Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Cult of the Disgraced

by Diane Dimond

It is an odd thing we do here in America. People who get wrapped up in scandal often become elevated to celebrity status.

You know the type of people I’m talking about – those who are caught up in sex or drug scandals, criminal suspects, or some other type of social misfit who’s every move is followed by reporters. Cameras are there as they hustle in to court, show up for their community service or just try to dodge embarrassing questions about their problematic behavior.

These folks become famous for being infamous.

Think Kato Kaelin whose dodgy testimony at the murder trial of O.J. Simpson got him branded as “hostile” to the prosecution. Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who engaged in sexual relations with President Clinton. Florida murder defendant Casey Anthony acquitted of murdering her 2½ year old daughter. And, now the former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich who has admitted that he was, indeed, guilty of corruption after denying it for years.

I call them the Cult of the Disgraced and the Misplaced – a cult that attracts media honchos who are eager to exploit scandal for ratings. Hardly anyone in the cult seems to be out of bounds.

After his 15 minutes of fame at the Simpson trial the mop-haired Kaelin got a radio show and appeared on several TV programs. Monica Lewinsky was chased by all the major networks, newspapers and magazines for her first exclusive description of illicit sex in the White House. (ABC’s Barbara Walters won that race snagging what turned out to be the highest rated news broadcast ever.) NBC vigorously pursued Casey Anthony and tried to fashion a book deal for her in exchange for her first TV interview. And, Blagojevich? Well, he fit right into this cult and eagerly took the bait when TV producers came to call.

Three years ago when federal prosecutors revealed they had recordings of the Governor (nicknamed: Blago) arrogantly attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, Blagojevich came out swinging. He vehemently denied asking for money in exchange for his appointment to the seat. He also denied that he lied to the FBI and had shaken down constituents for campaign contributions. He called it all a political conspiracy and then instead of hunkering down for the fight of his life Blago took meetings with top TV bigwigs.

Not even Blagojevich’s impeachment by the Illinois State Legislature in January 2009 slowed down the offers. NBC was knocking on the door for Blago to star in the “reality” show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

In a petition to the court in the spring of 2009 the disgraced governor, pleading poverty, asked the judge for permission to travel to Costa Rica for the filming. The request was denied. Ultimately, his wife, Patti, took the job and was seen on one episode eating a dead tarantula.

Humiliation heaped upon humiliation, I’d say.

But watching his wife forced to ingest insects to pay their bills didn’t seem to give Blago pause. After hosting a radio talk show he went on to make a deal to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice hosted by Donald Trump. More recently he was hired to be the face of Wonderful Pistachios which admitted they were looking “for some buzz” to attract people to their nuts. There’s a joke in there somewhere.

But this celebration and rewarding of the scandalous baffles me. Has the concept of shame ceased to exist in America? If I was criminally indicted or caught up in a disgraceful episode playing out publicly I think I’d hibernate until it passed. Although, I suppose the lure of the money and the idea that sins can be erased if one is seen on TV is too much temptation for some.

The job of media executives is to get ratings and apparently these kinds of shows – highlighting these kinds of people—attract viewers. Why? I’m at a loss to explain except maybe we watch the notorious to make sure we are nothing like them. Maybe we want to see them be shamed on some level.

When Rod Blagojevich appeared in court earlier this month for sentencing (he was found guilty of 17 corruption charges) he suddenly dropped his past denials and admitted his criminal behavior.

“I caused it all,” he said to the judge. “I was the governor and I should have known better. I am just incredibly sorry.” He was then sentenced to 14 years in prison. Blagojevich’s admission laid bare the phoniness of those who rationalized giving him a shot at the public airwaves by saying, “Well, he hasn’t been convicted of anything…”

We had all heard his voice on that recording made years earlier blatantly trying to trade his public position for personal gain. We knew the real story from the get-go.

Blago must serve almost a dozen years before becoming eligible for parole. Let’s hope by then we’ve all come to our senses and decide that TV programs featuring disturbed, addicted or criminal players are a simply not acceptable. Maybe by then TV executives will stop rewarding the least deserving among us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are Cadaver Dogs saying You're Lying?

by Pat Brown

Funny thing about those cadaver dogs; they haven't got a bone to pick with the person being investigated, no interest in closing a case or in railroading anyone. They just do what they have been trained to do. They may not be perfect in that they miss hitting on a spot, but they don't hit on spots for no reason. They are trained to locate where dead bodies of humans have been, not live human beings, not dirty diapers, not on a package of meat, nor a hundred other unseen types of biological items. There is only one thing that trips them up; the body of a decomposing pig (because of the similarity it has to a human body). Unless you can prove you had a dead hog lying about in you living room or in your car, the hit a cadaver dog makes is going to be on human remains. Actually, I am the one of very few people who could actually have a cadaver dog hit in my house for that very reason since my beloved potbelly pig, Gwendolyn (see the video) did indeed expire on my living room floor; however, most people can't make that claim.

Gerry and Kate McCann, parents of the missing child, Madeleine McCann, dismiss the fact that Eddie, the cadaver dog, hit in their vacation apartment and in their rental car in 2007 (but not in any of their friends' vacation apartments nor early suspect Robert Murat's house or property) as meaningless because cadaver dogs are "rubbish." In that same year, a cadaver dog also alerted to the smell of death in Adrian Prout's UK home after his wife, Kate, vanished. Although he claimed he was innocent and her body had not been found, Prout was convicted. After having a fan club that protested steadily that Prout was railroaded, Prout confessed and indicated the area where the body was buried; then more cadaver dogs helped police in the search and Kate's body was found on his farm.

Next we have cadaver dogs hitting in the case of missing baby, Lisa Irwin, who supposedly was abducted in the middle of the night while her intoxicated mother slept. They hit on one spot in the Kansas City home of the parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, right on the floor next to the bed in the master bedroom. Deborah, the mother, claims she changed diapers there, but if the dogs were hitting on dirty diapers in the home, I would gather they would hit in more places than that one spot.

Now, cadaver dogs have hit again in a missing child case. Two-year-old Bianca Jones went missing in Detroit on December 2. Her father, D'Andre Lane, who was babysitting her at time, claimed on the day he was to return the child to her mother's home, he was carjacked at 10 in the morning by two men with guns. Now, his story stinks worse than a decomposing body. First of all, the "carjackers" choose him (a streetwise felon) driving a 1994 Mercury Marquis (not exactly a hot car from the most carjacked automobiles list). Daddy, seeing two thugs are about to drive off with his little girl puts up no resistance. Instead he calls 911 and the police go searching for the car.

Oddly, it is found just six blocks away (and one block from Binika Jones' house, the mother of Bianca), with no child in it. So, let me get this straight. These two carjackers went to the trouble of ousting D'Andre Lane from a car with a toddler in the car seat, don't take the car somewhere and strip it, don't sell it, don't use it for committing robberies (a common use of a carjacked vehicle) and don't take it for a joyride. They drive just six blocks and dump it. Maybe they didn't realize there was a child in it and, therefore abandoned the car? Maybe, but then why would they take the child? The story blows. And so did Dre's attempt to pass the polygraph. Not only that, but two witnesses saw the action: one saw D'Andre driving alone down the street and the other, standing by a window overlooking the alley, saw Lane pull the vehicle into it and walk away. No baby seen with him or in the car.

D'Andre Lane is swearing up and down he didn't have anything to do with his daughter going missing, but everything about his story has been pretty much been annihilated by the circumstances and witnesses. The cadaver dogs hitting in his apartment and in his car pretty much puts a bow on his story as being a crock.

D'Andre Lane is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but he isn't a suspect for nothing. In the words of Gerry McCann, "Ask the dogs."

(left: cadaver dog hits behind sofa in the McCann's Praia da Luz, Portugal vacation rental apartment. From police files.)

My ebook, Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, removed from Amazon following threat of legal action by Carter-Ruck on behalf of Gerry and Kate McCann, can still be found online at Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Keep posted for news of my upcoming legal action with attorney Anne Bremner against the McCanns for tortuous interference with business and libel.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Caveat Emptor: If Walls Could Talk

by Donna Pendergast

Stigmatized property is property which buyers or tenants may shun for reasons that are unrelated to its physical condition or features. Homes which have been the sites of murders, suicide or which have been reportedly inhabited by ghosts all qualify as stigmatized properties. It is a psychological taint rather than a taint associated with the physical condition of a property. The National Association of Realtors defines stigmatized property as property that has been "psychologically impacted by an event which occurred or was suspected to have occurred on the property such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind."

The Amityville Horror house (pictured above) is an example of a property contaminated by a sordid past. It appears cheery and comfortable but it's history is anything but. Six of seven members of the Ronald DeFeo family were murdered here in 1974 by DeFeo's oldest son who later was convicted of all crimes. George and Kathy Lutz moved in a year later and began to report unusual and bizarre paranormal activity. These events later became the subject of the best selling book and movie The Amityville Horror. Another movie Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive chronicles true events surrounding a house located near an abandoned graveyard where two human graves were found during excavation for a swimming pool. A series of inexplicable paranormal events followed this discovery. The Jon Benet Ramsey house and the house where Nicole Bown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered are also examples of properties tainted by association with a horrific event.

The subject of stigmatized properties is a complex one and the rules vary state by state. Currently about half of the states have laws requiring disclosure of psychological impairment. Other states such as California have passed legislation limiting the requirement for disclosure of a murder or other violent event to three years after the event. Even in the states with disclosure statutes there is variability in what defects must be disclosed.

Where I live in Michigan there is no hard and fast stigma disclosure statute. The language in the form required under Michigan's Seller Disclosure Act suggests that residential sellers are not required to disclose information about the properly beyond it's physical condition. Since a seller normally does not make any form of representation about the stigmatizing event a claim or fraud or misrepresentation can not be sustained.

Yet many believe that he "bad karma" associated with a violent history or a gruesome reputation should mandate disclosure. Even thought the property may not be changed in a physical way the perception of it has changed and the buyers willingness to purchase may well be impacted. Stigmas also impact the value and future salability of a property.

Buyers make emotional rather than rational decisions when they purchase property. How a property "feels" is often the most factor when purchasing a piece of real estate. So would a property feel differently to a prospective buyer if they knew about the history or the psychic imprint associated with that parcel? With most purchasers that question can only be answered in the affirmative. Knowing that a property is tainted by association with murder, suicide or frightening paranormal phenomenon may well be a deal breaker. The lives and deaths of a home's former residents are considered to be a material consideration by many who want to make decisions based on full consideration of all factors.

What do you think? If you really loved a house would a home's sordid past impact your decision to buy? What about if you got a significant price reduction?

As for this girl-----I like to sleep at night. I'm taking no chances.

Statements in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dying in Water: Clues for Foul Play

"They could be drowning."
by Andrea Campbell

I don’t know if you have ever had the conversation with someone about the worst way to die? Even though I am a swimmer, drowning and the panic associated with taking in water and then succumbing to drowning has been a fear of mine.

That’s why when I was reading about water-related death investigation, I became fascinated about this particular area of examination. Obviously the most common way of drowning would be in a submerged vehicle—a tactic Susan Smith used to kill her small children—then there is drowning in a pool, bath, hot tub or a river, and, yes, even a bucket.

A death investigator looks for certain sign posts that alert him to the possibility of foul play. While we talk about some of the clues the water investigator looks for, you will notice that many of the red-flag indicators are based on well-thought-out common sense ideas and principles. Investigator Kevin L. Erskine—who developed a Master Course in Water-Related Death for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and a Children’s Ice Drowning Prevention Workshop—has the wherewithal and savvy to demonstrate just how interesting his discipline is. He has also remarked that if you recognize more than one of the potential indicators of foul play, it gives you the determination to look further than just accepting it as an “accidental” mishap.

Bath Tub or Hot Tub Drowning
Parents have been known to dunk their children as punishment and word from expert's has it, it’s widely practiced. On a child’s body, certainly signs of injury—fingerprint grip marks, or bruising on both sides of the neck could indicate a form of strangulation, while, other bruises showing up around the neck or behind the ears can indicate the assault of forced dunking.

Other clues would be: the fact that parent’s or caretaker’s clothes are dry; water samples that contain vomit, mucus, soap or urine; inconsistent water temperature, meaning, too hot may be punishment by scalding, or, if the water tests cold or if the water has been mopped up—or wet towels are around—the perpetrator may have waited too long to call or tried to hide a water fight or struggle. Look too, for things missing: no toys, washcloths or soap? These items will usually support an actual claim of bathing.

Also, if during an interview, the parent claims he was distracted yet a sound barrier prevents anyone from hearing the doorbell, an investigator may have reason to look deeper than first believed. Of course, with an elderly person’s drowning, look for a new life insurance policy, severe or terminal illness or disease of the victim, or prior domestic-violence reports.

Submerged Vehicles
If you’ve been watching any fictional mysteries or detective shows lately, you will come across the body in the car scenario where the driver’s seat has been readjusted and couldn’t possibly fit the 5-foot tall victim. Erskine says too, to look at the vehicle’s gearshift—was it in neutral or drive? Is there anything weighing down the accelerator? There is a long checklist of clues to look for, but if there is a blow to the victim’s head and the car or truck is relatively undamaged, that may point to suspicious circumstances for sure.

As you are beginning to see, this can be a lengthy, interesting concept. For more than just casual reading, you might want to check out Erskine’s book with Erica J. Armstrong: Water-Related Death Investigation:Practical Methods and Forensic Applications, published by CRC Press.

Source: Evidence Technology Magazine, May-June 2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to Help Child Victims of Sexual Abuse

Free Dirty Forgotten Sad Child Creative Commonsby Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

As we learn more about the Penn State child rape scandal, my thoughts and concerns remain with the victims. Many children do not tell anyone what happened. I have clients in their 40's who never told their parents they were raped or molested. Sometimes they don't tell because they were threatened by the perpetrator. Here are a few of the comments said to some of my client victims by their perpetrators:
  • If you tell, everyone will blame you.
  • No one will believe you and they will call you a liar.
  • I'll hurt you and your family if you ever tell.
  • Everyone will know what a slut you are.
  • I'll do it to your little sister too if you ever tell.
  • Your family will know you're gay and never speak to you again.
Perpetrators often pick victims with vulnerabilities they can exploit. Children from single parent families and/or of low socioeconomic status make easier victims - children like those involved in accused child rapist Jerry Sandusky's Second Mile charity. These kids want to protect their family from any more stress, as they might live a paycheck away from hunger and homelessness.

Child victims from wealthier homes or socially prominent families are often threatened with loss of life, social status, or public humiliation. Many child victims take on the heroic burden of protecting their families from pain, by keeping the big secret, at astonishingly young ages. I worked with a little 6 year old girl who said, "I can never tell my mother because she will cry and cry and never stop."

Physical Symptoms

Victims of child rape and molest often go through a familiar painful process. After the physical wounds heal, confusing emotions take hold. Anger, hurt, embarrassment, guilt, shame, fear and revulsion can take residence in the body, causing physical symptoms.

  • gastro-intestinal complaints
  • stomach aches and headaches
  • sleep problems
  • encopresis
  • enuresis
Behavioral Symptoms
Children often regress to behaviors of a younger age, before the molestation took place. This provides comfort for them as they can imagine a happier sense of safety and innocence. For some the burden of the secret provokes internal conflicts that leak out in a noticeable change of behavior. Some children go from happy, compliant, obedient angels to angry, incorrigible, destructive delinquents after a rape or molestation. Other behavioral symptoms include:
  • self-mutilation (burning, cutting, etc.)
  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse
  • sneaking out or running away
  • changes in friendship group
  • social isolation
  • lack of interest in normally pleasurable activities
Damage to Body Image
Rape and molestation change a child's relationship to his or her body. Instead of feeling free to explore the world and master new skills, the body becomes a source of conflict. The little girl assumes her early developing breasts caused the rape. The victimized boy believes his body is defective because it brought on this attack by a pervert. This can trigger a lifelong battle with the body as the enemy of one's happiness and serenity. One young woman raped as a preteen hated her breasts and had panic/rage attacks when men would look at her chest. She begged her parents to have her breasts surgically removed.

Family Reactions Can Hurt Worse Than Rape
Many victims of rape and molestation tell me that they recovered fully from the crime itself, and even forgave the perpetrator. But some feel wounded and resentful years afterward by the reactions of family and friends. Victims of incest often face an even bigger evil. I like this line from the Survivors Speak Out network, "The taboo against talking about incest is stronger than the taboo against doing it." Children raped by family members can be made to feel responsible for the break up of the family. One woman told me that her siblings angrily blamed her for the loss of their father after he was convicted of molesting her. Many victims say, "everyone would be happier if I just shut up and disappeared." That's a cruel and unfair burden for a child to bear.

How To Protect Your Children

Children need to know about sexual matters. Ignorant children are vulnerable. Parents should provide age appropriate sexual education starting with the proper naming of body parts in toddlerhood. Parents need to know that words like "rape", "penis", and"vagina" are talked about on every elementary school playground. It's best if these terms are defined by the parents, and not by a seven year old who watches R-rated films.

Sexual abuse prevention programs, like Good Touch, Bad Touch, provide parents with helpful guidelines for preventing child abuse. It's important for parents to know that just because a child knows the difference between "good" and "bad" touch, doesn't mean that child should be responsible for self-protection. Parents need to remain vigilant. Children should never be coerced into providing physical affection to relatives and friends. This disturbs their ability to set appropriate boundaries with adults or teens who wish to get too close. We all have a natural "ick" detector, and if we've been forced to endure grandpa's icky wet kisses, we can lose that protective instinct.

One of my biggest peeves involves the squeamish, juvenile avoidance of sexual communication in families. It's is one of the biggest, crazy-making ironies of our culture, that sex is everywhere, selling everything and yet parents can't say the words "penis", "vulva" or "vagina" without red-faced embarrassment. Years ago I confronted this discomfort at a meeting at a mental health clinic. A group of professionals were discussing what should be on the new counseling intake form. In a long list of questions about substance abuse, legal difficulties, and family history of mental illness, someone suggested sexual abuse should be on the form. Another therapist said, "oh no, we don't want to open that can of worms." As I felt the bile go to my throat I said, "why is sex abuse any bigger can of worms than substance abuse? Victims need a safe place to talk. It's our job to hear these things, open them up for discussion and help victims heal." The question ended up on the form.

When we feel and act embarrassed talking about sex around children we just add to the pedophiles arsenal of weapons. When we equate ignorance with innocence and virginity with purity, we give the perpetrator the ability to define the abuse as good and the child as bad. Do we want our children so ignorant that they learn about sex from a pervert?
Is a raped child any less pure? Perpetrators know that kids are sexually ignorant and parents won't ask the right questions. Child abusers know that adults get all wimpy and squeamish and giggly at the mention of anything sexual. Perpetrators thrive in an environment of denial and avoidance.

What To Do if Your Child Was Molested

If your child shares abuse information with you let them talk. Listen without judgment. Let them know you love them. Call the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD) for help. Take the child for a medical exam, and consider rape counseling and support groups. Get educated with resources and books like, What To Do When Your Child Has Been Molested, or this helpful article from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Imagine that instead of sexual abuse, your child is telling you about getting beat up at school. Would you get all embarrassed and tongue-tied? Would you flip out and get homicidal? It's more likely that you would ask questions like, "what happened?" and "are you hurting anywhere?" Express loving concern, but stay calm and supportive. The child has enough to worry about without having to take care of you.

It's important to know that a child's life need not be ruined by sexual victimization. Many children recover and go onto lead healthy, normal lives after molestation and rape. What's most important is how their loved-ones react, and how safe they feel after the trauma.

Other factors that impact recovery from abuse include:
  • The severity of abuse
  • The duration of the abuse
  • The relationship to the perpetrator
Goldie Hawn - hi res scanActress, Goldie Hawn writes about her molestation as a child, in her memoir A Lotus Grows in the Mud. She says she was able to recover and feel normal feelings of trust for men after her mother explained that the perpetrator was "sick in the head." Goldie felt loved and accepted by her mother, and says she was never made to feel "dirty" or defective because of the abuse.

One silver lining in the media's attention to the Penn State scandal is that it might encourage more victims to come out and talk about their abuse. Relinquishing the secret of sexual victimization can help many begin to heal. Realize that a victim is a complex human being, with a unique story. We are splendid and beautiful beings, far more significant than any crime(s) perpetrated against us.

Photos courtesy of pinksherbet photography and Alan Light.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

About Pepper Spray

By Deborah Blum

One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. The scale – as you can see on the widely used chart to the left – puts sweet bell peppers at the zero mark and the blistering habenero at up to 350,000 Scoville Units.

I checked the Scoville Scale for something else yesterday. I was looking for a way to measure the intensity of pepper spray, the kind that police have been using on Occupy protestors including this week’s shocking incident involving peacefully protesting students at the University of California-Davis.

As the chart makes clear, commercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units. The lower number refers to the kind of pepper spray that you and I might be able to purchase for self-protective uses. And the higher number? It’s the kind of spray that police use, the super-high dose given in the orange-colored spray used at UC-Davis.

The reason pepper-spray ends up on the Scoville chart is that – you probably guessed this - it’s literally derived from pepper chemistry, the compounds that make habaneros so much more formidable than the comparatively wimpy bells. Those compounds are called capsaicins and – in fact – pepper spray is more formally called Oleoresin Capsicum or OC Spray.

But we’ve taken to calling it pepper spray, I think, because that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen. The description hints maybe at that eye-stinging effect that the cook occasionally experiences when making something like a jalapeno-based salsa, a little burn, nothing too serious.

Until you look it up on the Scoville scale and remember, as toxicologists love to point out, that the dose makes the poison. That we’re not talking about cookery but a potent blast of chemistry. So that if OC spray is the U.S. police response of choice – and certainly, it’s been used with dismaying enthusiasm during the Occupy protests nationwide, as documented in this excellent Atlantic roundup - it may be time to demand a more serious look at the risks involved.

My own purpose here is to focus on the dangers of a high level of capsaicin exposure. But as pointed out in the 2004 paper, Health Hazards of Pepper Spray, written by health researchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, the sprays contain other risky materials:

Depending on brand, an OC spray may contain water, alcohols, or organic solvents as liquid carriers; and nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or halogenated hydrocarbons (such as Freon, tetrachloroethylene, and methylene chloride) as propellants to discharge the canister contents.(3) Inhalation of high doses of some of these chemicals can produce adverse cardiac, respiratory, and neurologic effects, including arrhythmias and sudden death.

Their paper focuses mostly, though, on the dangerous associated with pepper-based compounds. In 1997, for instance, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco discovered that the “hot” sensation of habeneros and their ilk was caused by capsaicin binding directly to proteins in the membranes of pain and heat sensing neurons. Capsaicins can activate these neurons at below body temperature, leading to a startling sensation of heat. Repeated exposure can wear the system down, depleting neurotransmitters, reducing the sensation of the pain. This knowledge has led to a number of medical treatments using capsaicins to manage pain.

Its very mechanism, though, should remind us to be wary. As the North Carolina researchers point out, any compound that can influence nerve function is, by definition, risky. Research tells us that pepper spray acts as a potent inflammatory agent. It amplifies allergic sensitivities, it irritates and damages eyes, membranes, bronchial airways, the stomach lining – basically what it touches. It works by causing pain – and, as we know, pain is the body warning us of an injury.

In general, these are short term effects. Pepper spray, for instance, induces a burning sensation in the eyes in part by damaging cells in the outer layer of the cornea. Usually, the body repairs this kind of injury fairly neatly. But with repeated exposures, studies find, there can be permanent damage to the cornea.

The more worrisome effects have to do with inhalation – and by some reports, California university police officers deliberately put OC spray down protestors throats. Capsaicins inflame the airways, causing swelling and restriction. And this means that pepper sprays pose a genuine risk to people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

And by genuine risk, I mean a known risk, a no-surprise any police department should know this risk, easy enough to find in the scientific literature. To cite just three examples here:

1) Pepper Spray Induced Respiratory Failure Treated with Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

2) Assessing the incapacitative effects of pepper spray during resistive encounters with the police.

3) The Human Health Effects of Pepper Spray.

That second paper is from a law enforcement journal. And the summary for that last paper notes: Studies of the effects of capsaicin on human physiology, anecdotal experience with field use of pepper spray, and controlled exposure of correctional officers in training have shown adverse effects on the lungs, larynx, middle airway, protective reflexes, and skin. Behavioral and mental health effects also may occur if pepper spray is used abusively.

Pepper spray use has been suspected of contributing to a number of deaths that occurred in police custody. In mid-1990s, the U.S. Department of Justice cited nearly 70 fatalities linked to pepper-spray use, following on a 1995 report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of California. The ACLU report cited 26 suspicious deaths; it’s important to note that most involved pre-existing conditions such as asthma. But it’s also important to note a troubling pattern.

In fact, in 1999, the ACLU asked the California appeals court to declare the use of pepper spray to be dangerous and cruel. That request followed an action by northern California police officers against environmental protestors – the police were accused of dipping Q-tips into OC spray and applying them directly to the eyes of men and women engaged in an anti-logging protest.

“The ACLU believes that the use of pepper spray as a kind of chemical cattle prod on nonviolent demonstrators resisting arrest constitutes excessive force and violates the Constitution,” wrote association attorneys some 13 years ago.

Today, the University of California-Davis announced that it was suspending two of the police officers who pepper-sprayed protesting students. Eleven of those students were treated by paramedics on scene and two were sent to a hospital in Sacramento for more intensive treatment.

Undoubtedly, these injuries will factor into another scientific study of pepper spray, another acknowledgement that top of the Scoville scale is dangerous territory. But my own preference is that we start learning from these mistakes without waiting another 13 years or more, without engaging in yet another cycle of abuse and injury.

Now would be good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is Wrong With People?

by Holly Hughes

The more I hear about the Penn State pedophilia scandal, the angrier I get. A bunch of grown men sat around and did nothing for years, allowing who knows how many young boys to be sexually molested. 

It boggles my mind that a grown man walked in on the rape of a child and did nothing to stop it. Forget for a moment the whole question of who it should have been reported to. Just pause and think about what really happened back in 2002 in a Penn State locker room shower. Mike McQueary, a grown man, a graduate assistant at the time, has said he heard the sound of skin slapping on skin. He went into the shower area and saw a young boy, whose age he estimates to be around ten, with his hands pinned up against the wall and Jerry Sandusky was having anal intercourse with the child. In response to this assault McQueary turns and walks away. He doesn’t yell out or stop Sandusky from raping this little boy, he just simply leaves. He goes home and tells his father. Still, neither of them telephone the police. 

To this day, despite the indictment and charges levied against Sandusky, that little boy from the shower is still unidentified. No one knows if he is even alive today. Unfortunately, the statistics tell us that abused children often get into drugs, prostitution and other trouble with the law. McQueary tells his “boss,” Joe Paterno, who passes the information on to Tim Curley and Gary Schultz and nothing is done.

This case is a cautionary tale in many respects. Time after time there were multiple opportunities to stop this monster, Sandusky, from abusing children. As early as 1998, Sandusky was reported to authorities as having inappropriate contact with young boys. Despite the fact that Sandusky admitted to the boy’s mother, on tape, that he had showered with her eleven year old son and other boys and “wishes he was dead”, nothing is done. Despite interviewing another young boy who also reports that Sandusky showered with him, nothing is done. The District Attorney at the time, Ray Gricar, declines to prosecute this predator, and nothing is done. Thomas Harmon, who headed the campus police force at the time, closed the investigation and nothing is done. 

In 2000, a janitor named Jim Calhoun tells a co-worker and his supervisor that he saw Sandusky engaged in sexual activity with a young boy in the showers. The supervisor tells Calhoun who he can report it to if he wants. Again, another grown man, this time Calhoun, does nothing to stop the sexual assault of a child while it is in progress. No one, not Calhoun, his coworker or his supervisor calls the police and nothing is done. 

Another highly disturbing aspect is that all of these grown men (and more) knew Sandusky had six adopted children, took in foster children and ran a charity he had established for “troubled” youth. Did these men honestly think that those children were safe in Sandusky’s care? It is unconscionable to me that all of these men turned away and did nothing at the expense of every victim since the first reported one in 1998. Not one of them can honestly say they thought pedophilia was a one time event. Their behavior is indefensible. 

The average pedophile is said to have 100 victim over his lifetime, but I fear Sandusky is far worse than the “average” pedophile. This is a man who, thanks to his friends, had an endless supply of young boys to victimize. They enabled a child molester to continue unchecked for years. 

The Penn State officials, who had a mandatory duty to report suspected child abuse, never did so. Their answer was to take away Sandusky’s keys to the locker room. Really? Really? So, what’s the message there, “It’s okay to rape children, just don’t do it on our campus"? I have heard all the excuses. They didn’t want to destroy the integrity of the football program? Well, how’s that going for you boys? The janitor didn’t want to lose his job. How about his humanity? His compassion? His sense of decency? 

Having prosecuted homicides, hate crimes and high profile cases for ten years, I didn’t think there was much that could still shock me. I was wrong. The depth of this cover up at the expense of children is sickening. Even as I write this piece, more victims are coming forward. Sadly, there will be more victims unidentified than the number we will know about. 

As the Senate schedules congressional hearings and the California legislature proposes laws to prevent this from happening again I can’t help but think of the sad irony. It takes a tragedy like this for people to wake up and realize that we are failing the children of this country in horrifying ways. 

Frighteningly, it didn’t take a special hearing of Congress to prevent this particular tragedy. It would have only taken one of those grown men to “man up” and take a stand. To report this monster and expose him, before he abused all of his victims. 

Sometimes it takes a village, sometimes it just takes one good man. How tragic that we didn’t have one here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Story – The Friends of Amanda Knox

by Anne Bremner

My initial involvement in the Amanda Knox case came when I received a phone call from King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey nearly four years ago while I was at a conference for the American College of Trial Lawyers. Mike and I talked for some time about Amanda's legal plight. I was interested and probably got hooked on this case at that time. Soon thereafter, I met Mike and Tom Wright for lunch and breakfast at AJ's Restaurant on two occasions in Seattle. Following my conversations with these two remarkable men at those meetings, I was hooked for sure.

What happened next is that we met with the Knox family in West Seattle. I then spent weeks with a certain individual watching the crime-scene videos and studying all the evidence of the case. By then I was more than hooked, and completely convinced that Amanda was innocent. I also conducted my extensive research and found my beliefs to be confirmed.

It was decided that I would release all the evidence to the world's press. The individual specifically required me to not reveal that he was the person behind this. I then released the crime-scene videos to the Today Show and a shot was heard around the world. I felt as if I was Daniel Ellsberg releasing the "Pentagon Papers."

Mike Heavey, Tom Wright and I became “The Friends of Amanda Knox”. We were joined by best-selling author Douglas Preston, “The Monster of Florence” who had lived through the same terrifying experience as Amanda with the prosecutor Mignini; Jim Lovering (our brilliant writer and researcher extraordinaire); Paul Ciolino (famed and talented investigator) and sometime later, Mark Waterbury (extraordinary DNA scientist and author of “The Monster of Perugia). This fine group of people were responsible for turning the “supertanker” around of false and malicious press accounts about Amanda Knox. And in that, they turned around the trial.

The Friends of Amanda Knox consisted of a small group of extraordinarily talented and motivated individuals. What I recount here is but a fraction of what they did. I hope that they tell their stories to show how a group with unique and complimentary talents and skills can turn around an international sensation- in what could be a template for other future efforts to save victims of injustice – innocents abroad. The Friends of Amanda did all of the work, I was the mouthpiece or messenger.

This is what we discovered: the now-famous bra clasp with mixed DNA --purportedly Rafael Sollecito's -- turned from white to black from dirt because it hadn't been collected for months and was dropped repeatedly; a policewoman disturbed the crime scene when she crashed through a window in the house by mistake and shattered glass everywhere; investigators did not cover their heads, letting their long hair hang over the scene; unidentified observers were lounging around the scene and talking on cell phones; and the filming of the evidence was conducted like an old high-school audio-visual class project. We called this fiasco "Fellini Forensics," in mock honor of the famous Italian filmmaker's surreal style. My friend Jim Lovering stayed up all night culling through the tapes and then cataloging them.

In addition, the Italian appellate court would discover that the knife that was such an important part of evidence in this case was shoddily transported in a shoe box, further validating the fact that the forensic evidence was unreliable, contaminated and inadmissible.

I then wrote my piece, "Amanda Knox, My Truth and My Challenge," for the Perugia Shock. I also posted it on my Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper blog for "City Brights." Jim was the genius behind these as well. This was a stepping stone for more articles and discussions, including ones with CNN Anderson Cooper (I blogged for AC 360 on the Amanda Knox subject), Bill O'Reilly, Gerald Rivera, Jane Velez Mitchell,,, MSNBC, CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, NBC, CBS, ABC, the BBC, most of the United Kingdom press, the Italian press and local Seattle media. I made weekly appearances for years in the national and local media. All told, I have made hundreds of appearances on behalf of Amanda Knox.

A number of on-air personalities -- and even Donald Trump -- offered to fly to Italy -- and have Amanda's family flown there -- and advocate and fund-raise for Amanda and do anything they could on her behalf and bring her home. I appeared on Dateline NBC with Dennis Murphy and the Today Show over time. I developed relationships with most everyone in the national and local media. And I appeared with Sollecito's and Meredith Kercher's attorneys on the Italian version of "Oprah," "Porte a Porte."

I spent a huge amount of time trying to turn people around on the issue: All of the previously mentioned media outlets required this. I met with the UK Observer and did scores of BBC interviews. I talked to Nick Pisa and debated Barbie Nadeau on the air. For three-and-a-half years I went on TV and radio weekly to get the word out about Amanda Knox. I met with Time Magazine's Tiffany Sharples and a fantastic Time story resulted from this exchange. And New York Times writer Timothy Egan interviewed me and others on the case. Tim's two pieces were real turning points for Amanda. I partnered with KING-TV Seattle's Linda Bryon as well as Kathy Goertzen of KOMO-TV in public appearances and speeches.

My assistant, Joan Stapleton, and Tom Wright set up the websites "" and "" They hired a lawyer to create a trust fund at our own expense. They worked very closely with the Knox family on both sites and ultimately turned it over to them. Tom Wright, the true heart and soul of the Friends of Amanda, took on the torch of these projects and developed a world class website that was translated into many languages. It was and is the most definitive site for information about Amanda Knox. The site has received nearly a million hits from all over the world.

Tom Wright kept an ongoing blog on the website to inform the public the press about any new developments. The Internet hits exploded off the charts. The research receptacle that Tom Wright and Jim Lovering, our researcher extraordinaire, nurtured was vast. We advocated for the securing of a State Department lawyer. We spent considerable time on this issue. We actually contacted an attorney, who later became President Obama's White House Lawyer. We then spent a lot of time with John Q. Kelly, who was excellent. The family chose Ted Simon, who ultimately found little apparent success with the State Department. We, of course, wrote to Congress and to Obama. The Friends of Amanda Knox was a force to be reckoned with.

I became the target of much ire and vitriol against Amanda because I chose to be the face for the Friends of Amanda Knox. Amanda's attorneys and family were not able to step forward to address the evidence and their public-relations representative was tight-lipped, recommending silence, on the advice of Italian counsel, because of fear of retribution and defamation charges in Italy. Websites adverse to Amanda posted terrible comments about me online, including vicious attacks voiced on the Perugia Shock. Amanda-haters posted tasteless, doctored pictures of me online as well as false and defamatory remarks about me, too. I received more death threats than I can count. Every article or story where my name appeared had hideous, menacing comments. In my 25 years of legal practice, prior to my involvement with the Amanda Knox case, I had never had a negative news article or comment published about me in the media or on the Internet. That all changed with Amanda Knox. I received a virtual avalanche of negative publicity, comments and posts. My involvement in this case nearly ruined my reputation and career.

I staked my reputation and career for Amanda Knox. I would still do it all over again if asked. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Self Mutilation - The New Foreplay

Katherine Scardino

Self mutilation has been around for a long time. Why? I certainly do not have that answer. Experts say that self harmers use violence to the self as a means of coping with intense emotional trauma, pain or distress. It is a deliberate act that can result in serious damage to the skin or underlying tissues, and possibly cause infection. Sometimes there is permanent scarring. It is not a “fad” or something that only young people do. It is more likely to affect young people, but self harm is being seen in any age group, even among the elderly. One in ten teenagers are self harmers, and most do not receive counseling or medical help. Your children, if not a self harmer himself, probably knows someone at school who does.

Self harm is almost always closely associated with a traumatic event of some kind. He or she may feel depressed, confused, angry, frustrated, fearful, guilty, and the list goes on. But, the self harmer feels there is no other sensible alternative (from his point of view) other than to do violence upon himself. One person who engaged in self cutting said that her feelings were so overwhelming that the physical pain of self injury forced her to focus on something other than those debilitating emotions. This practice has been around for a very long time - remember self flagellation by the bad guy in Tom Hanks’ movie “The DaVinci Code”. The ritual of self flagellation is practiced annually by the Shi’ite, using chains and swords, during Ashura where the Shi’ite sect mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. The Hebrew Bible refers to the priests of Baal “cutting themselves with blades until blood flowed”. 
Self cutting is the most prevalent form of self mutilation, but burning, head banging, deliberate poisoning, self biting, hair pulling, picking wounds so they don’t heal are all manifestations of the self harmer. The signs of self injury are not always apparent because the act itself is so secretive. Sufferers will often cover themselves up - wearing long sleeves and pants, even in the warmest weather. If anyone sees the injury and inquires, the response is usually that it was an accident.

Self harm is listed in the DSM-IV-TR as a symptom of borderline personality disorder. Depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, schizophrenia and other personality disorders are also associated with self harmers. Self harm is also apparent in high-functioning individuals who have no underlying clinical diagnosis. These people could be the person sitting next to you on the bus or airplane.

Or - even here in Houston, Texas. Last week a jury heard a criminal trial involving two people who were a “couple”, with children in the house, I might add, who were engaging in burning as part of their sex play. The male partner, Gregory Longoria, Jr., was accused of burning the genitals and breasts of the female partner with a Bic cigarette lighter. The prosecution initially claimed that her nipples were melted and her vagina was melted shut. The charge was later lessened from Aggravated Assault with Serious Bodily Injury to Aggravated Assault with Bodily Injury. Apparently, the medical testimony did not substantiate the “serious” part of the bodily injury. 

Nevertheless, a jury found the Mr. Longoria guilty of Aggravated Assault and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. My friend and criminal defense lawyer for Mr. Longoria, Stan Schneider, told me that consent was the defense and that these two had engaged in other types of acts such as bondage and other sorts of specialized “equipment”, if you know what I mean. Mr. Schneider indicated that this type of self-harm had been ongoing.

I have had a case where the wife admitted to self burning as a form of teenage “angst”. It was described as “no big deal”, just a few of us girls getting together and doing it. But, the question most people do not, cannot, understand is “why?” As stated above, the reason is serious and one that needs immediate psychological attention.

So, in summary - it’s a bad thing. It is harmful to the body and a bit strange, but not new. Watch your children. 

photos: ChantelBeamPhotography, escalade328sChrisGoldNY