Legislators like pushing cyberbullying/cyberharassment bills, but seldom seem to consider how their badly/broadly-written laws will be abused. Like many legislators pushing cyber legislation, New Jersey politician David Norcross just wanted to help the children.
State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) said the bill is tailored specifically to protect children, closing a loophole in state law that prevents people from being criminally prosecuted for online harassment of minors.
"There have been cases of cyber harassment across the country that have taken a tragic turn, and ended in the loss of life," Norcross, who co-sponsored the bill with state Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson), said. "We have to make sure that our state laws reflect the reality that children are being harassed and bullied every day on the Internet. That means making sure those who engage in this conduct can be held accountable under the law."
The bill would ban people from using electronic devices and social media to threaten to injure or commit any crime against a person or his property, or send obscene material to or about someone.
So much for the "specific tailoring." Norcross wanted to protect kids from bullies, but instead it's "protecting" a cop from a local man with a long history of colorful speech and law enforcement interactions.
They’ve busted him for smoking pot, running a business past curfew, and not keeping his restaurant’s kitchen clean enough.
On Friday, however, it was Ed Forchion’s mouth that got him slapped in handcuffs, freedom of speech notwithstanding.
Days after Forchion stood outside his eatery and pot temple shouting “f— the police!” and calling one of the police officers a “pedophile,” NJ Weedman was charged with cyber-harassment and disorderly conduct.
The cyber-harassment charge, according to a copy of the complaint filed by Officer Herbert Flowers, was based on a Facebook and YouTube video of the confrontation in which Forchion is heard telling Flowers he’s a pedophile, while the disorderly conduct was for Forchion’s F-bombs against police “in public and social media forum.”
F-bombs are protected speech, so even the "disorderly conduct" charge is largely baseless. But the use of the cyberharassment law -- which carries a possible penalty of 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine -- is completely ridiculous. If Forchion committed no crime by calling Officer Flowers a pedophile in person, no crime was committed simply because this confrontation was recorded (by a third party) and posted to YouTube (also, apparently by a third party).
This is simply a bad law being abused because that's what bad laws -- no matter how well-intentioned -- allow people like Officer Flowers to do.
Officer Herbert Flowers has a history of subjectively interpreting Constitutional rights. He may have been upset by Forchion's F-bombs, but that doesn't explain his decision to punish Forchion for using his First Amendment rights. But Flowers has been down this road before.
Here's the conclusion reached by the New Jersey Appeals Court, at the tail end of a six-year legal battle.
[W]e conclude that a reasonable police officer in 2006 could not have believed he had the absolute right to preclude Ramos from videotaping any gang activities or any interaction of the police with gang members for the purposes of making a documentary film on that topic.
The unreasonable police officer was none other than Herbert Flowers.
Ramos is a documentary filmmaker. In 2006, he was working on a project about the emergence of gangs in Trenton. Flowers is a police officer employed by the Trenton Police Department. Ramos contends that he had five encounters with the Trenton Police during the time he was filming the activities of various members of the “Sex Money Murder” Bloods sect, one of the largest Bloods gang units in Trenton. Three of the encounters involved Flowers. He alleges that Flowers’ actions during those three encounters interfered with his constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, as well as his right to be free from unlawful police search and seizure.
One of those encounters:
On July 6, 2006, the Trenton police responded to a call from the Trenton Public Library to investigate a meeting being held by known gang members on its premises. One of Ramos’s sources gave him a tip that he should go to the library to film the events as they unfolded. Once Ramos arrived at the library, Flowers told him he was interfering with a police investigation, adding: “I am sick of you already, I am sick of seeing you, I do not want to hear you anymore, you are not allowed here anymore.” Ramos asserts that Flowers grabbed his video camera and put it in his car.Flowers then told Ramos: “If I see you again … I am locking you up and I don’t care what for … you better not let me see you again … watch what happens.”
The filmmaker was charged with multiple violations after his arrest by Flowers. Only one charge stuck (obstructing a sidewalk), which was downgraded to a mere city ordinance violation.
Flowers is using a badly-written law meant to close statutory loopholes that prevented adults from being charged for harassing minors via social media to punish an adult for saying mean things to him to his face. Because Flowers didn't arrest Forchion on the spot, this means he had to go looking for "evidence" of Forchion's supposed "cyberharassment," which the officer somehow feels is a better statutory match for verbal abuse he experienced in person. Sure, Flowers could try to sue Forchion for defamation, but that takes time and Flowers' own cash. Flowers would rather have taxpayers finance his vendetta and see Flowers face a possible $10,000 fine and a stretch in jail than walk away from the disorderly conduct charge he likely won't be able to make stick.
This is why we warn against the unintended consequences of laws like these. It's not because we don't care about bullied kids. It's because adults -- especially those in positions of power -- will abuse them to stifle speech. Rather than simply ignore the personal attack, Flowers chose to treat it as a criminal offense. The end result is that Forchion, a.k.a. "NJ Weedman" -- a person who runs a "pot temple" he apparently feels is beyond the reach of state regulation -- is now the least ridiculous participant in this confrontation.
Just another child on the internet not getting it... AT ALL!
Why many hospice doctors like me won't participate in legal physician assisted suicide
On June 9 California will join four other states — Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana — in allowing physician-assisted suicide. Meanwhile, my state, Arizona, and a dozen or so others are considering their own “right to die” laws. As a hospice physician, about twice a year I am asked by a patient to prescribe a lethal dose of a medication. Oncologists throughout the country report that up to half of their patients at least ask about it.
But even if it were legal in Arizona, and I knew a patient met all the criteria established by law, I would still not hasten his or her death. That would be my right as a doctor, and it will be the right of doctors in California as well.
Fairfax sobriety checkpoint nets violations
Fairfax County police officers from the McLean District Station conducted a sobriety checkpoint at Route 50 and Graham Road in the Falls Church area May 13 to search for drunk drivers.
Officers screened 629 vehicles and did not cite any motorists for driving while intoxicated. However, police did issue seven traffic summonses and recorded one criminal violation.
AP , WUSA 4:32 PM. EST May 23, 2016
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) - A former Fairfax County police spokesman has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of possessing child pornography.
The Washington Post reports that 50-year-old William "Bud" Walker pleaded guilty Monday in a Fairfax County courtroom to 10 counts of possessing child pornography. He was handcuffed and taken to the county jail immediately after his plea hearing.
Police began their investigation of Walker last year after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that child pornography had been uploaded from a home in Fairfax County.
Walker joined the force in 1999 and held several jobs in that time, including public information officer. He was also a school resource officer in South County High School from 2006 through 2009.
He will be sentenced in August.
Fairfax County: Supervisors Review Use of Force Guidelines
Public Safety Committee meets before June 21 vote: gun carry positions, release of information, body cameras discussed.
By Tim Peterson
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is standing by its Chief of Police and his department.
The board’s Public Safety Committee met May 24 to discuss additional questions that lingered or developed following its May 10 meeting to review recommendations for updating and improving the ways Fairfax County Police handle use of force situations and communications.
At that meeting and this latest one, the supervisors reviewed language that will become an action item — along with a matrix of recommendations, estimated costs and implementation statuses from the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and Police Executive Research Forum — for the board to vote on on June 21.
Deputy County Executive and former Chief of Police David Rohrer said he’s working on converting the text. It should be ready for the board to review, prior to the vote, by June 7.
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) began the discussion with a question from a constituent regarding how police are trained to aim guns at or around a person’s center mass.
Lt. Brian Ruck from the Fairfax County Police Department gave a brief demonstration of the “ready gun,” “tac [tactical] ready” and “modified ready” carry positions using a blue fake firearm.
“It’s all about angles, so I can see the offender,” Ruck said, while raising and lowering his arms slightly to differentiate between the specified positions.
Ruck also demonstrated how officers are taught to keep their trigger finger on the frame of the handgun and off the trigger until the moment they intent to fire at their target.
“They need to articulate an immediate threat, a reasonable threat,” he said.
Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully) expressed concern that a pilot for body cameras on police officers might not move forward until next year: “I’d hate to see us wait that long to do deal with this.”
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said one of the concerns with not moving forward yet had been legislation in the Virginia General Assembly on body cameras. “We don’t know what the state’s going to do,” McKay said.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) expanded that being on the “bleeding edge” versus “cutting edge” of the technology might not be in the county’s best interests.
Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) acknowledged her rare agreement with Herrity in this instance. “We could be bleeding a lot of taxpayer money if we get ahead of the law,” Gross said.
Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, chairman of the Ad Hoc commission Use of Force subcommittee, brought up the recommendation that every police officer be required to have an Electronic Control Weapon (or taser) on their person while on patrol. Currently it’s only optional, he said.
Chief of Police Edwin Roessler said the department is “moving toward that goal,” and confirmed that every officer certified to use the weapon may carry one at their discretion.
There was little additional conversation on tasers from the supervisors.
Merni Fitzgerald, chair of the Ad Hoc commission communications subcommittee, spoke about the need for a community engagement team as a formal way to make sure there’s “back and forth” exchange with the public and the police department.
Roessler responded that his department has recently applied for a Department of Justice grant that would help fund such a team.
Also during the communications discussion over release of information following an officer-involved incident, Smith said she was concerned about language for the action item. Roessler has said he needs up to 10 days following the incident to conduct a thorough threat assessment for the officer and his or her family.
The way the item reads, Smith said, the supervisors would be able to overturn that action by the chief and force the release of an officer’s name sooner.
“No one’s saying the board would overturn that,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said. But, she said, “the board needs to be given latitude to have a discussion.”
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, expanded on Bulova’s comment. “The public needs to know it’s our job to come out of closed session, get in front of a camera and say it was the chief’s decision and we’re backing up the chief,” Cook said. “The chief had a recommendation, we were briefed on it. It’s a public obligation.”
The next meeting of the Public Safety Committee is scheduled for July 19.
Annual police report highlights community engagement, department reform
By Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
The Fairfax County Police Department has undergone some significant changes over the past couple of years, as evidenced by the FCPD Annual Report for 2015, which the department’s public affairs bureau released on May 3.
After receiving recommendations issued by an ad hoc commission established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to review department practices, the FCPD adopted several new policies or initiatives aimed at improving relations with community members while emphasizing the importance of trust and transparency.
“The Fairfax County Police Department has engaged with the community to continually learn and re-engineer our policies and practices,” FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler wrote in the report. “In [calendar year] 2015, the Fairfax community and the men and women of the police department continued to achieve our vision of preventing and fighting crime, increasing a culture of safety by valuing the preservation of the sanctity of life for all, and keeping pace with urbanization.”
According to the report, crime was down slightly in 2015 from the previous year, decreasing from 38,561 to 38,306 crimes, a noticeably smaller drop than what the county saw between 2014 and 2013, when there were 41,704 crimes.
More than 25,000 of the incidents reported in 2015 were crimes against property, a category that includes arson, robbery, vandalism, and financial crimes like fraud, extortion and counterfeiting.
By comparison, there were 7,712 crimes against persons, which are calculated based on the number of victims and include assault, homicide and sexual offenses, and 5,388 crimes against society, which include drug, gambling, prostitution, pornography and weapons law offenses.
There were 13 homicides in Fairfax County in 2015, up from 10 in 2014, with six of those murders occurring in the Mount Vernon district, according to a more detailed FCPD statistical report for 2014 and 2015.
Three of the department’s 2015 homicide cases remain active, according to the annual report.
2015 saw a drop of approximately 25 percent in the number of victims of sex offenses from 2014. The most significant changes came in the Mount Vernon and Mason districts, where the number of victims dropped from 50 to 22 and 45 to 28, respectively, though the Sully district experienced an increase with its victim total rising from 12 to 25.
The number of crimes against property and society both stayed about the same from 2014 to 2015.
2015 also saw a decrease in the number of arrests, which have declined since 2013, despite a slight increase in calls for service.
However, one of the biggest focuses of the 2015 FCPD annual report is not crime, but rather, the department’s efforts to create what it calls a “culture of engagement.”
Concerns about the police department’s relationship with the community it serves cropped up following the 2013 shooting of Springfield resident John Geer by former Fairfax County police officer Adam Torres, who was fired from the department in August 2015 and pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Apr. 18.
Though Torres isn’t scheduled for a sentencing hearing until June 24, the county and police department have already worked to address the fallout from Geer’s shooting, which raised questions about the use of force and transparency regarding the release of information on officer-involved incidents.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, created a “communities of trust” committee in January 2015 to “advance collaboration, partnerships, and outreach between public safety agencies and the communities they serve.”
Composed of citizens, the communities of trust committee works with the FCPD, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, and the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, along with state and federal agencies, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system, and community and faith leaders.
The Board of Supervisors also formed an ad hoc commission to review FCPD practices on Mar. 3, 2015, and the commission presented 142 policy recommendations to the board on Oct. 20.
In addition to emphasizing the need for a department culture that values every citizen’s life, the commission recommended improved mental health and crisis intervention team (CIT) training as well as the establishment of a citizens’ review board and an independent audit position to provide oversight.
Though the Board of Supervisors is still in the process of reviewing many of the commission’s recommendations, the FCPD has implemented some of the suggested practices since the commission’s report came out.
Roessler said last year that the department has adopted the national decision-making model of policing, which teaches officers to assess risk, consider their options and develop a response strategy before taking action. The department has also revised its recruit training programs to focus on decision-making skills and mental health and crisis awareness before teaching weapons and marksmanship.
According to the FCPD 2015 annual report, community leader Mattie Palmore, an at-large commissioner on the Fairfax County Commission for Women, was responsible for mentoring recruits on “building trust and investing in the future of the communities” they will serve.
The department addressed the commission’s recommendations regarding mental health awareness and CIT training in part by developing the program Diversion First, which was originally spurred by the February 2015 death of inmate Natasha McKenna in a county jail.
Officially launched on Jan. 1, 2016, Diversion First allows police officers to bring low-risk offenders with mental illness or substance abuse issues to a treatment center instead of incarcerating them.
Roessler announced at a Feb. 11 press conference that the police department had diverted 103 people to the Merrifield Crisis Response Center in the first month of Diversion First.
The 2015 annual report shows that the FCPD launched 43 use-of-force investigations into incidents involving people suspected of having a mental health episode and received 2,838 calls for service involving people experiencing mental health issues that didn’t result in the use of force. It remains to be seen what kind of impact Diversion First will have on those numbers in the future.
The FCPD also spent 2015 heavily involved in the county’s efforts to combat a recent increase in the abuse of opioid-based prescription painkillers and heroin, participating in a regional Heroin Operations Team (HOT) along with several other agencies and jurisdictions in the area.
Fairfax County had 65 heroin overdoses and six heroin-related deaths in 2015, compared to 66 overdoses and 17 deaths in 2014, which rose from 41 overdoses and nine deaths in 2013. However, the FCPD annual report notes that these 2015 statistics are incomplete, since 39 cases are still pending with lab results that have yet to come in from Virginia’s state crime lab.
The annual report also covers community engagement efforts conducted by individual police districts as well as crime statistics for specific divisions, including animal control, the criminal investigations bureau, and the traffic division in the operations support bureau.
The report can be found in the “Inside FCPD” section on the FCPD’s website.