Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cotton verdict sends message

What value a human life?

Attorney: Cotton verdict sends message; City: $4.5 million award will not impact general fund

Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 09/27/2011 02:30:23 AM PDT

An attorney who helped the estate of Martin Frederick Cotton II win a more than $4.5 million jury verdict against the city of Eureka said Monday she hopes the case will have a chilling effect, deterring law enforcement from using excessive force in the future.

”I think that is something that we would hope,” said Vicki Sarmiento in a phone interview Monday, three days after a federal jury decided unanimously that Eureka Police Department officers used excessive force and violated Cotton's civil rights prior to his in-custody death in 2007. “Certainly, officers have a job to do and they should do it, but they also have to exercise restraint. ... The community expectation is high of people who have guns, batons and pepper spray. This says, 'Let's exercise some restraint.'”

Cotton, 26, died Aug. 9, 2007, of a subdural hematoma just hours after being involved in several altercations at the Eureka Rescue Mission, the last of which involved EPD officers. Cotton died after being found breathing shallowly in a holding cell in the Humboldt County jail.

On the heels of a two-week trial and about seven hours of deliberation, the federal jury in Oakland on Friday found that EPD officers Adam Laird and Justin Winkle used excessive force against Cotton, and that they and fellow officer Garry Whitmer were “deliberately indifferent” to Cotton's serious medical needs when they failed to get him medical treatment prior to booking him into jail.

The jury also found that the city failed to adequately train its officers to obtain medical care for arrestees who have had force used against them and that the officers acted “maliciously, oppressively or in reckless disregard” of Cotton's constitutional rights.

The jury verdict awarded Cotton's daughter and father a combined $4.5 million from the city of Eureka and awarded Cotton's father a total of $75,000 in punitive damages from the three officers.

While Sarmiento said she hopes the verdict has a deterrent effect, EPD Interim Police Chief Murl Harpham said Monday that he hopes it does not. Harpham said he was issuing a memo to all department employees telling them: “Don't pay attention to those anonymous blogs written by cop haters and don't let the decision influence the way you do your duties because that can get you hurt or your partner hurt, or killed. ... You can't be out there worrying about being sued.”

Harpham said he was shocked by the verdict and that he stands by what then Police Chief Garr Nielsen said at the time of Cotton's death -- that the officers involved acted appropriately and followed department policy when confronted with a violent, noncompliant suspect who was under the influence of a large amount of LSD.

The officers were involved in a “knock-down, drag out,” Harpham said, adding that their shirts were torn and their name plates were ripped off during the altercation.

”I think they were wronged,” Harpham said of the officers, adding that they are “kind” men, noting that Winkle was named “Officer of the Year” in 2007 and Laird was promoted to sergeant earlier this year. “They're just good people, and they wouldn't do what's been claimed here out of viciousness or anything like that.”

Regardless of whether the officers involved acted appropriately, EPD has instituted a number of policy changes since Cotton's death, including a requirement that all suspects involved in physical altercations -- with officers or others -- receive medical care before being booked into jail. While none of the six to eight officers who arrived at the scene of Cotton's arrest had a Taser, all EPD officers are now outfitted with them and trained in their use. The department also now calls the California Department of Justice to investigate any officer-involved fatalities.

Eureka City Manager David Tyson said Monday that he couldn't say much about the incident because he is still working to get information about the verdict from local attorney Nancy Delaney, who represented the city in the matter, and has not yet briefed the city council on the subject.

Both Tyson and the city's insurance carrier said the city has already spent the entire amount of its coverage deductible on the case, so the city's general fund will not be impacted by the award.

Tyson said he was surprised by Friday's verdict because it “is counter” to the findings of independent inquiries conducted after Cotton's death.

Tyson also said that the council will not have a say in whether to appeal the verdict, as that decision rests in the hands of the city's insurance carriers, including the Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund, or REMIF. REMIF General Manager Mark Ferguson said that because the award in the Cotton case exceeds his fund's level of exposure, a number of excess insurance carriers will ultimately decide whether to appeal.

”The purpose of insurance is spreading the risk, or spreading the liability, around,” Ferguson said, adding that's why REMIF has excess carriers. “At this point, this is past our level of exposure, so we're dealing with the excess people. They're the ones that make decisions at this point.”

The council will decide whether it wants to pay for the punitive damages awarded against its individual officers.

”That's a council decision, and the council will be briefed on it,” Tyson said, adding that he hopes that briefing will occur in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Sarmiento said she's very pleased with the verdict in the case that she and colleague Dale Galipo, both based in Los Angeles County, brought before the Oakland jury. Sarmiento said she's grateful to the jury and also to “two very courageous witnesses from the Eureka area” who testified that they saw officers hit Cotton in the head, with one describing the blows as “hammer fists to the back of the head.”

Harpham said he believes the verdict was part of an Oakland-area backlash to officers facing excessive force allegations on the heels of a number of incidents, including the case of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in 2009.

”Juries are unpredictable,” Harpham said. “All you have to do is look at what's been happening, like the Casey Anthony jury.”

While Harpham maintained that Cotton was “very violent,” Sarmiento said evidence presented at trial showed that Cotton did not physically assault officers but was simply resisting by not giving up his hands to be cuffed. Sarmiento said no evidence was presented to indicate that Cotton was behaving in a wildly violent manner, either before or after officers arrived on scene.

”There was a characterization of Mr. Cotton as a violent person but, in truth, there was no evidence of the type of violent behavior that would have justified this extent of force,” she said. “There's evidence of some sort of fight (prior to the officers' arrival), but to characterize him as violently attacking people is not consistent with the evidence that I've seen or was presented at trial.”

In the wake of Cotton's death, then Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager and District Attorney Paul Gallegos both said jail surveillance video footage of Cotton thrashing in his holding cell made it impossible to discern whether his fatal injuries were self-inflicted while in custody or sustained during prior altercations, including the one with officers.

Despite numerous requests, Humboldt County has declined to make the video public.

Sarmiento said the video -- which was presented by the city at trial -- does not present any evidence that Cotton's injury was self-inflicted.

”What you see in that video is that he's writhing in pain and holding his head,” Sarmiento said. “You see a man in his last hours of life in excruciating pain.”

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Copy of Don't feed the trolls

Return to Joe Blow Report :: Show Me The Difference

Monday, May 31, 2010

   Don't feed the trolls

    (from: Trolls Exposed: What kind of troll is disrupting your online community?)
“You know the ones I'm talking about. They prey on news forums, chat rooms, and other online communities. Their purpose: to disrupt any conversation or thread, and to get an emotional response from some unwary person. Ignoring them and not responding to their posts is your best option.

What kind of people are trolls? They're cowards. Lonely cowards. Their posts seldom show any real imagination and often resort to childish name-calling.

Trolls are often extremely pedantic and rarely answer direct questions. There are some exceptions, but most aren't smart enough to make a reasonable argument. They're not interested in reason. They repeat themselves and say stupid, off-focus things to disrupt conversations.

Some trolls like to brag about their IQ. They try to come across like rocket scientists to lure the unwary and then pounce with a verbal attack. Trolls count the responses they get. [Sam's editorial: That answers my question that I've wondered about.] It must be highly pleasurable for the poor creatures to count coups if they disrupt other people's emotional equilibrium.

Trolls call it “Lulz,” a corruption of “LOL” (laugh out loud). Jason Fortuny is the most famous troll in America (using his real name in an interview). He was interviewed in the New York Times on August 3, 2008. This article is the best read I've found on the subject of trolls.

Fortuny's passion for “pushing people's buttons” made him the most prominent troll on the Internet according to the Times. He managed to thoroughly embarrass a lot of men with his infamous “Craigslist Experiment” as described in the Times article.

Like many trolls, Fortuny claims his pastime is just a big joke, a social experiment. He lives alone, spends countless hours anonymously insulting people, doesn't have a full time job, is 32 years old, and brags (to anyone who will listen) about being a troll.

For all of Fortuny's faults, no one has ever accused him of murder, like the woman in the Megan Meier cyberbullying case.

The suicide of a teenage girl highlights another type of troll. A deadly troll, sometimes called a cyberbully, took on a fake identity and seduced a vulnerable girl in MySpace. When the troll was sure she had fallen in love with the fake identity she (this woman posed as a man) broke up with the girl and said terrible things to her.

It was more than Megan Meier could stand and she killed herself. The warning is clear here. You never really know who you are talking with on the Internet, especially in online communities like FaceBook and MySpace.

For a guide on trolls go to flayme.com, which offers an Intelligence Test for Trolls. For an insight into cyberbullying check out the book “BullyBaby: Portrait of a Cyberbully,” by Andrew Heenan. “Dealing with Internet Trolls,” posted on lockergnome.com on April 17th, 2009, is another good information source.

Legislating cyberspace to go after trolls isn't feasible in my opinion. The web is a new frontier for freedom of speech and I don't want to see that changed by Orwellian laws that make it a crime to hurt someone's feelings.

So what do you do about trolls? Recognize that they are part of the Internet community and will be there as long as there are lonely misfits and people who have trouble communicating in the real world.

They crawl through cyberspace seeking to create chaos. It gives them a sense of power when they feel powerless in the real world. They get to say things they'd never dare say to people directly. At best, they are lonely cowards. Ignore them and don't let them spoil your use of the Internet.

Trolls are not hard to spot. For example, go to an online newspaper community like the Times-Standard's Topix Forum. In no time, you'll begin to recognize some names posted in every topic. Realizing this, trolls will sometimes change their identities, but their repetition and negative comments generally “out them” to an aware community.

There are also paid political trolls. They actually get paid to surf through online communities and disrupt meaningful conversations while touting their party line. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this underhanded practice.

As It Stands, there's really only one practical way to deal with trolls: don't feed them!”

Posted by Dave Stancliff at 10:43 AM

Return to Joe Blow Report :: Show Me The Difference

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Do You Honor A Man?

We, the Joe Blow Report, do so by posting the following words of Martin Luther King spoken April 4, 1967. As you read and contemplate what he said, ask yourself, was there a "revolution of values" in this country. America votes in a black man hoping for a Martin Luther King moment and what did they get? They got a Nixon, a Reagan, a couple of Bushes, and a Clinton on steroids; you can throw in a Jimmy Carter, if you want. These men and their supporters did everything they could to maintain and enforce the devalued state of American character and self worth.

Here is the introduction by Amy Goodman 42 years later.

While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor and organized the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of US foreign policy and the Vietnam War.

In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967, a year-to-the-day before he was assassinated, Dr. King called the United States, quote, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Time magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post said King, quote, “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

Today, we’ll let you decide. We play an excerpt of Dr. King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam.”

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: After 1954, they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. And they remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South, until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.
Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the President claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8,000 miles away from its shores.

At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else, for it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after the short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

Monday, June 30, 2008


“No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” —Thomas Jefferson


“It is not hyperbole to describe [the Supreme Court’s] decision in [District of Columbia v.] Heller as the most significant opinion of this century, and likely, of the last two generations. Two particular thoughts immediately come to mind. First, the extent to which [the] decision effectively opens the door for future litigation regarding the Second Amendment to further clarify the extent of the now confirmed, but long understood, individual right to keep and bear arms. Second, this is an election year. This decision, closely divided as it is, will likely provide a rallying cry for the millions of the Americans who recognize that their Second Amendment rights came down to a single vote. In reading Justice Scalia’s opinion, there is an overwhelming theme that to interpret the Second Amendment as not protecting an individual right would gut the amendment of meaning and defy logic. It is, after all, the Second Amendment, not the two hundredth. This is not an obscure line buried among thousands of pages of text. It is inconceivable that the framers would have given it the priority they did, placing it ahead of so many other critical rights, if they only meant it to apply to militias as the dissenting justices suggest.” —David Schenck

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Find the Spirit of Humility

The Rev. Jeri Gray-Reneberg
For the Times-Standard

There is a cherished plaque on my wall, made for me by a calligrapher friend in Iowa, that says “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This bible verse is found in the book of Micah, Chapter 6, Verse 8.

Even apart from their historical context, these words present an ethical position that appeals to me. Each of the exhortations is perfectly balanced with the other two – and, together, they seem to be an unmatched tool to deepen spirituality.
. . .
Rest of article from Joe Blows Report:

We all know what it means to do justice. When we are focused on justice-doing, we look at the human-made structures that oppress people, animals and the Earth. We may be looking at an individual situation, but there are elements of the general, even the political. Some of us would prefer not to have to deal with these situations. They are often messy and controversial, and they demand effort -- even our life's blood. For this reason, we sometimes find that we are able to focus on only one or two areas that we are especially passionate about.

Regarding kindness: I think many of us love kindness when it is directed at us, but maybe not when we are asked to be kind to others. We are kind mostly in individual situations. And those who prefer the “justice mode” of ethical response are sometimes uncomfortable with kindness. It feels too mushy, too based on feelings – but there it is, we are asked to respect, and even protect, each others’ feelings.

Walking humbly with our God … I am reminded of the old Chevy Chase saying from “Saturday Night Live”: “Hello. I’m Chevy Chase – and your not!” This phrase invites us to remember that God is God – and we are not. Remember that “We are dust … and to dust we shall return,” in the words many congregations hear on Ash Wednesday. “Humble” is related to “humus,” or dirt. In other words, we are no greater than anyone else. We are all on the same level, being kind and striving for justice while we worship our God, who is greater and more wonderful than we are able to imagine.

Distortions of these three ethical positions are all around us, and impact us every day. We are unjust when we refuse to look at systems and attitudes that contribute to racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism and anthropocentrism (when we see humanity as the center of the universe). We feel free to apply a double standard, and we keep new models of leadership from becoming widespread and generally accepted because we prevent women, people of color and those whose voices have not been dominant from holding positions of influence.

We are unkind when we become angry and speak one word too many. We are unkind when we see only our own needs. We are unkind when we allow our prejudices to determine the degree of empathy we feel for others. We are unkind when we refuse to care that a felling creature, human or animal, is be hurt.

And finally, we don’t walk humbly with God when we make sure that ours are always the loudest voices, drowning out all the others. We show a shocking lack of humility when we believe that others are put on this Earth to serve our needs, and that we are justified in isolating, abusing and controlling them. We commit spiritual abuse against others, and God, when we threaten people with excommunication or hell because they refuse to be victims or the believe our narrowly constructed theology.

Let us all pray, within our own traditions, that we might recover the spirit of humility is all of our interactions, that we might be reoriented toward God, the rest of creation, and each other.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dave Berman . . .

Dave Berman said...

Hey Joe, thanks for the critique. I haven't been writing much lately, but I think like most people, when I find out someone's talking about me I like to know what's being said. And I appreciate your thoughtful comments so I'd like to respond in kind here.

You cite textbook definitions of revolution, but do not quote the definition of revolution that I have used, borrowing from Rebecca Solnit's "Hope In the Dark": revolution is a change in the relationship of power between the people and the government.

I have given many examples of how this can occur peacefully, though the one I focus on most often is establishing the legitimacy of elections. It would be a revolutionary shift in the relationship between citizens and government if we go from having no say in choosing leaders, as is the case now with phony unverifiable "elections," to transparent and verifiable actual elections where citizens count the votes in public with the media documenting the counting process to establish the credibility of the results reported. Currently, media report election results as fact, even though the unverifiable results are inherently uncertain.

I have also advocated rejecting the results of the current faux "elections," hoping to see citizens refusing to consent to the transfer of power to candidates claiming victory when no such proof of entitlement to power exists. In saying this I want to make clear that, as you suggest, we should treat an illegitimate government as such. It is not We The People who have decimated the rule of law, though we have mostly passively accepted the consequences of this manifest injustice perpetrated upon the world by "those currently claiming to be the legitimate U.S. government."

Given that my "Blueprint" was written more than two and a half years ago, I have grown more pessimistic that we will see the reclamation of the voting process as the path to peaceful revolution. Alternatives toward this same end will be elusive until we see what we accept as our local government stand with the citizens against the higher levels of so-called government. Without support for our cause at the local level, we are left with no representation whatsoever. Before we can deal with revolution, peaceful or otherwise, our society is going to have to come to terms with being subjugated subjects of a fascist empire rather than free people.

Finally, you say it should be "clearly understood that any interaction with the police is inherently violent." What a sad statement of our current condition as a society. Your assertion may be true more often than not, but it is not universally true. I'm not one to be defending the job done by our local police of late, but I would encourage you to be more precise by avoiding such generalizations.

Welcome to the blogosphere. Peace.