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Prosecutor Pursues Murder Charge For Woman Who Defended Herself From Abuser

Jacqueline Dixon shot her husband to death in Alabama, "Stand Your Ground" state, after she said he charged at her. He had a history of domestic violence.

Jacqueline Dixon in a June 21, 2018 Facebook photo.

Prosecutor Pursues Murder Charge For Woman Who Defended Herself From Abuser

Jacqueline Dixon shot her husband to death in Alabama, "Stand Your Ground" state, after she said he charged at her. He had a history of domestic violence.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on July 31, police officers in Selma, Alabama, were dispatched to a residence at 2113 Church St. where they found Carl Omar Dixon, 44, lying unresponsive in the front yard. His wife Jacqueline Dixon, 38, was taken into the custody at the scene; the police said she shot her husband with a small-caliber handgun. They also said Dixon told them that she was defending herself after her husband had charged at her aggressively. Dixon was then taken into custody and charged with murder, her bond set at $100,000. The case is pending grand jury review by Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson. (Selma is the county seat.)

Dixon’s murder charge came despite the fact that she had requested an order of protection against her husband in 2016 for punching her in the face and verbally abusing her multiple times, and Dixon’s insistence that she acted in self-defense. In addition, Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” statute says that an individual is “justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself … from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person.”

But police and prosecutors rarely grant a Stand Your Ground and other justifiable homicide defenses to women, particularly Black women like Dixon, when they are defending themselves from abusers. In New Orleans, Catina Curley shot and killed her husband in 2005 after enduring physical abuse for over a decade. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro nonetheless charged Curley with second-degree murder; she was convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison. (The Louisiana Supreme Court recently granted her a new trial.) More famously, in 2012, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison for merely firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Alexander was freed in 2017 after advocates campaigned for her release. An energetic grassroots campaign led to the defeat of the prosecutor on her case, Angela Corey, who unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman, who invoked Stand Your Ground after killing Trayvon Martin in 2012. Now, groups like Survived and Punished are rallying around criminalized survivors with this demand: “Free Them All.”

The urgency of the growing national movement to support criminalized survivors stems in large part from the fact that nearly half of female homicide victims were related to intimate partner violence, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released last year. Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier has said, “Domestic violence is a crime that knows no racial, geographic or socioeconomic boundary.” But Black women are disproportionately represented among homicide victims in this category. Groups like Survived and Punished also point out that while there are seemingly limitless resources to prosecute and jail survivors, there are few when it comes to social services that might help them. Indeed, when Baton Rouge experienced a spike in domestic violence-related homicides in 2017, one advocate who runs a 24-hour women’s shelter lamented, “If we had more beds or we had a larger unit where we could find that service to people, I know that it could save lives.”

Dixon’s attorney, Richard Rice, insisted to The Appeal that “at the time of the shooting, she did feel like her life was in danger. In that type of situation, she should have a right to defend herself and defend her family.” Rice says that Alabama’s Stand Your Ground statute could be invoked in Dixon’s case, but he cautioned that state law requires an evidentiary hearing that he describes as a trial in miniature. And communities of color, Rice notes, are not often afforded self-defense protections. Rice says that as he and his client await a grand jury’s decision, their primary concerns are finding stable housing for her children as well as counseling for the family to treat the severe trauma they experienced last month.

“It’s a tragic situation,” Jackson, the district attorney, acknowledged in an interview with The Appeal. “You hate that it ended this way; unfortunately sometimes domestic violence rises to this where somebody ends up getting killed.” But Jackson said he is nonetheless presenting a murder charge to the grand jury because “somebody got killed.” Angela J. Davis, a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law and an expert in criminal law and procedure, told The Appeal that even if Jackson “has the evidence to get that indictment, the question is whether it’s the fair and right thing to do under the circumstances.” Prosecutors have near total and unreviewable discretion and Davis says that in this case, in which the defendant is a domestic violence survivor, Jackson has the “discretion to pursue something less [than a murder charge] or even to forego charges altogether.”

As she awaits the grand jury’s decision on her case, Dixon told The Appeal that “my primary concern is my children. I hope that the justice system will work as it is supposed to here. I need to be with my children because I am all that they have.”

California could soon end money bail, but at what cost?

The passage of Senate Bill 10 would decimate the bail industry, but many advocates say it falls short of true reform.

California Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) discusses the bill at a recent press conference.

California could soon end money bail, but at what cost?

The passage of Senate Bill 10 would decimate the bail industry, but many advocates say it falls short of true reform.

This week, California took a major step toward eliminating cash bail and dealing a significant blow to the predatory bail bond industry when Senate Bill 10, which would replace cash bail with a risk-based system, passed the state Assembly and Senate. It appears almost certain that Governor Jerry Brown will sign it into law.

While some bail reform advocates hailed the victory as a milestone, others say the bill could actually increase the number of people detained pretrial.

“The new version essentially replaces the evils of money bail with a worse evil known as preventative detention,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote in an editorial in the Sacramento Bee that blasted the legislation. “This is not the bail reform California needs.”

In earlier drafts of the bill, all defendants would have appeared before a judge with a presumption of release. To detain someone, prosecutors would have had to make a case with convincing evidence that there was no way to release the person while ensuring his or her next court appearance and protecting public safety.

This month, however, a new draft of the legislation began making the rounds that vastly altered its vision and scope. While abolishing cash bail and mandating the release of most people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors within 12 hours of being booked, the new draft gives county judges wide-ranging discretion over which defendants deemed “medium risk” could be detained pretrial.

The bill also creates broad categories of defendants who could legally be detained without prosecutors having to make an argument about why. Under the current system, even those charged with serious crimes have the presumption of release, albeit often with bail attached. Under the new system, these categories of defendants would automatically be presumed for “preventive detention” instead, flipping the burden of proof onto defense attorneys, who could still argue for their release. The categories include individuals charged with violent felonies, anyone convicted of a violent felony within the past five years, anyone deemed by a risk assessment tool as a “high risk” to public safety, or anyone on supervised probation.

Supporters of the current bill believe the changes were necessary to gain support from both the state’s Judicial Council, the rule-making arm of the California court system, as well as Governor Brown, who had pegged his support of a bill to whether the state’s judges were behind it. The Judicial Council, in a report released last October, called for an increased discretionary role for judges in determining who could safely be released. The Judicial Council and county courts across the state now will have until Oct. 1, 2019, to implement the new system.

“Ultimately the Judicial Council and the chief justice got the pretrial structure that they wanted,” said Anne Irwin, director of Smart Justice California, an advocacy organization that once supported the bill but has now taken a neutral position. “We know their support mattered immensely for Governor Brown.”

Yet the current bill is a grave disappointment to many advocates who initially fought for the legislation. Within days of the new draft’s circulation, groups like Human Rights Watch, the California Public Defenders Association, and the NAACP dropped their support. On Monday, the ACLU, after taking a neutral stance toward the altered legislation, shifted its position to one of opposition.

Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender in San Francisco who has worked on litigation challenging cash bail in the state and who was on the advisory committee to the drafters of the original bill, says the new bill penalizes people regardless of guilt, not unlike the bail system it was intended to replace. “It creates a system where, by law, California would punish people just for being arrested, rather than waiting until they’re convicted of a crime.”

Advocates are also concerned about the role of risk-assessment tools, which help judges weigh a person’s likelihood of absconding or posing a threat to public safety. A previous draft of the bill used risk assessments to determine a defendant’s conditions of release (such as where the person could travel or whether he or she had to wear an ankle monitor). In the bill that passed the legislature, these tools could be used by judges to determine whether a person should be released. While that’s not uncommon around the country, it is often contested. Many reform advocates argue that risk assessments rely on data, such as employment and criminal history, that’s tainted by discrimination. In communities of color that are overpoliced, for example, there are likely to be more people with prior arrests.

The Superior Court in each county will be allowed to choose their own risk-assessment tools from a list approved by the Judicial Council and decide independently which charges should automatically result in detention hearings, which could lead to huge variations across the state. Statewide, most defendants who have been given a “low risk” designation by the risk-assessment tool will be automatically released.

“The fate of pretrial incarceration in California is now in the hands of judges,” Irwin said.

While that leaves many unknowns, Irwin says, there are reasons to worry. Earlier this year, Judge Aaron Persky was recalled after he handed out what was regarded as a “lenient” sentence to a man found guilty of sexual assault. It was the first judicial recall in California in more than 80 years, and Irwin says it may cause judges to think twice before choosing less punitive options for defendants.

“Right now, judges, for the first time are looking over their shoulders, and when they exercise their discretion to give what is perceived to be leniency to defendants, they now risk losing their jobs,” Irwin told The Appeal. “You have to question the theory that judges are going to exercise the discretion given to them by SB 10 in a way that actually releases more defendants pretrial.”

She said judges could also be motivated to keep defendants detained in order to better manage caseloads—the longer people are detained, the more likely they are to take a plea deal. In addition, if a judge wants to schedule a hearing on short notice, the defendant can readily be produced in court.

The question of whether risk assessments are a reasonable trade-off for bail reform is complicated. In New Jersey, whose jail population dropped 20 percent after it abolished cash bail in 2017, judges use analytic tools to inform their decisions about pretrial release, though state law ensures that a relatively broad group of defendants are given the presumption of release.

Informed by an algorithm or not, judges still bear the most responsibility for deciding who should be released, argues KiDeuk Kim, a senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute who has studied the use of risk assessment programs across the country.

“The tool is meant to help with resource allocation,” Kim said. “[Judges] can decide who to put in jail or release to the community depending on their ability to supervise them in the community. It depends on the jurisdiction’s capacity … [the judges] can decide the threshold.”  

In some other cities that have restricted the use of cash bail, judges have been reluctant to take chances. In Baltimore, the jail population rose between March 2017 and March 2018 after judges were instructed not to set bail for people who couldn’t afford it beginning in January 2017. Instead of releasing arrestees without monetary conditions, however, judges opted instead to detain more people.

Reformers fear the same rise in detention could happen in California.

The bill still faces stiff opposition not only from former supporters, but from the state’s law enforcement and bail bond lobbies, for different reasons. California’s bail industry stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The median bail amount in the state is $50,000 dollars, over five times that of the rest of the country.

“We’ve slayed one big dragon,” Irwin said. “The predatory bail industry will … in effect be eradicated, as well as wealth-based detention. The most laudable victory here is one of economic justice, and that is a giant step forward.”

Both the bill’s supporters and opponents are committed to improving it. Some advocates and lawmakers are already working on legislation to improve its data collection mechanisms, and root out the racial bias often inherent in risk assessments.

“There is a lot of additional work to be done as it related to how this bill will be implemented,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization that supported the bill through its passage. “The implementation process will be key in developing how the new pretrial system unfolds. … We are going to be actively engaged and involved, and rolling up our sleeves to make sure that the goal that we all want is achieved, which is a fair pretrial system and reducing unnecessary incarceration. ”

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Notoriously Brutal, Racist Plainclothes Policing Makes A Return In Baltimore

After the Gun Trace Task Force scandal rocked the police department, plainclothes policing was spurned. But a recently resigned commissioner championed plainclothes units, a decision the department seems to be sticking with.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, April 26, 2018.
Baltimore Police Department

Notoriously Brutal, Racist Plainclothes Policing Makes A Return In Baltimore

After the Gun Trace Task Force scandal rocked the police department, plainclothes policing was spurned. But a recently resigned commissioner championed plainclothes units, a decision the department seems to be sticking with.

“The number one thing you will see,” Baltimore’s new police commissioner Darryl De Sousa promised at his introductory press conference earlier this year, “is more police officers on the streets in the community in uniform. They are going to do proactive, constitutional policing.”

De Sousa’s announcement about an increased uniformed police presence came in the wake of former commissioner Kevin Davis’s decision in 2017 to disband the department’s plainclothes units because of the arrests of seven members of an elite squad of Baltimore Police Department officers known as the Gun Trace Task Force, or GTTF, on federal charges of robbery, theft, extortion, and drug sales. The GTTF was one of the many “proactive” specialized units tasked with targeting gun offenders and violent crime generally. Without the task force on the street, gun arrests in the BPD’s Operational Intelligence Division (OID) plummeted by nearly 70 percent from the unit’s indictment in March 2017 through November.  

The indicted GTTF officers either entered guilty pleas or were convicted at trial. The loss of these elite officers as well as the purported decline of their style of proactive policing has been lamented by cops and criminologists alike as a driver for the increase in the murder rate in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore. In 2016, Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice told Time magazine, “There was less proactive policing, criminals were not being confronted by police routinely, and violence and murders went up.” A recent USA Today article, which also quoted Moskos, pointed to the decrease in officer initiated actions between the years 2014-17 as a sign police were being less proactive in Baltimore City.

Such stats—and a rise in violent crime—led Mayor Catherine Pugh to fire Davis and replace him with De Sousa, a champion of proactive policing, in January. So in addition to considering a return to plainclothes policing, De Sousa created the Mobile Metro Unit, also referred to as the “10th district.” (Baltimore has nine permanent patrol districts.)  The officers in the Mobile Metro Unit wear full uniform and drive marked police vehicles, but they don’t operate as normal patrol officers who perform tasks like answering radio calls and taking reports. Instead they are deployed to “hot spot” areas known for violence and drug dealing, and they respond to shootings or homicides. This is the same function plainclothes units served prior to being disbanded.

Then, in April, De Sousa created a new plainclothes unit called the Anti-Crime Section, which comprises  two sergeants and 12 officers divided between the east and west sides of Baltimore. The public learned about the Anti-Crime Section only last month, after one of the unit’s sergeants, Larry Worsley, was arrested for a DUI-related accident in an unmarked departmental vehicle while he was off duty. (In May, De Sousa resigned after being hit with federal charges for failing to file tax returns; the department is now headed by Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle). 

Plainclothes cops like the Anti-Crime Section or the GTTF before them are known as “knockers” and “jump out boys.” They wear street clothes and tactical vests emblazoned with POLICE on the back and they patrol hot spots. Jump out boys are exactly what the name implies: a group of plainclothes cops who will pull up to a corner full of people, jump out of their vehicle and search them. Their tactics and style of policing have a notorious history in Baltimore. One of the GTTF’s favorite tactics, for example, was the “door pop,” which meant driving an unmarked vehicle quickly toward a group of people, slamming on the brakes, popping open the doors and then chasing anyone who ran. When GTTF members Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor went to trial in federal court in January on charges including racketeering and robbery, one detective testified that the unit would conduct door pops up to 50 times a night.

De Sousa’s plainclothes Anti-Crime Section proves that proactive policing hasn’t disappeared even after De Sousa’s resignation in May when he was charged federally for failing to file tax returns (the department is now headed by Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle.) Indeed, after “disbanding” plainclothes units after the GTTF scandal, Davis created new uniformed specialized units called District Action Teams (DAT). There are DATs assigned to each of Baltimore’s nine police districts. Baltimore’s police districts and their focus remains on gun arrests, so the units were new in name only. Before they were referred to as DAT, the district units were known as “flex squads.” Flex squads, which operated in plainclothes, were a source of serious misconduct allegations for over a decade. In June 2009, Detective Jemell Rayam, later one of the indicted GTTF officers, was assigned to the Northern District flex squad when he was accused, along with two other officers, of stealing $11,000 in cash during a car stop.  In July 2013, Abdul Salaam accused two members of the Northeast flex squad, Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz, of beating him up after a traffic stop. Seventeen days later, Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz were present when Tyrone West died during a struggle with police who attempted to arrest him after a traffic stop. The officers didn’t face criminal charges for either incident and were cleared by internal investigators of any policy violations. So simply placing officers like Chapman back into uniform didn’t change their tactics. The problem is the officer wearing the uniform, and perhaps the institution of policing itself, not the uniform (or lack thereof).

When I was a police officer in Baltimore, I worked in a proactive specialized unit called the Special Enforcement Team (SET) from 2006-08. The unit was made up of two uniformed and two plainclothes squads. We were encouraged to make as many arrests as possible during our shifts. The ultimate goal was a gun arrest, but a high quantity of any arrests would do. One summer night I arrested 10 men at once for trespassing on the steps of two vacant rowhomes, city-owned properties marked “No Loitering/No Trespassing.” Police officers have wide discretion in dealing with many crimes, especially minor ones,  so I could have issued these men citations, or done nothing at all. But when I worked with SET, I felt pressured to make as many arrests as possible. We stopped just about every adult we saw on the street to check their names for open warrants. We conducted car stops with the intended goal of searching the vehicles. Most of our car stops were done at night, since that’s primarily when we worked, so we would look for minor infractions like broken headlights or tail lights. The most common reason we used to search a vehicle was the “freshly burned scent of marijuana.”  Later in my career, from 2013-16, I was an Internal Affairs detective and I investigated officers in these specialized units for misconduct allegations like the planting of evidence, lying in search warrants, excessive force, and theft. Shortly before leaving Internal Affairs, I handled a case against an officer who would later be arrested as part of the GTTF. In March 2016, the GTTF’s Wayne Jenkins confronted me in the parking lot of the Internal Affairs office over another officer I was investigating. That officer was later terminated.

Like the GTTF, earlier iterations of units like De Sousa’s Anti-Crime Section were involved in troubling incidents. In 2013, Detective Kendall Richburg of the Violent Crime and Impact Section (VCIS), another plainclothes unit, was indicted on federal gun and drug charges. On a wiretapped phone call, Richburg discussed planting evidence and setting up people to be robbed—a precursor to the GTTF scandal. Just before Richburg’s arrest the unit was renamed the Special Enforcement Section (SES), but retained many of the same officers. VCIS had come to the attention of the city council because of their tactics and volume of complaints.  One of those officers was Fabien Laronde, who had a well-documented history of alleged misconduct including a questionable shooting, stealing, and witness intimidation. He was the subject of civil lawsuits alleging illegal strip searches, assault, and even illegally detaining a man inside a courthouse. BPD terminated  Laronde in 2016. Before his firing, Laronde said of the complaints against him that “it goes along with the type of proactive work I do.” And before his assignment in the Anti-Crime Unit and his recent arrest, Larry Worsley was a District Action Team supervisor; he also worked with Wayne Jenkins of the GTTF and Laronde in the SES. On July 25, the police department announced the arrest of Officer Spencer Moore, once a colleague of Richburg’s in VCIS, on drug trafficking charges.

These units operate the same way: Small groups of handpicked officers, who are expected to be aggressive and proactive, target high-crime areas of Baltimore and produce a large amount of stops, arrests, and gun seizures. This is “proactive” policing, and no matter what acronym the BPD comes up with, the tactics don’t change. Unfortunately for the community, neither do many of the officers.

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