Author: MWN

Texas executes wrong man

In 1989, Carlos DeLuna was executed for the killing of a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi, TX.  His conviction rested solely on eyewitness testimony.  Over twenty years after his execution, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review has published a report stating that DeLuna was not the murderer.  

In reality, the murderer was most likely another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez.  Hernandez was also at the scene of the crime, but fled in the other direction while police detained DeLuna.  Despite DeLuna’s pleas of innocence and the prosecution’s lack of reliable evidence, DeLuna was found guilty of murder. And an innocent man was executed.

Sadly, this is just another chilling tale of our flawed justice system.  MWN

Wrong man was executed in Texas, probe says

By Chantal Valery

He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLunapaid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out Tuesday found.

Even “all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them,” and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.

Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is “emblematic” of legal system failure.

DeLuna, 27, was put to death after “a very incomplete investigation. No question that the investigation is a failure,” Liebman said. (more…)

The “unbelievable brutality” at Walnut Grove

Michael McIntosh

In 2010, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility located near Jackson, Mississippi.  Earlier this year, a settlement in the case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from the Walnut Grove facility. 

Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

One of the kids at the facility, Mike, suffered from severe brain damage from youth-on-youth violence incited by a prison guard.  Dozens of other kids at the facility were also severely injured.  Last fall, Friends of Justice had the opportunity to meet with Mike’s father, Michael McIntosh, during a trip to Mississippi.  He told us the tragic story of his son’s experience at Walnut Grove.  You can read more about Mike’s story in the article below.  MWN

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

By Booth Gunter

Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.

“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”

Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals. (more…)

9 Police Departments With Corrupt Pasts

By Hazel Taylor

This piece was originally published on

If you want to learn more about the history of your city, explore the history of corruption within the city’s police department. Police corruption, which can include kickbacks, shakedowns, and protection of or even direct participation in illegal activities, has been around since the creation of the country’s first police force. Initially, the police were not asked to “serve and protect,” but to mediate between criminal and political kingpins as they fought each other for power. Some may say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. But perhaps understanding the history of city and police corruption can help to provide the vision and leadership for a better future. Here are nine police departments with well-documented corrupt pasts.

  1. New York Police Department

    Since its establishment in 1844, corruption has been a fact of police life in New York City. From the very beginning, New York’s underpaid and overworked police officers were expected to serve the needs of the city’s political leaders while collecting money from gang leaders, gamblers, and pimps for the privilege of operating relatively unmolested. Back in 1895, officer Alexander S. Williams, took advantage of his appointment as captain of the city’s 21st Precinct, which included the Tenderloin and Gas House districts, to collect money from criminals, including the madams of several brothels, and make a fortune as a result. Williams, who earned his nickname “Clubber,” once said, “There is more law in the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.” After investigation by two committees, Williams resigned, went into the insurance business, and died a multimillionaire. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

  2. New Orleans Police Department

    New Orleans Mayor Landrieu released a hopeful, conciliatory statement in the wake of the sentencing of five New Orleans police officers to several years in prison for their roles in shooting unarmed citizens in the chaotic days that followed Hurricane Katrina. “We now have an opportunity to turn the page and to heal,” Landrieu said. “It is my commitment to the people of New Orleans to rebuild and reform the NOPD.” The first police force in the then-French New Orleans was established in 1803, only to be disbanded due to countless complaints from civilians. Given the history of the NOPD, Landrieu definitely has his work cut out for him.

  3. Chicago Police Department

    By the end of the 19th century, the city of Chicago enjoyed the dubious reputation of being a haven for “dangerous classes;” a city that was more like an out-of-control frontier town “with an absence of moral virtue.” The Chicago Police department went without large-scale reform until 1960 when eight police officers from the city’s North Side or Summerdale district were charged with running a large-scale burglary ring. Known as the Summerdale Scandal, the case generated unprecedented media attention, and prompted the creation of a much-needed police superintendent role to oversee and enforce rules and regulations within the department.

  4. Los Angeles Police Department

    The 1951 Bloody Christmas Scandal, a real-life scandal that appears in author James Ellroy’s book L.A. Confidential and its film version, involved as many as 50, mostly drunk, police officers who took time out from a Christmas party to beat six prisoners for more than 90 minutes. Since more than 100 people either witnessed or knew of the beatings, the incident became public, and prompted the city’s Mexican community to come forward with more charges of police brutality against citizens. In 1952, a grand jury succeeded in convicting only five of the officers involved, and none of them received a sentence amounting to more than a year in prison. And then there was the Rampart scandal and theRodney King beating.

  1. Miami Police Department

    Miami in the ’80s experienced an “epidemic” of police corruption due in part to the enormous amount of cocaine being smuggled into South Florida from Latin America. A cheap, deadly derivative of the drug known as “crack” would infiltrate other cities throughout the U.S., and transform many once relatively peaceful working class neighborhoods into war zones. Police corruption in Miami reached its height in 1986 when, as a result of an inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more than a dozen officers from the police department faced charges that ranged from drug dealing to murder.

  2. Sheriff’s Department, Dallas County, Alabama

    Students of Civil Rights history know that Selma, Ala. was the location of abrutal assault on a group of peaceful marchers led by John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by the Selma Police Department led by Sheriff Jim Clark, as well as state troopers, and recently deputized members of the community. Law enforcement officers used nightsticks, horses, and tear gas to indiscriminately attack the peaceful demonstrators. Televised images of the attack inspired even more support for the Civil Rights movement. Sheriff Clark later lost his bid for reelection, went on to sell mobile homes for a while, and in 1978, was busted for conspiracy to import marijuana.

  3. Ahome Municipal Police Force

    Ahome is a municipality in the Mexican state of Sinaola. Just last November, Ahome’s entire Police Department, 32 officers and commanders, were arrested by state police for the department’s connection to two powerful drug cartels. Amazingly, the director of the state police who carried out the arrest,“Chuytoño” Aguilar Iniguez, was at one time one of Mexico’s Attorney General’s most wanted men for his connections to kingpins within the Sinaloa drug cartel. After having fled to Cuba in 2004 while undergoing investigation for corruption, Iniguez was granted a sort of immunity in 2009 by a federal court, and returned to Mexico to profit from, er, whoops, we mean “fight” crime.

  4. Philadelphia Police Department

    You know you’ve got a corrupt police department when it comes under the scrutiny of Human Rights Watch. HRW has stated that, “the Philadelphia police department (in terms of) corruption and brutality … has one of the worst reputations of big city police departments in the United States.” In the early 1990s, a group of PPD officers, some known throughout the city as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, conducted a series of unreported raids on crack houses where officers would steal from suspects. The arrest of Mumia Abu-Jamal for the murder of a police officer, and the public outcry at his being sentenced to death (this sentence was recently overturned), brought national attention to the PPD’s reputation for brutality and corruption.

  5. Baltimore Police Department

    In March 2012, a Baltimore police officer was sentenced for his part in what is known as the Towing Scandal, a criminal ring that included more than 50 other members of the Baltimore Police Department. Vehicles were towed from accident scenes by a towing and repair company owned by two police officers. Other officers were paid to participate in the scam, which generated hundreds to thousands of dollars for those involved. Accident victims were even encouraged by officers not to talk to their insurance companies.

Police arrest 6-year-old in Georgia

In case you missed it in the news last week, police in Georgia handcuffed and arrested Salecia Johnson, 6, for throwing a tantrum at school.  The girl, a kindergarten student at Creekside Elementary, was taken to a local police station in a squad car.  She was later released and the charges were dropped.  This story is an unfortunate example of how zero-tolerance policies can lead to extreme discipline practices and the criminalization of youth.  Salecia’s case highlights school-to-prison pipeline issues and the need for more positive discipline practices in schools.  Check out the Washington Post article below for more details.  MWN

Just as Fairfax County schools is considering major changes to its much-maligned disciplinary policies, a story about a Georgia 6-year-old suggests that zero-tolerance policies remain entrenched across the country — and can lead to evermore bizarre scenarios.

In this instance, a little girl named Salecia Johnson had what seems to be a torrential tantrum in her elementary school class. She apparently threw books and toys, tore at wall hangings and threw a shelf that hit her principal in the leg, according to the Associated Press.

A school official called the police. Yes, the police.

The police arrived. An officer pulled out a pair of handcuffs. He snapped them on the girl’s pint-sized wrists.

Police later told the AP that policy mandates they handcuff everyone who is arrested, regardless of age.

Those policy-following police then put Salecia in a squad car and drove her to the local police station. There, they gave her a soda and decided against not charging her with a crime.

Oh, the humanity. (more…)

Private prison group ends contracts with Mississippi

In the wake of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional facility scandal, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced that GEO Group — one of the largest private prison corporations in the U.S. — will no longer operate three correctional facilities in the state.  By July 20, the corporation will no longer manage the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional, East Mississippi Correctional, or the Marshall County Correctional facilities.

In 2010, reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove facility.  These reports sparked a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The lawsuit resulted in the removal of youth from the Walnut Grove facility. According to the Associated Press, MDOC also had concerns about incidents that occurred at the other GEO Group facilities in the state.

This could be an opportunity for MDOC to re-think its practice of contracting with private prison corporations.  Unfortunately, it may be a lost opportunity.  It seems that Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps is still interested in privatization.  Epps told the Associated Press that MDOC is “reaching out to those private operators” in their search for new groups to manage the three facilities.  See the article below for more details.  -MWN

Florida group to end Miss. prison contracts


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says GEO Group Inc., one of the country’s largest private prison operators, will no longer manage three facilities in Mississippi.

On Thursday, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company said it was backing out of a contract to manage the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near the Lost Gap community by July 19. Company officials told The Associated Press on Friday that it had nothing else to say.

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps told the AP on Friday that the department felt it might get a better price if all three prisons were presented as a package to other corrections management companies.

Epps said he would expect GEO Group to end its ties to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove and Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs by July 20.

“We feel this may be a golden opportunity to provide a better price for the taxpayers of the state and at the same time maybe do a better job in the operation of the facilities,” Epps said. “That’s what I would like to see.” (more…)

“The real CSI”: Forensic science in the courtroom

If you tune into any popular television crime drama these days, you are likely to find a familiar formula — a murder occurs, an investigation ensues, the perpetrator is identified using some forensic evidence, and justice is served.  In the end, everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow.  

Although this popular plot format may make for good ratings, it isn’t rooted in reality.  In the real world, most cases aren’t clean-cut, investigations can drag on for years, and forensic science tools can be unreliable.  In some cases, questionable forensic evidence can lead to wrongful convictions, leaving innocent people behind bars.

In “The Real CSI,” which airs Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 10 P.M. ET on PBS (check your local listings), FRONTLINE and ProPublica take an in-depth look at the use of forensic science in the courtroom.  Check out the press release below for more information.  MWN


Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 10 P.M. ET on PBS
Twitter: @frontlinepbs

Evidence collected at crime scenes—everything from fingerprints to bite marks—is routinely called upon in the courtroom to prosecute the most difficult crimes and put the guilty behind bars. And though glamorized on commercial television, in the real world, it’s not so cut-and-dried. A joint investigation by FRONTLINE, ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley examines the reliability of the science behind forensics in “The Real CSI,” airing Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 10 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings).

FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman finds serious flaws in some of the best known tools of forensic science and wide inconsistencies in how forensic evidence is presented in the courtroom. From the sensational murder trial of Casey Anthony to the credentialing of forensic experts, Bergman documents how a field with few uniform standards and unproven science can undermine the search for justice.  (more…)

Were the Tulsa shootings racially motivated?

By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

As of yesterday, two suspects have confessed to the Tulsa, Oklahoma shootings that left two injured and three dead over the Easter weekend.  The two suspects — Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32 — were arrested Sunday morning and confessed shortly after their arrest.

Late Thursday, According to the New York Times, England wrote an angry post on his Facebook page about the deaths of his father and fiancée:

Mr. England’s father, Carl, was shot on April 5, 2010, at an apartment complex…and the man who was a person of interest in the case, Pernell Jefferson, is serving time at an Oklahoma state prison.

Mr. England is a Native American who has also described himself as white.  Mr. Jefferson is black.

“Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” Mr. England wrote, and then used a racial epithet to describe Mr. Jefferson. “It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he added, referring to the recent suicide of his 24-year-old fiancée, Sheran Hart Wilde. “RIP. Dad and sheran I Love and miss u I think about both of u every second of the day.”

Hours later, England and his roommate, Watts, drove a pickup through a predominately black neighborhood in Tulsa and started to randomly shoot pedestrians.  Mr. England admitted to shooting three of the victims and Mr. Watts admitted to shooting the other two.

Many within the Tulsa community believe the actions of England and Watts were racially motivated.

The city of Tulsa has a history of racial tension.  In 1921, the city was the site of one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history.  The riots began when a young black man was arrested after he was accused of sexually harassing a white woman.  His arrest sparked a violent confrontation between the black and white communities.  According to documents from the Tulsa Historical Society:

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters.  Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa.  Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned.  Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased.  In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins.

Historians estimate that over 300 people were killed in the riot and more than 8,000 were left homeless.

Now, 91 years after the deadly riot, race relations in Tulsa remain rocky.  Many, including the Tulsa NAACP chapter and Tulsa City Council member Jack Henderson, want the gunmen to be prosecuted for a hate crime.

“Somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people,” said Jack Henderson, “That person happened to be a white person. The people that they happened to kill and shoot were black people — that fits the bill for me.”

Police officials and prosecutors, however, say it is still too early in the investigation to call the shooting rampage a hate crime.

Boycotts of ‘Stand Your Ground’ group

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

(Note: This article was updated on 4/10/12.)

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing, groups are boycotting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is the well-funded conservative organization behind the controversial “stand your ground” gun laws.  Organizations like Color of Change have pressured groups to stop funding ALEC, and NPR reports that major U.S. companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have recently dropped their ALEC memberships:

“Two of America’s best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a low-profile conservative organization behind the national proliferation of “stand your ground” gun laws.

ALEC promotes business-friendly legislation in state capitols and drafts model bills for state legislatures to adopt. They range from little-noticed pro-business bills to more controversial measures, including voter-identification laws and stand your ground laws based on the Florida statute. About two-dozen states now have such laws.

Florida’s stand your ground law has been cited in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26.”

In addition to stand your ground and voter ID laws, ALEC supports a number of disturbing initiatives, including prison privatization, anti-labor union bills, and Arizona-style immigration policies.  Other major companies that fund ALEC include Walmart, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, and ExxonMobil.

Let’s continue to put pressure on these organizations to divest from ALEC.  Hopefully, they will follow in the footsteps of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co.

UPDATE (4/10/12):

Several more groups, including Kraft Foods, Intuit (the maker of Turbo Tax), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and McDonalds, have decided to withdraw support for ALEC.

Criminal Justice Reform and Schools

By Sofia Rasmussen

In the wake of the Columbine shootings, the Westside Middle School massacre and other violent incidents within America’s schools in the late 1990s, there has been a heightened awareness of the importance of safety within a school and university setting.  According to the National Institute of Justice, more monitoring and awareness of the issue has, at least by one measure, been successful: by 2005, violent crimes, homicides and thefts within schools had all markedly decreased nationwide.  It is worth noting that cyber crimes such as attacks on a school’s computer network or attempted hacks on internet school initiatives such as online PhD degree programs, are on the rise.

However, this statistical decline is not the only side to the story. Recently, several new studies, which are highlighted within Radley Balko’s article for the Huffington Post, suggest that the methods used for suppressing crime may be overly intrusive. For example: a higher proportion of people under the age of 23 are going to prison than ever before. The statistics are overwhelming: in the United States, one in three youths will be arrested prior to the age of 23. Additionally, the number of law enforcement personnel assigned solely to schools has increased by 37 percent between 1997 and 2007 and it is believed that the number of arrests that have originated in schools has also risen significantly in the past ten to twenty years. The result has been a situation where many schools have abandoned their duty to educate and treat difficult children.

Will Trayvon Martin’s death spark the movement to end mass incarceration?

After news spread about the killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, many began comparing Martin’s case to the 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till.  Although some are critical of the comparison, arguing that comparing Martin to Till suggests nothing has changed since the 1950s, Ibram Rogers argues that we must look at the context of their deaths and what their murders symbolized.  Till’s death was a symbol of racism in the Jim Crow South.  Martin’s death is a symbol of racial profiling and the criminalization of black men in 2012.  Just as the death of Emmett Till galvanized the civil rights movement, Ibram wonders: “Will the anger over Martin’s death spark the New Abolitionist Movement against mass incarceration?” MWN 

Probing the Comparison – Trayvon Martin/Mass Incarceration and Emmett Till/Segregation

by Dr. Ibram Rogers

Protests are blooming this spring. Black Americans are enraged and emboldened, shouting entreaties for justice, justice, justice.

Stoking even more rage—or rather placing the rage in historical context—has been the continuous comparisons made between the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, murdered recently by a neighborhood watchman of a majority White gated community in Florida who is claiming self-defense, and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago native murdered by Mississippi segregationists in 1955 for speaking “inappropriately” to a White woman.

A blog in The New Yorker on the Martin tragedy was entitled “Emmett Till in Sanford.” Hundreds of protesters gathered at a park in Sanford, Fla., on March 22, and dozens of them sported t-shirts with Martin’s photo next to a Till photo. These Martin-Till shirts have become widely popular among activists around the nation.

Syracuse professor Boyce Watkins wrote that Martin “has become a modern day Emmett Till.” University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn A. Ifill insightfully compared Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, to Mamie Mae Till, who courageously allowed an open casket funeral and circulated pictures of her son’s tattered face around the world. Mamie Till’s public fight to get justice for her son is one of the untold sparks of the Civil Rights Movement.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson dismissed the “facile comparison” as “a disservice to history—and the memory of both young men. It is ridiculous to imply that nothing has changed.”

Robinson is correct and incorrect. The link is a service and disserve to history. The widely touted comparison of Martin to Till is profound and “facile.”  (more…)