PBSO deputy who shot, paralyzed unarmed bicyclist Dontrell Stephens given promotion

Adams Lin, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy who was captured on video shooting an unarmed bicyclist in 2013, was recently promoted to sergeant.

He also has a new assignment: field training, where he works with new recruits.

The promotion comes two years after he shot and paralyzed 20-year-old Dontrell Stephens, four seconds after stopping the bicyclist and getting out of his patrol car.

Lin said Stephens didn’t comply with orders to raise his hands and reached into his back waistband, prompting him to shoot. Stephens had a cell phone in his hands. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

Most of the incident was captured on video. When The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 aired it in May, it quickly went viral, getting the attention of national media.

PBSO cleared Lin of any wrongdoing in the incident.

Before being promoted, Lin was assigned to community policing. He was the department’s 2010-11 Community Policing Deputy of the Year.

Stephens has sued Lin and PBSO in federal court.

Rodeos, the evils of hazing and more taxpayer turkeys from Florida TaxWatch

Courtesy of http://www.webweaver.nu

When it comes to state budgeting, one man’s turkey is another man’s bottom-line, can’t-live-without necessity.

And the 2015 Florida TaxWatch list of budget turkeys hatched this last legislative session includes quite a few items it’s hard to argue against: a meals program for the elderly, for instance, and desperately needed infrastructure improvements in the Glades.

But as the TaxWatch authors take pains to point out, the turkey list has nothing to do with the value of the projects.

Rather, the conservative-minded advocacy group cites the fact that some projects duplicated others, or were stuffed into the budget at the last minute, or were never discussed in committee hearings. In short, they were added to the state’s multi-billion dollar budget without a whole lot of taxpayer scrutiny.

Among those that TaxWatch believes would have benefited from a lot more public discussion and a lot less haste:

  • $1 million for an anti-hazing course at a public university
  • $50,000 for outdoor fitness equipment at a Volusia County park
  • $154,000 for a Key West American Legion Post
  • $350,000 earmarked for two rodeos.

TaxWatch cites committee meetings where information wasn’t provided to the public until after the meeting adjourned – or in some cases, not provided at all. Just before the budget was adopted, they point out, an additional $300 million in projects were added.

Not that all of the turkeys survived.

Gov. Rick Scott chopped and chopped: The $350,000 for the rodeos was vetoed. So was the American Legion Post funding.

Then again, so was the $400,000 water infrastructure for the Glades.

Virtual visitation with prisoners: The jury’s still out

Face to face, sort of
Face to face, sort of

Virtual reality, meet prison life: Marketplace radio  reports this morning on the rising popularity of video visitations with jail and prison inmates.

On the surface, it’s a tech issue. But it’s also about whether the inmate will wind up back behind bars, especially if they are behind bars for a few years, as opposed to a few months. There’s evidence that recidivism is impacted by continued ties to loved ones and friends while serving time.

On one hand, the video conferencing will help families who may be hundreds of miles away from the prison. Or thousands of miles: Inmates are sometimes housed in out-of-state prisons, making a visit pretty much impossible.

And anyone who has ever wanted to visit a Florida inmate will wade through a thicket of dos and don’ts in order to get permission to visit, including things that probably wouldn’t be a problem with a video chat, such as wearing a tank top, carrying car keys and having a $20 bill in your back pocket.

On the other hand, there’s the human factor. Will a talk via screen carry the same emotional benefit as a talk behind a thick glass partition?

Juvenile Justice agency to county commissioners: We’re working on reported problems at local juvvie center

Christina Daly didn’t have to pen letters to each of the Palm Beach County Commissioners about conditions at the local juvenile detention center, but the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice chief’s two page missive might allay concerns.

“I can assure you this department does not tolerate conduct or an environment that puts youth at risk,” DJJ Secretary Christina Daly wrote commissioners on Monday.

And Daly ticked off a laundry list of efforts: an unannounced visit by both the Inspector General and the head of the agency’s Bureau of Inspections, a fresh round of surveys of teenage boys housed there, a facilities inspection, an assessment of how staffers are trained in the use of force and, of course, the request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement look into the facility.

Youth Services International, the Sarasota-based company operating the center under contract to DJJ, isn’t mentioned in the letter.

But it’s very much in the forefront of criticism. Legal advocates, including lawyers for teenagers housed in YSI facilities, have slammed YSI for several years. Only last year, a Florida Senate subcommittee took testimony into conditions at a Broward center run by the company.

YSI denied allegations of maltreatment and DJJ’s inspector general also found nothing to report.

None of that seems to have factored into Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana’s desire to see the county break its $1-a-year lease with DJJ for the center property and send the agency, and its contractor, packing.

Shelley Vana, paying a second visit to the juvenile center.
Shelley Vana, paying a follow-up visit to the juvenile center.

Rather, it was what Vana found in April when she paid a surprise visit to the 118-bed facility.

Then, this month, two teens were injured; one was hospitalized. In both cases, DJJ said, another teenager was responsible for the injuries- not a staffer.

But staffers have had problems, too, including two who faced misdemeanor criminal charges after arranging a fight between teenagers there.



What churches should do if they have a shooter

If the notion of children practicing “active shooter” drills weren’t enough, it turns out the federal government has already thought of ways houses of worship can prepare for the worst.

fema guideIn the wake of the December 2012 shootings of schoolchildren in Newtown, Ct., the federal government issued guidelines for emergency operations at schools and at houses of worship, including what to do if someone starts shooting at a church.

The Insider found it looking for news of the massacre of nine people shot to death at a Charleston, S.C. church during Bible study Wednesday night.

Among the recommendations for things to plan:

  • How to evacuate.
  • Hiding places “Optimal locations have thick walls, solid doors with locks, minimal interior windows …”
  • How to communicate – “Familiar terms, sounds, lights and electronic communications such as text messages or emails.”
  • How everyone will know when it’s safe to emerge.
  • Most highly recommended is sharing with first responders, letting police and firefighters know such things as up-to-date exits, alarms control and locks.

Lease could keep kids’ lockup here, despite criticism of conditions

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility

Severing the Department of Juvenile Justice’s lease for a kid’s lockup here may be easier said than done.

Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana would like nothing better than to see DJJ and the private company it hired to run a juvenile detention center just west of the Fairgrounds close up and go home.

Vana, wetter than a mad hen over conditions at the juvie jail, this week told County Administrator Bob Weisman to look for a way out of its contract with the state agency.

It’s the county’s land that the Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility sits on. DJJ leases it for $1 a year.

Weisman took a first look at the 1990s-era lease and wrote to the legal department that, “It seems to say that we cannot terminate the lease unless the termination is in accordance with law, but yet it doesn’t seem to provide a way that it could be in accordance with law, but then it says that if a court rules the termination was illegal, that we will pay DJJ for the value of the facility.”

“Makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile, DJJ has scrambled to keep up with criticism of the vendor actually running the show: Sarasota-based Youth Services International.

The state agency stepped up monitoring and it appears the teenagers will get milk or juice with a snack, not water. YSI ordered parts for broken plumbing and at least some kids got new shoes and socks.

Then, last month, in an out-of-left-field move, DJJ asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review what was going on at the facility, which holds 118 teenage boys, most of them in pretty serious trouble with the law.

YSI has been dogged by allegations of maltreatment for years. Critics cite a string of scandals linked to the company and its predecessor, including the 1999 collapse of a juvenile jail contract in Pahokee. And for years, company officials have insisted any bad employees have been fired and reforms adopted.

The problems just keep coming, though. Things seemed to come to a head last year, when a Florida Senate subcommittee on criminal justice agreed to hear testimony about a troubled YSI-run Broward center and DJJ canceled a contract with YSI for another center in North Florida.

But even as the troubles mount, so do the deals: According to DJJ records, YSI still holds more than $100 million in contracts to run Florida juvenile facilities.

FBI probe of hacking allegations centers on Palm Beach County spring training rivals

The St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros will be linked in Palm Beach County in two years as two of the four Major League Baseball teams that hold spring training within 15 minutes of each other.

But the FBI is already linking the teams for an entirely different reason.1998-Cardinals

The FBI and Justice Department prosecutors are looking into whether front-office officials for the Cardinals hacked into the computer networks of the Astros to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.

Jeff Luhnow
Jeff Luhnow

According to a New York Times story, law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

The Astros won’t start training in West Palm Beach until 2017 when the team plans to start sharing a $135 million spring training complex south of 45th Street.

The Cardinals and Miami Marlins share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.


Under the radar, secret NSA database open for business

phone-personThink the NSA is out of the phone record business?

Congress has forced the National Security Agency to begin winding down daily bulk of collection of billions of Americans’ phone call records, but that’s not the end of the line.

The NSA has sometimes used its daily dragnet of phone numbers in a way that links hundreds of thousands of innocent people to terrorist suspects.

That analysis has been placed  in a smaller database dubbed the “Corporate Store” – and there’s nothing in the new legislation forcing NSA to purge the records.

Once there, peoples’ call records, and ultimately, the course of their daily lives, can be charted by the NSA, the FBI, the IRS and even some foreign governments.

Here’s how it has worked. The NSA identified a number from its daily phone collection they believed was associated with a terrorist suspect. They collected and stored all phone calls made within five years to and from that number.

They also collected all phone calls  made by everyone who called the terrorist suspect’s number- and then everyone those people called as well.

A blue ribbon panel wrote that using this system, a single terrorism suspect could be quickly tied to 421,000 phone numbers.

Given that sweep, it is inevitable that people who had never so much as jaywalked would wind up “linked” to a terrorist- and their personal phone calling history tucked away for browsing.

If, for instance, you had the bad luck of ordering a pizza from  the same eatery a terrorism suspect did, then you could have  been linked to the suspect- and so would the family members and friends you called.

By one estimate, in 2012 alone, more than 100 million call records could have been collected and placed in the Store for further analysis.

Edward Snowden

Those searches didn’t happen very often, and after the Edward Snowden revelations, the White House limited their scope.

But that did not affect previous searches already squirreled away. And even limited searches still would net thousands of people not involved in wrongdoing.

NSA isn’t commenting on its plans for retaining these phone call records.

But with nothing forcing the Corporate Store to close for business, ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey said, “This NSA database may grow even more quickly than ever before.”

And here’s a closer look – The Post story on what hasn’t changed very much at all.



Feds demand Reason.com turn over info on blog posters

As it turns out, Reason has plenty of reason to be paranoid.
As it turns out, Reason has plenty of reason to be paranoid.

Maybe you can’t be as bad as you wanna be on the Internet.

Reason.com, the online magazine published by libertarian mothership Reason Foundation,  is on the receiving end of a federal grand jury subpoena.

The feds want Reason.com to provide information on the identities of anonymous commentators on a recent blog post.

Two or three of them had suggested shooting and/or tossing a certain federal judge into a woodchipper. Feet first.

In other words, typical website commentator blather for Reason.com, which seems to attract an inordinate number of ravings among its more thoughtful posts.

It is patently unfair: The website is filled with crisp writing and thorough analysis. (And I say this as someone whose reporting on prison privatization has been ripped by Reason writers.)

Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.com
Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.com

In this case, libertarian rock star and Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie blogged on the sentencing of Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbricht.

Ulbricht was a mastermind  of the notorious Silk Road website, a marketplace for buying and selling drugs. The judge gave him life. No parole.

Blog  commentators began weighing in on Gillespie’s post, and the harsh sentence. imagesThat was May 31.

On about June 2, a New York federal subpoena landed on Reason.com’s doorstep, demanding that the online magazine turn over identifying information on readers (IP addresses. Credit cards. Phone numbers, et al.)  who made noxious comments as part of “an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony.”

And to please not talk about it.

The subpoena seems to be aimed at determining whether a credible threat had been made against the judge.

The shooting/wood-chipper comments aren’t pretty. But they are absolutely in line with the typical blog give-and-take between journalists and readers, and blog readers and other blog readers.

It’s a rough and tumble world out there.

I, for one, can’t begin to count the times someone has invited me to go jump into a woodchipper.

A Reason spokeswoman said they would have no comment, “on advice of counsel.” There’s a call out to the feds. We’re still hoping it’s all a terrible misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, for an entertaining First Amendment take on this, seek out Ken White popehat.com. Among his pungent woodchipper observations: “Is A Reference To Fargo, On The F**** Internet, Something That Should Concern The Government?”


Three things you didn’t know about NSA phone spying

NSA headquarters in Maryland: Maybe your last call to the pizza delivery guy is stored here?
NSA headquarters in Maryland: Maybe your last call to the pizza delivery guy is stored here?

Tons of ink – oceans, really – have been written in recent weeks about the NSA telephone snooping program, better known as Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act.

That would be the section that the NSA used to justify collecting records of virtually every phone call made by almost all Americans since at least 2006; information on who you called, how long you spoke and when you made the call.

The daily dragnet is slowly coming to a halt since Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which ends mass collection of bulk phone data.

But here are three things that may have gotten lost in the buzz:

1. They really wanted to find you, too. It’s true that the NSA did not use its phone data for geolocation- using records to find out where a person was.  But that may not have been for lack of interest.  A declassified 2011 memo unearthed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation refers to both the Department of Justice and the secret court overseeing the NSA eavesdropping being apprised of an NSA trial run of a geolocation option.  It never got past the sampling stage.

2. They were not immune to software snafus. In 2009, DOJ admitted to the secret FISA court that a newly installed software search system had allowed some of the agency’s worker bees to “utilize the phone records in a manner contrary to court order,” according to a federal oversight panel’s report.

We don’t exactly know what that contrary manner is, just as we don’t know the names of the  “executive branch officials” who told the judge everything was just fine. We do know the judge was mightily ticked off and that NSA tried multiple times to patch its software- and failed. They finally just dumped out of it.

3. It was never just about phone records.  When an appeals court last month ruled that Section 215 was unlawful, it also pointed out that the issue at stake wasn’t only the government’s right to gather up phone records of innocent Americans and keep them for years on end.

“If the government (argument) is correct,” the court wrote, ” it could use 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including …financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e‐mail and social media information) relating to all Americans.”

So that’s the three things we didn’t know.

As far as we know.