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The Present State and Need of Civil Rights in the United States, Part Two

June 13, 2015 | Filed Under Civil Rights, Constitution, William M. Hart | Comments Off on


The Present State and Need of Civil Rights in the United States, Part Two

Lynching Niggers Just Like Grandpappy Used to Do, and Choose Your Poison
-By William M. Hart

II

Through early 2010, my best friend, Mahir, was undergoing another round of treatment for alcoholism.  He struggled with his illness for the eleven years I had known him, and suffered blood alcohol poisoning twice during that time.

He was a phenomenally talented drummer, and it was in that capacity that I first came to know him, as the drummer for my band.  He did things I saw no other drummer do, such as leaning into one drum with a stick to increase the head tension, changing the pitch, while striking the drum with the other stick— all on the fly in the middle of a fill.  He liked Buddy Rich and Phil Collins.

Mid-March of that year saw him in treatment once again, and on a day when we had made arrangements for me to come visit him at the rehab center that evening, he showed up at my door in the afternoon, drunk.  He had no insurance, and so was discharged early, as that facility is known to be in the habit of doing with uninsured patients.  He denied drinking, though he was obviously drunk, was asking to borrow some money, and wanted me to give him a ride to meet a couple of other fellows, friends of a friend (a direct descendant of the first settler in the town), who were looking for a new roomie, as they had recently lost a roommate, and were less than pleased at the prospect of increased expenses.

I refused to take him over to the apartments to meet the guys, because of his condition.  The deal seemed sure to fall through if they were to see him drunk at their first meeting (also, I didn’t know them).  I wasn’t going to give him any money, because I figured it would all go to booze, and he didn’t look like he needed the first round, let alone more.  After some forty-five minutes, I asked him to leave, and he refused to go.  I told him that I was going to call the police, to scare him into leaving, but that didn’t work, so I really did.  I can still hear his voice saying, “Don’t call the cops, man!” as I write this.  He left with a plastic bag of his belongings when he heard the dispatcher answer at the other end of the line.

The same thing had happened only two weeks earlier in the South Kansas City suburb of Belton, three days after he had been released from rehab.  He had a new girlfriend that lived out there, and he was at her place drunk one afternoon.  When it was getting close to time for her kids to come home from school, she told him to leave, because she did not want her children to see him like that, or to think of him in that way.  The police came and took him back to rehab that day.  He was there a week-and-a-half before the day he showed up at my door.

Two things are worth mentioning about this that fit in somehow.  One is that his new girlfriend has a brother that is a sheriff’s deputy in Cass County, where Belton is located.  The other is that Cass County is where Chris Koster, Missouri Attorney General, is from.  Koster left the prosecutor’s office to run for AG.

Mahir walked through two empty fields next to the apartments, one owned by my landlord (a former police commissioner of the town) and the other by his sister, Becky, and into a dry creek bed, part of a business property owned by Becky, to sit on a log and finish off his vodka while playing with his air pistol, the bright yellow packaging with prominent black letters laying right beside him.  The only thing that could make it more apparent that he had an air pistol would be a big sign with an arrow sticking up pointing at him with the words, “Air Pistol Here,” written on it.

The police showed up at my door, and were insistent that I provide them with my ID.  This took over ten minutes, because I couldn’t find my wallet.  It was in the laundry in my other pants.  I was able to find my passport though, and they were satisfied with that after much questioning.  I pointed in the direction Mahir had gone, and they followed much the same path.  One officer had already walked over there and back by the time I got done answering all the questions with my passport.

I went off to do other things around the house, as I was day trading at the time.  I was disturbed by the sound of a helicopter flying overhead, really close.  That is not unusual there, as the police station is a stone’s throw from the other side of the creek bed Mahir was at, but it typically lasted twenty seconds or less, and this time it went on for about five minutes.  Finally I looked out to see what was going on with this helicopter so close to the house.

There were six police officers standing over by the drop-off milling about, one of them wearing something similar to a home plate umpire over his chest.  I just thought they were having trouble getting him up out of the creek bed, hauling a floppy drunk up that incline.  I watched out of my living room window on and off over the next ten minutes or so as they stood around the bank, a few of them walking back and forth, the chopper still going overhead.

After walking back into the living room from the kitchen, I saw six officers standing in a line parallel to the bank of the creek with their pistols drawn, held at arms’ length.  I knew something was up then— something serious.  I watched more closely then.  After about five minutes, the shooting started.  They shot one at a time, from north to south, skipping over one, who was the last officer to fire, then began again north to south, stopping at the second officer from the northernmost.  I heard eight distinct shots, and I saw each puff of smoke hang in the air after each shot for a second or two before being snatched away by the wind.  I was about thirty yards away, judging from the size of the lots.

What I didn’t know at the time is that over forty officers had responded to the call.  There was another lot out front that was full of police vehicles, and over twenty people watching from behind the muffler shop two doors down.  This was the lead story on the local news for the next two days for all four of the local stations in the nation’s twenty-fourth largest metro area.  Most stations carried the story for a week-and-a-half; some up to two weeks.

The helicopter was a news chopper, KSHB 41, that caught the whole incident on high-definition video.  That video would be played over and over again on TV.  Mahir was pointing the air pistol at his head through almost the whole confrontation, and had fallen over backwards from the log he was sitting on.  They shot him when he tried to sit up.  Another thing the video showed was that nothing on the ground had changed from the time the police were standing around and milling about to when they drew down on him.

What came out later is that an Officer McLaughlin of the Kansas City PD arrived on the scene and set himself up behind a tree with an M4, speaking to no one after having arrived.  It is questionable of whether he was aware of the chain of command on-site.  What is certain is that he had no communications with them, other than being called off the scene one minute before the shooting.  A SWAT team with a hostage negotiator was on their way to talk Mahir out of the creek bed.

Officer McLaughlin was the first to fire, firing only one shot at Mahir’s head.  He was the only Officer to aim at his head.  I never saw nor heard that shot due to his position, to the south and in the ravine, and the noise of the chopper overhead.

Officer McLaughlin also misidentified Mahir’s air pistol as a Browning Hi-Power .45, the only officer to do so, even though McLaughlin was qualified in the US Army with that weapon, and was only some ten to twelve feet away.

Another officer at the scene had a TASER deployed, but opted but to use it.  That officer stated in deposition testimony that he felt that use of non-lethal force was unjustified.  If you understand that to mean that a police officer can arrive on the scene solely to kill, ruling out non-lethal force as a possible option, and remain in compliance with departmental policy in doing so, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  The relevant caselaw states that use of deadly force is permissible against a fleeing armed felon, but not against a misdemeanant, nor an unarmed felon, or an armed felon who is not actively fleeing.  (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985); Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)).  The fact of the matter is that Supreme Court precedence makes very little difference, if any, to the district courts to whom trying cases solely by the identity of the parties is quite commonplace.

In case you are unaware of this, when a police officer shoots and kills the wrong person in attempting to apprehend a suspect, no “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes has occurred.  In other cases, intentionally setting fire to a building did not amount to “excessive force,” but rather arson, as a police technique designed to apprehend a suspect, is “objectively reasonable.”  That is how much your rights mean to the courts.

The District Attorney of Platte County, Eric Zahnd, initiated an investigation to determine whether criminal action should be pursued.  Zahnd is a politically ambitious young prosecutor, in his early thirties at the time; the type to offer a tax plan while in office as the district attorney.

Threats against me and accusations that Mahir and I were engaged in some manner of criminal activity began to appear on certain websites during Zahnd’s investigation.  I contacted the website in question, and they were very helpful.  The threats and accusations were traced back to St. Louis.

Although myself and at least five other people had given statements to the contrary, Zahnd relied entirely upon the statements of Mahir’s ex-girlfriend, Shawn, to determine that the shooting was a suicide-by-police incident, even though Shawn was a mental patient on some pretty serious anti-psychotics and a ward of the state due to that fact.  Shawn was declared unfit to care for her own children five times over, and each of the five were removed from her home, and in five separate proceedings.  She produced a letter Mahir had written shortly before he went into treatment, stating that he “did not want to live like that anymore,” which Zahnd interpreted as suicidal ideation rather than an addict’s cry for help.  Mr. Zahnd was somehow able to ignore the fact that Mahir was seeking a place to live and making future plans with his new girlfriend in Belton in arriving at his conclusion.

This is essentially what it means when a prosecutor initiates a criminal investigation into criminal wrong-doing in a police shooting— to find a way to seize upon a needle, no matter how bent and rusty and unrecognizable as such, while ignoring the haystack.

I was terrified.

The police in that town have a reputation for taking people out to the woods and beating on them rather than making an arrest, as this method reduces the paperwork burden of the officers.  They also have a town drunk that will turn in anybody for almost anything, whether real or not, for half a pack of cigarettes.

I knew when the smoke was still hanging in the air from the shooting that I would have to leave that place forever.  When the time came for me to call my landlord, the former police commissioner, explaining to him that I felt it in the best interest of my personal safety to leave that place for good, his first words to me were, “I was afraid something like this was going to happen.”  Being a talkative sort, he explained to me more about the history of that police department than I care to recount here, but it certainly confirmed my suspicions.  He told me that there was at least one death which had occurred in the town’s holding facility that was fairly apparent it was police-induced.  He told me of an uncle of his that had been picked up for something in a neighboring town, and the police put a phone book on his head and beat him senseless— literally.  “He was never the same after that,” was how he put it.

Prior to that conversation, I had a long talk with the people at the civil rights division of the Dept. of Justice in Washington, D.C.  I learned that division had targeted twenty-three police departments nationwide for litigation due to civil rights abuses, and that Kansas City, Mo. was one of them.  At the time, eleven of the cities had decided to settle, and manpower was shifted accordingly.  They were waiting for phase II of the operation to take action against the remaining offenders.  At present, I do not believe that the funding and resources were made available to effect phase II of that operation.

It should be noted here that Kansas City, Mo. has it written into their city charter that they will not settle in a lawsuit.  The order of a court is the only available mechanism to enforce change in departmental policy.

The family filed a civil rights suit in federal court, and the case was assigned to a former prosecutor who made a point of referring to an air pistol sold in the toy department as a “weapon” at every opportunity.  The treatment center was off the hook, because the only thing the court would look at was the treatment he received while there, and not the terms of his discharge.  The court threw out the video from the news helicopter, and ruled in favor of the police at the summary judgment stage.

The court determined that the overhead view showing everything could not accurately depict what the officers on the ground could see, because there was only the one camera angle.  Think for a minute of how many camera angles are needed from security cameras to convict a couple of guys loading TVs into the back of a van.

Actually, there was a private detective hired by the family’s attorney who obtained permission from Becky to photograph and make measurements on the site.  From these photographs and measurements, a 3D model was constructed to illustrate for the jury the position and location of each person at the scene.  Such models are typical in vehicular collision cases to show the position and direction of travel of each motorist.  I had to do one such mock-up as a classroom assignment for a civil litigation class.  Our instructor was an attorney who is also a sitting ALJ and a sitting police commissioner, who said that he typically used a magnetic board with a diagram of the scene and little magnetic cars in such cases, having each witness get up from the stand to move the little cars around the board during their testimony.

Supposedly, Mahir was shot by Officer McLaughlin for pointing the pistol at the officers on the bank as he was attempting to sit up, hands in the air trying to regain his balance.  The model showed that he would have had to swing wide left to come anywhere near pointing the pistol at those officers.

Which explains why the officers on the bank, supposedly in danger of their lives, only fired after Officer McLaughlin had already blasted Mahir in the face with a riot gun.

If you take that to mean that any vehicular collision case is given more judicial scrutiny than a police shooting, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Payouts from insurance companies are meaningful to the court.

III

Through the summer and early fall of 2012, I was a piping inspector at a refinery sitting right on the shores of Lake Michigan.  There were some substantial deviations in production from the engineering specifications in my area.  It was my job and my duty to enforce those engineering specifications, and doing so quickly earned me a reputation as being a man who was “holding up production.”  There was once where my inspections caused a man’s certification to be revoked, and at least twice where my inspections saved a guy’s certs from being yanked.

Over the next three months, things got progressively more serious.  There were threats of physical violence against me, and I spoke with both my supervisor and plant security about this.  I was advised to not spend any more time alone with those persons than necessary (as if I needed told that), and to walk away without saying anything whenever that happened again.  I applied for a security pass to carry a camera onsite, not so much for the camera itself, but so that I could carry a smartphone to make a recording of any threats against me.  I had no intent of running to anyone with the recordings right away, but of holding them in reserve for a situation where it was my word against theirs, and my word would be deemed of lesser credibility on account of the words of two others.

I made sure that word got around that I had a camera pass.  I needed to in order to silence complaints about my job performance, that I was “holding up production” over matters which were trivial.  Nonetheless, those persons who enjoy communicating in threats of violence took it to mean that I had come up with a camera pass to document all these deviations from the engineering specs.  It got the threats to stop, for the most part, because they didn’t talk to me much after that.  The threats were much more open and aggressive at that time though, and I began to fear that I might be approached by a group in a parking lot or other isolated area.

About two-and-a-half months after that, I was terminated for insubordination on grounds of being in possession of a valid camera pass issued by plant security.

Now, security has complete control over all aspects of the plant.  They have even told the police to leave the site, and the police readily complied (the proper term for a police officer in a refinery is “ignition source”).  My parking pass was issued by security.  My gate badge was issued by security.  As an employee, security even has control of any photographs I might take of the plant from a publicly accessible street.  They’re not playing there.

Being fired for having a camera pass is very similar to being fired for having a preferential parking pass.  Very, very similar.  It’s simply not an offence, enforceable or otherwise.

Yet it was determined that it could be an offence specifically for my sake.  They just didn’t want a by-the-book inspector running around with a camera pass while they were busy trying not to hold up production.

I called the FBI Field Office in St. Louis from the parking lot of the refinery and asked to speak with the agent of the day.  Part of that phone conversation went just like this:

Self:    I’m a witness in a federal matter, a pending judicial proceeding, and I want to report witness intimidation.  I’m afraid to appear to testify.
Agent of the Day:    OK, what makes you think you’re a witness?
Self:    Well, I just got off the phone with an attorney from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office where the location of my deposition was the primary topic of conversation.
Agent of the Day:    OK, what makes you think you’re a witness?
Self:    Didn’t you hear what I just said?  I just got off the phone with an attorney from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office where the location of my deposition was the primary topic of conversation.  We were trying to agree to a safe location for me to give a deposition.  I had already spoken with another attorney on the case, who offered his office as a potential deposition location, and I refused, because his office is located in St. Louis County.  I’m afraid to even go there to give testimony.
Agent of the Day:    OK, what makes you think you’re a witness?
Self:    Do you even know what a deposition is?
Agent of the Day:    OK, what makes you think you’re a witness?

Your tax dollars at work.

Speaking with the St. Louis County police, I was told that Missouri’s witness tampering statute, R.S.Mo. § 575.270, is wholly inapplicable to any witness tampering which might prove effective in nature, due to the fact that, if a witness is induced to not appear for testimony, the person whose testimony is withheld is no longer a “witness” per se, the “witness or a prospective witness” language be damned.  Thus, the local authorities interpret the statute of the state to proscribe exclusively that witness tampering which proves to be ineffective in nature, while any witness tampering which is ultimately effective in any sense is perfectly legal.  Who does that legislature think they are anyway, trying to tell the police what is lawful and what is not?

In the matter at the refinery, I was represented by a trade union.  That my “union brothers” would threaten violence against me for adhering to engineering specifications, holding increase of production for the company to be of higher priority than the safety of the workers, is part of what it means to be represented by a union.  Monopolization of access to the steward or the Labor Board is part of what it means to be a member of a union.  Rescinding any manner of rights I may have under the law, and supplanting them with a sham “representation,” is a big part of what it means to be a member of a trade union.

Less than a year-and-half after my employment was terminated at that refinery, over 50,000 barrels of toxic waste spilled into Lake Michigan from that very facility I was at.  That wastewater treatment area was part of my assigned area.  Exactly what that stuff was is literally unknowable.  They have a good idea of what most of it was at the time it went into the lines, but the fact of the matter is that there are certain aspects of the refining process and certain organic compounds which still are not well-understood by today’s science.

As many other inspectors, I still have a copy of my inspection on hand that I keep for my personal records.  There are no records of the mis-marked piping which remains on that location, due to such records never having been kept.

Yet knowing that the federal authorities are happy to sit with their thumbs up their asses, anything to keep from doing anything, discourages any manner of report, whether of this or anything else.  Once again, I stuck my neck out for a people who were wholly undeserving of my consideration.  These days, the way I view the matter is that the people who live along Lake Michigan desire, more than anything else, that no manner of law should be observed.  I wish to accommodate them in that.  The sooner the whole damned lot of them are poisoned off, the better off this world will be for their absence from it.  Perhaps some people of some integrity might arise from among their ruins, while the possibility of it appears near-zero while they yet live.

Click to go to Part One: The Present State and Need of Civil Rights in the United States, Part One
————
William M. Hart is a journalist and author, having written for two newspapers and freelance material for a number of magazines, whose science fiction was first published at the age of 15 in Beyond Orion’s science fiction quarterly. A trades journeyman for nine years, and a paralegal, Hart is active in court reform, criminal justice reform, right-to-work advocacy, energy policy, and resource management at the federal and state level.

Originally from New Mexico, he is currently based in Central Illinois, where he studies film journalism and public administration. Hart is currently working on a book, a mixture of historical fiction and non-fiction with extensive legal analysis showing the origins of the principles of the American criminal justice system through a re-telling of the trial of former Panamanian head-of-state Manuel Noriega, and a documentary film project, How to Commit Bankruptcy Fraud and Get Away With It Scot-Free, the first of two planned (federal and state) dealing with public corruption.

Hart loves animals of all types, keeping three cats as companion animals, and gardening. He is very proud of his hollyhocks and honeysuckle. Hart is also known for his ability to snatch up a raccoon by the scruff of the neck.

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