Wedding planner nabs crasher allegedly trying to steal gifts

A hero wedding planner saved a Georgia couple’s big day – by nabbing a wedding crasher who tried to make off with $2,300 worth of gifts. Having been in the wedding business for 15 years, Ashley Baber is used to paying close attention to detail – which is why she couldn’t help but notice a…

A hero wedding planner saved a Georgia couple’s big day – by nabbing a wedding crasher who tried to make off with $2,300 worth of gifts. Having been in the wedding business for 15 years, Ashley Baber is used to paying close attention to detail – which is why she couldn’t help but notice a...


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Robber snatched iPhone out of 8-year-old boy’s hands: cops

A grown man robbed an 8-year-old of his iPhone this week in the Bronx, ripping the device out of the child’s hands when he bravely resisted, authorities said. The theft occurred at around 5:50 p.m. on Monday after the 6-foot-tall crook followed the child into the vestibule of a residential building at Saint Ann’s Avenue…

A grown man robbed an 8-year-old of his iPhone this week in the Bronx, ripping the device out of the child’s hands when he bravely resisted, authorities said. The theft occurred at around 5:50 p.m. on Monday after the 6-foot-tall crook followed the child into the vestibule of a residential building at Saint Ann’s Avenue...


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Sex Offender Registration Influenced by Racial Bias, Ohio Study Claims

A study of released Ohio sex offenders found that over 85 percent were wrongly classified as high-risk to their communities, and 15 percent who actually posed a danger were underclassified. The study in the Criminal Justice Policy Review said risk assessments skewed against African-Americans were one reason.

The classification of sex offenders based on the risks they pose to the community following their release from prison is subject to racial bias, according to a study published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review.

African-American sex offenders were found to be two-and a half times likelier to be inaccurately designated as high-risk than their Caucasian counterparts by a state-sponsored risk-assessment instrument, said the study, which was based on a sample of 673 sex offenders in the state of Ohio who were convicted of a sex crime and released between 2009 and 2011.

Risk assessments that were overly weighted towards prior criminal records led to the skewed assessments, argued the authors, Bobbie Ticknor of Valdosta State University, and Jessica J. Warner of Miami University Regionals.

“Approximately 85 percent of the individuals classified in the highest tier, who theoretically posed the greatest danger, did not have a conviction for a new sex offense after the five-year follow up period,” the study found, adding that 15 percent of “Tier 1” offenders were under-classified, meaning their threat-level was underestimated.

The sample was limited to offenders who had received a classification under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) system established by the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

The law established guidelines aimed at protecing communities from convicted sex offenders who might pose continued threats to their community following release. SORNA is an offense-based classification system where offenders are assigned to one of three tiers according to “dangerousness.” Tier designation is determined by prior offenses and the severity of the charge and conviction.

The classification is used to determine the level of supervision convicted sex offenders will be subject to following release, ranging from regular monitoring by local law enforcement to restrictions on where they can live. Some version of these federally mandated laws now exist in every state.

The authors said their study results should “generate several concerns from policymakers.”

“There is a small group of sex offenders who are more dangerous than their tier designation would lead society to believe,” they wrote. “In addition there is a much larger portion of therse individuals who may not be as dangerous as previously thought.”

The reason why racial bias may influence the accuracy of SORNA designations lies in the fact that SORNA relies heavily on the criminal history of an individual, said the authors.

The study cites prior research which produced evidence that “black defendants are less likely to accept a plea deal due to mistrust in the system…”

Going to trial increases the chances of being found guilty of more severe charges and receiving lengthier sentences, especially for minority defendants, according to the authors.

Over-classification may lead to measures, such as residency restrictions, which could induce a chain-reaction of negative outcomes increasing the chances of recidivism. A potential solution, suggest the authors, would be a state by state re-evaluation of the law, and a move to incorporate considerations of background information, criminogenic needs, and protective factors into risk-assessment instruments.

See also: How Pseudoscience Turns Sex Offenders into Permanent Outlaws

And: Did California Authorities Suppress Research on Sexually Violent Predators?

The full  Ohio study can be found here:

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Wray Seeks ‘Normalcy’ in an FBI Under Fire

At the end of his first year in office, FBI director Christopher Wray says he is “trying to bring calm [and] stability” to an agency under fire from the president.

In his first year as FBI director, Christopher Wray has focused his agents on the nitty-gritty of their jobs and avoided the distractions from controversies buffeting the agency. “My big point of emphasis has been that even though we live in tumultuous, turbulent times, I’m trying to bring calm, stability—dare I say it—normalcy, in an environment where I think there’s an appetite for that,” Wray tells the Wall Street Journal. Wray’s leadership style is a sharp departure from how his predecessor, James Comey, ran the 37,000-employee FBI. Some agents say Wray’s style is so low-key that employees aren’t always sure of his expectations.

Of his relationship with the president, Wray said, “It’s professional,” and declined to address Trump’s tweets savaging special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and the Justice Department. “Social media commentary has its place, but that’s not what drives our work,” said Wray, who expressed support for Mueller and has declared  the special counsel investigation isn’t a witch hunt. Wray, 51, begins his day with a briefing on threats, such as Russian interference in U.S. elections, and Chinese efforts to steal government and business secrets. FBI agents are tracking thousands of potential terrorists. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a frequent FBI critic, applauded Wray for working to change the bureau culture, calling him part of the “cleanup squad” rather than the “coverup squad.” Some agents pointed to a survey of bureau employees last year finding that morale remained high but confidence in the vision and ideas of Wray and his leadership team were lower than recorded a year earlier under Comey. Wray said the survey painted an incomplete picture, citing employees’ “commitment to the mission, success in the mission, desire to work here.” He pointed to an attrition rate of 0.6%.


Americans Asked to Defend Media Against ‘Cannibalistic’ Attacks

The director of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of 170 nonprofit online media outlets, said reporters covering criminal justice and other local beats face an upsurge of harassment and intimidation. But “we’re not going to shut up,” Sue Cross said in an open letter posted Thursday in response to an appeal by the Boston Globe to news organizations around the country to publish editorials on the issue.

The director of a national network of non-profit media joined other news outlets around the country Thursday in calling on Americans to defend “free speech and open government” from what she described as “cannibalistic attacks” on the press.

The attacks threaten the ability of many smaller online outlets to cover criminal justice and other key beats that matter to their communities, said Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), in an open letter.

“Verbal and even physical attacks on media, police-state tactics and government secrecy are spreading with impunity throughout the country,” wrote Cross, citing recent incidents where reporters were harassed or detained in Denver, Milwaukee, East Lansing Mi., San Diego,Ca., and Oregon.

“We hear reports, month in month out, from the 170 nonprofit news media that are part of INN.”

Cross said Washington’s unabashed hostility to the media, embodied by President Donald Trump’s vocal criticism of “fake news,” was helping to nourish a climate of harassment and intimidation at local and state levels,

“Attacks on nonprofit media are particularly cannibalistic,” she wrote. “Nonprofit newsrooms are dedicated to public service. Their reporters and editors are public servants, with a mindset cops might find surprisingly close to their own.

“’Protect and serve’” pretty well describes the motivations of most watchdog reporters.”

Cross said Americans needed “fact-based” journalism especially now, warning that “when government officials systematically tear down the free press because they don’t like the facts it reports…they are working to limit your ability to know what your government is doing.”

“Don’t be faked out by claims of fake news,” she wrote.  “It’s out there, no doubt. But so are many more reliable news sources dedicated to reason and truth. Dozens of public service newsrooms that commit to high ethical standards are listed in the INN member directory.

“Commit to your local newspaper, radio newscast, television broadcaster.  If you think an outlet’s coverage is off-base, reach out and question it, contribute news and commentary, point out a mistake when they make one. Reporters and editors want to hear from you.

“The ‘news media’ isn’t some monolithic thing. It’s a voice of your community, and you can be part of it. We hope you will.”

She added: “We’re not going to shut up.”

Cross’ open letter was published in response to an appeal by the Boston Globe to newspapers and media outlets around the country to publish editorials Thursday defending the nation’s constitutional committment to a free press. Many heeded the call, but there were a few skeptics.

The Crime Report is a member of INN.

To see the Cross letter, please click here.

As a news outlet committed to nonpartisan, evidence-based reporting and research on criminal justice, The Crime Report endorses Cross’ letter. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Should Chicago Spend Money on a Police Academy?

Supporters want to spent $95 million on a new facility to train police. Opponents say Chicago already allocates too many funds to law enforcement and that an academy won’t solve the city’s crime problems.

A year and a half after the U.S. Justice Department issued a report criticizing the Chicago Police Department’s use of force and racially discriminatory conduct, tensions between the police and community remain high in many neighborhoods. One major point of contention is a proposed $95 million police and fire academy. The planned 30-acre campus would include state-of-the-art training facilities and provide much-needed jobs to residents in a community struggling with poverty and gun violence, say supporters. The academy has become a flashpoint for many politicians and community members, who argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The proposal for a new police academy was made after the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was shot 16 times by an officer as he walked away from police in 2014.

The Chicago Police Department solves one in 20 homicides, and that rate has been declining. At the same time, the city has paid victims of police misconduct more than $50 million this year alone, a marked increase from last year. Now, the city is creating a consent decree for the police department, which would require adoption of suggested by DOJ. Local organizers say a new police academy on the West Side will not solve the underlying problems of policing and crime in Chicago. They point out that a new facility is not the same as better training and that the police department has already changed its curriculum, graduating three classes of officers who received what the mayor has called “best-in-class training.” Chicago spends 39 percent of its municipal budget on policing, while New York spends just 8 percent and Los Angeles spends 26 percent, says the Center for Popular Democracy. This means the city has less funds for things like schools and social services.


Finding Shooters Before They Shoot Again

A crime lab in the San Francisco Bay area has made an impressive dent in gun violence by helping local cops swiftly identify weapons used in crime through the 20-year-old National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. So why aren’t other police departments taking advantage of the network?

The criminals terrorizing the East Bay suburbs outside of Oakland, Ca., were getting bolder.

They robbed a family in well-to-do Fremont, Ca., at gunpoint. They broke into another house with pistols drawn, ready to confront residents. They shot a local school board member and pistol-whipped her husband as the victims unloaded groceries in their driveway, and then fled with a purse and cell phone.

For weeks in the summer of 2016, police struggled to gather enough evidence to arrest the men. Then one of them tried to dispose of a gun.

[That provided the evidence police needed to crack the case—thanks to a local crime lab that has uniquely positioned itself as a major player in combating the area’s endemic gun violence.]

As one suspect fled from carjacking a Danville man in his garage, police say he tossed his Glock in a commuter lot beside the freeway. Investigators from the county gang task force, who were monitoring the man through a wiretap on his cell phone, picked up the gun within minutes. They delivered the weapon to the Contra Costa County crime lab, where technicians used a sophisticated ballistics database to link it to shell casings from three other recent shootings, including the one that left the school board member hospitalized.

With those leads in hand, investigators gathered enough evidence to arrest eight members of the so-called Swerve Team gang and charge them with three murders, 14 attempted murders, six armed robberies, and two carjackings.

“The gun was the first link,” said Robert Pamplona, a senior inspector on the county’s gang task force.

Law enforcement departments across the country have access to the same system that Contra Costa has been using to catch the people committing gun crimes on its streets. It’s known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), and it’s maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).


When a gun is fired, it leaves a unique marking on the shell casing it ejects. Images of those casings make up the NIBIN database. Pictured: A microscope in the Contra Costa lab for examining bullets. Photo by Cayce Clifford/The Trace

NIBIN is like a giant fingerprint database—but for guns, which when fired leave unique markings on each shell casing they eject. By entering images of fresh casings into the system, investigators can make matches to those already on file, connecting different shootings to the same gun, and from there to shooters or gangs.

But NIBIN only works if police assiduously log all the casings they recover, and do so quickly, before trails grow cold. In many cities and counties, that’s not happening. Studies show many police departments and crime labs are misusing NIBIN, or not using it at all.

“Research has consistently shown that police investigators often do not receive forensic evidence testing results until after their investigation has concluded,” a team from Sam Houston State University in Texas wrote in the Journal of Forensic Sciences last year.

“These time lags prevent investigators from using this critical evidence in the manner that we expect it to be used: to assist in identifying suspects in criminal cases.”

The Contra Costa crime lab’s proficiency with NIBIN is the result of protocols put into place by its no-excuses director.

Those procedures have also made it an exception. In partnership with NBC Bay Area, The Trace surveyed California’s 18 city and county crime laboratories. On average, they report taking three months to enter evidence into NIBIN and get back leads. That’s more than 15 times as long as the turnarounds that Contra Costa achieves.

In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab last year processed bullet casings up to 95 days after police collected them. The Santa Clara crime lab reports that it takes “months to a year” to run casings through NIBIN and look for leads. Both labs say they are working to narrow that window, and San Francisco says that, so far this year, its average turnaround time is about eight days.

At least three California counties — Fresno, Ventura and Orange — are not using NIBIN at all.

“If a lead is taking eight months to get into hands of investigators, it’s worthless,” said Sam Rabadi, who was head of the firearms division at ATF in 2012 and 2013, and who now works for Vigilant Solutions, a private investigative technology company.

“The overarching goal is to get to the shooter before they shoot again.”

Public officials are desperate for more ways to link guns to shooters. About two out of every five murders in the U.S. go unsolved, according to the FBI. Solve rates for nonfatal shootings are in the single digits in several major cities.

Unapprehended, perpetrators strike again. Street justice fills the void, leading to revenge shootings.

“NIBIN is a chance to deter that small number of people who are prone to grab guns and shoot at other people,” said William King, who authored the first comprehensive report on NIBIN for the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013.

“NIBIN holds those people accountable.”

By misusing the ballistic fingerprinting, or not using it at all, King said, “police have failed a lot of communities in the inner cities.”

Better ballistics testing, on its own, won’t fix the problem. Many police departments are understaffed, have strained relationships with the communities they rely on for witnesses, or simply don’t prioritize solving gun crimes. But taking full advantage of NIBIN’s capabilities can help cops catch shooters who might otherwise remain at large.

Underperforming Crime Labs

Contra Costa County used to be among the many jurisdictions underperforming in their use of NIBIN. Then, in 2015, a former San Francisco detective named Pamela Hofsass took over as director of its crime lab. Without an influx of funding or manpower, she transformed how her department taps the technology’s potential. The results she achieved helped shift how law enforcement throughout the county approaches solving gun crimes.

Hofsass dramatically cut the time it took to get NIBIN leads back to sheriff’s deputies and local police officers. That, in turn, helped them make more arrests, giving them greater incentives to pick up shell casings at shootings and bring them to the lab.

Pamela Hofsass

Without an influx of funding or manpower, Contra Costa lab boss Pamela Hofsass transformed how her department taps NIBIN’s potential and processes ballistic evidence. Photo by Cayce Clifford/The Trace

“Back in the day, when there was a shooting where no one was hurt, the officer might have kicked those casings into the curb,” Hofsass said. “They thought, there’s no blood here, no injured victims, there’s nothing. Now we know that the people who end up killing people usually start by shooting randomly.”

Ron Nichols, a former ATF NIBIN head who is widely credited with redesigning the agency’s protocols to get faster results, said the changes that Hofsass wrought are possible for any department.

“It’s less about money and resources,” he said, “and more about getting labs to change their mindset about how they do things.”

Ballistic investigations used to be an analog business. Firearm examiners would take Polaroid pictures of cartridge casings and store them in paper files. When a new shooting happened, they’d pull out the photographs and eyeball them for matches.

Beginning about 20 years ago, the ATF launched NIBIN, and brought the art of ballistics comparisons into the digital age. These days, after police send shell casings to a crime lab, staffers load them one at a time into an imaging machine, which takes photographs and uploads them into the database.

A gun collected as evidence goes through its own procedure. Technicians test fire it into a water tank, then gather the casings and enter them into NIBIN, looking for matches with ballistic signatures already on file.

The ATF now touts NIBIN as a cornerstone of its national crime-fighting operation. The agency maintains 179 NIBIN sites across the country, serving 3,000 law enforcement organizations. The system contains about 2.8 million images of shell casings.

Gun Violence Blind Spots

But laggards remain, leaving blind spots in the system. As of 2016, according to The Marshall Project, 11 states didn’t have a single NIBIN machine. Another 19 had only one or two. The ATF declined to provide The Trace with updated numbers.

Where NIBIN is available, many agencies are still struggling to realize its potential.

In Chicago, officials working to combat the city’s high murder rate have made efforts to collect more shell casings. A Chicago Police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said officers now try to pick up and process shell casings after every reported shooting, even when no one is hurt.

But that requires the department to know when a round has been fired, and the city has installed gunshot-detection sensors in only about half of all precincts. In the others, it’s extremely difficult for officers to locate casings after the fact.

Processing times can also hinder investigations. Casings for homicides usually get entered into NIBIN within a couple of days, Guglielmi said. But lower priority cases, including shootings that don’t result in injuries, take a few weeks.

Experts say that delay can stall officers at critical moments — when it might be possible to stop someone from killing, or killing again.

“The sooner that I can get it [a lead] in my hands, the sooner I can get to the shooter before he or she reoffends,” ATF Firearms Operations Division Chief Michael Eberhardt told NBC Bay Area.

Last year, the ATF dispatched vans equipped with NIBIN equipment to Chicago, Baltimore, and Houston. The equipment in the vehicles is no more sophisticated than what each city is already using in-house. The bureau’s goal was to show local investigators how fast evidence can be processed when protocols are streamlined, and to entice investigators by getting them quick leads that help them bring more shooters to justice.

Spread over 700 acres of rolling hills northeast of San Francisco, Contra Costa County is dotted in some parts with cow farms and in others with desperate urban blight.

A war has raged for years in the western part of the county between gang members in Central and North Richmond.

“Out of the friends I had growing up, six are dead and three are incarcerated and not coming home,” said LeDamien Flowers, a North Richmond community organizer.

Within Richmond city limits, one in every three homicides went unsolved between 2011 and 2016.

When Hofsass took over the Contra Costa County crime lab in 2015, there was a backlog of more than 700 shell casings waiting to be scanned. On average, it took well over a year for the lab to get back to police with the results of a ballistics test.

“We’re talking about major crimes — attempted homicides or homicides with fired cartridge cases just sitting there,” she said.

Hofsass understood from her own experience as a detective that the lab had to do better.

“I knew from when I was in homicide, if I didn’t have critical information, then I wasn’t moving forward in that particular aspect of the case,” she said. “We had to think about what the detectives really need — to streamline it and strip it down. So that’s what we did. We overhauled the whole process.”

On her watch, Hofsass resolved, technicians would get detectives leads within at least four days of the shooting—two days to get the evidence to NIBIN, another two to get the lead back from the ATF.

But first, she had to get her staff onboard.

Prior to Hofsass’s arrival, “we were just functioning to put out fires right before things went to trial,” said Donnie Finley, her chief deputy. “Some days her message went over better than others. I remember people saying ‘We can’t do that, we don’t have enough people.’ ”

Tidy and no-nonsense, Hofsass convinced her team that they didn’t need more sets of hands, just smarter protocols.

Before Hofsass took over the lab, ballistic evidence routinely sat on shelves while it waited to be tested for DNA and fingerprints. Now it was immediately assigned to a technician.

She cross-trained her staff so members outside the ballistics team could help out colleagues when their own workload got thin. Investigators who primarily worked crime scenes were taught how to enter evidence into NIBIN on the side. Latent fingerprint examiners were shown how to record the make, model, and function of crime guns when ballistics tests got backed up.

Hofsass bought iPads to replace the paperwork that lab technicians had been doing by hand. Lab workers who used to have to draw pictures of shell cases and their markings now snapped photos instead.

crime lab

A technician at the Contra Costa lab demonstrates the process of test-firing a gun to capture its ballistic “fingerprint.” Photo by Cayce Clifford/The Trace

She also asked for help from the ATF. At many local police labs, in-house criminalists do the initial side-by-side comparisons between shell casings they’ve entered into NIBIN and possible matches that the computer returns. That’s important work, since those initial hits are the ones that investigators can run with right away as they hustle to get shooters off the street. But it’s also time consuming.

In Contra Costa, and at 19 other labs across the country, those first matches are now made by ATF technicians based in Huntsville, Al. Hofsass said that’s been a huge help streamlining her process and opens up time her technicians can use to button up cases when they are ready to go to trial.

The ATF says it wants to do image comparisons for more agencies. The bureau plans to expand this service to as many as 30 additional sites next year.

The ATF also lent Contra Costa two technicians to help test fire about 600 crime guns that had been sitting in storage, and get that ballistic information into the NIBIN system. As they plowed through their backlog, Contra Costa crime lab workers started with the most recent cases, so they could get leads to detectives while the evidence was still fresh.

Rewarding Success

Today, Hofsass’s team is completely caught up. To keep her staff motivated, she painstakingly plans elaborate ceremonies to recognize techs who meet their benchmarks. When Hofsass hears that efficient lab work helped to make an arrest, or clear a suspect, she broadcasts that information to her staff, to make sure they know the work they’re doing matters.

“I’m saying there’s a way to be efficient, effective, and maintain your quality,” she said. “We’re here to make the world a safer place. So why would you want to take your time?”

Before Josh Medel worked for the FBI/Contra Costa County Safe Streets Task Force, he was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He studied satellite images, drone data, and classified reports, trying to discern what opposition leaders were were planning. In Contra Costa, he looked at crime reports, social media feeds and cell phone data to figure out how who was running Contra Costa’s gangs and what they might do next.

When he heard what Hofsass was doing to produce faster ballistics results, he called the lab and asked for a year’s worth of the data it had collected. Analyzing it, he mapped out a sprawling diagram of the county’s gun crime: which guns were connected to which shootings, and which gang members might be connected to those guns—valuable information for prosecutors in California, where gang affiliation can mean longer prison sentences. In some cases, the webs sprawled to dozens of incidents.

The picture Medel was able to put together from Contra Costa’s NIBIN data was usually not enough to yield arrests on its own. But it was packed with valuable clues.

On the day of the carjacking that broke the Swerve case, police test-fired the gun that the suspect tossed in the commuter lot and entered the spent casings into NIBIN. When the ATF sent initial matches back, the results showed that three other recent shootings might have been done with the same weapon.

Investigators then gathered surveillance videos, GPS, DNA and cell phone data looking for other ties between the four shootings. They plugged that material into Medel’s map to figure out where a particular crime spree might fit in with wider county trends.

In the end, the Swerve Team linked 16 guns to 42 different shootings. Seven men were charged in the crimes. Police said that officers confiscated more than 200 illegal guns as a result of the investigation.

Getting shooters and guns off the street was not the only victory that came with the Swerve Team arrests. The headlines, and the fact that ballistics leads were key, got the attention of police at departments large and small across the Bay Area.

“Cops started saying, ‘Wow, maybe we need to clear out our evidence room,’” Medel said.

Every year, technicians at California’s Contra Costa County crime lab process hundreds of guns and shell casings recovered by police. Photo by Cayce Clifford/The Trace

Hofsass took advantage of the renewed enthusiasm for NIBIN to further refine Contra Costa’s use of the technology. She set up a drop box at the county’s central evidence locker. There, casings can be deposited round the clock with a simple evidence form, even if they aren’t collected as part of a criminal case. She’s planning a second drop box at the county jail, where police have to go regularly anyway when they book suspects.

For Carol Brown, the Swerve Team arrests marked a life-changing moment. A school board member in the leafy San Francisco suburb of Orinda, Brown and her husband were unloading groceries in their driveway in September 2016 when masked men attacked them. They beat Brown’s husband with a gun and shot her through the arm and chest.

The crime made headlines across the Bay Area, shocking in its apparent randomness.

Brown would spend two days in a locked ward in the hospital, protected from assailants who remained at large. On the third day came the NIBIN hit, when investigators connected the gun tossed in the commuter lot to shell cases from Brown’s driveway, compiling enough evidence to arrest the suspects.

Brown didn’t know that Hofsass’s ballistics team helped solve the case. What she knew was that she was safe again.

“I will not soon forget that moment,” said Brown. “Hearing they were in jail was the first time after it happened I felt like I could breathe.”

Editor’s Note: A video accompanying this story is available here.

Earlier versions of this story were originally published in The Trace and the San Jose Mercury. Ann Givens is a 2018 John Jay Crime Reporting Fellow and a juror in the annual John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice Journalism Awards. She welcomes comments from readers.


DOJ Seeks Another Opioid-Manufacturing Quota

It would mark the third consecutive year of proposed reductions, which the Justice Department says would help reduce the amount of drugs potentially diverted for trafficking and used to facilitate addiction.

The U.S. Department of Justice is calling for a reduction for controlled substances that may be manufactured in the U.S. next year, Axios reports. Under President Trump’s ‘Safe Prescribing Plan’ that seeks to cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years, the proposal would lower manufacturing quotas for the six most frequently misused opioids for 2019 by an average ten percent as compared to the 2018 amount.

It would mark the third consecutive year of proposed reductions, which DOJ says would help reduce the amount of drugs potentially diverted for trafficking and used to facilitate addiction. The Drug Enforcement Administration says that revised limits “will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potential addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for legitimate medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs.” The biggest problem remains synthetic opioids like fentanyl. About 30,000 people fatally overdosed on synthetic opioids last year, about the same number as heroin and prescription opioids combined. (Some people are counted multiple times because multiple drugs were in their systems when they died.) Fentanyl is easy to make and ship, it is incredibly potent, and it appears in different places, at different strengths.


Thursday round-up

Thursday round-upFor USA Today, Richard Wolf reports that “[f]or three eventful years of George W. Bush’s presidency – involving wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, battles over abortion and immigration, and two Supreme Court vacancies – Brett Kavanaugh held one of the most important jobs in the White House,” but “as the Senate considers Kavanaugh’s qualifications for the Supreme Court, his work as […]

The post Thursday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Thursday round-up

For USA Today, Richard Wolf reports that “[f]or three eventful years of George W. Bush’s presidency – involving wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, battles over abortion and immigration, and two Supreme Court vacancies – Brett Kavanaugh held one of the most important jobs in the White House,” but “as the Senate considers Kavanaugh’s qualifications for the Supreme Court, his work as staff secretary – described by others who have held the job as the president’s inbox and outbox – remains a black hole.” For The Washington Post, Seung Min Kim reports that “[h]ow the Republican majority is handling Kavanaugh’s extensive records has infuriated Democrats,” noting that “what makes the fight for Kavanaugh’s records unusual is that the National Archives, which has played a central role for previous nominees in vetting their White House papers and sending them to the Senate, has effectively been sidelined.” In commentary at National Review, Ed Whelan explains why, “[o]n any sensible application of the cost-benefit analysis that always properly shapes the Senate’s demand for documents, demanding the staff secretary documents would be insane.” Thomas Jipping maintains in an op-ed at the Washington Examiner that “senators already have what [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer said they need, a complete record of the most relevant and revelatory material from Kavanaugh’s legal career.”

In an episode of the Heritage Foundation’s SCOTUS 101 podcast, “[f]ormer law clerk Justin Walker joins Elizabeth Slattery to talk about working for Judge Kavanaugh and Justice Kennedy, running the BK5K, and the single best Kavanaugh opinion.” At E&E News, Amanda Reilly takes a close look at a case that “provides a glimpse into [Supreme Court] nominee [Brett Kavanaugh]’s broader approach to environmental law and how that may translate on the Supreme Court bench,” noting that “[i]f … Kavanaugh had his way, EPA would be without an important tool for regulating air pollution that drifts across state lines.” Dr. Roger Klein maintains in an op-ed for The Hill that “Kavanaugh’s expertise in administrative and regulatory law makes him exactly the right appointment at the right time.”

For The Hill, Jordain Carney reports that “Kavanaugh met on Wednesday with Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), two senators at the center of the multi-million dollar Supreme Court fight,” who “gave no indication after the meetings of whether they will support President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.” At NPR, Sarah McCammon reports that the re-election campaigns of red-state Democratic senators “are being complicated by the Supreme Court fight, which has brought millions of dollars in ads and activists to their home states, as well as those of other moderate senators trying to save their jobs in November.” According to Dan Merica at CNN, “Democratic senators facing tough races in Republican-leaning states are the target of a new ad from a Democratic group that pressures them to vote down President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.” In an op-ed for The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse considers the rash of televised ads promoting or opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation, writing that “assuming that there’s still a line somewhere, I believe the National Rifle Association has crossed it with a commercial declaring that ‘President Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh to break the tie’ between the ‘liberal justices’ who ‘oppose your right to self-defense’ and the ‘four justices’ (who are seemingly without left-to-right ideology) who ‘support your right to self-defense.’”

For The Daily Caller, Kevin Daley reports that “Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court after declining to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, filed a lawsuit in federal court late Tuesday suing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission”; “Phillips and his attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom … say the Commission has revived its campaign against him …, singling Masterpiece Cakeshop out for disparate treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs.” Additional coverage comes from Amy Wang for The Washington Post, who reports that “[t]his time, the cake at the center of the controversy was not for a wedding” – it was “a custom cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside” to celebrate the anniversary of the day the customer “had come out as transgender.” In an op-ed at The Daily Signal, Jim Campbell of ADF urges the federal courts to “put a stop to Colorado’s unconstitutional bullying.”


  • At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Bob Egelko reviews Richard Hasen’s book, “The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption.”

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How White Seattle, Portland Got Black Women Chiefs

Neither city ever had hired women of color to head their police forces, but both now have them: Carmen Best in Seattle and Danielle Outlaw in Portland.

Seattle, like Portland, Or., now has a black female chief of police. Danielle Outlaw, 41, a former Oakland police commander, has been the Portland Police Bureau’s chief about 10 months, while Carmen Best, 53, a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, was sworn in this week, the Los Angeles Times reports. Both appointments had an air of promise about them as two of America’s most liberal, and whitest, big cities — Seattle is 70 percent white; Portland, 76 percent — sought solutions to the racial divisions and questionable shootings that plague U.S. communities. Seattle is hoping to end six years of federally mandated oversight brought on by past civil rights violations, and Best is a semi-expert on the issue. Portland has been a revolving door for police chiefs in hot water. Outlaw replaced a chief who retired after accidentally wounding a fellow camper during a hunting and beer-drinking outing, then lied about it.

To hire the chiefs they wanted, the two cities’ new mayors used some unorthodox arm twisting to break through century-old racial and gender barriers. The Seattle department, with 1,400 sworn personnel, was founded in 1886, while the Portland Police Bureau, with roughly 1,000 officers, dates to 1870. No permanent chiefs of either city had been women of color. Portland first-term Mayor Ted Wheeler wanted to change that. He hand-picked Outlaw after warning candidates in an employment ad they would have to deal with the city’s history of racism. In Seattle, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, who in January became the city’s first lesbian mayor, appointed Best acting chief to replace Kathleen O’Toole. Durkan made no secret about wanting Best to become permanent chief. When a trio of finalists were announced, Best didn’t make the cut. A community uproar of support for Best ensued, with critics claiming it was a secretly decided, race-based decision.