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Another “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Black Man Killed by Police

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

GunAnother “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” case of an unarmed  black man killed by police occurred this time in New Jersey with two police officers- one white and one black doing the shooting. A newly released video of a December 30   encounter in   Bridgeton, New Jersey between two police officers and Jerame Reid,   shows what starts out as a routine police car stop  for running a stop sign and then turns into what appears as a cold blooded killing of the driver, Reid,  by the police officers.   The gruesome and appalling video shown on the police dash cam shows the incident as it unfolds.  The driver who is identified as  Jerame Reid says, “I’m not reaching for nothing. I ain’t got no reason to reach for nothing.  I’m getting out and getting on the ground.”  As he attempts to exit of the car with hands up, he is shot with at least 6 bullets by both officers.

 

Videos don’t lie.   There is no resistance by Reid.  Reid is by all accounts obeying the police officers.   While one officer finds a gun in the glove compartment, no attempt is made by Reid  to reach for the gun.  And in the case of Reid, the police officers could possibly have a motive for killing Reid as they recognize  and call him by his first name, “Jerame”, even though no identification was provided.  Perhaps, the officers recognized Reid who had served  thirteen years in  prison for killing another officer–a state trooper.

 

 

While videos don’t lie, they don’t usually get arrests, charges or convictions against police officers when it comes to the killing black men in America.  Eric Garner’s death was videotaped as he shouted “I can’t breathe” while being held in a chokehold. No charges were brought or an arrest of the police officer who choked him to death while he was yelling those words.   No state or federal charges were brought against the Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown while many witnesses saw Brown with his hands up while being shot by Wilson.  And many African Americans wonder where is the justice in these instances.

 

These three cases have different persons, different facts, different scenarios but the same outcome.  They involve a part of a growing trend in America of police killing unarmed blacks without any provocation or justification—in many  person’s eyes.  And yet the judicial system says otherwise-at least in the cases of Brown and Garner.   Neither state or federal charges were brought against Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s death. And before   many persons could digest that reality, another brutal police killing occurs of an unarmed black man with “hands up”.  The killing of blacks by law enforcement is nothing new.  Killing unarmed blacks under color of the law has been going on since slavery, the early twentieth century, the Civil Rights Movement and now in the 21st century.  The blatant public manner of doing it and then getting away with it reinforces for many in the black community that black lives don’t matter to law enforcement, Grand Jurors and prosecutors that fail to indict or bring charges.

 

 

And if the prosecution exonerates these New Jersey police officers without charges, many will question as Dr. King once stated in another context if America has lost its moral compass.   Both officers should be arrested immediately and charged.   Just like as seen in the dash cam video, there is no justification for the killing and shooting of Reid, except that apparently the police officers wanted to do it.  And that reason doesn’t justify murder.  A special prosecutor should be brought in to investigate and proceed with charges.  There is little to investigate when everything is caught on tape, except that a black man’s life in America doesn’t always receive justice.   And once again the world is watching us.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who addresses issues of race and gender in the law.  She is frequently seen in the media on Al Jazeera America, Arise TV,   BET, C-Span, Fox 5 News, RT- America,  Sky News, TV One, among others.

Why MLK Day Should be Everyday

Monday, January 19th, 2015

MLKMonumentMartin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in January, is the federal holiday that is set aside to honor Dr. King’s birthday, life and legacy. The principles of justice and equality that he fought and died for should be a part of our daily life and not just once a year. Over the years, we have looked back on his life, celebrated his legacy in ways such as a day of service to honor him. And when the day ends, many persons forget about community service or Dr. King’s legacy and what he stood for until the next January. For some persons, Dr. King’s holiday is a day off from work. For others, Dr. King has been reduced to one day of service, one great “I Have a Dream” speech and one great monument on the mall. Many persons do not know what Dr. King really fought for or stood for.

First, for many persons who did not live through the Civil Rights era, study it in school or fail to understand the impact of Dr. King on our country today, we need to educate those individuals about Dr. King. The film Selma about the Civil Rights Movement has been highlighting new interest for many young persons who do not fully know or understand the impact that Dr. King had on this country and continues to impact today far beyond his death. That’s why I’m excited that individual efforts spearheaded by black business leaders, called Selma for Students in many cities including Baltimore, Washington, DC, New York and 21 others nationwide raised over 2.1 million for over 285,000 free tickets to ensure that students can see Selma and learn about Dr. King’s life. Educating about the life of Dr. King is important to raise the consciousness level of those who are unaware of his accomplishments and to see beyond Dr. King’s holiday as a onetime yearly event. And many adults could also benefit from such awareness.

Dr. King’s work is not done. In many ways, the laws of our country still systemically discriminate against persons of color. The numerous criminal justice issues surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Oscar Grant in San Francisco and many others is but one area that needs to be addressed and changed. While blacks are no longer beaten to death or killed by whites while trying to register to vote, many killings of blacks by police go without any prosecution.   And registering to vote, which Dr. King fought for the rights of African Americans, has become onerous and oppressive in many states with  Voter Photo ID laws enacted since 2006. The death penalty is legal in most states in this country. And yet, the vast majority of persons on death row are African American men despite the fact that they make up only roughly 6% of the population. And death penalty laws still exist despite arguments that the death penalty does not work, is racially disproportionate, is not a deterrent to crime and many persons on death row have later been exonerated .   Dr. King died while fighting for a living wage for sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968. That fight continues today. Today, we are still fighting for a living wage for many persons of all colors to be able to live and financially support themselves without strong opposition from many lawmakers and corporations.

 

For everyone who cares about justice and equality which Dr. King fought and died for, everyday should be a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. We do not need to do it in the way that Dr. King did. In our own way, we can honor his legacy year round and fight for justice and equality.

Dr. King was a drum major for justice. And in ways, big and small, we can fight for justice too. In Dr. King’s words, “the time is always right to do what is right.”

 

Metro Accident Set to Cost Millions

Thursday, January 15th, 2015
 Creative Commons Attributes


Creative Commons Attributes

Metro’s accident on Monday which injured dozens of persons and took the life of Alexandria, VA resident Carol Inman Glover, a mother, grandmother and named 2014 Employee of the Year by her communications firm, may soon be a court battle that could cost Metro millions of dollars for its lack of safety precautions. Metro could be held accountable for the actual fire occurring on the track, if it was avoidable and due to their negligence. Metro, exclusively, is responsible for maintenance and upkeep on the tracks. And every weekend, they perform track maintenance. And Metro’s further legal potential negligence surrounds the enormous length of time, it took for fire crew and first responders to arrive on the tracks to assist passengers.

 

Some Metro riders who took recordings with their cell phones are able to verify the alleged 45 minutes to over 1 hour. Imagine if a fire truck took that long in responding to a fire. Or if EMT personnel took 45 minutes to respond to a 911 call for distress due to an accident. While there may be issues in responders arriving on the tracks, it  appears that the length of time for the first response was far beyond anything that could be possibly construed as reasonable by any reasonable standards.

The train by news accounts was only 800 yards from the L’Enfant Plaza station platform when the fire was noticed. It was not very deep in the tunnel. Some accounts say there was an issue with getting all of the first responders in communication with each other. And since this is not the first accident involving Metro, one would think there would have been track safety precautions and procedures in place for getting to passengers in a more timely and perhaps life -saving time. It is tragic anytime someone dies in what may be perceived due to a negligent manner. It is even more tragic when it occurs on a rail system that should have resolved accident safety, evacuation procedures and communication issues due to past issues. The first Metro accident resulting in death occurred 33 years ago.

I heard some news accounts state that passengers should be aware of their surroundings while on the Metro train and look for the evacuation signs and procedures on the train. Following the accident, on Tuesday, I rode on Metro and read the emergency instructions that are posted in the train cars. First, it does give instructions on what to do if one has to evacuate a train and how to accomplish it. But first and foremost, the instructions say to follow the instructions of the Metro operator. In Monday’s accident, the train operator told passengers it was not a fire inside the train and to remain in the train. So the passengers followed the appropriate safety instructions that were given to them. In fact, if an unauthorized evacuation occurred before the electric third rail was deactivated, passengers could have been electrocuted if they evacuated the train, against the safety orders of the train operator. So, there is no “contributory negligence” on the part of any of the passengers. They did exactly what they were told to do.

 

Now for the possible negligence of WMATA.   WMATA may be found negligent for the accident on several theories. First, negligence may occur if Metro knew or should have reasonably known of the potential for a fire accident occurring in this manner and failed to provide and take reasonable safety measures and precautions. Again, it is too soon to know if the actual fire was the result of any negligence on the part of Metro. The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cause of the accident.  Negligence may result from the delay in responding. It took 45 minutes to over an hour for Metro to get its act together to assist first responders to the tracks must have seemed like an eternity for all those aboard the train. Some passengers spoke about fearing they would die in a dark Metro train filled with smoke and the inability to breathe easily. Unfortunately Ms. Glover did die.

A cause of action is possible for every one of the Metro passengers who experienced emotional, physical injury or both. It’s difficult to imagine that all passengers were not affected emotionally and somewhat physically by the events. At least 86 passengers were treated at the hospital following the accident. This number does not include ones who may have gone the next day or later to the hospital the same day on their own with episodes of breathing or emotional issues, such as panic attacks or anxiety.

 

It will take months before the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) concludes its investigation and makes its findings. That will not stop the onslaught of personal injury law suits likely to occur. Each potential litigant has by law 6 months from the date of the accident to file a claim against WMATA. This informal claim is not the same as filing a lawsuit in court where there is a three year statute of limitations in which to file. While many issues evolve around Metro, there are still unanswered questions about whether first responders bear any responsibility for the delayed response.

More to follow as the NTSB investigation continues.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She frequently appears as a legal analyst on Arise TV, Al Jazeera America, BET, Fox 5 News, Sky News, RT America and TV One, among others.

Top Priorities for “WIN” Presented to DC Mayor Bowser

Sunday, January 11th, 2015
Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

On Thursday, January 8, one of the coldest days of 2015, the Washington Interfaith Network (“WIN”) with over 900 persons, packed St. Augustine Church in Washington, DC to speak to Mayor Muriel Bowser about their priorities and concerns for the city.  Their agenda was simple:  Work for residents at a living wage; Eliminating unsafe guns in the city;  Affordable housing for all incomes; and Ending Homelessness.

 

Local residents told their stories to the mayor and packed crowd of how a decent pay wage and building job skills is at the heart of eradicating homelessness.  And building affordable housing for all stages of life and all incomes is necessary.  Gun control is not new to the District, having fought several court battles over gun ownership in the city.  Rev. David Brawley spoke on behalf of the Metro Industrial Area Foundation and asked the City to join with 69 other jurisdictions to address unsafe guns at the manufacturing level and demand that guns be made safe, noting that cities are the major buyers of guns.  Tony Fleet, a District resident and formerly incarcerated spoke proudly about his training, acquiring skills and becoming a member of Laborers Local 657.  He works with the DC Water Clean Rivers Project.

 

The District of Columbia is fast becoming a city that is too expensive for many of its long standing residents to continue living here.  Rents and housing are extremely high even for those who work full time jobs. The most moving moment of the evening was not in hearing from Mayor Bowser but hearing from a Metro Access Bus operator, Karen Reed, member ATU Local 689. Ms. Reed drives one of the Metro Access buses that provide transportation for physically and mentally impaired District residents.   Her words resonated with all who heard them about the city’s lack of a living wage and affordable housing.   Ms. Reed spoke about how she often works 6 days a week, 13-14 hours a day and yet only makes $26,000 a year.  With one child, she constantly lives on the verge of homelessness and was homeless for three months in 2014.  She never missed a day of working.  Despite her hard work, she still qualifies for Food Stamps and Medicaid.  And Ms. Reed made only one request—to pay her a living wage without having to provide her public benefits.

 

Residents housed at the DC General Family Shelter, formerly DC General Hospital, spoke anonymously via a video.  Many were afraid for their faces to appear due to possible retaliation by employees working there.  But they spoke of unsafe conditions, unhealthy conditions, rat infested conditions and lack of appropriate facilities for children.

 

Mayor Bowser spoke to the crowd and says she hears the voices of those persons who spoke on Thursday and those that they represent. She introduced key members of her new Administration-Lindsay Parker,  Deputy Chief of Staff, Polly Donaldson, Director of Housing and Community Development, Jenny Reed, Deputy Budget Director and Brenda Donald, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.  And these women will be the ones to work with the mayor on the budget, housing and homelessness.  The question still remains what a Bowser administration will do to accomplish the goals and agenda set forth by WIN. And WIN will be actively monitoring the Mayor’s commitments.

 

WIN will not stop with their inaugural meeting with Mayor Bowser.   On January 22, WIN will meet to evaluate the meeting with the Mayor.  And without a doubt, there will be further meetings with Mayor Bowser to engage her on the issues that matters most to them—helping people with jobs that pay a living wage, affordable housing, ending homelessness and gun violence.

 

 

 

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who addresses issues on race and gender in the law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDonnell’s 2 Year Sweetheart Deal is no Deterrent

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015
Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Everyone including probably Bob McDonnell was surprised at the 2 year sentence that McDonnell received for his 11 counts  of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. Judge James Spencer reduced the sentencing guidelines from a minimum of 10 years to 6 ½ years after argument by both sides. And even with the reduction. McDonnell only received less than 1/3 of the minimum time recommended by the U.S. Department of Probation. All federal cases are subject to sentencing guidelines but a judge may sentence higher or lower than the guidelines. By the remarks of Judge Spencer, it appeared that it hurt him to even sentence McDonnell to those 2 years. And his greatly reduced and much lenient sentence sends a message that for corrupt politicians, crime does pay.

 

McDonnell never fully expressed remorse instead preferring to place blame on his wife for all of his transgressions. He blamed his wife of 39 years who at times single handily raised five children while Mr. McDonnell pursued his political ambitions at her alleged emotional condition. But Mr. McDonnell’s wife did not send text messages to businessman Jonnie Williams for a second “$20K loan” with little or scant paperwork. Some politicians become involved in making shady and illegal deals out of a simple need for money. The government’s case showed the financial affairs of the McDonnells were in almost shambles during the period in question. Being a public servant is not a job of riches.   And that’s no excuse for McDonnell lining his family’s pockets with $177,00 of ill-gotten gains. And if the government had not discovered the Williams-McDonnell affairs, while investigating another matter, McDonnell might have further lined his pockets with Williams’ money and gifts. In other words, he was caught early.

The millions of taxpayer money and juror time to successfully pursue and prosecute the case against McDonnell alone should have warranted a sentence in accordance with the guidelines and prosecutors’ recommendation. Perhaps, Judge Spencer was swayed by the likes of former Governors Doug Wilder, Tim Kaine and other powerful politicians in support of McDonnell. One juror who spoke to NBC 4 Washington felt she had wasted 6 weeks of her time.

 

I believe in leniency, when warranted. McDonnell’s defense trial tactics of throwing wife McDonnell under the bus, then running over her at the sentencing phase by her two daughters and the failure of McDonnell to take responsibility and show remorse for his own debacle did not in the eyes of this former prosecutor warrant leniency of the type shown by Judge Spencer. I recognize the good deeds that Bob McDonnell did as a governor particularly restoring voting rights to 8,000 felons—a move unprecedented in Republican circles.   I only wish leniency and mercy were shown to countless unnamed black and poor defendants who receive 2 years for thefts and drug possession in the criminal justice system. Leniency should not just be reserved for the political   and once powerful defendants. Leniency should also be received for those individuals who do not have the rich and powerful to speak on their behalf.

Bob McDonnell, as shown throughout the trial, sought legal advice on some of his dealings with Jonnie Williams. And yet, he continued down the path to his ultimate undoing. Perhaps, he knew all along that all he would get was a slap on the wrist, if caught. And that’s exactly what he received from Judge Spencer- a political slap on the wrist. It remains to be seen how much further leniency is bestowed upon McDonnell.  His attorneys plan on asking Judge Spencer to allow the former Governor  to remain free during the pendency of his appeal. Now it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Judge Spencer granted that wish.

 

 

Judgment Day for Bob McDonnell

Monday, January 5th, 2015
Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

On Tuesday, Former Republican VA Governor Robert (“Bob”) McDonnell faces the toughest day of his life when he is scheduled to be sentenced by Virginia Judge James Spencer on his 11 counts of corruption.   His wife, Maureen McDonnell, is scheduled to be sentenced later on February 20.   Judge Spencer has already received sentencing  recommendations from the prosecutors and McDonnell’s defense team plus over 400 character letters written on behalf of McDonnell.

 

And just as the case played out in the courtroom, it continues with the same defense theme after the trial. The defense of Bob McDonnell continues to throw wife Maureen McDonnell under the bus as the sole culprit for his demise.    Daughters Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky and Cailin McDonnell Young wrote letters saying in essence that their mother was to blame for everything.  And dad, Bob McDonnell, never wished for any lavish items.   It was all Mom Maureen’s fault.  That defense did not work well with the jury who heard it and convicted him. The defense has requested 6,000 hours of community service spread out over three years, in lieu of any jail time. McDonnell would be lucky to get as little as three years of jail.  A better request may have been to ask for greatly reduced jail time.  McDonnell’s 11 felony convictions do not warrant probation or special treatment by the court.

 

The prosecutors are seeking a range of a minimum ten year prison term.  The prosecutors are seeking a sentence within the sentencing guidelines prepared by the U.S. Office of Probation. Most judges sentence within the guidelines.  Guidelines in McDonnell’s case range from 10 years to a little less than 13 years. The defense asserts the sentencing guidelines are incorrect and should be first corrected.  Even if incorrect, McDonnell is still likely going to jail.

 

A sentence outside of the guidelines range must be explained by the judge.  And there were ways that McDonnell’s team could perhaps assist in getting Judge Spencer to deviate from the guidelines.  McDonnell spent most of his adult life in political service.  And presumably during those years, he did a great deal of good for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Before he left office as VA Governor, he led legislation that restored the right to vote back to over 8,000 convicted felons, rare for a Republican politician to do.  In a letter to the judge, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine spoke of those efforts led by McDonnell.

 

Instead of wife blaming, McDonnell’s team should focus on whatever extraordinary acts or legislation that he assisted in passing to improve life for Virginians.   Perhaps, that will be done during his sentencing hearing. Now is the time for McDonnell to take responsibility for his actions.  Judges do not like defendants to continually blame others once they have been convicted.  While I understand the defense’s position with an appeal looming; there is still a way to come to grips with the reality of the conviction before the court and his role in it.

 

Now is the time for Bob McDonnell to man up to the reality of his circumstances and stop blaming everything on his wife.  While she is in part culpable and has been found guilty on nine counts, it was Mr. McDonnell who directly made calls to businessman Jonnie Williams requesting money and undocumented loans.  And no one forced him to accept the gifts lavished on him and his family, including the daughter’s wedding reception.  In Virginia and elsewhere, it is illegal for an elected official to require anyone to pay money to receive benefits, known as “pay to play” schemes.  That’s how former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (7 years), Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (14 years), former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (10 years), former Prince Georges County, Maryland Executive Jack Johnson (7 years), former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon ( 44 month sentence), to name a few, all received jail sentences of varying lengths.

 

Regardless of the outcome, the case will be appealed. And if sentenced to jail time, as is most likely expected, McDonnell will likely have to wait in jail pending his appeal.  Of course, his attorneys will request that he be released pending the outcome of his appeal.  And it will be up to the judge to decide on the issue.  Most likely, when sentenced to jail time, McDonnell will be given some time to get his affairs in order and a date to turn himself in to commence any jail sentence.

 

Tomorrow former Governor Bob McDonnell may become the first VA Governor to receive a jail sentence.  He is already the first VA Governor to be charged and convicted.  No matter what Tuesday’s outcome, McDonnell is already a disgraced former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Virginia is not for corrupt politicians. As one juror, Robin Trujillo says, “He broke the trust of the people. He committed a crime.”

Post Script:  Debbie Hines will be appearing live on Fox 5 News DC on Tuesday, January 6 @ 7:30 AM to discuss McDonnell’s sentencing.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who regularly appears on air  on Arise TV, Al Jazeera America, BET News, Fox 5 News, Sky News, TV One and others.