“A little overboard,” is how the police chief had previously described the officers’ actions. The decision to charge them came only after ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network demanded to see the video.
Two Elkhart, Indiana, police officers who punched a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times will face criminal charges — 11 months after the fact, and only after The South Bend Tribune requested video of the incident as part of an ongoing investigation with ProPublica.
The two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, will be charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, the police department announced Friday. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the case’s outcome, department spokesman Sgt. Travis Snider said.
The department also released the video of the beating after 5 p.m. Friday — more than three weeks after The Tribune requested a copy.
Five months ago, the two officers were disciplined for this incident. But they received reprimands rather than suspensions or possible termination.
Speaking to the city’s civilian oversight commission in June, Police Chief Ed Windbigler said the officers used “a little more force than needed” with a suspect in custody, and “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground.” But Windbigler offered no other details, saying nothing of the two officers punching the man in the face.
The video was recorded in the police station’s detention area after the Jan. 12 arrest of Mario Guerrero Ledesma, who was 28 at the time. The footage shows Ledesma, in handcuffs, sitting in a chair while Newland, Titus and two other officers stand nearby. At one point, Ledesma prepares to spit at Newland, and the officer warns him not to.
As Ledesma spits, Newland and Titus immediately tackle him, and the back of Ledesma’s head strikes the concrete floor. The two officers then jump on him and punch him in the face repeatedly while one calls him a “piece of shit.”
Two other officers walk up casually as the punches are being thrown. “Stop,” one can be heard saying, as the beating ends.
Ledesma pleaded guilty in July to charges of domestic battery and resisting law enforcement, and was sentenced to a year in jail, with 133 days suspended.
The Tribune and ProPublica have been investigating criminal justice in Elkhart County, looking at police accountability, among other issues.
A Tribune reporter requested the Ledesma video after noting a disparity between Windbigler’s public description to the Police Merit Commission — the city panel that exercises civilian oversight — and what the chief wrote in personnel records.
In a June 12 letter of reprimand to Newland, Windbigler wrote: “I completely understand defending yourself during an altercation. However, striking a handcuffed subject in the face is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot let our emotions direct our reactions or over-reactions to situations such as this.”
The personnel files provided by the police department did not include any response from Newland or Titus to the disciplinary allegations.
Windbigler ended his disciplinary letters to both officers on an upbeat note: “I consider this matter closed!”
At the June 25 meeting of the Police Merit Commission, chairman James Rieckhoff asked Windbigler if anyone had been injured in this incident.
“No,” Windbigler said.
Windbigler, explaining why he opted for only reprimands, told the commission that Titus “had no previous complaints.” He said of Newland: “Here, again, he had no other incidents in his file, so this is his first incident of any type of force.”
“Any questions on this one?” Rieckhoff asked the commission’s other members.
“Just a comment,” commissioner Thomas Barber said. “I like how you police your own.”
“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.
On Friday, The Tribune requested an interview with the chief, but Snider, the police spokesman, said the department would have no further comment beyond its announcement of the pending charges.
Neither Newland nor Titus immediately returned messages left at their department phone lines. Efforts to reach them at other phone numbers were also unsuccessful.
History of Misconduct
For Newland, the reprimand was not his first disciplinary incident. It was his ninth, according to personnel records gathered by The Tribune and ProPublica.
After being hired in 2008, Newland was suspended six times and reprimanded twice in his first five years.
In 2009, Newland was “very rude and unprofessional,” using profanity toward a member of the public while responding to a call, personnel records say. The police chief at the time, Dale Pflibsen, suspended Newland for one day. “You have been employed for just over one year and this is not the first allegation of you verbally loosing (sic) control towards the public,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
“I want to emphasize we will not tolerate this behavior from you towards anyone,” Pflibsen added. “If you plan on continuing your career at the Elkhart Police Department I suggest you seek counseling for anger management.”
The next year, in 2010, Newland was suspended one day for causing a car crash.
In 2011, Newland received a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. After arresting a woman for public nudity — she and her boyfriend were having sex in their car, in Elkhart’s McNaughton park — Newland sent her a friend request on Facebook and seven text messages, asking to “hang out.”
“Needless to say you attempting to establish a relationship with this female, a defendant in a criminal case, is unprofessional,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland. “This type of conduct will not be tolerated by you or anyone else.”
One year later, in February 2012, Newland was suspended again, this time for one day. Newland, while off duty, flipped off another driver — who, it turned out, was a jail officer in St. Joseph County, according to a disciplinary letter. Newland also drove recklessly, “brake checking” the other driver, according to disciplinary records.
“Should there be another sustained allegation of this type of misconduct on or off duty I will seriously consider your termination from the Elkhart Police Department,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
Exactly one week later, still in February, Newland received a three-day suspension for not turning on his video-audio recording equipment “while on numerous calls and traffic stops,” a disciplinary notice says.
Newland’s last suspension — and his longest, for 35 days — came in the summer of 2013. Newland failed to investigate a woman’s complaint of domestic violence, then lied about it to his superiors, according to disciplinary records.
When asked directly by supervisors if the woman had said her husband hit her, Newland “indicated that she had not made any such statement, and only that there was some pushing involved,” a disciplinary letter said. But “within minutes of the end of the interview,” Newland “returned and informed his supervisors that the victim had, in fact, reported being hit by her husband.”
An audio recording captured the woman telling Newland she had been hit, and that her husband did so in front of her children, a disciplinary letter says.
Newland’s failure to be truthful did more than violate department policy, Pflibsen wrote to the civilian oversight board. If a police officer testifies as a witness, authorities must disclose if the officer “has been dishonest in his or her official capacity,” Pflibsen wrote, adding: “This incident has been referred to the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a significant detrimental impact on their ability to prosecute this case.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Christopher Duntsch’s surgical outcomes were so outlandishly poor that Texas prosecuted him for harming patients. Why did it take so long for the systems that are supposed to police problem doctors to stop him from operating?
The pain from the pinched nerve in the back of Jeff Glidewell’s neck had become unbearable.
Every time he’d turn his head a certain way, or drive over bumps in the road, he felt as if jolts of electricity were running through his body. Glidewell, now 54, had been living on disability because of an accident a decade earlier. As the pain grew worse, it became clear his only choice was neurosurgery. He searched Google to find a doctor near his home in suburban Dallas who would accept his Medicare Advantage insurance.
That’s how he came across Dr. Christopher Duntsch in the spring of 2013.
Duntsch seemed impressive, at least on the surface. His CV boasted that he’d earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. from a top spinal surgery program. Glidewell found four- and five-star reviews of Duntsch on Healthgrades and more praise seemingly from patients on Duntsch’s Facebook page. On a link for something called “Best Docs Network,” Glidewell found a slickly produced video showing Duntsch in his white coat, talking to a happy patient and wearing a surgical mask in an operating room.
There was no way Glidewell could have known from Duntsch’s carefully curated internet presence or from any other information then publicly available that to be Duntsch’s patient was to be in mortal danger.
In the roughly two years that Duntsch — a blue-eyed, smooth-talking former college football player — had practiced medicine in Dallas, he had operated on 37 patients. Almost all, 33 to be exact, had been injured during or after these procedures, suffering almost unheard-of complications. Some had permanent nerve damage. Several woke up from surgery unable to move from the neck down or feel one side of their bodies. Two died in the hospital, including a 55-year-old schoolteacher undergoing what was supposed to be a straightforward day surgery.
Multiple layers of safeguards are supposed to protect patients from doctors who are incompetent or dangerous, or to provide them with redress if they are harmed. Duntsch illustrates how easily these defenses can fail, even in egregious cases.
At least two facilities that quietly dumped Duntsch failed to report him to a database run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that’s supposed to act as a clearinghouse for information on problem practitioners, warning potential employers about their histories.
“It seems to be the custom and practice,” said Kay Van Wey, a Dallas plaintiff’s attorney who came to represent 14 of Duntsch’s patients. “Kick the can down the road and protect yourself first, and protect the doctor second and make it be somebody else’s problem.”
It took more than six months and multiple catastrophic surgeries before anyone reported Duntsch to the state medical board, which can suspend or revoke a doctor’s license. Then it took almost another year for the board to investigate, with Duntsch operating all the while.
When Duntsch’s patients tried to sue him for malpractice, many found it almost impossible to find attorneys. Since Texas enacted tort reform in 2003, reducing the amount of damages plaintiffs could win, the number of malpractice payouts per year has dropped by more than half.
Duntsch’s attorney did not allow him to be interviewed for this story. Representatives from one hospital where he worked also would not respond to questions. Two more facilities said they could not comment on Duntsch because their management has changed since he was there, and a fourth has closed.
In the end, it fell to the criminal justice system, not the medical system, to wring out a measure of accountability for Duntsch’s malpractice.
The case was covered intensely by local and state media outlets. D Magazine, Dallas’ monthly glossy, published a cover story in 2016 with the headline “Dr. Death”; the nickname stuck.
Last year, Duntsch was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, becoming the first doctor in the nation to meet such a fate for his practice of medicine.
“The medical community system has a problem,” Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Martin said in a press conference after the verdict. “But we were able to solve it in the criminal courthouse.”
Glidewell was the last patient Duntsch operated on before being stripped of his license to practice medicine.
According to doctors who reviewed the case, Duntsch mistook part of his neck muscle for a tumor and abandoned the operation midway through — after cutting into Glidewell’s vocal cords, puncturing an artery, slicing a hole in his esophagus, stuffing a sponge into the wound and then sewing Glidewell up, sponge and all.
Glidewell spent four days in intensive care and endured months of rehabilitation for the wound to his esophagus. To this day, he can only eat food in small bites and has nerve damage. “He still has numbness in his hand and in his arm,” said his wife, Robin. “He basically can’t really feel things when he’s holding them in his fingers.”
Neither Glidewell, nor the prosecutors, nor even Duntsch’s own attorneys said they thought his outlandish case had been a wake-up call for the system that polices doctors, however.
“Nothing has changed from when I picked Duntsch to do my surgery,” Glidewell said. “The public is still limited to the research they can do on a doctor.”
For Duntsch, the path into medicine was unconventional and, perhaps, a reflection of his tendency to fixate on unlikely goals.
The first of these had been college football. Duntsch’s father had been a gridiron standout in Montana and Duntsch, though not a particularly talented athlete, was determined to follow in those footsteps. He trained hour after hour on his own and played linebacker on his high school team in Memphis, Tennessee. Classmates remember him as a turbine of sheer determination.
“He had his goal, his sight on a goal and whatever it took to get there,” said one classmate, who did not want to be named. “He wanted to go to college and play, and I can recall he was like 180 pounds and said, ‘I need to get to 220’ in order to be a linebacker at Colorado or Colorado State.”
He did get a football scholarship, but it was to Millsaps College in Mississippi. He yearned to transfer and play linebacker for a Division I team. He set his sights on the Colorado State Rams his sophomore year and made it as one of the few walk-on players. Chris Dozois, a fellow linebacker with the Rams, recalled Duntsch struggling, even with basic drills, but begging to run them over and over.
“He’d be, ‘Coach, I promise I can get this, let me do it again.’ He’d go through; he’d screw it up again,” Dozois said. “I gathered very quickly that everything that he had accomplished in sports had come with the sweat equity. When people said, ‘You weren’t going to be good enough,’ he outworked that and he made it happen.”
Homesick, Duntsch left Colorado after a year and transferred again to what was then Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis. He had hoped to play football, but he tearfully told Dozois his multiple transfers had taken away his eligibility.
It was then, Dozois recalled, that Duntsch set his sights on his next goal: to be a doctor. And not just any doctor — a neurosurgeon, operating on injured backs and necks.
After getting his undergraduate degree in 1995, Duntsch enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Memphis College of Medicine, in an ambitious program to earn both an M.D. and a Ph.D.
As part of the program, he worked in a research lab, studying the origins of brain cancer and the various uses of stem cells. For a time, after he earned his dual degrees in 2001 and 2002, it seemed he might make a career in biotechnology rather than treating patients.
As he did his surgical residency, Duntsch teamed up with two Russian scientists, recruited by the University of Tennessee, to explore the commercial potential of stem cells to revitalize ailing backs. They patented technology to obtain and grow disk stem cells, and in 2008, they launched a company, DiscGenics, to develop and sell such products. Two of Duntsch’s supervisors from the university were among the first investors.
While Duntsch appeared to be thriving during these years, more unsavory aspects of his life simmered below the surface.
In sworn testimony from 2014, an ex-girlfriend of one of his closest friends described a drug-fueled, all-night birthday celebration for Duntsch about midway through his residency. Revelers drank and used cocaine and pills, she said. At dawn, Duntsch slipped on his white coat and headed for rounds at the hospital.
“Most people, when they go binge all night long, they don’t function the next day to go to work,” she said in her deposition. “After you’ve spent a night using cocaine, most people become paranoid and want to stay in the house. He was totally fine going to work.”
One of the early investors in DiscGenics, Rand Page, said he was initially impressed with how Duntsch presented himself and the company, but as time passed, Page became wary of his new business partner.
“We would meet in the mornings, and he would be mixing a vodka orange juice to start off the day,” Page said. Once, he stopped by Duntsch’s house to pick up some paperwork. He opened a desk drawer to find a mirror with cocaine and a rolled-up dollar bill sitting on top of it.
Ultimately, Duntsch was forced out of DiscGenics and his partners and investors sued him over money and stock. (Representatives of DiscGenics declined to be interviewed for this story.)
The University of Tennessee said it could not comment on Duntsch, citing the confidentiality and privacy of medical students’ records, but Dr. Frederick Boop, chief of neurosurgery at the hospital where Duntsch did his residency, appears to have known about Duntsch’s substance abuse.
In a 2012 phone call recorded by a Texas doctor who contacted Boop because he was alarmed by Duntsch’s surgical errors, Boop acknowledged that an anonymous woman had filed a complaint against Duntsch, saying he was using drugs before seeing patients.
In the phone conversation, Boop said university officials had asked Duntsch to take a drug test, but he had avoided it, disappearing for several days. When he returned, he was sent to a program for impaired physicians and closely supervised for the remainder of his surgical training, Boop told the Texas doctor. (An attorney for the University of Tennessee said Boop would not respond to questions for this story.)
It’s not clear how much training Duntsch actually received, however.
After his arrest, the Dallas district attorney’s office subpoenaed every hospital on Duntsch’s CV for records of his surgeries, including those during his residency and subsequent one-year fellowship.
According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a neurosurgery resident does about 1,000 operations during training. But according to records gathered by the DA, by the time Duntsch finished his residency and fellowship, he had operated fewer than 100 times.
Despite what Duntsch had told friends when he headed off to medical school, Page said Duntsch had staked his fortune on being a businessman, not a doctor.
“I don’t think his plan was ever to become a surgeon,” he said. When Duntsch was kicked out of DiscGenics, “I think the decision was made for him that he was going to have to enter into the medical community to support himself.”
Duntsch’s first job as a practicing physician was at the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in the affluent Dallas suburb of Plano, which hired him in the summer of 2011, when he also received privileges to operate at Baylor Regional Medical Center.
The hospital welcomed Duntsch with a $600,000 advance. While no one from the practice agreed to be interviewed, they sent an email describing the recommendations they had gotten from Duntsch’s supervisors at the University of Tennessee medical school in Memphis.
“We were told Duntsch was one of the best and smartest neurosurgeons they ever trained, as they went on at length about his strengths,” they said in the email. “When asked about Dr. Duntsch’s weaknesses or areas for improvement, the supervising physician communicated that the only weakness Duntsch had was that he took on too many tasks for one person.”
In 2010, Boop faxed a recommendation for Duntsch to Baylor-Plano, checking off “good” or “excellent” in boxes asking about his skills and noting, “Chris is extremely bright and possibly the hardest working person I have ever met.” Another supervisor, Dr. Jon Robertson, who was an old family friend of the Duntsches and an investor in DiscGenics, noted on his recommendation that Duntsch had an “excellent work ethic.” (A University of Tennessee attorney said Robertson could not respond to questions.)
A vascular surgeon who operated at Baylor-Plano, Dr. Randall Kirby, said he met Duntsch soon after he started and found him to be an arrogant know-it-all.
“I would see him maybe once a week at the scrub sinks or in the doctor’s lounge,” Kirby said. “He is among giants up there, and he was trying to tell me over and over again how most of the spine surgery here in Dallas was being done inappropriately and that he was going to clean this town up.”
Duntsch lasted only a few months at the spine institute, not because his patients had complications, but because of a falling out with the other doctors over whether he was fulfilling his obligations.
One weekend in September 2011, Kirby said, Duntsch was supposed to be taking care of a patient. He went to Las Vegas instead. One of the partners, Dr. Michael Rimlawi, “was notified by the administration that the patient wasn’t getting rounded on, and Dr. Rimlawi then dismissed Dr. Duntsch after that,” Kirby said. (Rimlawi declined to comment for this story.)
Nonetheless, Duntsch still had privileges at Baylor-Plano, and on Dec. 30, 2011, he operated on a man named Lee Passmore.
At the time, Passmore was an investigator in the Collin County Medical Examiner’s office, just north of Dallas. He had undergone successful back surgery once before, but the pain had returned. Passmore’s pain specialist told him he didn’t have a back surgeon to whom he routinely referred patients, but that he’d gone to lunch recently with one who “seemed like a guy that knew what he was talking about,” Passmore recalled in court testimony.
Vascular surgeon Mark Hoyle assisted with the operation. In later testimony, he said he watched in alarm as Duntsch began to cut out a ligament around the spinal cord not typically disturbed in such procedures. Passmore started bleeding profusely, so much so that the operating field was submerged in a lake of red. Duntsch not only misplaced hardware in Passmore’s spine, but he stripped the screw so it could not be moved, Hoyle testified. At one point, Hoyle said, he either grabbed Duntsch’s scalpel or blocked the incision — he could not remember which — to keep Duntsch from continuing the procedure. Then Hoyle said he left the operating room and vowed never to work with Duntsch again. (In response to a request for comment, Hoyle sent a note saying he was through talking about Duntsch.)
Passmore did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Passmore has testified that he lives with chronic pain and has trouble walking as a result of Duntsch’s errors.
The next patient Duntsch operated on was Barry Morguloff.
Morguloff ran a pool service company. He had worn out his back working in his father’s import business, helping to unload trucks. “It took a toll on my back even with back supports and exercise and a strong core,” Morguloff said. His pain returned after an earlier back surgery, but the surgeon recommended exercise and weight loss, not another procedure.
A pain specialist gave Morguloff Duntsch’s card.
“Everything that I read when we first got his card — outstanding reviews, people loved him. I read everything I could about this guy,” Morguloff said. He set up an appointment and found himself impressed by Duntsch’s easy confidence.
“Phenomenal, great guy, loved him,” Morguloff recalled. Most importantly, he added, “I was in pain and somebody, a neurosurgeon, said, ‘I can fix you.’”
His surgery, an anterior lumbar spinal fusion, took place on Jan. 11, 2012. At the request of a head-and-neck surgeon also on the case, the vascular surgeon assisting Duntsch was Kirby. Kirby said it should have been a routine case.
“In the spectrum of what a neurosurgeon does for a living, doing an anterior lumbar fusion procedure’s probably the easiest thing that they do on a daily basis,” he said.
But Duntsch quickly got into trouble. Instead of using a scalpel, he tried to pull Morguloff’s problem disk out with a grabbing instrument that could damage the spine. Kirby said he argued with Duntsch, even offering to take over, but Duntsch insisted he knew what he was doing. Kirby left the room.
Morguloff awoke in excruciating pain.
His previous surgeon testified at Duntsch’s trial that the procedure had left bone fragments in Morguloff’s spinal canal. The surgeon said he repaired what damage he could, but Morguloff still walks with a cane. As scar tissue builds up, his pain will worsen and his range of motion will decrease. One day, he will likely be in a wheelchair.
“As time goes on, the scar tissue and everything builds up, and I lose more and more function of that left side,” he said. “I do my best to stay active. But some days I just can’t get moving. The pain is continuous.”
Soon after the Morguloff surgery, Duntsch took on a patient who was also an old friend.
Jerry Summers had played football with Duntsch in high school and helped with logistics at the research lab during his residency. When Duntsch took the job in Dallas, he asked Summers to move with him and help set up his practice. They lived in a downtown luxury high-rise while Duntsch shopped for a house.
In a deposition he gave later to the district attorney, Summers said he asked Duntsch to operate on him because he had chronic pain from a high school football injury that had gotten worse after a car accident. After the February 2012 surgery, however, Summers couldn’t move from the neck down.
According to doctors who later reviewed the case, Duntsch had damaged Summers’ vertebral artery, causing it to bleed almost uncontrollably. To stop the bleeding, Duntsch packed the space with so much anticoagulant that it squeezed Summers’ spine.
For days after the operation, Summers lay in the ICU, descending into a deep depression. “Jerry was calm with Chris,” said Jennifer Miller, then Summers’ girlfriend, “but all Jerry would say to me is: ‘I want to die. Kill me. Kill me. I want to die.’”
One morning, Summers began screaming and told several nurses that he and Duntsch had stayed up the night before the surgery doing eight-balls of cocaine. In truth, the night before the surgery Summers and Miller had dinner at a local restaurant and watched the University of Memphis basketball team play Southern Mississippi on the bar TV.
In his 2017 deposition, Summers acknowledged he made up the pre-surgery cocaine binge because he felt Duntsch had abandoned him, as both his surgeon and his friend.
“I was just really mad and hollering and wanting him to be there,” Summers said. “And so I made a statement that was not something that was necessarily true. … The statement was only made so that he might hear it and go, ‘Let me get my ass down there.’”
Baylor officials took Summers’ accusation seriously and ordered Duntsch to take a drug test. As at the University of Tennessee, he stalled at first, telling administrators he got lost on the way to the lab. He passed a separate psychological evaluation and, after three weeks, was allowed to operate again, but he was told to stick to relatively minor procedures.
His first patient after his return was elementary school teacher Kellie Martin, who had a compressed nerve from falling off a ladder as she fetched Christmas decorations from her attic. During the surgery, records show, Martin’s blood pressure inexplicably plummeted.
As she regained consciousness after the surgery, the nurses tending to Martin testified that she began to slap and claw at her legs, which had turned a splotchy, mottled color. She became so agitated the staff had to sedate her. She never reawakened. An autopsy would later find that Duntsch had cut a major vessel in her spinal cord, and within hours, Martin bled to death.
Baylor-Plano again ordered Duntsch to take a drug test. The first screening came back diluted with tap water, but a second, taken a few days later, came up clean. Hospital administrators also organized a comprehensive review of Duntsch’s cases, after which they determined that his days at the facility were over.
But — importantly — they did not fire him outright. Instead, he resigned, leaving on April 20, 2012, with a lawyer-negotiated letter saying, “All areas of concern with regard to Christopher D. Duntsch have been closed. As of this date, there have been no summary or administrative restrictions or suspension of Duntsch’s medical staff membership or clinical privileges during the time he has practiced at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano.”
Since Duntsch’s departure was technically voluntary and his leave had been for less than 31 days, Baylor-Plano was under no obligation to report him to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
The databank, which was established in 1990, tracks malpractice payouts and adverse actions taken against doctors, such as being fired, barred from Medicare, handed a long suspension, or having a license suspended or revoked.
The information isn’t available to the public or other doctors, but hospital administrators have access to the databank and are supposed to use it to make sure problem doctors can’t shed their pasts by moving from state to state or hospital to hospital. Robert Oshel, a patient safety advocate and former associate director of the databank, says that hospitals are required to check all applicants for clinical privileges and once every two years for everyone who has clinical privileges.
Many hospitals, however, hesitate to submit reports to the databank, worrying that doing so may hurt doctors’ job prospects or even prompt lawsuits.
“What happens sometimes is that doctors are allowed to resign in lieu of discipline so that the hospital can protect its perceived legal liability from the doctor,” said Van Wey, the Dallas trial lawyer. “If Dr. Duntsch was unable to get privileges at other hospitals, theoretically Dr. Duntsch could have sued Baylor and said: ‘Look, I could be making $2 million a year here. … You owe me $2 million for the rest of my life.’”
According to a report by Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, about half the hospitals in the country had never reported a doctor to the databank by 2009. A more recent analysis didn’t find much change, said Dr. Sid Wolfe, a founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.
Despite his string of problems at Baylor-Plano, Duntsch also wasn’t reported to the Texas Medical Board, the state’s main purveyor of doctor discipline. Such boards often move slowly, but if hospital officials submit material they’ve gathered to justify letting a doctor go, boards can act to protect patients from imminent harm.
“Had Baylor’s action been reported appropriately, I would anticipate the board would have met within days to have an immediate suspension,” said Dr. Allan Shulkin, a Dallas pulmonologist who was on the medical board in 2012.
The board would still have conducted an investigation, but Duntsch would not have been allowed to operate while it was going on, Shulkin said. He was visibly angered by Baylor-Plano’s failure to report. “What’s the worst that can happen, a lawsuit?” he said. “Come on. These are people dying, and we’re stopping because you’re afraid of a lawsuit?”
Two years after Duntsch left Baylor-Plano, the hospital’s decision not to report its review of his work or its results prompted an investigation by state health authorities. The hospital was hit with a violation and fined $100,000 in December 2014, but a year later, the citation and penalty were withdrawn. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission would not explain why, saying the records were confidential.
Hospital officials declined to be interviewed for this story, submitting a written statement instead.
“Our primary concern, as always, is with patients,” it said. “Out of respect for the patients and families involved, and the privileged nature of a number of details, we must continue to limit our comments. There is nothing more important to us than serving our community through high-quality, trusted healthcare.”
Duntsch’s next stop was Dallas Medical Center, which sits outside Dallas’ northern edge in the city of Farmers Branch. Baylor-Plano officials might have thought any future employer would contact them before hiring him and they could share information confidentially, but Dallas Medical Center granted Duntsch temporary privileges while its reference checks were still going on.
On July 24, 2012, Duntsch operated on Floella Brown, 64, a banker about to retire after a long career. She had come to Duntsch for cervical spine surgery to ease her worsening neck and shoulder pain.
About a half hour into Brown’s surgery, Duntsch started to complain that he was having trouble seeing her spine.
“He was saying: ‘There’s so much blood I can’t see. I can’t see this,’” said Kyle Kissinger, an operating room nurse. He kept telling the scrub tech “’suck more, suck more. Get that blood out of there. I can’t see.’ That’s really concerning to me because, not only that he can’t do it correctly when he can’t see that but, why is it still bleeding?”
Brown bled so much that blood was saturating the blue draping around her body and dripping onto the floor. The nursing staff put down towels to soak it up.
After the operation, Brown woke up and seemed fine, but early the next morning she lost consciousness. Pressure was building inside her brain for reasons that were unclear at the time.
That same morning — with Brown still in the ICU — Duntsch took another patient into surgery.
The patient’s name was Mary Efurd. She was an active 71-year-old who’d sought Duntsch’s help because back pain was keeping her off her treadmill.
Duntsch arrived at the hospital about 45 minutes after Efurd’s surgery had been set to start, Kissinger said. He spotted a hole in Duntsch’s scrubs. “It’s on the butt cheek of his scrubs. He didn’t wear underwear. That’s why it really shined down to me,” Kissinger said. The nurse realized he’d seen that hole for three straight days — Duntsch apparently hadn’t changed his scrubs all week. Kissinger also noticed that Duntsch had pinpoint pupils and hardly seemed to blink.
When Duntsch arrived, the staff told him that Brown, his patient from the day before, was in critical condition.
Soon after beginning Efurd’s surgery, Duntsch turned to Kissinger and told him to let the front desk know he would be performing a procedure on Brown called a craniotomy, cutting a hole in her skull to relieve the pressure in her brain. Problem was, Dallas Medical Center did not perform those, or even have the proper equipment to do them.
As he operated on Efurd, Duntsch quarreled first with Kissinger and later with his supervisors, insisting on a craniotomy for Brown, according to court testimony. All the while, the operating room staff questioned whether Duntsch was putting hardware into Efurd in the right places and noticed he kept drilling and removing screws.
In the end, Duntsch did not perform a craniotomy on Brown. She was moved to another hospital but never regained consciousness. In court, her family said they withdrew life support a few days later. A neurosurgeon hired to review her case would later determine that Duntsch had both pierced and blocked her vertebral artery with a misplaced screw. The review also found that Duntsch misdiagnosed the source of her pain and was operating in the wrong place.
The day after her surgery, Efurd awoke in agony. She couldn’t turn over or wiggle her toes. Hospital administrators called Dr. Robert Henderson, a Dallas spine surgeon, to try to repair the damage.
Shortly after he arrived at the hospital, Henderson pulled up Efurd’s post-operative X-rays. When he saw them, he said, “I’m really thinking that some kind of travesty occurred.” That impression only grew when Henderson reopened Efurd’s freshly made incisions the next day. “It was as if he knew everything to do,” Henderson said of Duntsch, “and then he’d done virtually everything wrong.”
There were three holes poked into Efurd’s spinal column where Duntsch had tried and failed to insert screws. One screw was jabbed directly into her spinal canal. That same screw had also skewered the nerves that control one leg and the bladder. Henderson cleaned out bone fragments. Then he discovered that one of Efurd’s nerve roots — the bundle of nerves coming out of the spine — was completely gone. For some inexplicable reason, Duntsch had amputated it.
The operation was so botched, Henderson recalled thinking Duntsch had to be an impostor passing himself off as a surgeon. Even after Henderson’s repairs, Efurd never regained her mobility and now uses a wheelchair. (In an email, Efurd said that discussing what happened to her again would take a toll on her health.)
By the end of the week, hospitals administrators told Duntsch he would no longer operate at Dallas Medical Center. But, as had happened at Baylor-Plano, Duntsch was allowed to resign and the hospital didn’t notify the National Practitioner Data Bank. Dallas Medical Center officials said the hospital had different managers when Duntsch worked there and that current administrators could not comment on his work or the circumstances under which he left.
Duntsch would continue to operate. In fact, his career in Dallas was only about half over.
After Duntsch’s disastrous run at Dallas Medical Center, he was finally reported to the state medical board. The first report came from Shulkin, the Dallas physician who served on the board, who had been told of the surgeries on Efurd and Brown. Other doctors started complaining, too.
“Once I heard about those cases, I called the medical board,” said Kirby, the vascular surgeon who had been present for Morguloff’s surgery. “I said: ‘Listen, we’ve had egregious results at Baylor-Plano. He was not reported to the databank. We’ve had egregious results at Dallas Medical Center. He’s got to be stopped.’”
After being called in to help Efurd, Henderson, too, made it his personal mission to stop Duntsch from operating. He called Boop at the University of Tennessee to ask about Duntsch’s training and spoke to officials at Baylor-Plano hospital. He also called the state medical board.
When a couple of months passed and they didn’t hear about more bad outcomes, Henderson and Kirby said they assumed perhaps Duntsch’s mistakes had finally caught up with him.
Then, in December 2012, Kirby was asked to help Jacqueline Troy, a patient suffering from a severe infection. (The Troy family would not comment for this story.) Troy was being transferred to a Dallas hospital from a surgery center in the suburb of Frisco. She’d had neck surgery, but the surgeon had cut her vocal cords and one of her arteries. When Kirby learned the details, he asked the doctor who referred the case to him about the surgeon: “Is it a guy named Christopher Duntsch?”
Duntsch had managed to get a job at Legacy Surgery Center, an outpatient clinic. (The ownership of the clinic has changed and the new owners declined to comment for this story.)
Soon after Troy’s surgery, Duntsch was finally reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank, though not by any of his previous employers. A report dated Jan. 15, 2013, obtained by an attorney representing one of Duntsch’s patients, shows that Methodist Hospital in the Dallas suburb of McKinney had reported Duntsch after denying him privileges six months earlier. Their rejection was based on Duntsch’s “substandard or inadequate care” at Baylor-Plano. (Methodist McKinney declined to comment for this story.)
But even after the report to the databank, Kirby was stunned to discover another hospital had given privileges to Duntsch. In May 2013, he was invited to a “Meet Our New Specialist” dinner thrown by University General hospital at a Dallas restaurant. The event was to celebrate the arrival of a new neurosurgeon: Christopher Duntsch.
“I called down there and raised holy hell,” Kirby said.
University General, formerly known as South Hampton Community Hospital, had a troubled history: two bankruptcies and a former CEO sentenced to prison for health care fraud. Purchased for $30 million in 2012 by a Houston-based company, University General was one of only three hospitals serving Dallas’ southern half, an area that spans 200 square miles and includes more than 560,000 people. The surrounding community was hoping for a turnaround.
The hospital is now closed, and its administrators from that time did not respond to questions about why they hired Duntsch.
It likely came down to simple economics. According to the health care analysis firm Merritt Hawkins, the average neurosurgeon is worth $2.4 million a year in revenue to a hospital.
“That’s a dream for a hospital administrator,” Kirby said.
It’s also a virtual employment guarantee for a doctor with Duntsch’s credentials, Dallas neurosurgeon Dr. Martin Lazar said.
“I don’t think it’s because of our charm,” Lazar added dryly. “We are like a cash cow.”
It was at University General that Glidewell had his neck surgery, knowing none of Duntsch’s by then two-year history of botching operations.
Glidewell’s back problems had begun almost a decade earlier, in 2004, when he broke his back in two places in a motorcycle accident. After a year of rehab, he tried to go back to his job working on air conditioning systems but lasted only months before the pain stopped him. He left his first meeting with Duntsch elated and filled with hope.
“I was actually so happy with the way it went that I called my wife and my mother and said, ‘I think I found somebody on my insurance that’s gonna fix my neck,’” he said.
The day of the surgery began ominously. That morning, “We pulled out of the driveway, and soon as we started going forward down the street, a black cat ran across the front of the car,” Glidewell said. “I said, ‘Oh, Lord, this is not good.’ We turned the corner, and when we got on the first county road, and another one. Turning into the hospital, another one.”
Three black cats on the way to the hospital. “I said, ‘We need to just turn around and go home.’”
Once at the hospital, Glidewell and his wife waited. And waited. Three hours late, they said, Duntsch finally arrived in a cab. “He had on jeans that were frayed at the bottom,” Glidewell said. “He didn’t look like he was ready for a surgery.”
Reluctantly, Glidewell went ahead. But hours later, Duntsch came out and told Glidewell’s wife that he had found a tumor in Glidewell’s neck and aborted the procedure.
“I was devastated, crying,” Robin Glidewell recalled. She went to see her husband in the recovery room. “Immediately, Jeff was: ‘Where is the doctor? I can’t move my arm or my leg.’ He was having trouble even talking and said, ‘Something’s wrong, something’s wrong.’”
There was no tumor, but Duntsch had made a series of errors after mistaking a portion of Glidewell’s neck muscle for a growth, according to a review of the case.
The owner of University General heard about what happened to Glidewell and called Kirby to try to mitigate the damage.
“I, with reluctance, went down there and met the Glidewell family and took care of him,” Kirby said. Glidewell was spiking fevers and was transferred to another hospital for care. He would remain there for months.
“This was not an operation that was performed,” Kirby said. “This was attempted murder.”
By the time Duntsch operated on Glidewell, the state medical board had been investigating him for about 10 months.
Frustrated by the board’s inaction, Henderson had called the lead investigator six months earlier to beg for faster intervention. In a recording Henderson made of the call, he says, “This is a bad, bad guy, and he needs to be put on the fast track if there’s such a thing.” She tells him she wishes they could suspend his license while they investigate, but the board’s attorneys wouldn’t go for that.
Kirby sent the board a five-page letter on June 23, 2013, spurred by what had happened to Glidewell. “Let me be blunt,” it said. “Christopher Duntsch, Texas Medical Board license number N8183, is an impaired physician, a sociopath, and must be stopped from practicing medicine.” Robin Glidewell also sent a letter, describing what happened to her husband.
By then, Brett Shipp, a reporter from Dallas’ ABC affiliate, had gotten tips about the board’s slow-moving investigation of Duntsch from a friend of one of Duntsch’s patients and a plaintiff’s attorney. “Very shortly after I contacted them,” Shipp said, “they suspended his license.”
On June 26, Duntsch was ordered to stop operating. The head of the medical board at the time, San Angelo family physician Dr. Irvin Zeitler, said the investigation took a while because “it’s not uncommon for there to be complications in neurosurgery.”
It also struck the board as highly improbable that a surgeon fresh out of training could be so lacking in surgical skill.
“So none of us rushed to judgment,” Zeitler said. “That’s not fair, and in the long run, it can come back to be incorrect. To suspend a physician’s license, there has to be a pattern of patient injury. So that was, ultimately that’s what happened. But it took until June of 2013 to get that established.”
Even after the board acted, those most involved in trying to keep Duntsch from operating were afraid it would not be the end of his career.
“I was terrified of that term, ‘suspended,’” Henderson said. “I mean, that indicates that he might get it back at some point in time, and I was already aware of the fact of how glib Dr. Duntsch was, and how disarming he was, and how friendly and intelligent he appeared whenever he introduced himself to people that he wanted to impress. I was concerned that he would do the same thing in getting his license back whether it was six months later, a year later, two years later.”
Kirby, Henderson and another doctor decided to contact the district attorney, convinced that Duntsch’s malpractice was so egregious it was criminal. They met with an assistant DA but got little traction.
On Dec. 6, 2013, the medical board permanently revoked Duntsch’s license.
He left Texas, moving in with his parents in Colorado and filing for bankruptcy, claiming debts of around $1 million. His life seemed to go into a free fall. In January 2014, he was pulled over by police in southern Denver around 3:30 a.m. Officers said he was driving on the left side of the road with two flat tires. When he opened the window, they smelled the sour tang of alcohol and spotted an empty bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the floor of the car. A full one was sitting in the console. After a breath test, Duntsch was arrested for DUI and sent to a detox facility.
Even though he was living in Colorado, he continued to return to Dallas to see his two sons. His older son had been born back when he at Baylor-Plano. His girlfriend, Wendy Young, had a second son in September of 2014.
The following spring, in March, police were called to a bank in Northeast Dallas after passers-by noticed a man with blood on his hands and face beating on the doors. It was Duntsch, babbling about his family being in danger. He was wearing the shirt of his black scrubs. It was covered in blood. Officers took him to a nearby psychiatric hospital.
In April, Duntsch went to a Dallas Walmart because his father had wired him money. According to a police report, he filled a shopping cart with $887 worth of merchandise, including watches, sunglasses, silk neckties, computer equipment, a walkie-talkie and bottle of Drakkar Noir cologne. He put them in bags he swiped from a register. He then then picked out a pair of trousers and put them on in a dressing room. He put his own pants into the cart and rolled the cart out the front door without paying for the pants he was wearing. Moments later, he was arrested for shoplifting.
By then, reporters were following every twist in the Duntsch saga. In May 2015, the Texas Observer published an article with the headline, “‘Sociopath’ Surgeon Duntsch Arrested for Shoplifting Pants.” In the comment section underneath the article, Duntsch responded with a series of diatribes against everyone he thought had conspired against him. His cybermanifesto ran to more than 80 pages when printed out.
In one comment directed at Kirby, he wrote, “You use the word without explanation impaired physician and sociopath. Since I am going to sue you or [sic] libel and slander of a criminal nature, this might be a good point to defend this comment.” He called Morguloff’s surgery “a perfect success.”
Kirby took the comments to the district attorney’s office. By then, a judge who knew Glidewell had also brought the case to the DA’s attention.
Prosecutors began discussing the case anew and one assistant district attorney, Michelle Shughart, found it particularly interesting. In 13 years with the Dallas DA’s office, she’d prosecuted drug dealers, robbers, but never a doctor. “I went and started doing my own research,” she said. “I just ended up taking over the case.”
One of the biggest challenges was that there hadn’t been a case like it before.
“We did a lot of research to see if we found find anyone else who had done any cases like this, any other doctors who had been prosecuted for what they had actually done during the surgery,” Shughart said. “We couldn’t find anyone.”
As she and other prosecutors contacted every person Duntsch had ever operated on or their survivors, they struggled to figure what crimes he could be charged with. They settled on five counts of aggravated assault arising from his treatment of four patients, including Brown and Glidewell, and one count of injury to an elderly person, because Efurd was over 65.
In Texas, this charge carried a potential life sentence, but prosecutors had to race to file the case.
“We had about four months left before we were going to run out on the statute of limitations” on Efurd’s case, Shughart said. “I spent those four months just digging as hard as I possibly could, trying to gather as much information as I could. And by the time we got down to that July, I had overwhelming evidence to indict him.”
Duntsch was taken into custody on July 21, 2015.
For some of his patients, the criminal case offered a last chance at justice they couldn’t get through the civil courts.
Since Texas capped damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, limiting the amount plaintiffs can be awarded for pain and suffering in most cases to $250,000, the number of suits filed and amounts paid out have plummeted.
The suits that go forward often ride on economic damages, such as lost earning power, which the law does not limit in non-death cases. But many of Duntsch’s patients were disabled when they came to him, or older, or had lower incomes. Some had pain that was hard to economically quantify. Despite having clear-cut claims and serious, irreversible injuries, three patients I talked to said me they had trouble finding attorneys to take their cases.
“It is not worth an attorney’s time and energy to take on a malpractice case in the state of Texas,” Morguloff said.
Ultimately, at least 19 of Duntsch’s patients or their survivors obtained settlements, but 14 of them were represented by Van Wey, who said she’s taken them on more out of a sense of outrage than out of any financial upside.
Morguloff was told no so often, he was surprised when attorney Mike Lyons finally took his case. He received a confidential settlement but said, “It wasn’t much.” He took more solace from the criminal case.
“To get this guy off the streets so nobody else got hurt again was important,” he said. “The public needed to know that there was a monster out there.”
Duntsch’s trial began on Feb. 2, 2017, and focused on the charge related to Efurd, injuring an elderly person.
She testified, but first, to show that her botched surgery was part of pattern, prosecutors — over objections from Duntsch’s attorneys — put a long line of his other patients and their relatives on the stand.
“You had people in walkers. You had people on crutches. You had people that could barely move. You had people that had lost loved ones,” Robbie McClung, Duntsch’s lead defense attorney, said. “You had all sorts of things that had gone wrong. Before we even get to Mary Efurd, you can see that it’s just … it’s going downhill. I mean, it’s going downhill fast.”
Duntsch held up remarkably well, seeming calm in the certainty that he really was a good surgeon.
“I always thought when I looked at him, even when he was in his jail clothes, he exuded a confidence,” Richard Franklin, another member of the defense team, said. “And I could certainly understand why patients would trust him.”
Then Lazar and other experts walked the jury through a litany of Duntsch’s surgical missteps. Duntsch’s attorneys noticed a change come over him. He deflated before their eyes.
“I think that he thought he was doing pretty good,” Franklin said. “Really and truly, in his own mind. Until he actually heard from those experts up there.”
A key prosecution witness was Kimberly Morgan, who had been Duntsch’s surgical assistant from August 2011 through March 2012 and was also his ex-girlfriend. Morgan described Duntsch’s mercurial nature, vacillating from being kind and caring to patients to being angry and confrontational behind closed doors.
The prosecutors had Morgan read parts of an email Duntsch had sent to her in the early morning hours of Dec. 11, 2011, three weeks before he operated on Passmore at Baylor-Plano, the first of his surgical disasters.
The subject line of the email was “Occam’s Razor.” Occam’s razor is the idea that the simplest explanation for anything is most likely the right one. The email rambled on for five profanity-laced pages, but Morgan delivered the most startling passage.
“Unfortunately, you cannot understand that I am building an empire and I am so far outside the box that the Earth is small and the sun is bright,” Duntsch had written. “I am ready to leave the love and kindness and goodness and patience that I mix with everything else that I am and become a cold blooded killer.”
It took the jurors just hours to find Duntsch guilty of knowingly injuring Efurd. He was sentenced to life in prison. He’s currently incarcerated in Huntsville, about an hour outside Houston. On Sept. 18, his attorney filed an appeal in a Dallas court, arguing that the testimony on cases other than Efurd’s and the email read by Morgan unfairly influenced the jury.
In February, I visited Summers, Duntsch’s old football buddy-turned-patient, in his small apartment in downtown Memphis.
He remains in much the same condition as he awoke in after Duntsch operated on him, unable to move from the neck down. He requires 24-hour caregivers and sat, tipped back, in his power wheelchair, as I talked to him about Duntsch.
Summers seemed resigned to his injuries, to his friend’s role in them and to the systemic weaknesses that allow problem doctors to keep practicing. He said he tries not to think about Dallas anymore.
I asked him why he’d trusted Duntsch to be his doctor. He couldn’t say. He looked out the window.
He knew his friend could barely drive a car without getting lost, he said. He just assumed he had been better trained for neurosurgery.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Thursday night, September 6th, while some people were contemplating burning their Nike gear because of an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, a 26 year-old unarmed immigrant, Botham Shem Jean, was shot and killed while being black in his own home by a 30 year-old white female off duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, after supposedly entering an apartment she mistakenly thought was her own.
Colin Kaepernick began his slient and peaceful protest, first by sitting and then by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick has clearly stated a number of times that his protest has nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or military, but is simply a stand against the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of mostly white police officers. Jean's killing is the most recent example of what Kaepernick's protest is about.
Guyger told police she thought she was entering her own apartment not realizing she was on the wrong floor; she thought her home was being burglarized and opened fire, shot him twice in the chest, and killed him. Guyger, off-duty but still in uniform, was returning home from either a 12 or 15-hour shift Thursday night; she said she mistook Jean's apartment for her own, which was a floor below in the same complex. Weird, given he had a red welcome mat at the door (she didn't) and presumably different stuff in his place, but okay.
Jean was a devout Christian and talented singer and worked as a risk assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He earned a bachelor's degree at Harding University in Arkansas, where he had been a beloved worship leader. Jean described himself on LinkedIn as a "young professional, engaged in developing a career built upon integrity, dedication and relationships, leveraging useful technologies to gain an understanding of and add value in a range (of) industries, striving towards leadership in my career, my community and society." A college friend described him as "wildly popular, hugely successful, and an incredible leader…he was a gentleman and a scholar."
In an affidavit released Monday, Guyger made several shady new claims. She said Jean's door was open; she didn't know it was the wrong apartment until after she shot him; she saw "a large silhouette" – cue myth of the big black dude – as she entered; and Jean "ignored" her "verbal commands" – in, lest we forget, his own apartment. At least two witnesses refute her; they say they heard a woman knocking on the closed door and saying "Let me in,” and Jean was too “meticulous” to ever leave his door ajar. Also Guyger, it turns out, has been here before: In May 2017, Guyger was called to assist another officer searching for a suspect. An affidavit indicates a man identified as Uvaldo Perez got out of a car and became combative with Guyger and another officer. A struggle began and Guyger fired her Taser at Perez, who wrested the weapon away from her. Guyger then drew her gun and shot Perez in the abdomen, the affidavit says. Guyger was not charged in the case.
Dallas police requested an arrest warrant Friday for Guyger after Jean’s death was ruled a homicide; it wasn't issued until Sunday, reportedly because the Texas Rangers took over the case and were still investigating. Guyger, a four-year veteran of the department, was charged with manslaughter, booked into Kaufman County jail that evening and was freed an hour later after posting $300,000 bond, according to jail records. Given the contradictions in Guyger's story, officials say she could face stiffer charges once her case goes to a grand jury.
Allison Jean flew to Dallas from the family’s native St. Lucia after the shooting. Her son will be buried on the Caribbean island Thursday. “She took my life away, like my very own life,” said Jean's mother, Allison. “She has to face whatever the law says. The very Bible says to render to Caesar that which is Caesar so if Caesar says to pay a penalty for a life, then she has to pay.”
For now, his family is left to grieve and seek answers. They gathered this weekend for a vigil at Jean's Dallas church, where the congregation honored him with one of his favorite hymns, "My God is Real," and a friend compared him to holy men of the Bible who gave friends spiritual guidance and "evangelized every day." His loss, he said, is "a disservice to humanity." It's also why Kaepernick and so many others continue to speak out in righteous rage, said family attorney Benjamin Crump, who said Jean's death should "astonish most sensible Americans…Black people have been killed by police in some of the most arbitrary ways in America. Blacks have been killed for ‘driving while black’ in their automobiles, ‘walking while black’ in their neighborhoods and now ‘living while black’ in their own apartment."
Critics online echoed him. The harsh clear lesson, said one: "Suit. Tie. Christian. Respectable. At home. Black. Dead." Jean's mother Allison Jean, a former government official of St. Lucia, likewise cited the clear racism behind her son's murder in an interview, calmly arguing a white man would not have met the same grim fate. “Botham loved God. Botham loved you. Botham loved mankind," she said. "God loves us all the same, and this has to stop."
As I heard about this young man's life, I couldn't help but be reminded about my oldest son. My son, who will be 25 tomorrow has been actively involve in church since his youth. Like Jean, he sings in the choir, and is currently a minister and founder of an organization dedicated to help others. This could have just as easily been either of my two sons. My thoughts and prays go out to the Jean family. Hopefully Jean's tragic death will open the eyes of those burning their Nike gear and help them realize that police killing unarmed people is a real problem that needs to first be acknowledged and then solved.
A Texas jury found a white former police officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager last year guilty of murder.
Roy Oliver fired three rifle rounds into a car full of teenagers, which included Edward's sixteen year old brother who was driving and another brother, as they were leaving a party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs in April 2017. Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, who was unarmed and sitting in the passenger seat, was struck and killed. Edwards was a first-year student at Mesquite High School where he played football.
Edwards' brother was held in police custody overnight for the purpose of questioning him as a witness. Police originally claimed there was alcohol present, during the trial, the jury learned there was no alcohol present at the party, despite what police had initially said.
"It's been a hard year … I'm just really happy," Edwards's father, Odell, told reporters at the court after the verdict on Tuesday.
At the time of the shooting, Oliver claimed the vehicle was trying to run over his partner, but several witness accounts and body-cam footage showed the car was moving away from the officer. A vigil was held at Edwards's school on the evening of May 1, 2017.A lawyer for Edwards' family demanded the arrest of Oliver.
Oliver was placed on administrative leave following the shooting and fired from the Balch Springs police force on May 2, 2017 after police admitted the video of the shooting contradicted Oliver's initial statement.
Police originally stated there was an "unknown altercation with a vehicle backing down the street towards the officers in an aggressive manner". After reviewing body cam footage, Police Chief Jonathan Haber later admitted that the vehicle was not moving toward the officers, but rather away from them.
Local reporters, who were present in the courtroom on Tuesday as the verdict was read, reported that there were hugs, claps and cheers from the family of Edwards.
Oliver faces between five and 99 years in prison for the murder. His sentencing hearing began immediately after the trial. The former police officer was acquitted of manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Daryl Washington, Edwards's lawyer, said the verdict is not just about justice for the young teenager's family but for the families of all unarmed black people killed by police.
"This case is not just about Jordan," Washington told reporters, adding that "it's about Tamir Rice, it's about Walter Scott, it's about Alton Sterling, it's about every unarmed African American who has been killed and who has not got justice".
The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings the previous year.
Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.
As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions – Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine – I believe this move is a positive one. People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.
While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.
I make this argument not only as a formerly incarcerated person who now teaches aspiring medical doctors, but also as an advocate for people with criminal convictions. The organization I lead – From Prison Cells to PhD – helped push for the change on the Common Application.
My own story stands as a testament to the fact that today’s incarcerated person could become tomorrow’s professor. A person who once sold illegal drugs on the street could become tomorrow’s medical doctor. But this can only happen if such a person, and the many others in similar situations, are given the chance.
There was a time not so long ago when some in the legal system believed I did not deserve a chance. With three felony convictions, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking as a prior and persistent career criminal. My prosecuting attorney once stated that I had no hope for change.
Today, I am Dr. Stanley Andrisse. As a professor at Johns Hopkins and Howard University, I now help train students who want to be doctors. I’d say that I have changed. Education was transformative.
US incarceration rates the highest
The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.
Roughly 2.2 million people in the United States are essentially locked away in cages. About 1 in 5 of those people are locked up for drug offenses.
I was one of those people in prison not so long ago.
Early life of crime
Growing up in the Ferguson, North St. Louis area, I started selling drugs and getting involved with other crimes at a very young age. I was arrested for the first time at age 14. By age 17, I was moving substantial amounts of drugs across the state of Missouri and the country. By my early 20s, I found myself sitting in front of a judge and facing 20 years to life for drug trafficking charges. The judge sentenced me to 10 years in state prison.
When I stood in front of that judge, school was not really my thing.
Although I was a successful student athlete and received a near full scholarship to play football for Lindenwood University, a Division II college football program, I found it difficult to get out of the drug business. Suffice it to say, there were people in the drug world who wanted me to keep moving drugs. And they made it clear that they would be extremely disappointed if I were to suddenly stop. So I continued. For this reason, I didn’t view my undergraduate college experience the way I view education now.
A 2013 analysis of several studies found that obtaining higher education reduced recidivism – the rate of returning to prison – by 43 percent and was four to five times less costly than re-incarcerating that person. The bottom line is education increases personal income and reduces crime.
Despite these facts, education is woefully lacking among those being held in America’s jails and prisons. Nearly 30 percent of America’s incarcerated – about 690,000 people – are released each year and only 60 percent of those individuals have a GED or high school diploma, compared to 90 percent of the overall of U.S. population over age 25. And less than 3 percent of the people released from incarceration each year have a college degree, compared to 40 percent of the U.S. population.
Rejected by colleges
I had a bachelor’s degree by the time I went to prison but never got the chance to put it to use. Then something tragic happened while I was serving time that prompted me to see the need to further my education. Due to complications of diabetes, my father had his legs amputated. He fell into a coma and lost his battle with Type 2 diabetes. I was devastated. This experience made me want to learn more about how to fight this disease.
While incarcerated, I applied to six biomedical graduate programs. I was rejected from all but one – Saint Louis University. Notably, I had a mentor from Saint Louis University who served on the admission committee. Without that personal connection, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten a second chance.
I finished near the top of my graduate school class, suggesting that I was likely qualified for the programs that rejected me.
Restore Pell grants to incarcerated people
Based on the difficulty I experienced in going from prison to becoming a college professor, I believe there are things that should be done to remove barriers for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people who wish to pursue higher education.
One of those barriers is cost. When the government removed Pell funding from prisons by issuing the "tough on crime” Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the vast majority of colleges offering courses in prison stopped. Due to the federal ban on receiving Pell grants while incarcerated, most of those serving time are not able to afford to take college courses while in prison. The Obama administration took a step toward trying to restore Pell grants for those in prison with the Second Chance Pell pilot. The program has given over 12,000 incarcerated individuals across the nation the chance to use Pell grants toward college courses in prison.
Through the program, 67 colleges and universities are working with over 100 prisons to provide college courses to the incarcerated.
Under the Trump administration, this program is at-risk of being discontinued at the end of 2018. Historically, some have argued that allowing Pell dollars to be used by those in prison takes precious Pell dollars from people who did not violate the law. However, the current Second Chance Pell pilot funding being directed to prisons, $30 million, accounts for 0.1 percent of the total $28 billion of Pell funding. Even if the program were expanded, based on historical levels, it would still amount to one-half of 1 percent of all Pell funding. This is justified by the impact that Pell dollars would have in prison in terms of reducing recidivism.
Remove questions about drug crimes from federal aid forms
Federal policymakers could increase opportunities by removing Question 23 on the federal student aid form that asks if applicants have been convicted of drug crimes. A 2015 study found that nearly 66 percent of would-be undergraduates who disclosed a conviction on their college application did not finish their application.
Federal student aid applicants likely feel the same discouragement. I felt discouraged myself when I was applying to graduate programs when I came across the question about whether I had ever been convicted of a crime. It made me feel like I was nothing more than a criminal in the eyes of the college gatekeepers.
By Kimberly R. Kras, University of Massachusetts Lowell
A fundamental right of U.S. citizenship is having your voice heard by voting to elect representatives. However, at least 6 million U.S. citizens cannot vote in the United States because they have been convicted of a felony.
Losing the right to vote is among numerous other consequences of being convicted of a crime. This so-called “civil death” suggests that person is considered dead to society. The larger political consequence is a lack of representation in government of a large group of citizens who are largely poor and people of color.
I study the impact of being convicted on individuals and communities. States have a variety of rules and regulations when it comes to voting rights and felony convictions. In some states, when a person is convicted they are barred from voting until they successfully complete prison, probation or parole. But in 12 states, people convicted of felonies are barred from voting for life.
In response to growing concern that these laws disenfranchise large segments of America’s citizens, several states have recently made substantial, yet controversial, changes to voting rights of ex-felons. This may be a growing movement.
In July, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about whether laws excluding felons from the right to vote are constitutional. In November, the state will vote on a ballot measure to restore ex-felon’s voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence.
These decisions will impact a large segment of Florida’s voting-age population and continue to build a strong precedent for other states.
Florida has historically played an important role in American elections. Yet roughly 10 percent of Floridians can’t vote because they have been convicted of felonies. Research suggests that had these Americans been able to cast their vote for president in the 2000 election, Florida would have been a blue state. Studies show that ex-felons largely vote Democrat, and in this case would have made an impact in a presidential election.
That may be true, but research shows that for many ex-felons it’s because they don’t know they can. This means fewer people have input in electing representatives who generally support causes important to them such as rehabilitation for offenders and criminal justice reform.
Crime and the social contract
Some pundits and legal scholars argue that felons should not be eligible to vote because when people commit crime they violate the “social contract.” The social contract is the agreement among citizens to abide by rules and laws for the good of society. This reasoning says that those who break it, say by committing a crime, are no longer entitled to the benefits of the contract, such as political representation.
People who study criminal behavior often say the opposite is true. They argue that restoring voting rights may in fact reinstate the social contract and improve factors that led the individual to commit crime in the first place.
In research I conducted, and headed by professors Beth Huebner and Timothy Bynum, we spoke with people returning from prison about how their felony conviction impacted their life after release. One participant whose name is protected under a confidentiality agreement, stated: “Not being able to vote restricts our voice.”
Another participant stated how his inability to vote about things important to him, like justice reform, meant that other voters might reinforce laws and restrictions that affect him: “Those are usually the people who want to put harsher rules and penalties and categorize everybody the same. I feel that they allow more and more of those laws to be piled on us because we’re not allowed to speak our minds.”
Restoring voting rights signals to all citizens that those who have served their time for a past crime can participate in a key mechanism of civic engagement: voting. Participating in civic life is associated with reductions in recidivism, so an inclusive approach to democracy can only strengthen the political process. That’s because the interests of more Americans, especially those historically silenced, will be heard through their vote.
Ex-felons as citizens
Moreover, research has shown that denying voting rights impacts not just individuals, but also families and entire communities, especially those typically underrepresented in political arenas like people of color and those in poverty. For example, partners of ex-felons are less likely to vote.
Restricting ex-felons from voting really says that, if you have committed a crime in the U.S., you can never be a full citizen again, even after serving punishment. That message suggests that they are always second- or third-class citizens.
But studies have shown that when people are reintegrated meaningfully in our society, the chances that they return to prison are reduced and the public is safer. Without the right to vote, ex-felons have less of a benefit or an interest in contributing positively to our communities. Being fully engaged in your community and having a voice in what happens to you are vital connections to others in the community – connections that can act to reduce crime. Voting rights represent the epitome of what it means to be a U.S. citizen.
By Laura Frizzell, Sadé L. Lindsay, and Scott Duxbury, The Ohio State University
On Jan. 24, 2014, police found Josh Boren, a 34-year-old man and former police officer, dead in his home next to the bodies of his wife and their three children. The shots were fired execution-style on Boren’s kneeling victims, before he turned the gun on himself.
On Aug. 8, 2015, 48-year-old David Ray Conley shot and killed his son, former girlfriend and six other children and adults at his former girlfriend’s home. Like Boren, Conley executed the victims at point-blank range.
Both men had histories of domestic violence and criminal behavior. Yet despite the obvious similarities in these two cases and perpetrators, the media, in each case, took a different approach.
When describing Boren, the media focused on his good character and excellent parenting, going as far to call Boren a big “teddy bear” despite a prolonged history of domestic violence. They attributed his crime to “snapping” under the significant stress of his wife’s recent divorce filing.
In Conley’s case, media reports made little attempt to include any redeeming aspects of his personality. Instead, they focused exclusively on Conley’s history of domestic violence and prior drug possession charges. If you were to read articles about Conley, you would likely infer his crime stemmed from his inherently dangerous and controlling personality.
What might explain the differences in media coverage? Could it have something to do with the shooter’s race?
Boren, it turns out, was white; Conley was black.
In a recent study, we explored whether the race of mass shooters influences how the media depict their crime, their motivations and their lives.
We found that the discrepancies in the media coverage of Boren’s and Conley’s crimes were indicative of a broader phenomenon.
Explaining the crime, portraying the criminal
For the study, we randomly selected 433 online and print news articles covering 219 mass shootings from 2013 to 2015. While definitions of a mass shooting can vary, we adhered to the one most commonly used in empirical research: an event in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
Next, we created a unique data set based on information provided in the articles. We coded each article for a variety of variables associated with the crime and the shooter, including setting of the shooting, number and gender of victims killed and injured and age of the shooter.
After analyzing the data, we found that the shooter’s race could strongly predict whether the media framed him as mentally ill. (Less than 1 percent of the crimes had a female perpetrator.)
In all, about 33 percent of the articles in our study describing the crimes of a white shooter made a mention of mental illness. On the other hand, 26 percent of articles describing a Latino shooter and only two percent of articles describing a black shooter mentioned mental illness.
In fact – holding all aspects of the crime equal – white shooters were nearly 95 percent more likely to have their crimes attributed to mental illness than black shooters. Latino shooters were 92 percent more likely than black shooters to have mental illness mentioned as a factor.
An empathy gap
Furthermore, those articles that did describe a white shooter as mentally ill would often suggest that the shooter had been a generally good person who was a victim of society. The shooting, in other words, was out of character.
For example, in one case, a shooter in a rural trailer park set up a rifle in some bushes and began firing at the family trailer, with his wife, father-in-law and two young children inside. When the police arrived, he turned the rifle on them, hitting two officers before they gunned him down.
Yet subsequent news coverage noted his generally quiet demeanor and his willingness to help family and friends. The man who committed these crimes, one article noted, “wasn’t the same person who loved back-porch cookouts.”
However, such narratives – even within articles that mentioned mental illness – were less common when the shooter was black or Latino.
The graph below includes all news articles in our sample that framed a shooting as stemming from mental illness.
Having the right black prosecutor can make a tremendous difference how fairly justice is administered and how injustice is resisted. The bizarre, half-hearted grand jury presentation conducted by the white prosecutor in Michael Brown’s death, versus Marilyn Mosby’s vigorous pursuit of indictments in the case of Freddie Gray demonstrate the potential difference. Jennifer Joyce waiting more than four year to prosecute former police office Jason Stockley and only did so after a video surfaced even though the city reach a wrongful death settlement with the victim's family.
However, Ms. Gardner doesn't get a pass just because she's black. Black folks are well aware there are those among us that will sell us out for opportunity. As Phillip Agnew, with Dream Defenders stated during the PBS special "America After Ferguson"
"It's not a matter of just having a representative … that looks like you, they've got to come from the community, know the issues of the community, and then it's folks in the community that got to remind them every day that we pay your bills and where watching every single day to ensure that the platform on which we elected you on is followed and defend you when those people who seek to calibrate the system and right the system as it's been built seek to come after your for that office"
Make no mistake, if Ms. Gardner proves to be a fair prosecutor, there will certainly be those that will attempt to distort her statements, villify her actions and generally discredit her. There is a private prison system that stands to lose millions of dollars under a non-oppressive system.
Powers of the Prosecutor
Robert H. Jackson, Attorney General of the United States, delivered an address during the second annual conference of united states attorneys on April 1, 1940 in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D. C.
The speech Jackson gave demonstates the power of prosecutors. Even though he was addressing federal prosecutors, local and state prosecutors hold a similar type of power that can devastate lives.
The Federal Prosecutor
The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations. Or the prosecutor may choose a more subtle course and simply have a citizen's friends interviewed.
The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial. He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard. Or he may go on with a public trial. If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole. While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice' or other base motives, he is one of the worst.
These powers have been granted to our law-enforcement agencies because it seems necessary that such a power to prosecute be lodged somewhere. This authority has been granted by people who really wanted the right thing done – wanted crime eliminated – but also wanted the best in our American traditions preserved.
Because of this immense power to strike at citizens, not with mere individual strength, but with all the force of government itself, the post of Federal District Attorney from the very beginning has been safeguarded by presidential appointment, requiring confirmation of the Senate of the United States. You are thus required to win an expression of confidence in your character by both the legislative and the executive branches of the government before assuming the responsibilities of a federal prosecutor.
Your responsibility in your several districts for law enforcement and for its methods cannot be wholly surrendered to Washington, and ought not to be assumed by a centralized Department of Justice. It is an unusual and rare instance in which the local District Attorney should be superseded in the handling of litigation, except where he requests help of Washington. It is also clear that with his knowledge of local sentiment and opinion, his contact with and intimate knowledge of the views of the court, and his acquaintance with the feelings of the group from which jurors are drawn, it is an unusual case in which his judgment should be overruled.
Experience, however, has demonstrated that some measure of centralized control is necessary. In the absence of it different district attorneys were striving for different interpretations or an applications of an Act, or were pursuing different conceptions of policy. Also, to put it mildly, there were differences in the degree of diligence and zeal in different districts. To promote uniformlty of policy and action, to establish some standards of performance, and to make available specialized help, some degree of centralized administration was found necessary.
Our problem, of course, is to balance these opposing considerations. I desire to avoid any lessening of the prestige and influence of the district attorneys in their districts. At the same time we must proceed in all districts with that uniformity of policy which is necessary to the prestige of federal law.
Nothing better ean come out of this meeting of law enforcement officers than a rededication to the spirit of fair play and decency that should animate the federal prosecutor. Your positions are of such independence and importance that while you are being diligent, strict, and vigorous in law enforcement you can also afford to be just.
Although the government technically loses its case, it has really won if justice has been done. The lawyer in public office is justified in seeking to leave behind him a good record. But he must remember that his most alert and severe, but just, judges will be the members of his own profession, and that lawyers rest their good opinion of each other not merely on results accomplished but on the quality of the performance. Reputation has been called "the shadow cast by one's daily life." Any prosecutor who risks his day-to-day professional name for fair dealing to build up statistics of success has a perverted sense of practical values, as well as defects of character. Whether one seeks promotion to a judgeship, as many prosecutors rightly do, or whether he returns to private practice, he can have no better asset than to have his profession recognize that his attitude toward those who feel his power has been dispassionate, reasonable and just.
The federal prosecutor has now been probibited from engaging in political activities. I am convinced that a good-faith acceptance of the spirit and letter of that doctrine will relieve many district attorneys from the embarrassment of what have heretofore been regarded as legitimate expectations of political service. There can also be no doubt that to be closely identified with the intrigue, the money raising, and the machinery of a particular party or faction may present a prosecuting officer with embarrassing alignments and associations. I think the Hatch Act should be utilized by federal prosecutors as a protection against demands on their time and their prestige to participate in the operation of the machinery of practical politics.
There is a most important reason why the prosecutor should have, as nearly as possible, a detached and impartial view of all groups in his community. Law enforcement is not automatic. It isn't blind. One of the greatest difficulties of the position of prosecutor is that he must pick his cases, because no prosecutor can even investigate all of the cases in which he receives complaints. If the Department of Justice were to make even a pretense of reaching every probable violation of federal law, ten times its present staff would be inadequate. We know that no local police force can strictly enforce the traffic laws, or it would arrest half the driving population on any given morning. What every prosecutor is practically required to do is to select the cases for prosecution and to select those in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain.
If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted. With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor, stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.
In times of fear or hysteria political, racial, religious, social, and economic groups, often from the best of motives, cry for the scalps of individuals or groups because they do not like their views. Particularly do we need to be dispassionate and courageous in those cases which deal with so-called "subversive activities." They are dangerous to civil liberty because the prosecutor has no definite standards to determine what constitutes a "subversive activity," such as we have for murder or larceny. Activities which seem benevolent and helpful to wage earners, persons on relief, or those who are disadvantaged in the struggle for existence may be regarded as "subversive" by those whose property interests might be burdened or affected thereby. Those who are in office are apt to regard as "subversive" the activities of any of those who would bring about a change of administration. Some of our soundest constitutional doctrines were once punished as subversive. We must not forget that it was not so long ago that both the term "Republican" and the term "Democrat" were epithets with sinister meaning to denote persons of radical tendencies that were "subversive" of the order of things then dominant.
In the enforcement of laws which protect our national integrity and existence, we should prosecute any and every act of violation, but only overt acts, not the expression of opinion, or activities such as the holding of meetings, petitioning of Congress, or dissemination of news or opinions. Only by extreme care can we protect the spirit as well as the letter of our civil liberties, and to do so is a responsibility of the federal prosecutor.
Another delicate task is to distinguish between the federal and the local in law-eaforcement activities. We must bear in mind that we are concerned only with the prosecution of acts which the Congress has made federal offenses. Those acts we should prosecute regardless of local sentiment, regardless of whether it exposr lax local enforcement, regardless
of whether it makes or breaks local politicians.
But outside of federal law each locality has the right under our system of government to fix its own standards of law enforcement and of morals. And the moral climate of the United states is as varied as its physical climate. For example, some states legalize and permit gambling, some states prohibit it legislatively and protect it administratively, and some try to prohibit it entirely. The same variation of attitudes towards other law-enforcement problems exists. The federal government could not enforce one kind of law in one place and another kind elsewhere. It could hardly adopt strict standards for loose states or loose standards for strict states without doing violence to local sentiment. In spite of the temptation to divert our power to local conditions where they have become offensive to our sense of decency, the only long-term policy that will save federal justice from being discredited by entanglements with local politics is that it confine itself to strict and impartial enforcement of federal law, letting the chips fall in the community where they may. Just as there should be no permitting of local considerations to stop federal enforcement, so there should be no striving to enlarge our power over local affairs and no use of federal prosecutions to exert an indirect influence that would be unlawful if exerted directly.
The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyvvay. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.
On January 1, 2017, the state of Missouri will implement a public school policy sure to accelerate the descent into police state dystopia. See, Missouri Revised Statutes 565.054 and 565.056.
The Hazelwood School District put out a memo to parents and guardians stating that, according to Missouri statute, fights at school or on buses will be treated as felonies — which can result in up to four years of prison, fines or probation.
We want to make you aware of a few new State Statutes that will go into effect on January 1, 2017, which may have a drastic impact on how incidents are handled in area school districts.
The way the new statue reads, if a person commits the offense of an assault in the third degree this will now be classified as a Class E Felony, rather than a misdemeanor. If he or she knowingly causes physical injury to another person (hits someone or has a fight with another individual and an injury occurs) – one or both participants may be charged with a Felony.”
Gone are the days when teachers broke up fights and sent the kids home, calling the parents and perhaps suspending the kid if it was a serious incident. “School Resource Officers” or local cops now arrest the kids and, if there is any perceived injury (an arbitrary judgment), will charge them with third-degree assault – treating children cooped up in school as if they are violent adults on the streets.
“What does this mean for students?
For example, if two students are fighting and one child is injured, the student who caused the injury may be charged with a felony. Student(s) who are caught fighting in school, bus or on school grounds may now be charged with a felony (no matter the age or grade level), if this assault is witnessed by one of the School Resource Officers/police officers (SRO) or if the SRO/local law enforcement officials have to intervene.”
It doesn’t stop there. Even attempts or threats to cause harm will be treated as a Class A misdemeanor, which can bring up to a year of prison time. If the assaulted person is considered a “special victim,” a Class D felony can be imposed which can mean up to seven years in prison.
The Free Thought Project has reported on numerous examples of how public schools are increasingly relying on armed cops to carry out discipline, thereby criminalizing the age-old reality of children behaving badly.
The Arizona State Law Journal found that over the last three decades, there has been a marked shift in public schools to using law enforcement instead of school administrators and teachers for students violating school rules.
Approximately 260,000 students were referred to law enforcement during the 2011-2012 school year, and about 92,000 students were arrested on school property. Unsurprisingly, these numbers affect disadvantaged minority students the most.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) documented disturbing examples of children being subjected to law enforcement, just as a shocking video emerged of a cop brutalizing a teenage girl in the classroom for misbehaving.
”Some police actions involve alarming physical altercations, with kids subdued and handcuffed. Others may be handled without much force. But law-enforcement involvement in school discipline has routinely resulted in kids—some as young as elementary school-age—summoned to court to answer charges that they committed crimes. Frequently, charges include battery or assault in connection with schoolyard fights or disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace at school —issues that some believe should be handled by school officials, not cops.”
The worst state is Virginia, with a rate of 16 students per 1,000 being referred to law enforcement. One school had a shocking 228 students, most between 11 and 14, that were referred to cops. A 12-year-old girl was charged with obstruction of justice for clenching her fist at a cop. 11-year-old Kayleb Moon-Robinson, who is autistic, was slammed to the floor for walking out of class too early, and then was charged with felony assault on a police officer and disorderly conduct.
Other shocking examples include five- and six-year-olds being handcuffed, arrested and booked into jail for throwing temper tantrums. Dress code violations, tardiness, and even passing gas have all led to students being referred to law enforcement.
CPI describes how early exposure to law enforcement and the “justice system” has a devastating impact on the mental health of children, and makes it more likely they will grow up to live all or part of their lives behind bars.
“…prosecuting kids in court for low-level accusations like disorderly conduct and battery is actually backfiring; kids become stigmatized, develop records and often disengage from school. The risk increases that they’ll progress to more serious trouble, especially if core emotional or mental-health or learning problems go unresolved or inadequately treated.”
The Arizona State Law Journal confirmed that incarceration increases delinquency and future involvement in the justice system, and “the official processing of a juvenile law violation may be the least effective means of rehabilitating juvenile offenders.”
“No one should underestimate the negative consequences associated with incarcerating a juvenile, both to our society as a whole and to the youth themselves, which is the end result of the school-to-prison pipeline. Empirical research demonstrates that incarceration produces long-term detrimental effects on youth, including reinforcement of violent attitudes and behaviors; more limited educational, employment, military, and housing opportunities; an increased likelihood of not graduating from high school; mental health concerns; and increased future involvement in the criminal justice system.”
By enacting their draconian new rules, the state of Missouri is completely ignoring science, instead, falling back on uniformed state agents with badges and guns – trained to confront the worst of society – to deal with misbehaving kids in school.
Missouri is ignoring the proven benefits of “restorative justice.”
“Thus, rather than excluding the student from the school community for misbehaving, which potentially can cause resentment, disrupt that student’s educational progress, and lead to recidivism and dropping out of school, one of the primary goals of restorative justice is to integrate the offender back into the school community as a productive member.
In essence, restorative justice practices are conflict resolution tools that involve victims, offenders, and other members of the school community. Using formal and informal conferences, or “circle groups,” victims share with offenders how they have been harmed by the offender’s behavior, offenders have opportunities to apologize to the victims, and, with the help of the victims and the other members of the school community, conference participants devise remedies for the harmful behavior.”
Instead of smart approaches like restorative justice, Missouri is set to plunge its children into a police state nightmare — guaranteeing a long-term rise in prison population and further destroying the mental health of the most vulnerable individuals.
Congratulations to Kimberly Gardner on her outstanding primary victory!
Last month, we posted, "We Need Black Prosecutors". The voters of St. Louis decided the same thing and elected Kimberly Gardner as the democratic nominee and the next presumptive St. Louis City Circuit Attorney. In a city that is majority African-American, it is of extreme importance that St. Louis is finally positioned to have it's first Black Circuit Attorney. Ms. Gardner will become the most powerful person in the St. Louis City criminal justice system.
When a kid commits a crime, the justice system has a choice: prosecute to the full extent of the law, or take a step back and ask if saddling young people with criminal records is the right thing to do every time.
"It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men"
Adam Foss, a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts discussed how prosecutors can change lives. He is among the type of black prosecutors we had in mind when we wrote our post last month. Below is a video of a TED talk Mr. Foss gave about the power of the prosecutor. At the beginning of his talk, he asked the audience a few simple questions that drove home a very powerful point that too many prosecutors miss.
What makes Ms. Gardner's victory even more amazing is the fact that she won dispite the fact the neither the St. Louis Police Officers Association or the Ethical Society of Police (St. Louis' black police union) endorsed her. Both unions endorsed other candidates. As a result, Ms. Gardner doesn't have any political obligation to police officers.
I've never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Gardner, but the limited interviews and news clips I have seen, indicates she shares some of the same sentiments as Mr. Foss.
I believe Ms. Gardner will be a fine circuit attorney dedicated to her new position and will be a refreshing change from the current administration.
However, there is no greater protection than personally understanding your rights. It's still important to educate yourself about the law and how our court system works.