Oklahoma Jail Guards Charged with Murder – Homicide

July 22, 2009

Two guards from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s staff were indicted a few months back.  They are accused of violating the civil rights of Christopher Beckman, age 36, by beating him to death, more specifically of using excessive force on him.

Detention office Justin Mark Isch and deputy sheriff Gavin Douglas Littlejohn are facing a possible death penalty under this indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.  Unless the Attorney General decides to seek the death penalty, the defendants will face life imprisonment or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

An autopsy of Beckman’s body showed he died from blunt force head trauma severe enough to cause brain swelling.  The medical examiner reported, “After extensive investigation, no consistent reasonable explanation for the decedent’s injuries has been proposed….The manner of death is considered homicide.”  Beckman died two days after his struggle with the two now-indicted jailers.

The indictment claims Isch used Beckman’s heat to open a steel door and Littlejohn repeatedly struck Beckman about the head and face.  The Oklahoma County Sheriff fired both men when the indictment was unsealed.  The Sheriff’s office issued a statement that read, “The OCSO is disappointed that these two former employees have found themselves in this situation.”

Notice how that statement puts a distance between the Sheriff and these two employees now as “former employees?”  They were certainly employees at the time of the death.  And notice the use of the passive voice about the men “finding themselves in this situation?   No mention of any wrongdoing, alleged or otherwise.  No mention of regretting the death, much less the alleged act of murder.  No mention that still another person has had his life taken while in the custody of the Oklahoma County Sheriff, this one making it more than 40 in number since January 2000.  No wonder the federal government moved all its prisoners out of that jail.

For whom should a criminal defense lawyer identify here?  Ordinarily, but not necessarily, the criminal defense lawyer can identify with the person accused by the authorities.  But here, the criminal defense lawyer is observing the accused who are former jailers, accused of killing an accused who was awaiting trial.

Christopher Beckman died May 28, 2007, at St. Anthony’s Hospital.  The state medical examiner’s office reported the death as a homicide in June, 2008, and the indictment followed eight months later. Defendants Isch and Littlejohn have not yet come to trial on the indictment.

At the time of the death, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Myers claimed Beckman suffered his injuries during a seizure while being transferred from his cell to a medical wing. Myers said he was being taken from the second floor to the first “when he fell face first to the floor and began convulsing.”  Then, Myers claimed, Beckman became “combative with officers at that point and suffered several cuts to his face.”  Myers said there was a video recording of the incident and said “at no time is there any evidence that any detention officers struck the victim.”

Obviously the Sheriff’s complete denial at the time of death was not enough to overcome the medical examiner’s report that concluded there was no possible way the victim could have died from anything but a homicide.  Obviously, the United States Attorney believed the medical examiner rather than the Sheriff.

Beckman was taken at the time to the medical wing of the jail, where he stopped breathing.  A doctor at St. Anthony’s Hospital wrote in this report that Beckman arrived at the nearby hospital, having been in cardiac arrest for 20 minutes according to the paramedics.  Beckman was in jail facing charges of Driving Under the Influence, Possession of Controlled Dangerous Substances, Driving Under Suspension, and Failure to Show Insurance.

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Police get special rights in potential Oklahoma City Criminal Charges

July 17, 2009

When someone is shot, the police naturally investigate right away.  And they will talk immediately to whomever they believe fired the shots.  That is unless the shooter is a police officer. They are protected by a 48-hour halo in which they cannot be interviewed about the shooting.

How many citizens accused of shooting would like this automatic protection? How about the pharmacist who is now charged with shooting the unarmed teenager who lay on the ground after a robbery-gone-bad?  Doesn’t someone in his position believe he is entitled to the same police officers are given?  In the pharmacist’s case, the video tape of the incident is more important than his statements, but his statements will still be used against him.

How many criminal defense lawyers wish their clients had been or would be given this kid-glove treatment?

“If it’s good for the goose, it should be good for the gander, “ Randall Coyne said.  He is a criminal and constitutional law professor at the University of Oklahoma.  “Why should the police officers, who are trained, be given more rights than citizens?”

One justification for the police policy is that the waiting period gives officers more time to sort through the emotional trauma of using force.  “It gives them time to settle down, get their thoughts together and give a complete statement,” one of their attorneys said.

Of course.  But wouldn’t that apply to any person who had been involved in a shooting?  Wouldn’t it be emotional for anyone?  Shouldn’t every citizen be given that benefit?

Oklahoma City’s well-respected Chief of Police, Bill Citty, tried to put the policy in context by explaining that all other witnesses are usually interviewed by homicide detectives before talking to the suspect.  If a 48-hour halo is not needed for suspects, it’s not needed for police officers.  If any who is suspected of shooting another person is presumed to be guilty, then police should be given the same presumption.  Don’t the police trust their own investigators to be fair?

The Oklahoma City Police Department points to other departments that employ the same 48-hour halo policy: El Paso, Texas, Fairfax, Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio.   But others do not: Tulsa, Denver, Colorado, Cincinnati, Ohio, Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Oklahoma City Police Department, as all police departments, investigates any shooting with an officer involved.  Only one shooting since the late 1980’s resulted in disciplinary action on the officer, and the review board that so found later reversed itself.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation does not follow this 48-hour halo for its agents or for any other police involved in shootings.  The O.S.B.I. has not had an agent involved in a shooting in anyone’s memory, but their agents assist local law enforcement agencies with police shooting incidents, and they attempt to interview the police officers immediately.


Criminal Defendants Wrongly Convicted by False Evidence—– More wrongdoings by Joyce Gilchrist

July 4, 2009

The ghost of Joyce Gilchrist remains with us.  Gilchrist is the forensic chemist who worked for the Oklahoma City Police Department who fudged, concocted, created and lied about evidence in order to help the prosecution wrongly convict several defendants.  One of her better known victims was Jeffrey Todd Pierce.  Gilchrist lied about microscopic evidence to get him convicted, and only after he had served 15 years in prison did Gilchrist’s wrongdoing come to light.  Gilchrist was fired, Pierce was released and received $4 million in damages from the City of Oklahoma City.

As the questions rose over the years about Gilchrist and her work, people continue to wonder:  Why did then-District Attorney Bob Macy continue to use Gilchrist as a witness to convict people, even after her fabrication of evidence and unsupported testimony had been called into question?  Why did Oklahoma County judges continue to allow Gilchrist to testify, even after Gilchrist’s employer, the City of Oklahoma City, was trying to fire her?

Of course Gilchrist has always denied all wrongdoing and claimed the City of Oklahoma City was racially prejudiced against her when the City fired her.  That accusation went nowhere in court.  Gilchrist has never admitted doing anything wrong despite a tsunami of evidence against her.

The latest case of Gilchrist’s malfeasance is the case of David Johns Bryson.  After serving 17 years in prison, Bryson has been released.  Gilchrist’s evidence against Bryson was reviewed by another expert, Brian Wraxall, chief forensic serologist at the Serological Research Institute in California.  Last November, he looked over Gilchrist’s lab notes from the Bryson trial and found serious flaws.  Gilchrist had received some of her training at the institute, and Gilchrist was as student of Wraxall.

Bryson was charged with rape.  Key evidence used to convict him were hair, blood and semen samples.  There was also other evidence linking Bryson to the crime, including eyewitness testimony and injuries to the attacker’s penis.   Gilchrist testified the hair, blood and semen were “consistent” with Bryson.  Better DNA techniques later developed showed the samples were not a match to Bryson, but other scientists concluded, based on a review of Gilchrist’s work done at the time, that Gilchrist should have excluded Bryson even before the 1983 trial if Gilchrist done her science correctly, regardless of DNA testing.

“Ms. Gilchrist failed to run a substrate or background control from the robe as she was taught in my laboratory, “Wraxall reported.

Gilchrist’s hair analysis was already discredited.  In 2001, the FBI conducted reviews of Gilchrist’s work and concluded the hair evidence did not match Bryson.  When asked about this finding, Gilchrist, in a deposition, said, “That happens all the time.  Hair examination is very subjective and experts may or may not agree on the conclusions that are reached.  So if someone else agrees or disagrees with my findings, I don’t put much weight in that, “she testified.  Do you think Gilchrist admitted at Bryson’s jury trial that hair testified was a “subjective” finding about which experts disagree all time?  More likely Gilchrist gave the jury the impression her findings carried the force of objective science, inexorable conclusions, undeniable fact.   But that was her testimony to get convictions.   Her later deposition was to save her own hide.

Whether Gilchrist was even qualified to conduct such tests was an issue in the lawsuit filed by Bryson.  Gilchrist’s college transcripts show she had some trouble performing academically in some of her courses.  She was placed on academic probation plural times and academic suspension.  She was questioned at her deposition about her sometimes sub-par performance at the FBI Academy as well.  For instance, she misidentified some hair samples on tests.  But she graduated from the Academy and from college.

Gilchrist at one point stated she regretted not expounding on her answers more in trials.  She did not specifically state she regretted putting so many innocent people in prison with her false testimony.

And, despite the criticism that was becoming more public, then-District Attorney Bob Macy backed her fully and continued to use as his expert witness.  She got convictions, so why quit?  Even after the Oklahoma City Police Department tried to can her, Mr. Macy wrote on her behalf and wanted to continue to use to get more convictions.  When he was asked about the falsification or tampering with evidence, he expressed indignation that anyone would question “law enforcement” or its motives.  In other words, just take our word for it and don’t ask any questions, exactly what the public did for too long.

It took the heroic act of U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson to bring Gilchrist down.  Only someone so respected as Judge Thompson, when he ruled so unequivocally and extensively about her mistakes, could call attention to her wrongdoing and stop her.  No state judges had the courage or the understanding to do it;  they simply rubber-stamped the prosecution to assist in sending one after another innocent man to prison.


Cheating Prosecutors May Face Rare Penalties As Conviction is Reversed and Justice Department to be Investigated

April 27, 2009

It is not unheard of for the prosecution to cheat, hide evidence, manufacture evidence and generally manipulate the justice system to achieve injustice.  But in the case of former United States Senator Ted Stevens Republican-Alaska, not only was the ill-gotten criminal conviction dismissed but the Judge has vowed to investigate the Justice Department.  This is rare on both counts, especially for a Judge to pursue sanctions beyond the routine tongue-lashing.

“In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case,” United States District Judge Emmet Sullivan said, as he spoke for 14 minutes with thinly-veiled anger.  The trial of the former Alaska Senator was held in the District of Columbia, where Judge Sullivan sits.   Judge Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted Senator Stevens.  They repeatedly withheld evidence from Senator Stevens’ lawyers during the trial.  The trial resulted in Stevens’ conviction last October for lying on federal disclosure forms about gifts and home renovations he received from wealthy friends.  The rules of federal procedure provide for the appointment of a special prosecutor for contempt investigations, but is rarely done.

Judge Sullivan, appointed Henry F. Scheulke III of Washington, D.C., to investigate contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department lawyers.  Mr. Scheulke is a former prosecutor and experienced defense attorney who oversaw a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and influence-peddling allegations in 1989 against former New York Senator Alfonse D’ Amato.  Scheulke will investigate six career lawyers with the Justice Department, including the William Welch, chief, and Brenda Morris, deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, an elite unit that deals with official corruption.  The other lawyers to be investigated for possible criminal charges are Joseph W. Bottini, James A. Goeke, Nicholas A. Marsh and Edward P. Sullivan (no relation to Judge Sullivan or to Brendan Sullivan, attorney for Senator Stevens).

The judge said the matter was too serious to be left to an internal investigation by the Justice Department, which had dragged its feet, he said, before looking into the misconduct.  He criticized Attorney General Michael Mukasey for not responding to complaints.  The said reaction of the Justice Department was “shocking but not surprising.”  Of course, this is the usual result of charges of misconduct by the prosecution: File 13.  Nothing ever happens, the prosecutors know nothing ever happens, so what disincentive is there not to do again.  It is similar to police who manipulate evidence: they only rarely suffer any penalties for their constant corruption of the justice system.

But Judge Sullivan did not let die the wrongdoing of these prosecutors.  He called on Attorney General Eric Holder, who dismissed Senator Stevens’ conviction on April 1st in recognition of his department’s ill deeds, to retrain all prosecutors in the Justice Department.

Some observers have remarked that, notwithstanding the wrongdoing of the Justice lawyers, there was a healthy amount of evidence incriminating Senator Stevens.  These observers suggest he has not been convicted, but he really doesn’t look innocent of wrongdoing.  Senator Stevens was defeated in his Senate reelection campaign days after the guilty jury verdict in this trial.

Regardless of the guilt or innocence of this Senator or a thousand other accused citizens, if the United States Justice Department, and its elite Public Integrity Section no less, cannot carry out its work in an ethical manner, our system of justice is corrupt.

During the five-week trial, the prosecution lawyers were repeatedly forced to admit they had not turned over materials to the defense.  Judge Sullivan even said then,“How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity?”  But the judge overruled defense objections, as always happens, and allowed the prosecution’s tainted case to go the jury.  Not surprisingly, the jury found the Senator guilty.  However, the surprise came when Judge Sullivan then threw out the jury verdict.  The still-further surprise came when the Judge gave notice that the wrong-doing prosecutors would not just go home to cheat again in their next trial.  This time they might have to pay some penalty for wrongdoing—for a change and for the better.  It’s about time.


“Drug Arrests” and Your Fictional Constitutional Rights

April 20, 2009

Police search vehicles every day on trumped up excuses and cover their tracks later.  Who cares?  Certainly not the citizens of the United States.  The protections citizens believe they have from the Fourth Amendment concerning unreasonable search and seizure simply do not exist in reality, on the street where the uniformed police always push the envelope in the name of “fighting crime.”

A pastor in Arizona was beaten by Border Patrol agents when they insisted on searching his car at a Border Patrol checkpoint.  The pastor thought he had rights protected by the Constitution.  The Border Patrol knew otherwise because they were more powerful and they could later justify pretty much anything they did because, no matter what they do, they are “fighting crime.”

Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, was stopped by Border Patrol checkpoint 87.5 miles from the Mexican border.  He was well within the United States.  When stopped, he refused to allow a search of his rented vehicle.  He had no drugs and no other occupants in his car.  That did not stop the Border Patrol, who used a drug sniffing dog, which, the Border Patrol claims, made a “hit” on Anderson’s car, thus giving them “probable cause” to search his car for drugs. When Anderson refused to allow a search, the police broke both front  windows, immediately began using a Taser gun on him and continued to so, bashed his head into the broken glass on the car window, dragged him out and shoved him on the ground and stood on his head, regardless that he never physically resisted at all,  As blood streamed over his face, they handcuffed his hands behind his back, put him in their trailer, and the officers came in to laugh at him.  Eventually the police drove him to be given eleven stitches but took as long as possible, with stops to exchange casual chat with some fellow officers along the way, before allowing Anderson to use the rest room.  This is standard procedure, in case you don’t know.  Police officers think it’s funny to degrade arrested suspects by making them wet their pants.

Anderson says the drug dog did not bark or give any other indication, but the Border Patrol insists the dog “alerted” to drugs in the vehicle.  Of course, no drugs were found in the vehicle, and we have only the Border Patrol’s word that the dog ever made any indication.  Some have claimed in the past that police goad  drug dogs to make a sign when the police want them to.  Then, the police can just point to the dog as though the dog is some sort of scientific instrument with objective reliability as the predicate for their actions.  But in many cases, as in this case, no one can say the dog ever made any indication at all.

After arresting him, the police told the bloodied Anderson this would never have happened if he had just answered their questions when they stopped him.  Anderson called them on their story switch and said “I thought you said you searched my car because the drug dog hit on it.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2000, in Indianapolis vs. Edmond that police cannot set up roadblocks with drug dogs to randomly search vehicles for drugs.   However, an earlier exception had been made for the Border Patrol.  The Court in 1976 decided United States vs. Martinez-Fuerte, there is an exception to this rule which allows Border Patrol the unique power to establish checkpoints for seeking illegal immigrants, allowing a secondary purpose of finding drugs.  Therefore, while ordinary police cannot set up a checkpoint with a drug-detecting dog within the Fourth Amendment, the Border Patrol is allowed to do so, and the Border Patrol is not required to have “probable cause” before using their drug-detecting dog on a vehicle.  Moreover, the Border Patrol is allowed to establish checkpoints up to 100 miles inside the United States.

There is another exception allowed for checkpoints that applies to ordinary police.  That is the checkpoints set up to find drunk drivers, which was allowed by Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990.

Anderson was pulled from his car by officers of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, tasered and bloodied by the glass the police broke.  He was then jailed overnight.  Certainly he is startled that the rights he thought he had, the rights talked about on television and in classrooms are trumped by the reality of armed uniformed police who are on a mission to stamp out crime, and who are given more and more leeway by the courts.

Who cares?  No one, apparently.  The United States Supreme Court has continued over the years to chisel away at the rights of citizens so as to make things easier for police to act with impunity.  The Supreme Court has even mused about eliminating the exclusionary rule, the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine, which requires suppression of evidence illegally obtained by the police.  You can imagine how illegal activity by police will flourish if that action is taken. The Congress has never given any indication it believes its citizens are at risk from police increasing intrusion.  It, like the press and most Americans, believes that American citizens are at risk from “crime,” not from the crime chasers.

Only the Bill of Rights limits the use of government power.  Police naturally push the boundaries of the permitted use of government power- always.  They think they are doing their jobs by impinging on the right of citizens whenever a criminal case might be made.  Once in a while police officers are caught red-handed lying, trumping up evidence or the like, just to make a case against a suspect the police “believes” really has it coming.  This corruption in the system is inherent where the word of police is taken and rarely can be challenged factually.  The more slack leash the United States Supreme Court gives them, the police will be able to make a few more criminal cases stick, of course, but the more diminished will be the rights of the American citizen.  The Bill of Rights becomes just a wall ornament.


“Safe” Taser Guns Cause Deaths in Arrests

February 26, 2009

The use of Taser guns is increasing. Police departments continue to buy more and more of them. Just in the month of December, 2008, police departments in Maryland, Florida, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania purchased new electric stun guns. Meanwhile, the police in Durham, N.C., plan to double their existing inventory of Tasers from 110 to 235, and a police chief in the Atlanta metro area hopes to add 1,000 more stun guns.

The Taser stun gun is the most common brand of CED, conductive energy device, which fires 50,000 volts of electricity through its target [person] from as far away as 35 feet. This causes uncontrollable muscle contraction and temporary immobilization.

Tasers are considered safe by the police, a safe alternative to guns or other types of force such as nightsticks, perhaps safer for the police than their having to use of physical force to enforce restraint in various situations including arrests of criminal suspects. “Tasers generate a lot of volts but not a lot of amps,” Deputy Sheriff Dan Deering, a Taser trainer for the Jackson County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Office, said. “It’s not the volts that kill you. It’s the amps.”

Others say the stun gun is dangerous. The City of San Jose, California, paid $70,000 to the widow and child of Edwin Rodriguez after police in 2005 fired Rodriguez with a Taser. Family members had driven Rodriguez to the hospital when he suffered an attack of his chronic schizophrenia. However, when he resisted the treatment at the hospital, police pinned him to the ground and stunned with a Taser, allegedly four times. He died in less than an hour, the fifth person to die in San Jose from being shocked since San Jose Police were issued Tasers in 2004.

Amnesty International reports that 334 people have died in the United States between 2001 and August, 2008, after being stunned by Tasers, including 55 people in California and 52 in Florida.

Police like to point out that the mere display of a Taser often accomplishes compliance. Likely this is true. But critics believe the very confidence police have in Tasers may cause the police to underestimate their potentially lethal power. According the Associated Press, the Taser Company claims their stun guns cannot kill. The Amnesty International report concedes that most of the 334 deaths were attributed to other medical factors such as drug intoxication, but the report included coroners’ conclusions that Taser shocks did in fact cause or contribute to at least 50 of the deaths.

Researchers commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also concluded that over time, Tasers can begin to malfunction and fire with up to 50 percent more power than their manufactured limits. The study found even stun guns firing at expected electrical levels carry some risk of inducing cardiac arrest.


Injustice for sale — Judges jail children for money

February 24, 2009

Two judges pled guilty in Pennsylvania last week to putting children in jail for money. The Judges accepted more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers to unnecessarily long sentences.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, pled guilty in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pursuant to plea bargains with the United States Attorney’s office. They admitted that they had accepted payoffs from PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare between 2003 and 2006. They are each facing up to seven years in prison.

The scam worked like this: The judges sent juveniles to the detention center so the company running the facility received money from the county government to pay costs of the incarceration. Thus, as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government.

The judges sentenced the children to more severe sentences that required incarceration in order to generate more money. Teenagers who were sentenced by Judge Ciavarella in juvenile court were sentenced to detention centers for minor offenses that ordinarily would have been classified as misdemeanors, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group. One seventeen-year-old boy was sentenced to three month’s detention for being in the company of another minor who was caught shoplifting. Others were given similar sentences for simple assault in which the charges stemmed form a scuffle in the school yard, and these would ordinarily merit only a warning.

Although the juveniles were guaranteed the right to a lawyer in court, many of them appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney because the probation service personnel told them that their charges were so minor that they didn’t need an attorney.

The chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick, estimated that of approximately 5,000 juveniles who appeared before Judge Ciavarella from 2003 and 2006, between 1,000 and 2,000 received excessively harsh detention sentences. She said the center intends to sue the judges, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare to obtain money damages for their juveniles victims.

Prosecutors were quoted as saying “That judges would allow their greed to trump the rights of defendants is just obscene.” That is always so, but it is especially so here where the defendants were so young and vulnerable. This is an extremely vicious crime because it strikes at the integrity of the system, but it appears even more vicious when considering how young lives may have been damaged so severely, taken from school and parents, put into a detention center where there are likely young predators waiting for someone to prey on.

The judges tried to hide their ill-gotten income from this scheme by creating false records and rouging payments through intermediaries. “Your statement that I have disgraced my judgship is true,” Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. “My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Conahan had no comment to make.

Ciavarella and Conahan were removed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as judges when the charges were filed in federal court, and the Supreme Court appointed a judge to review all the cases involved.

Again, we have an instance where innocent people are falsely persecuted. It certainly indicates the need for a defense lawyer who can be the legal advocate in protecting the rights of the accused, even for something that seems minor, at first blush. It’s very possible that many of these children sentenced did not have an attorney because it seemed their situation was such a minor offense but that just made it easier for the judges to get away with this injustice.

Consequently, it’s always advisable to seek advice from a competent criminal attorney, when you or your child is charged with any kind of criminal, even petty, act. Get educated on how to choose the best lawyer and discover how to avoid common mistakes by going to my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com