Jacksonville cops are pleasantly competent at busting themselves. Each year, several cops and civilian employees go bad and get dragged Downtown in chains and dropped, like everyone else, into the criminal justice oubliette.
Sworn officers go down for the classic cop crimes of driving drunk, smacking wives and women, and getting into stupid fights at stupider bars where a firearm might get brandished in a way that can't be ignored. Now and then they get hammered for snacking on dope and cash, on the perps or in evidence, or making watches, jewelry or cash flutter away from the property room. Civilian employees, mostly women, take the hit for making lost and found items stay lost and for tipping their badboy boyfriends about police raids and the identities of undercover officers and confidential informants.
As they say in church, it is meet and right that cops do so. It is not possible, in an organization of more than 3,400 people, that all are law-abiding. What cops don't do, alas, is bust other bureaucrats and elected officials. For this they rely on the FBI Office of Public Corruption.
That's a mistake. The FBI, although capable, has minimal manpower and money compared to local police. Cops are remarkably queasy about busting their municipal confrères for several reasons. First, they don't like the career-limiting heat that occurs when they snoop on government grandees and don't make an arrest. Second, they've become accustomed to being assigned cases (passive) instead of making cases (active).
So how, in a more perfect world, would local cops bust bent bureaucrats and pernicious politicians? Here's how:
Purchasing: When I sold commercial printing, I was never able to do business with the city of Miami because my company refused to send the buyer and his stable of señoritas to Puerto Rico, all expenses paid. To bust such oxygen thieves, you first get the undercover officers to shower, shave, pull out the piercings, and cover up …
When he's not shooing hogs off his back porch in Darien, Ga., criminal defense attorney Dale Carson likes to ponder constitutional questions. "There is," he notes, "no constitutional basis for pretrial punishment." This sounds esoteric; it's not.
It's not esoteric when you neglect to pay a traffic ticket, have your license suspended, then get busted and dragged to jail. After you lose your job and pay the bail bondsman, the attorney, jail fees and court fees, you'll feel punished all right, even if the judge dismisses the charges or the state decides to "null-pross," or drop, the case.
While you're pacing the concrete in the Jacksonville jail, you may vaguely recall that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution declares that you shall not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Even a short jail term deprives you of liberty and property. That's two out of three.
The law draws a distinction between imprisonment and detention and creates legally distinct institutions for those purposes. Prisons are where convicts, i.e., people convicted of a felony, are punished. Jails are where people are detained prior to appearing before a judge. In jail, you're a detainee, not a convict. That's why our lockup is called, formally, the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility.
There are only two justifications for detaining people in jails: the risk that the accused will commit another crime or flee to avoid trial. Certainly people accused of felonies need to be arrested and detained until a judge can review whether they should be released on their recognizance or bail.
But what about the 15,000 people arrested yearly in Jacksonville for misdemeanors, which are petty offenses? Do you double-bolt your doors and lock and cock your Glock to protect yourself against traffic-ticket scofflaws? Or bicyclists who fail to use appropriate lights at night? Or loiterers? Or kids who sock each other in the puss? Or spaced-out gorks with one or …
The most horrific consequence of the shooting of Trayvon Martin was that it set the floor price for dead black boys at $1 million. That's the amount paid by the insurers of The Retreat at Twin Lakes Townhomes on a lawsuit threatened by Benjamin Crump and Daryl Parks on behalf of Trayvon's divorced parents.
The essence of the action was the assertion that George Zimmerman, coordinator of the condos' Neighborhood Watch and Trayvon's shooter, was an agent of the townhome, which was therefore liable to pay for Trayvon's death. In actuality, cops, not condos, direct Neighborhood Watch programs, absolutely and minutely. Unfortunately for the litigious, the boys and girls in blue have a liability cap of $200,000, with no interest or punitive damages, granted by the Florida Legislature. To a big law firm, that's chump change.
Besides, cities, states and the police are notoriously difficult to sue. In the Trayvon matter, no civil trial was necessary. With the media howling race killing, the insurance company rolled over like a spanked puppy and spit up the policy limit.
Had the condominium and its insurers held out for 18 months, which is easy to do in court, they would have had to pay absolutely zero because George Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of his peers. After an acquittal in a self-defense shooting, all parties gain de facto immunity from civil lawsuits from Florida's "stand your ground" law.
After Trayvon's death and long before Zimmerman's trial, Crump and Parks, who are personal injury lawyers — not "family attorneys," as was endlessly parroted by the press — motored to the Capitol and appeared before the microphones. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton parachuted in from Chicago and New York and helped orchestrate a media-amplified howl for repeal of "stand your ground." The talk was about Trayvon, but the lobbying was about getting rid of civil immunity.
That went nowhere, of course. To a conservative Legislature and an even more …
One of the ironies of law is that it is sometimes necessary, for the upholding of sacred principle, to disculpate a scumbag in the prosecution of his scumbaggery. Thus, the Supreme Court will rule soon if a shotgun, held to the heads of California citizens by Walter Fernandez so as to relieve them of their lawful goods, money and chattels, may be adduced as evidence to remand the aforementioned felon to an extended stay in a sunny Golden State prison.
While searching a neighborhood, LA cops knocked on Fernandez's door. He was, at the moment, rearranging his girlfriend's face into bloody hamburger. The cops rudely interrupted, then arrested him for domestic battery. They asked to search the place; Fernandez said no.
Once Walter was jugged, the popo returned and asked again. This time, the no-longer-hemorrhaging girlfriend said, "Come on in!" Cops recovered the shotgun, ammo and knife Walter used for his robberies. A judge tagged onto his sentence an additional 14 years, during which he will get to worry each day if an MS-13 banger will stick a shiv in his guts, then stir.
The point is this: Fernandez was a lawful tenant. He refused a search. The cops then entered, searched and seized without a warrant. If the state persuades the court that other people, who are neither co-owners nor tenants of your home, can waive your Fourth Amendment rights, we're cooked.
If a girlfriend or boyfriend can waive your rights, who else can? The plumber, the kids, some yob you let watch your tube because his flat screen's on the fritz? There's no end to this.
It gets worse. In Massachusetts, lawmakers, in their concurrent, consensual and concupiscent wisdom, want to authorize cops to make no-warrant, no-knock raids any time 24/7 in order to check if you have lawfully secured your lawful firearm in its lawfully mandated childproof box.
"Just checking, sir and ma'am. Got to protect the children. You can go back to sleep now."
In Washington state, legislators …
When last I saw a medical marijuana advocate, he'd just jumped the back fence of the condos and was booking up Market Street with two popo in pursuit. We were evicting said advocate because both he and the condo's owner had forgotten to pay rent, condo fees and the mortgage for several years and the condo association, the association's president (me) and CitiMortgage Inc. were peeved.
During the trash-out, (being a condo association president is similar to being a janitor), I discovered, as expected, brochures about the wondrousness of marijuana as a medicine and the cruel injustice of a state that allows — nay, encourages — the consumption of alcohol but bans the magic herb. I also found methamphetamine, crack cocaine, baggies, bongs big and bongs small, bongs with water and hubble-bubble hoses and two electronic scales as cute as lace pants.
This mope was using the condo as a dope hole, which is cop-talk for a combination drug office and storeroom. Anyone whose IQ tops three digits knows not to live near the stuff. That can be hazardous for your freedom and problematical for your existence. On the desk were wrappers for $20,000 in C-notes and fifties, lists of customers running tabs, with accounts receivable, and lists of suppliers with whom he was running tabs, with accounts payable. There were bank statements from Grand Cayman, which didn't surprise me, and parts for a .38 revolver, which did. That's not much gun for the dope biz.
This guy, who was a beach boy from Ponte Vedra, was challenging, unwisely, the exclusive franchise of The Brothers to sell Schedule I narcotics in Springfield. By now, I'm sure he's duly dead and has been duly dumped into Hogans Creek to float therefrom into the vastness of the St. Johns.
What is truly surprising is the astonishment, possibly unfeigned, of elected officials in legal marijuana states like Colorado and Oregon. According to the Nov. 30 issue of the Wall Street Journal, they're shocked to …
From the depths of Police Zone 1, I offer a Christmas gift to the parents of teenagers throughout Northeast Florida. This gift cannot be bought in stores. Its price is spiritual, mental and physical; its value is beyond price. This gift cannot be given, only encouraged. When it appears, it will come, mysteriously, from the depths.
The gift is a project, a difficult and worthy goal for your children. As they mature, nature will push them away from you and out into the world. They should stride into life with direction and purpose. They should never wander, lest they enter my world of jails, prisons, courts, cops, guns and corpses.
As I research a book on the death of Trayvon Martin and look at other, eerily similar cases involving other young men, one thing stands out: boredom. Bored, too, are all the kids locked up in that horror house on Eighth Street we call the Duval Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Absent a project, human beings regress to simple biological imperatives. Boys need to be manly, so they become tough. Sometimes, as with Trayvon, things go horribly wrong. The girls? Biology tells them to have men and babies. So they do.
You can't push a project. You can only encourage it. More important than the achievement itself is developing character, discipline and the habit of hard work. The fire must come from within. Remember, to a young person, ambition is an absolutely new experience. Unlike a wish, it doesn't evaporate with the next phone call or text. It stays, burning warm or hot, day after day. A worthy project, powered by ambition, forces the development of a mental ability rare in young people: the ability to project oneself mentally into the future.
Kids with projects can say, "In two years, I will have accomplished this. I will no longer be here. I'll be there." With future projection comes prudence and the ability to make choices. Goal-oriented kids have less trouble with drugs and sex because these things mess up the project. …
You can almost understand how, when Michael Jackson pimped a kid out from under his parents, the mom and dad would fall for it: limos, jets, front-row seats, shopping sprees at Neiman. About those teddy-bear sleepovers? No worries. Gimme my Rolex!
It's more difficult to get why Rayne Perrywinkle and her daughter Cherish jumped into a van at a Dollar General on Lem Turner Road last June with a strange man who offered them a Walmart gift card. She then allowed her 8-year-old daughter go alone with this man, supposedly to a McDonald's inside the Walmart.
Donald James Smith was a four-time loser with jolts for indecent exposure to a child, kidnapping, kiddie porn and burglary. He raped and murdered Cherish, then dumped her body along a muddy bank of Half Branch Creek among the camphor and pine.
He's on trial this week for capital rape and murder one. His only options are life or the needle. Smith himself prefers the slow drip of the death cocktail. Having spent much of his adult life in Florida prisons, he knows that child murderers don't do well. In general population, he could look forward to nightly after-dinner beatings, which prisoners prefer for dessert over the eternal vanilla pudding.
So how do these monsters cozen parents and cozy up to kids? They are extraordinarily insinuating. Child molesters have the intellects of adults but the emotions of children. They can empathize because, deep down, they are children. They know exactly what fascinates kids because it fascinates them. Often they stock their houses with the best candy, the best games, the most fun stuff. There are ice cream bars, toys, stuffed bears, horses and monkeys, and Hello Kitty in every shade of pink. Their houses are one big rock candy mountain.
Molesters take advantage of parents' exhaustion. They're always available — and I do mean always — to babysit or run errands. They can be so, so charming. The kids have so much fun. You needn't worry about a thing!
They fixate …
When I was young, shooting rats on rocks was what you did in Neptune Beach in the summer. Before the federal government spent millions to pump sand from offshore to restore our local beaches, there was, at high water, no beach at all. There were rocks and rats.
The rocks were granite boulders; the rats were flossy 5-pounders, fat from eating dead fish, garbage, sea cooties and the occasional oyster. Against gray rocks, gray rats are almost invisible. The key to shooting them is to use bleach. When you pour it into the crannies, the rats boil up with white bulls-eyes on their fur where the Clorox hit.
With bourbon in a Dixie cup and a box of shells, I whiled away many afternoons blasting vermin, yukking it up when the ricochets whizzed overhead, watching the slugs splash into the ocean.
At no time while I was blowing up rats did it occur to me that someone might walk or swim or drive a boat into one of those bullets. I never inquired as to the range of a .22 magnum fired from that rifle. Bourbon, bullets and a hot sun will do that.
No doubt you're thinking, "Those were the bad old days. In this shiny new century, that stuff is strictly illegal." You'd be strictly wrong. Discharging firearms from private property was legal then. It's more legal now.
Back in the day, cities and counties could limit shooting with ordinances for zoning, noise abatement and health and safety. Now they can't. In 1987, the state Legislature passed Florida Statute 790.15, which bans local governments from enforcing any firearms ordinances. In 2005, then-Attorney General Charlie Crist wrote the definitive opinion: "It is well settled that absent a general law stating otherwise, local governments have no authority to regulate firearms in any manner."
There is an exception: Local police can arrest anyone shooting recklessly or negligently. This sounds more important than it is. Any violation is a misdemeanor, subject to the misdemeanor presence rule that requires …
There's nothing like a marquee murder trial to bring angry litigants, gang hitters, attention-seekers and nut jobs out of the moonshine and into the sunlight. Security was sure to be tight at the Michael Dunn murder trial last week. So, disguised as a doddery senior citizen, I checked it out. I limped through the metal detectors, stumbled upstairs and down, and stuck my nose into offices, jury rooms, courtrooms and bathrooms.
I placed suspicious packages in trash cans and news boxes, carried metal through the magnetometers unchallenged and spent an hour in an ideal sniper hide, ranging targets and pondering how many people a bad guy could kill with a Walmart rifle with a not-so-straight barrel.
I hobbled around the building several times, pushed doors and poked into the unfenced power boxes near Clay Street to figure out how to pop the brass JEA locks, open the doors and blow the juice. Inside, for an hour, I cased the metal detectors from a nearby bench, stared intently at X-ray screens, scrutinized pat-downs and wand scans, and made obvious notes with a bright red pen in a huge black-and-orange folio.
Nobody said squat. To vanish from official scrutiny, it is only necessary to blink frequently and mutter at odd intervals, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"
Several months ago, Folio Weekly published a cover story, "Soft Target" [Sept. 11, 2013], in which I concluded that the $112 million a year the city spends on courthouse security is largely wasted, that security fails to meet the minimum standards set by the National Center for State Courts, and that a non-clever killer could easily place a bomb outside the building or carry a handgun inside to blast whichever juror, witness, attorney or judge had annoyed him.
So, with extra guys laid on for the Dunn trial, was security any better?
Nope. Let's review:
1. Metal detectors. I carry about eight ounces of metal in an artificial knee and always set off the detectors. Not once in the dozens of times …
If I hear more twaddle about Stand Your Ground, I'm gonna hurl. It's a single sentence in Florida's self-defense law that says, when attacked, you have no duty to retreat, but can shoot, stab, bludgeon, punch, kick or bite to save your life. Many states already have, or are adopting, similar language.
The notoriety of the phrase derives from ignorance, willful and otherwise. Stand Your Ground sets the boundary for the area in which self-defense may lawfully occur. It was not applicable in the Trayvon Martin shooting, since George Zimmerman was not standing but, according to two eyewitnesses, flat on his back. It was equally inapplicable in the prosecution of Michael Dunn, who will spend the rest of his life in prison precisely because he did not stand his ground, but instead charged Jordan Davis, killed him, then fired into a retreating vehicle. Florida law denies self-defense claims to aggressors.
So why the uproar to change the law? A peek behind the political curtain will suffice. During Stand Your Ground appearances in the capitol rotundas of Tallahassee, Columbus, Ohio and Springfield, Ill., the weeping families of the dead stood front and center before the cameras. On either side, however, were the real players, the plaintiff's bar. Conspicuously absent were prosecutors, defense attorneys and police.
Civil attorneys are not parties to prosecutions, so what's their interest? It's the second part of the Stand Your Ground law, which in Florida says: "A person who uses force as permitted … is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action."
In Stand Your Ground states, you can't sue anyone for wrongful death and civil damages who is found to have acted in self-defense. Likewise, it's nearly impossible to sue someone acquitted on the basis of self-defense.
After a loved one is killed, it's customary to call a personal injury lawyer before you call an undertaker. There's no criticism here. It's …