite Weichel’s claims of innocence and alibi evidence, the jury convicted him of murder.

The case largely languished until 2010 when information emerged about a police report made by a Braintree Detective shortly after LaMonica’s murder. In that 1980 report, the detective detailed how numerous state corrections officers had looked at the composite sketch and determined it resembled another man: Rocco Balliro, a former prisoner who had admitted to another murder and had just been granted furlough the day before LaMonica’s killing. This evidence was not disclosed to Weichel’s attorneys before trial and only came to light when Weichel’s new lawyers requested the full police file three decades later. As Judge Veary concluded, without this report at his disposal, Weichel could not properly undercut the teenager’s identification at trial, much less launch a third-party-perpetrator defense. Late last month the highest court in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court, affirmed Judge Veary’s decision to order a new trial.

It makes sense for prosecutors to forego a retrial 37 years after the murder. Balliro has since died, as have many witnesses in the case. The murder weapon was destroyed, the crime scene diagrams lost. What makes less sense is why prosecutors neglected to declare that Weichel, with 36 years of prison time for this crime under his belt, will never be retried.

Perhaps it’s human nature to keep your options open if given the choice. And absent a formal declaration of innocence by a court, the prosecution does enjoy the privilege to pursue a retrial down the road. But, realistically, what’s the likelihood the prosecution will ever exercise this option? Slim to none. Why then make such a public effort to preserve the chance to retry him at a later date? Anointing Weichel as innocent could, in theory, harm the state’s case in a subsequent civil lawsuit for monetary damages. (The pertinent Massachusetts statute suggests Weichel would likely still be eligible to seek wrongful conviction compensation.) Even accounting for liability concerns associated with a declaration of innocence, why not at least announce that Weichel will never be retried for practical and humanitarian reasons, such as the passage of time and the length of his incarceration? The possible explanations strike me as worrisome. Tunnel vision about Weichel’s guilt? Hubris? Callousness?

Prosecutors are supposed to be “ministers of justice” committed to fairness for all, including criminal defendants. In the Weichel case, this week’s announcement by the Norfolk County DA’s Office only goes partway down the path to justice. An acknowledgment by prosecutors that Weichel will never be retried would take us much farther in the right direction.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

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