Sex Workers Fight Efforts to Link Prostitution with Trafficking

As the campaign against sex trafficking emerges as a $47 million cottage industry, it has also spurred a “moral panic” that sex workers say has made them increasingly vulnerable to police abuse, and turns them into targets for those with religious or moral objections to prostitution.

At the height of national outrage over what government officials and activists call a human trafficking “epidemic,” sex workers are challenging what they say are misleading and harmful efforts to link prostitution to sex trafficking.

“People have used this moral panic, this idea that there is a trafficking epidemic, to create so much funding and so much policy that now that they’re being pressured to show the evidence—to show the sex trafficking arrests,” said Tara Burns, researcher and founding member of the Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP), a group of former and current Alaska sex workers allied with sex trafficking victims.

“That’s where we see police arresting [prostitutes] for sex trafficking themselves, just so they can get those sex trafficking numbers up, and match the moral panic they’ve created.”

CUSP is lobbying for the passage of companion bills (HB 112/SB 73) in the Alaska Senate and House which would expand sexual assault laws to explicitly prohibit law enforcement from sexual contact with trafficking or domestic violence victims—as part of its continuing campaign to protect sex workers from laws that make them “vulnerable to violence and exploitation.”

In California, another group is challenging a state law that criminalizes prostitution, and asking a federal court to allow for a closer examination of studies that link consensual sex work to sex trafficking.

In January, a three-judge panel in the 9th circuit dismissed a suit by the Sex Workers and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLERP) to declare unconstitutional state laws that make prostitution a crime. The panel sided with 13 state and national organizations that wrote in to oppose ESPLERP, arguing that prostitution needs to remain criminalized in order to combat the “attendant evils” of violence against women, drug abuse—and above all, sex-trafficking.

ESPLERP filed for a rehearing before the full 9th circuit on January 31, wanting the court to subject the studies it cited to a higher standard of review. But in an era when pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” linked to modern-day slavery, researchers who do not openly condemn prostitution are fighting an uphill battle—and sex workers themselves find it hard to be heard over the din of victims’ advocates who would speak for them.

9th circuit

ESPLERP members and their legal team in court on Oct 2, 2017. Photo courtesy of Maxine Doogan

Maxine Doogan, founder of ESPLERP, says that denying sex workers equal protection under the law has led directly to abuse by police and other authorities, and that she and other people in the industry cannot report actual cases of forced trafficking without fearing arrest themselves.

“There are many people, many women, that I know who are prostitutes, who have been caught up in these prostitution sting operations; and have been sexually assaulted by the police, and raped,” she said in an interview with The Crime Report.

“Our activity is illegal. and so that just gives license for anybody to do anything to us that they want at any time, and get away with it.”

In the document submitted to the California court, opposition groups argued that “prostitution is sexual coercion, and closely related to sex trafficking,” and that “decriminalization of prostitution will legitimize sex trafficking.”

The authors of the opposition brief cited numerous “authorities” for their argument, identifying in particular eight publications by Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and anti-pornography activist well known for her view that sex work is “a particularly lethal form of male violence against women,” and an expression of “male hatred of the female body.”

“To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature,” Farley wrote in a 2000 article for Women & Criminal Justice.

But according to independent scholars in the field, the majority of the publications cited in the opposition brief have not only been debunked, but also discredited in the Canadian Supreme Court during cross-examination. The court subsequently struck down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, finding them unconstitutional because of the negative impact they had on the safety and lives of sex workers.

Doogan notes that victim advocates are “not challenging the men who really have control over our world.”

She added: “They want to dismiss the sexual violence that we’re talking about that goes on with police.”

Doogan and other sex-worker advocates argue that the majority of people being rounded up and arrested during anti-sex-trafficking sweeps such as Operation Cross Country are not slaves held in bondage, but women working together, or as independent prostitutes– a claim supported by investigative journalists following this arrest data.

CUSP’s Terra Burns, who has analyzed thousands of charging documents from several states over the past five years, said that the most serious cases of child sex trafficking “are for the most part not cases that are being found in prostitution stings, [but] cases that are being found because somebody came forward and made a report.”

And in jurisdictions that aren’t aggressively charging people for prostitution, more sex workers are coming to police with tips, she added.

Burns, who herself was sex trafficked as a child, has lobbied extensively for legislative amendments in Alaska. She helped push through bills at the state and county level to allow immunity for sex workers reporting a crime, and hopes Alaska legislators will place priority on the proposed measure to make it illegal for police to sexually penetrate someone they were investigating.

“When an officer coerces you into having sex with him under the threat of arrest, or another kind of threat, that is an act of violence,” Burns said.

Police don’t need to have sex with someone in order to charge them with prostitution, but it happens. She describes one charging document where a police officer paid for a hand job at a massage parlor. “They could have arrested her right there, but instead he waited and got a hand job. and then he put her in handcuffs. And when that happens, it’s really traumatic.”

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Doogan (left) and Burns, introducing their first bills. Photo courtesy of Terra Burns

Other charging documents, published on CUSP’s website, describe police having multiple sex acts with women before arresting them.

The Alaska Department of Law as well as the Anchorage police continue to oppose the no-sexual-contact bill, and it has stalled for almost a year.

See also: ‘Invisible No More:’ The Other Women #MeToo Should Defend

In addition to government task forces, the anti-trafficking movement has also created a $47 million cottage industry of victim advocacy.

Significantly, in order to receive funding, organizations are still being asked to sign a Bush-era anti-prostitution pledge (also known as the “global gag rule”), even though it was ruled unconstitutional in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

The same goes for researchers, according to George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer, who has studied the sex industry and human trafficking for over three decades, and who served as an expert witness in the case before Canada’s Supreme Court. Before the gag rule was overturned, he was asked to sign the pledge in order to conduct an academic literature review for the National Institute of Justice.

“It’s shocking that even something as mundane as a literature review in this area becomes politicized,” he told The Crime Report.

More recent examples include University of Nevada researcher Barbara Brent, who was part of a 2014 task force developing a trafficking education program for first responders in Nevada.

In an email to The Crime Report, she wrote: “Participants, including Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, who receive federal trafficking funds, indicated that I could not include sex worker rights organizations on the team to develop programs because that violated their grant agreement. The task force eventually fizzled out, and I don’t know what happened to those efforts.”

Last year, the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force broke ties with its grants manager, Kate D’Amato, for apparently supporting decriminalization during a public event. The Manchester Police Department said D’Amato’s opinions violated a federal grant, though it is unclear whether that claim was ever challenged.

“What it means is often you’ll get religious or evangelical organizations, both in the US and internationally, to get funding for anti-trafficking work but have very little expertise in the area,” said Weitzer.

“And this was a major criticism of the bush administration funding for many of these anti-trafficking organizations during that period.”

For example: Priceless Alaska, a Christian anti- trafficking organization that works closely with law enforcement, engages a team of volunteer mentors to work with trafficking victims. By way of preparation, mentors receive a three-day training. According to its website, the training “focuses on the mentor’s personal spiritual development first and sex trafficking-specific training second.”

Among the organizations that signed on to the ESPLERP opposition brief was Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency in the US that provides services to homeless and runaway youth. Last year, Covenant House worked with Loyola University to produce a multi-city report on forced labor and sex trafficking. The report claims that one in every 5 homeless youth are victims of human trafficking.

In Anchorage, that number was even higher: “Study: 1 in 4 homeless youths in Anchorage victims of human trafficking,” the local headline read.

But Burns, who has been collecting state and county arrest records for over five years, says that the data don’t add up, and that the report is intentionally misleading.

“Nobody’s been charged with trafficking a minor in Alaska since 2008,” she told The Crime Report.

In 2014, following the national trend, Alaska created the Special Crimes Investigation Unit, which is devoted to finding and rescuing juveniles who are being trafficked for commercial sex.

“They’ve existed with that mission for four years now,” said Burns, “and have yet to charge anybody with trafficking a minor.”

The problem with the Loyola report, according to Burns, is the way it switches between various definitions of a sex trafficking victim; from youth that are not involved in the commercial sex industry at all, “youths that are underage and just trading sex for survival means,” and youths who are being coerced or held in bondage and commercially trafficked.

“If [Loyola researchers] had talked to a youth who actively had a violent pimp, they would have had to report that to police and the police would have gone in— because they’ve been looking to charge somebody with trafficking a minor, obviously, to support all this rhetoric. We would see some charges if it were actually going on in that way,” Burns said.

But when “you’re not being honest about what you’re actually talking about, and then you’re turning around and saying ‘oh these kids are being kidnapped by pimps and forced into prostitution’— then the policy that ends up being created is not going to serve those actually kids that really exist–that are out there having survival sex right now.”

Fundamentally, Burns believes that this study—and others like it—are compromised by the “religious agenda” underlying the moral campaign.

“Covenant House and Loyola University are both religious organizations who have a religious agenda to prevent other people from having sex that they disapprove of,” she said.

What Burns has found by looking at thousands of charging documents is that the majority of people arrested in “sex trafficking” stings are women working together as prostitutes, or with a driver—both things that increase safety in the sex industry, she says.

Just three people were charged with sex trafficking in the first two years of Alaska’s new sex-trafficking law. One was a dancer charged with sex trafficking herself, according records Burns obtained.

Another was Amber Batts, the owner of the online escort service Sensual Alaska. Prosecutors were unable to charge her with force, fraud, or coercion, since people were working for the service of their own free will– but they still convicted her on charges of 2nd degree sex trafficking. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

“When you think of sex trafficking, you think of people that are held against their will and made to do things that they don’t want to do,” Batts’ sister, Tiana Escalante, told The Crime Report.

Escalante described being shocked to learn that a woman can be charged with sex trafficking in Alaska for a consensual act—even when she is working independently.

“I think it’s kind of outrageous. It’s her body, her right to choose.”

Meanwhile, despite the funding for sex trafficking “rescue” operations, Burns says that as a first responder she has been unable to get law enforcement to investigate two recent cases where victims were held against their will and sold for sex. In the first case, she said the FBI told her there was not enough evidence.

“I’ve been involved in or around criminal investigations for quite a bit,” she said. “There was so much evidence, there were text messages.”

In the second case, she said, despite having an admission from a violent pimp on social media, “the FBI told me they didn’t have time.”

A year ago, Burns helped one victim who was violently trafficked make a report to the FBI, and managed to get her money from the state Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Fund.

“But the people from the violent crime compensation board actually called me up and let me know, ‘you won’t be able to receive this money on her behalf because we can’t give money to organizations that don’t oppose prostitution,’” she said.

Describing people who have illegal sex as being incapable of making a choice, or too corrupted to understand their own victimhood, isn’t a new strategy.

“It’s very similar if you look at the history of the laws against gay sex and the stigma around gay people… you look back and remember [people said] ‘well, there’s only gay because they were abused as children. And so the gay people are going to go out and they’re going to rape our children,’” Burns said.

“That’s the same kind of stigma that we see around the sex work. Well, prostitutes are all either victims, or they started out as victims and now they’re going to go and victimize somebody else.

“Imagine if you saw the same kind of rhetoric around domestic violence victims. Saying that domestic violence victims need to be arrested because they’re too morally damaged to know what’s good for them.”

This is precisely what Doogan and her cohort are trying to face down in court. As a sex worker and founder of ESPLERP, she insists that she is not a victim.

“If you were a victim advocate, I wouldn’t even bother talking to you,” she told The Crime Report. She calls them the “Anti’s.” “I think that they’re extremely tone deaf.”

“They’re treating us like the sex slaves that they think that we are. That’s the problem with their approach. I stopped talking to them because they don’t want to hear, and take responsibility for their own exploitative behavior.”

Members of the media are some of the worst perpetrators of this narrative violence, says Doogan, “renaming us, reclassifying us, stripping us of our agency.

“We have been barred from our own authority on these issues.”

Those interested in watching oral arguments in ESPLERP v. Gascon can view them here. Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments. 


Will Trump Try to Downgrade the COPS Office?

The independent Community Oriented Policing Services office, created in 1994 to assist local law enforcement, may be folded inside a DOJ division as part of a White House efficiency drive. In a letter supported by major police groups, 135 Congress members said the move could threaten communities “struggling” to pay for public safety.

President Donald Trump insists that he is a solid supporter of the nation’s police officers, but that backing may not count for much when it comes to the federal agency set up to aid local police departments.

When the White House next Monday proposes its federal spending plan for the year starting Oct. 1, Washington insiders who have talked to officials at the Justice Department anticipate that the plan will include ending the COPS Office’s more than two-decade-long run of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office as an independent agency in the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Instead, COPS would be placed within the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and its grant-making authority would be given to an agency that long has awarded a wide variety of funds to state and local governments, the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

It’s possible that the White House Office of Management and Budget also will seek to end the independence of another DOJ agency, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Such a move is less likely because the agency was created by law and would require congressional action to change. It also would provoke anger from women’s advocates.

Although the COPS program was created in a major federal anticrime law in 1994 after President Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to fund 100,000 community police officers nationwide, the separate agency that gives out the funds was not authorized separately by Congress.

In anticipation of a White House move to downgrade the office, 135 members of Congress this week sent a letter to the president declaring that “it is imperative the COPS Office remains an independent agency within the DOJ so that it may continue to support community policing efforts that build trust and mutual respect between law enforcement officers and communities.”

The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), co-chairs of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, and it includes signers from both parties.

The lawmakers cited the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring (COPS Hiring) Program, which it said “provides struggling communities with necessary funding to address their personnel needs to protect their citizens.” The program says it has helped cities hire 130,000 officers since 1994.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the budget proposal before it is issued next week.

However, DOJ is expected to contend that giving another agency the responsibility for giving out policing grants would help government efficiency by consolidating federal anticrime grants in one agency.

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported that “more than 200 [DOJ] grant programs overlapped across 10 key justice areas, and that this overlap contributed to the risk of unnecessarily duplicative grant awards for the same or similar purposes.”

Last June, the Heritage Foundation, whose recommendations the Trump administration has followed on many spending issues, issued a report saying that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should consolidate COPS grants into the OJP, thus reducing administrative costs.”

The report was written by David Muhlhausen, then a Heritage staff member and now the Trump administration appointee to head the National Institute of Justice, DOJ’s main research agency.

Muhlhausen also wrote for Heritage that the COPS program has “failed at reducing crime,” and added that, “State and local officials, not the federal government, are responsible for funding the staffing levels of local police departments. By paying for the salaries of police officers, COPS funds the routine, day-to-day functions of police and fire departments.”

The new Trump budget is not expected to seek the elimination of the COPS program, but it may propose major budget cuts, as the White House has done for its own Office of National Drug Control Policy, the so-called drug czar. COPS currently has an annual budget of $218 million, and pending Congressional appropriations bills could increase it slightly.

The new congressional letter asks the White House for “robust funding” of the COPS office, which it credits with overseeing implementation of the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act that establishes a nationwide Blue Alert communications system to help disseminate information on the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, an officer who is missing in connection with the officer’s official duties, or an imminent and credible threat that someone intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.

The lawmakers’ letter to Trump was supported by four major organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Sheriffs Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

FOP involvement could be significant, because the group was a major backer of Trump’s election. Last summer in Nashville, Attorney General Sessions gave the keynote address to the FOP annual convention, where he announced that Trump was reversing an Obama administration order that restricted police agencies’ access to surplus military equipment, including grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields and firearms.

The White House is expected to counter criticism of its handling of the COPS Office by appointing a well known former police official to head it.

Two sources told The Crime Report they had been told that the Justice Department was considering Phil Keith, who served for more than 16 years as police chief of Knoxville, Tn., until 2004, to head the agency. He would succeed Ronald Davis, a former police chief in East Palo Alto, Ca., who ran COPS under President Obama.

DOJ already has significantly reduced the COPS Office’s authority by scaling back a “collaborative reform” program in which police departments could voluntarily work with COPS to review their practices on some controversial issues such as officers’ use of force.

“Changes to this program will fulfill my commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime,” Sessions said last September. “This is a course correction to ensure that resources go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support.”

Putting the COPS office within the Office of Justice Programs would reduce its independence and visibility because its director would report to an Assistant Attorney General.

As an independent agency, it now reports to the number three official in the entire Justice Department, the Associate Attorney General, giving it much more access to the main Justice Department.

Law enforcement organizations contend that this move would reduce the prominence of the COPS Office that it has enjoyed for 24 years under three presidents. Even though the agency remained intact during the George W. Bush administration, many Republicans have not fully supported it because it was created by a Democratic president.

This includes, perhaps crucially, Mick Mulvaney, the former congressman from South Carolina who now heads Trump’s budget office.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Big-City Crime Will Fall This Year, Brennan Center Projects

The Brennan Center for Justice disputes a Trump administration theme of a crime wave, estimating that crime in the nation’s largest cities will drop this year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, using apparently dated FBI figures, said on Monday that violent crime is up.

The overall crime rate in 28 of the 30 largest U.S. cities fell about 2.7 percent this year, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimated on Wednesday. The center said violent crime also dropped, but only by 1.1 percent.

Assuming that the trend holds, violent crime would be near the bottom of a 30-year downward trend. This year is expected to end with the second-lowest rates of crime and violent crime since 1990, the center said.

Disputing a theme of the Trump administration, the Brennan Center contended that its “findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave.”

Looking at murders in the big cities, the total rate dropped 5.6 percent, led by declines in Chicago and Detroit, the center said.

Murders in Chicago went up sharply in both 2015 and 2016, but the center projected the rate to drop 11.9 percent this year. Still, that is 62.4 percent above 2014.

The center speculated that the national increases of the last two years, led by Chicago, may have been “short-term fluctuations in a longer-term downward trend.”

The murder rate in Detroit was projected to fall about 9.8 percent.

New York City’s rate also will decline, to 3.3 murders per 100,000 population.

Murders in some cities will increase, including Charlotte, a rate increase of 54.6 percent, and Baltimore, 11.3 percent.

Among the 30 largest cities, violent-crime data were not available from Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

Also, the center did not include the 58 deaths in the Las Vegas concert shooting, saying that authorities classified them as terrorism. Murders in Las Vegas, not counting the concert massacre, were projected to drop from 168 to 143 this year.

The authors made year-end projections based on partial year data for this report. They explained that because of the seasonal nature of crime, it would not be appropriate, for example, to double the totals from the first six months of the year to arrive at an annual figure.

Instead, the Brennan Center said it makes projections by incorporating month-to-month trends from previous years to make annual estimates “as accurate as possible.”

President Trump ran for office on a “tough on crime” platform that has emphasized a focus on places where crime totals are up.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking in Milwaukee on Monday, said that the long-term trend of declining crime in the last two decades “has reversed” in the last two years.

Sessions said, “The violent crime rate is up by nearly seven percent. Robberies are up. Assaults are up nearly 10 percent. Rape is up by nearly 11 percent. Murder is up by more than 20 percent.”

Sessions did not specify his source of data, but it apparently was the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which lags behind the Brennan Center’s analysis. The FBI issued its report for 2016 in late September.

It estimated 17,250 murders in the U.S. in 2016, an 8.6 percent rise from 2015.

The FBI said that violent crime totals rose 4.1 percent in 2016, while property crime fell 1.3 percent compared to 2015 figures.

The FBI’s report is based on data submitted voluntarily by local law enforcement agencies, which does not include the many crimes not reported to police. The FBI compilation included most U.S. cities, far more than the Brennan Center’s 28.

Data in the Brennan Center report also was also obtained directly from cities, but on a much more current basis.

This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.


U.S., Colombia, Mexico Agree To Cooperate on Drugs

Attorney General Jeff Sessions meets with his Colombian counterpart in Cartagena three months after President Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless Colombia reverses a rise in coca cultivation.

U.S. and Colombian officials vowed Thursday to redouble efforts against drug trafficking as the South American nation contends with a record surge in coca production that has tested the relationship between the two nations, the Associated Press reports. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with his Colombian counterpart, chief prosecutor Nestor Martinez, and a delegation from Mexico in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. The meeting came three months after President Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless Colombia reverses a rise in coca cultivation.

Cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine rose in 2016 to levels unseen in nearly two decades of U.S. eradication efforts, said a White House report. The prosecutors also discussed money laundering and human trafficking, two issues frequently intertwined with the illegal drug trade. Martinez said the three nations would “strengthen cooperation among each other to effectively battle this scourge.” Sessions said, “We’re gonna make progress.” Colombia is the U.S.’s staunchest ally in the region and one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. The U.S. has spent more than $10 billion in counter-narcotics work in Colombia over the course of nearly two decades. The amount of land devoted to coca cultivation had steadily declined but began rising again in 2014, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


Sessions Backs Stronger DEA Role in Combating Opioid Crisis

The Attorney General tells a news conference that “effective enforcement” should be a priority for new legislation. He also announced a new DEA Division for the Appalachian region, and the appointment of Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, to oversee White House initiatives to combat opioid abuse. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he is “dubious” of a 2016 law that effectively took away the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most potent weapons against distributors and manufacturers of prescription opioids, and that he would support new legislation to expand the agency’s arsenal, reports the Washington Post.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sessions said that the DEA faced more challenges than it would have “had the law not passed” and that he would support a new law “to make sure we’re fully able to carry out effective enforcement policies.” The remarks came after Sessions and acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson laid out steps they plan to take in an effort to stem the opioid crisis.

Sessions announced $12 million in grants and a new DEA division overseeing the Appalachian region to help law enforcement officials combat illicit drugs, especially prescription opioids, and said he has directed his U.S. attorneys to designate an opioid coordinator in their offices. DEA will establish its new division, the Louisville Field Division, on Jan. 1 to unify its drug trafficking investigations, officials said.

The division will include Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, will have about 90 special agents and 130 task-force officers, and focus on illicit drug trafficking in the Appalachian Mountains. Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, has been tasked with overseeing White House initiatives to combat opioid abuse. “The president has made this a White House priority. He’s asked her to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House,” Sessions said, calling Conway “exceedingly talented.”

Sessions’s announcement was the latest DOJ action regarding the increase in opioid-related overdose deaths. Earlier this month, the department announced a change in the way fentanyl is classified so that anyone who possesses, imports, distributes or manufactures a fentanyl-related substance can be criminally prosecuted.


SC Killer Cop Cites Sessions’ Memory Lapses in Defense

Attorneys for former South Carolina cop Michael Slager, who faces sentencing next week for shooting a man who was running away from him, argue that Slager’s failure to recall details of the confrontation is akin to the Swiss cheese memory exhibited by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during testimony about the Trump campaign’s Russian contacts.

With his sentencing scheduled next Monday, a court memorandum submitted by attorneys for former North Charleston, S.C., Police Officer Michael Slager argues for leniency, comparing the ex-cop’s apparent memory loss to that of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reports CBS News. The sentencing judge must consider whether Slager lied about his conduct and concocted a story about being attacked by Walter Scott, whom Slager shot and killed in April 2015. A graphic video captured by a bystander showed Slager firing eight shots at Scott’s back as he ran from the cop.

Attorneys Andy Savage and Donald McCune claim expert testimony supports their assertion that “memory created under stress has many holes.” The holes, they argue, are eventually filled in when outside information is incorporated with the help of having someone “fill in the blanks.” Savage and McCune broadly cited Sessions’ testimony earlier this month, when he could not recall the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives. “As Sessions made clear in his statement, a failure to recall, or an inaccurate recollection, does not a liar make,” the attorneys wrote in their brief. Slager’s murder ended with a deadlocked jury, but he pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge earlier this year. He faces from five to 20 years in prison at sentencing next week.


Rosenstein: DOJ Goal ‘Not to Fill Prisons’

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t stray much from the Trump administration’s tough-on-crime rhetoric, but he described as “worthy” efforts to fight crime with “solutions … apart from prosecution and incarceration.”

The U.S. Justice Department under the Trump administration will continue to support programs “that keep people from entering the criminal justice system,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein promised Tuesday.

“Our goal is not to fill prisons,” Rosenstein told the concluding session of the 50-State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C. “It is to prevent crime.”

Rosenstein’s statement was the closest he came to endorsing a major purpose of the two-day gathering, to advise states on ways to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.

The summit, sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, was attended by corrections administrators, police chiefs, health authorities and other officials from all 50 states.

Rosenstein’s comment was notable because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has echoed President Trump’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and, as a senator, opposed a bill that would reduce some mandatory prison sentences.

Rosenstein’s address covered a wide range of subjects, including the threat of terrorism and the opioid crisis, but mainly did not address the primary subjects of the summit.

However, he did acknowledge that many of the summit participants “work to find solutions to crime apart from prosecution and incarceration,” which Rosenstein called “a worthy goal.”

He pointed to programs begun by past administrations, such as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Second Chance Act, as praiseworthy efforts to lower prison populations and assist prisoner reentry.

But he also echoed the hardline approach by Sessions and Trump to rising violence in many cities, and what he called a “troubling” 20 percent increase in the national murder rate over the last two years.

“If crime is falling in your jurisdiction, I offer my congratulations,” he said. “Keep right on doing what you are doing.

“But if crime is rising, now is the time to change to a strategy that works.”

The Justice Department will give money to as many as 25 states to hold similar conferences on their own crime and justice problems.

See also: “Public Safety Summit Draws Officials From 50 States” (TCR Nov. 14, 2017)

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.


Federal Sentencing Reform Alive, Senators Insist

Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) tell a conference sponsored by the conservative Charles Koch Institute that they are campaigning hard to pass an overhaul of federal sentencing laws. The Charles Koch Foundation released a four-volume report on “Reforming Criminal Justice” that is aimed at being accessible to policymakers and to the public.

The long-stalled effort to overhaul federal sentencing laws still stands a decent chance of passage in Congress despite opposition in the past by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, two Republican senators told a criminal justice conference on Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) said that Sessions, a longtime former colleague in the Senate, “is willing to work with us on sentencing reform.” Sessions voted against a previous version of the bill on the ground that it would have gone too far in reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes.

It is widely assumed that Sessions would play a major role in determining the Trump administration’s views on the bill. Grassley said there is “some support” for the measure in the administration, a possible reference to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been assigned by the president to work on criminal justice issues.

Grassley and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) were among speakers at a day-long conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the conservative Charles Koch Institute. The conference was titled, “Advancing Justice, An Agenda for Human Dignity & Public Safety.”

During the high-crime 1980s and 1990s, when Congress enacted many of the mandatory minimum sentence laws still on the books, Grassley said that as a new senator, he supported them.

Grassley still supports some mandatory minimums, but he now agrees with critics that some of the laws have resulted in “significant costs,” both to taxpayers who must pay to house inmates for long terms on minor offenses, as well as costs to “families and communities.”

Sessions was a leader in the successful 2010 effort to amend sentencing laws that imposed a much higher penalty for crack cocaine offenses than powder cocaine violations, Grassley said, demonstrating that the Attorney General does not oppose all changes in federal sentencing laws.

In a separate program at the conference, Sen. Lee said that the sentencing-reform bill would get at least 70 votes in the Senate if it were brought to the floor.

Lee called it a “lazy argument” that favoring sentencing-law changes means being “soft on crime.” He said, “We are tough on crime. We also have to be smart.”

“What we’re doing now [on sentencing] is not working,” said Lee, a former federal prosecutor. He challenged those who oppose reform proposals, “Let’s hear their ideas.”

Lee spoke along with former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) in a session subtitled, “Redefining Tough on Crime.”

DeMint said, “We have entirely too many people in prison,” observing that many inmates behind bars on minor drug offenses “come out hardened criminals.”

While Congress has failed to pass most criminal justice reform bill in recent years, states are a “bright spot” by tackling various justice issues, Lee said.

Before the conference, the Koch Foundation released a four-volume report titled, “Reforming Criminal Justice,” which editor Erik Luna, a law professor at Arizona State University, said is “meant to enlighten reform efforts in the United States with the research and analysis of leading academics.”

The volumes, which are available at this site, include 57 chapters covering dozens of topics within the areas of criminalization, policing, pretrial and trial processes, punishment, incarceration, and release. Luna said the report is written with the idea that it should be easily understandable by policymakers and lay readers.

Among other subjects addressed by conference speakers Thursday were policing, lessons for cities in tackling violent crime, a holistic approach to the opioid crisis, militarization of police, the future of marijuana policy, “restoring victims of crime,” and “reining in overcriminalization in America.”

At the violent crime session, former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, now a professor at New York University Law School, urged reformers to spend more effort on the “front end” of the criminal justice system, so all suspected offenders are not “funneled in” to a “one size fits all” legal process.

Milgram urged more attention to diverting crime suspects to mental illness and drug treatment rather than putting many of them on a path to prison.

Asked to discuss why Chicago’s crime problems are so much worse than those in other urban areas like New York City, Milgram said that shootings in the city are down as much as 20 percent this year, and that a disproportionate amount of Chicago’s homicide totals are concentrated in five neighborhoods.

In opening the conference, Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute, called criminal justice reform “an issue whose time has come” and forecast that “there is progress on the horizon at the federal level.”


Times-Picayune: Sessions ‘Ought to Listen to CJ Experts’

As Louisiana prepares to institute forward-looking sentencing reforms next month, the New Orleans newspaper criticizes Attorney General Jeff Sessions for looking backward toward the failed tough-on-crime strategies of the 1990s.

In an editorial, the New Orleans Times-Picayune takes Attorney General Jeff Sessions to task for his attempts to reverse the sorts of sentencing reforms scheduled to go into effect in November in Louisiana. That would be a mistake, the paper says. “The measure isn’t how many people we put in jail,” Ronal Serpas, former New Orleans police superintendent, said last week in a Washington Post article. “The measure is whether the right people are put in jail.” Serpas is the founder of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime, whose 200 members are concerned about Sessions’ shift back toward the more punitive approach of the 1980s and ’90s.

The group recently sent a letter to President Trump and Sessions asking for the federal government to stick with “modern strategies, innovative solutions, and a reliance on confirmed data. The Times-Picayune continued, “These are sensible suggestions from a group made up of experienced police officers and prosecutors…Louisiana has for decades tried to solve its crime problem by locking people up for long stints, even if they never committed a violent crime. That approach hasn’t lowered the crime rate. All it has done is make the state the world’s leader in incarceration. By comparison, Texas’ crime rate is down 30 percent since it passed sentencing reforms in 2007 and started reducing its prison population, according to research by a legislative task force. South Carolina passed prison reforms in 2010 and has closed six prisons. Both its rate of incarceration and its crime rate have dropped 16 percent, the task force said. Sessions is taking the wrong approach. He ought to listen to these experts.”


Trump Ending DACA, Giving Congress Six Months to Act

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the Obama-era program that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The Crime Report covered a protest that began Tuesday in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

The Trump administration announced the end of the Obama-era program that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, the Hill reports.  The decision, fulfilling a core presidential campaign promise, will ignite a political firestorm.

Protesters of the announcement to end DACA gathered at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Tuesday. Minutes after Sessions announced the decision, seventh-grade teacher Haley Boyce of southern California told The Crime Report, “Most of my students are Mexican, these children are the future of America. Having them unsettled is going to affect the mental stability of our country and is not going to help at all. They are humans, they are not chess pieces. They are innocent victims. They didn’t choose to come here, they’re children. Does that make somebody a bad person?”

Trump has faced strong warnings from members of his own party not to scrap the program. The president has wrestled for months with whether to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who argued that Congress rather than the executive branch is responsible for writing immigration law, helped persuade the president to terminate the program and send the issue to Congress.

Sessions said Tuesday that Obama had “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.” He added that, “If we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach.”

In a nod to reservations by many lawmakers, the White House will delay the enforcement of the decision to end DACA for six months, giving Congress a window to act. Trump tweeted Tuesday members of Congress should “get ready to do your job” on DACA. The decision on DACA is likely to shore up Trump’s base, which rallied behind his broader campaign message about the importance of enforcing immigration laws and securing the border. The move is one of the most contentious of his administration, opposed by leaders of both parties and by the political establishment more broadly.