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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Is an Alabama cover-up under way to wrongly classify the Sureshbhai Patel assault as a misdemeanor?


Sureshbhai Patel
Who made the decision to charge Officer Eric Parker with a misdemeanor in the body-slamming assault on Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old grandfather from India? We have yet to find anyone who wants to take "credit" for the decision--and maybe that's because the decision is wrong.

Under the facts and law of the case, Parker should be charged with a felony. That he isn't suggests someone in authority is trying to protect law enforcement in Madison, Alabama, from even more embarrassment than it's already received because of the Patel incident.

Who might be trying to cover up for Officer Parker? Well, news reports indicate Lt. Terrell Cook, of the Madison Police Department, had something to do with the charge of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. We contacted Lt. Cook via e-mail to ask if he made the determination that the assault on Patel should be classified as a misdemeanor--and if he didn't, could he refer us to the individual who did? Lt. Cook has not responded to our query.

Meanwhile, al.com seems to be indirectly participating in a cover-up, with assistance from a University of Alabama law professor. That comes in a February 20 article titled "Why wasn't Madison police officer charged more harshly in Indian grandfather assault case? A former judge explains," by Anna Claire Vollers.

There is a slight problem with the article. Vollers chose as her "expert" a former circuit judge and current UA law professor named Joseph Colquitt--and he doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's intentionally trying to mislead the public.

Colquitt proves an adage I've known for some time--if you want to know the actual law in a particular situation, the last person to ask is a judge or former judge.

To be sure, Colquitt does a good job of sounding authoritative, as Vollers writes:

"We aren't dealing with what we think the law should be or ought to be, but what the law is," says Judge Joseph Colquitt, who spent 20 years as an Alabama circuit court judge and is now a law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law where he teaches criminal law, capital litigation, criminal procedure and criminal sentencing.
"You have to analyze the facts you have, and see where those facts could fit amongst the charges."

At this point, Colquitt is on solid footing, and his statement supports what I did in preparing my post (see link in first paragraph) that shows the misdemeanor charge is wrong--under the law, as it is.

Where does the al.com article go wrong? Well, the article is written in a peculiar manner, but it seems to go off track in two ways:

(1) The issue of "serious physical injury"-- Under Alabama law, misdemeanor assault (third degree) applies only in cases involving "physical injury," which can be as minor as a cut, bruise, or abrasion. Patel sustained a spinal injury that required surgery and caused partial paralysis. Based on the most recent reports, his condition is improving, but it's still not clear he will regain full use of all his limbs. Under Alabama law, that easily fits the definition of "serious physical injury"--and that means a third-degree, misdemeanor charge does not fit.

(2) The issue of "intent"-- Colquitt correctly states that a felony assault (second or first degree) requires a showing of intent--and, per Vollers, he states:

"The difference (between second- and third-degree assault) is in the nature of the injuries," said Colquitt. "Assault in the second degree is not only that a person suffered serious physical injury, but it has to be proved that the (perpetrator) intended serious physical injury. That's a little more difficult to prove."

Actually, it's not that difficult to prove in this case, or any other case, under Alabama law. And even if it were, that's not grounds for classifying the Patel case as a misdemeanor. In fact, a third-degree charge automatically is excluded because we are dealing here with a "serious physical injury." Colquitt seems to be violating his earlier statement about dealing with what the law is. At this point, he seems to say we should go with the charge that's easiest to prove, regardless of what the law says.

As for what the law says about intent, it is spelled out in a case styled Wells v. State, 768 So. 2d 412 (Ala. Crim. App., 1999). From the Wells decision:

Intent may be presumed from the use of a deadly weapon, the character of the assault, and other attendant circumstances surrounding the assault . . .

"Further, `"[i]ntent, we know, being a state or condition of the mind, is rarely, if ever, susceptible of direct or positive proof, and must usually be inferred from the facts testified to by witnesses and the circumstances as developed by the evidence."'

Under Alabama law, various body parts, such as hands and fists, can be classified as deadly weapons. (See Hollis v. State, 417 So. 2d 617 (Ala. Crim. App., 1982.) That would seem to be especially true in this case, where Officer Parker apparently was trained in self defense and martial arts.

Intent can be proved in two ways:

(1) Use of a deadly weapon--Parker's hands qualify under the law, and those are what he used to inflict "serious physical injury" upon Patel.

(2) The character of the assault--The video makes it clear that Parker said he was going to "put you on the ground" if any jerking action continued. The video does not show Patel jerking away, but Parker body slammed him head-first to the ground anyway. It can be inferred from those facts that Parker planned in advance to use a violent technique on Patel--and it resulted in "serious physical injury."

Back to our original question--who made the decision to classify the Patel assault as a misdemeanor? A February 17 article at al.com points toward Lt. Terrell Cook:

In the criminal complaint against Parker, Lt. Terrell Cook of the Madison Police Department states there is probable cause for believing that Parker "recklessly caused physical injury" to Patel by slamming him to the ground.

Based on that article, I sent the following e-mail to Lt. Cook

Lt. Cook:

I am a journalist with the Alabama-based blog Legal Schnauzer. Al.com yesterday (2/17/15) quoted you as stating there is "probable cause for believing Parker recklessly caused physical injury" to Mr. Sureshbhai Patel, from India.

Did you make the determination that Officer Parker should be charged with a misdemeanor, as opposed to a felony? If not, do you know who made that determination?


Thank you,


Roger Shuler

If Cook had responded and said he made the decision to charge a misdemeanor, I was going to ask if he was aware of the difference under Alabama law between "physical injury" and "serious physical injury." I also was going to ask if he seriously thought Patel's spinal injury was equivalent to a cut or bruise. Alas, I have not heard back from Lt. Cook.

As for the Anna Claire Vollers article, it's . . . well, it's strange. Prof. Colquitt never actually says the misdemeanor charge is correct; he performs a peculiar dance around the subject and more or less says, "Well, it would be easier to prove the misdemeanor, so that's the way to go."

But that's not what Alabama law says. It says that a misdemeanor charge is proper only in a case resulting in "physical injury." A case involving "serious physical injury," as both Vollers and Colquitt seem to admit is present in the Patel case, must be charged as a felony, either second- or first-degree assault.

On top of that, actual Alabama law makes it clear that intent is not particularly difficult to prove.

The Vollers/Colquitt article mainly serves to muddy the waters on an issue that is not all that complicated--Eric Parker cannot lawfully be charged with a misdemeanor; he left a man with "serious physical injuries," so the charge has to be a felony.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Legal Schnauzer Reaches Another Blogging Milestone By Passing 2 Million Page Views


Our blog recently passed 2 million page views, and that makes us pretty proud of the attention we've brought to a critically important subject--the corruption that permeates our "justice" system.

The system is so broken that even a right-wing news organization like al.com now recognizes it--roughly eight years after we started reporting on the issue.

According to the primary statistics service we use, our official page-view number is at almost 2.24 million, and our number of unique visitors is at almost 1.57 million.

I'm sure there are thousands of blogs with audiences that dwarf ours. Heck, some porn Web sites probably get that many page views in just a few days. But for a blog about a complex, unsexy topic, I would say our numbers are pretty good. This seems like a good time for a big thank you to the many readers who have made us a part of their regular reading habits.

I didn't start keeping track of our traffic for the first four to six months of the blog's existence, so our actual readership numbers are higher than those shown. A second stat service we use has our page views at almost 2.8 million, so maybe I should go with that one. I'm really not sure which is more accurate--but I'm thankful for the numbers, either way.

It's nice to be able to report that in spite of serious obstacles in the past year--including a stint in jail for, get this, practicing journalism--our readership continues to be on the rise. It took us roughly four years to reach one-million page views. The second million came in less than three years.

The blog is now almost 8 years old, and I didn't intend for it to last nearly this long. I thought it might be a side project to pursue for maybe six months to a year. Little did I know just how vast is corruption in U.S. courts, both at the state and federal level, in Alabama and beyond.

I like to think we have made a difference in the fight for justice on U.S. soil. We definitely have drawn attention to serious problems. It's pleasing to know that so many readers have joined us along the way.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Joey Kennedy's firing at al.com seems to signal that Alabama's right-wing media is spinning out of control


Joey Kennedy
(From yellowhammernews.com)
How often does a newspaper fire a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter? I've been a professional journalist for 35-plus years, and I've never heard of it happening. Heck, it would be like a major-league baseball team trading its MVP--and getting nothing in return.

As nonsensical as it sounds, al.com/The Birmingham News pulled off the unusual feat by ushering reporter Joey Kennedy out the door recently. Veronica Kennedy, Joey's wife, broke the news on her Facebook page and said he received no severance pay, just a final paycheck and notice that his insurance would end on February 28.

Joey Kennedy had come to focus his reporting on animal-welfare issues, and about a month ago, he reported on a change in the organization that would operate animal control for Jefferson County. The comments section on that article suggest the issue had become emotional and contentious, with major disagreement about the best way to approach animal control in the area. Did Joey Kennedy get caught in the crossfire? Did his age make him vulnerable at a company that is struggling to stay afloat in an ever-changing digital environment?

We do not have a clear answer to those questions, so we are left to ask, "What on earth did Joey Kennedy do, or not do, to merit termination?" The reasons given, according to Veronica, were that Joey was "too personally involved" in covering his beat and he had engaged in  "threatening" sources. Here is a portion of her Facebook message:

For those of you who haven't heard: My husband, Joey Kennedy, was fired by Alabama Media Group on Thursday for being "too personally involved" in covering his beat and for "threatening" sources. Up until then, the same bosses had been praising him for developing the animal beat so well. He had been with the Birmingham News/AMG almost 34 years. He won a Pulitzer Prize and was in the top three for a Pulitzer two other times. He was named best columnist in the state FIVE times, and he received numerous writing and community service awards, including the Incarnation Award from Beloved Community Church and the Abe Krawchek award from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society Auxiliary.
Yes, he was personally involved in his beat. Any good journalist is. No, he did not threaten anyone. He is a good man and a wonderful husband who loves his wife, animals, and people. I He received no severance. Our health insurance ends on Feb. 28, and he received his last full paycheck yesterday. What a way to reward loyalty.

I didn't know a reporter could be "too personally involved" with his beat. That kind of commitment is what makes great reporters. The line about "threatening" sources is even more curious, and it reminds me of some of the bogus charges UAB management concocted against me when I was "terminated" in May 2008.

Let's see if we have this straight: Joey Kennedy is roughly my age and has effectively interacted with thousands of sources for more than three decades. He has taught English at UAB, and as one of the most high-profile writers at the state's largest newspaper, I'm sure he has been invited to speak before groups all over the metro area, the state, and probably the region.

He successfully manages that terrain for years--but now, all of a sudden, he resorts to "threatening" sources? Why would Joey Kennedy need to "threaten" a source? Specifically, who did he threaten and what did he threaten them with?

Somewhere amid questions of that sort probably lies the real reason that Joey Kennedy got fired. He was known as a rare moderate/liberal voice (maybe the only such voice) at a news outfit dominated by right-wing sensibilities. That might have put a target on his back.

My guess is that Joey Kennedy didn't "threaten" anyone. In the new world of digital media, reporters are encouraged to interact with readers in comment sections, to voice opinions in addition to presenting the facts, to have followers on Facebook and Twitter, and to do it all with a sense of immediacy and urgency. It appears Joey Kennedy was not shy about sharing his opinions--his Pulitzer Prize was for editorial writing--and one would assume that al.com encouraged him to do that. After all, many journalists these days are judged by their number of "hits" and "page views," rather than the quality of their reporting.

Perhaps Kennedy made a statement with which some community figure didn't agree, and the person complained to higher ups about it. Like bad managers everywhere--such as the ones I encountered at UAB--they would rather stab an employee in the back than stand behind him.

Are office politics and age involved in this? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised; both definitely were present in my termination at UAB.

Was Joey Kennedy treated with anything that remotely approaches fairness? Well, we learned about three weeks ago that reporter Kyle Whitmire received court documents (from a divorce case styled Brinyark v. Brinyark) that pointed to an extramarital affair involving Republican political candidate John Merrill. Whitmire indicated in a column that he stuck the information in a drawer and never even consulted an editor about it.

Whitmire's actions blew up on al.com when we reported on the Merrill affair, and it became a statewide story. In fact, it became such a major story that Merrill gathered with four al.com journalists for an interview that proved to be a transparent attempt to sweep the controversy out of view--especially now that Merrill is Alabama secretary of state, with his eye on either the governor's office or Richard Shelby's U.S. Senate seat.

(Note: We have received several tips about other "zipper issues" involving John Merrill, beyond the Brinyark case. We are investigating those tips now.)

In his al.com interview, Merrill provided several "explanations" that his own mother probably would not believe. For example, Merrill admitted to having a sexual encounter with Millie Brinyark, as described in her sworn deposition, but claimed she lied about providing him with oral sex. This somehow passed the smell test of all journalists present and made it into print, generating guffaws that probably still haven't died down.

Which brings us back to Joey Kennedy. Four al.com journalists combined on the Merrill case to produce a story that was sophomoric (at best) and embarrassing (at worst). But it appears that all four of those journalists still work at al.com.

As for Kyle Whitmire, he committed an act of journalistic malpractice by hiding the Merrill story, but he still works at al.com. We're not certain of Whitmire's age, but our guess is that he's in his 30s.

Meanwhile, Joey Kennedy's record suggests he has firm opinions, but it's highly unlikely he would do anything to merit termination. He is, however, out the door-- and we're guessing that he's well into his 50s.

Perhaps that's the big story underlying all of this: Age discrimination is alive and well in America's workplaces--and Joey Kennedy might be its most recent victim.

Monday, February 23, 2015

John Archibald and al.com finally seem to understand that we have a problem with corrupt courts and cops


John Archibald
Alabama's largest news organization has become aware that we have a problem with our corrupt justice system. A columnist for al.com has acknowledged that cops and courts abuse everyday citizens on a fairly routine basis. It's taken a while, but perhaps scales are starting to fall from some eyeballs.

I'm pleased to learn that John Archibald is having an awakening on the subject, via a column titled "This country is about to have a throwdown over abusive cops and courts." The piece apparently was inspired by the case of Sureshbhai Patel, the grandfather from India who was body slammed by an Alabama police officer and suffered a spinal injury requiring surgery.

A video of the Patel incident apparently went viral and made international news, causing Archibald and others at the former Birmingham News to sit up and take notice. But they are slightly late to the party, and I know from personal experience they have a history of ignoring court-related corruption--no matter how blatant it might be.

My wife and I have been dealing with corrupt judges and lawyers in Shelby County for 15 years--and I've been reporting on court corruption since starting this blog almost eight years ago. Our experience reached absurd and frightening levels when I was arrested on October 23, 2013, based on a dubious defamation lawsuit filed by Republican political honcho Rob Riley. For good measure, Riley also sought the arrest of my wife, even though she had nothing to do with Legal Schnauzer at the time.

Along the way, we have not been alone. I've written about numerous Alabamians--Sherry Rollins, Mark Hayden, Linda Upton, Angela Drees, Joe Blackburn, Bonnie Cahalane, and others--who have been victimized in Alabama courtrooms.

Where was al.com during all of this? Somewhere around 2004 I visited former editor Tom Scarritt at his office and offered documents and other details about court corruption in Shelby County. Scarritt showed zero interest in the subject and almost laughed me out of his office.

A year or two later, I met with Archibald at a coffee shop in downtown Birmingham. Archibald did listen to what I had to say, he asked some questions, and took some notes--but he never wrote anything about it.

What does Archibald say now, in the wake of the Patel case? This is from his most recent column:

I've been asked a lot lately, in the wake of the gay marriage debate, what the next great civil or human rights battleground will be. And I think this is it.

Justice. And all that means.

It is the use of force by police. It is the fairness of justice for the rich and the poor alike. The battle is simmering now, in places like Ferguson and Madison, and more quietly in courts like those in Childersburg and Clanton, where the smallest of traffic offenses can lead to jail time for those who cannot pay immediately.

What does this mean for all of us? Archibald provides perspective:

It is shaping up to be our next big fight. Which is sad, because we shouldn't have to fight at all.

For this is--as it must be--a nation of laws. For rich and for poor, for black and white and brown, for those who set out to do society harm, and for those with badges and guns--and gavels--who harm it in the name of protection. And revenue.

And law and order.

Are Archibald and Co. serious about taking on injustice? Here is one way we can tell: We've shown that, beyond doubt, the charge against Officer Eric Parker in the Patel case is incorrect--it's a misdemeanor, but the law calls for it to be a felony. Will al.com look into that? We'll see.

That is just the beginning. I would be glad to get with Archibald or another reporter and provide details about Judge Al Crowson's corrupt actions in the Sherry Rollins case (Shelby County), Judge Robert Vance Jr.'s actions in the Mark Hayden case (Jefferson County), Judge Sibley Reynolds'  actions in the Bonnie Cahalane case (Chilton County), and Judge Gary Pate's actions in the Linda Upton case (Jefferson County). And that doesn't even count my own experience of being the only journalist to be arrested in the western hemisphere in 2013, contrary to more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

Are you serious about injustice, Mr. Archibald? If you are, dive right in with the rest of us. You might be amazed at the kind of historic difference you can make.

The water is murky, and the undertow is nasty, but we've been swimming against the tide for a long time--and we're still here. You are more than welcome to join us.

Susan Lindauer and I go deep beneath the surface on the political prosecution of Alabama's Don Siegelman


Susan Lindauer
I was the guest Saturday for a live discussion of the Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer on truthfrequencyradio.com.

We discussed the overwhelming evidence of corruption that led to the former Alabama governor's conviction, along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. We also discussed Siegelman's pending appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, focusing on federal prosecutor Leura Canary and her apparent failure to step aside from a case in which she and husband Bill Canary (head of the Business Council of Alabama) stood to gain financially.

The two-hour interview probably is the most detailed examination of the Siegelman case to hit the airwaves in several years. It shines light on the role that compromised federal judges played in criminalizing standard political behavior.

First up is trial judge Mark Fuller, whose company (Colorado-based Doss Aviation) benefited from millions of taxpayer dollars during the U.S. government's case against Siegelman--and yet, Fuller never recused himself. Here is a portion of what we reported about Fuller's conflicts of interest in May 2009, based on a report by Andrew Kreig at Huffington Post:

Recent additional research by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University found that Doss Aviation has been awarded more than $300 million in federal awards since Fuller began presiding over the Siegelman case in 2005. The scope of Doss Aviation's work is illustrated by the company's website, http://www.dossaviation.com/. Among other things, it displays a photo of Doss Aviation refueling the presidential plane Air Force One as part of its extensive refueling work for the Air Force. The website also describes the company's vital role in training Air Force pilots, and in manufacturing uniforms for federal military and civilian employees.

Kreig's reporting also shined light on the major role that Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks played in exposing Fuller's corrupt actions involving Doss Aviation:

Weeks put his evidence into a comprehensive filing to Fuller on July 25, 2003. The filing alleged "clear evidence of criminal misconduct" by Fuller both before and after he became a federal judge. Weeks wrote, "The evidence of criminal wrongdoing identified in this affidavit implicates lying and perjury; criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) of approximately $330,000; and, misuse of the office of district attorney and federal judge in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud. . . . "
According to Weeks's statement, the problem was Fuller's cozy arrangement with his state staff that enabled him to lead Doss Aviation in Colorado Springs while also drawing a full-time salary as state district attorney in Alabama. Weeks suggested that the pay raise and pension fight for the investigator were, in effect, hush money.

We also discussed U.S. Judge Bill Pryor, who started the Siegelman investigation while serving as Alabama attorney general and apparently was rewarded by the George W. Bush administration with a plum, lifetime appointment on the Eleventh Circuit. Who was Pryor's campaign manager when he ran for statewide office in Alabama? Why, it was none other than Karl Rove, also known as "Bush's Brain." Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer and former GOP operative, provided sworn testimony before Congress that Rove had pushed the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Siegelman.

Bill Pryor
Despite our lengthy discussion, Lindauer and I did not get a chance to discuss Pryor's ties to 1990s gay pornography and its role in reportedly turning him into a fixer for Rovian interests on cases before the Eleventh Circuit, covering Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

We will have more soon at Legal Schnauzer about the nude, gay-porn photos of Pryor, and their origins with a mysterious gentleman named Ernie. Several readers from the LGBT community have contacted us with background information about Ernie and the Pryor photos, and we are compiling posts on that subject now.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the Lindauer interview by clicking on the link below:


Roger Shuler interview about Don Siegelman case at Covert Report with Susan Lindauer

Friday, February 20, 2015

Will it "play in Peoria?" For Legal Schnauzer, mainstream sensibilities seem to say the answer is yes


Billy Dennis, "The Peoria Pundit"
Peoria, Illinois might be the most mainstream place in the U.S. Peoria long has been seen as the prototypical American city, with the kind of representative demographics and heartland sensibilities that make it an ideal test market for new products and ideas.

Some reports indicate other American cities have passed Peoria as a test-market site. But the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?" dates to the vaudeville era, and it remains well known today.

With that as a backdrop, we were pleased to learn recently that Legal Schnauzer apparently "plays in Peoria." A blog called The Peoria Pundit calls LS "the best citizen journalism site out there."

"And it’s good," the Pundit says, "even though they’ve done their best to silence him with jail. That’s right. If you blog about the legal system in Alabama, they will lock your ass up."

The Pundit is Billy Dennis, a veteran newspaperman who describes himself as "a liberal with some libertarian tendencies."

Dennis has the kind of feisty temperament that Schnauzer readers should find endearing. "If you don't like that, you can kiss (my) red, white and blue butt," Dennis writes. "This blog is the unedited voice of Billy Dennis and is owned entirely by him. Take it or leave it."

I appreciate The Pundit's kind words, and I like his attitude. I think his blog is one worth following, even if you don't know much about Peoria. Maybe that's because there is a little bit of Peoria in all of us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama cops is on full display for all the world to see--in multiple cases




The stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama police officers is on glaring display in the video that captures the body slamming of Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather from India who was in the state to help his son and daughter-in-law take care of their newborn son. (See video above.)

Similar stupidity and dishonesty would be on display if a video of my arrest in Shelby County, Alabama, ever is made public. I saw the video during my bench trial for resisting arrest in January 2014. At the time, it was under the control of assistant district attorney Tonya Willingham (tonya.willingham@alabamada.gov or 205-669-3750), and as public property, it still should be in her possession.

Let's consider the Patel video first, and two mind-blowing elements of it jump out at me:

(1) Almost from the moment the officers confront Patel on a sidewalk in Madison, Alabama, it's clear the older gentleman does not speak English. The 10-minute video, from the first police cruiser, shows this. In the first 1:30 of the encounter, an officer says, "I can't understand you, sir," and Patel mentions India and appears to point toward his son's house, a seemingly clear sign that he is not from this country and does not speak English, but has legitimate reasons to be here. Despite that, officers keep badgering Patel and giving instructions in English--acting baffled when he doesn't respond well and tries to quietly walk away. The encounter should have ended there, with no sign of a crime on Patel's part, but that's not what happened.

(2) At about 2:10 on the longer video, Officer Eric Parker tells Patel: "Do not jerk away from me again, or I will put you on the ground. Do you understand?" About four seconds later, Patel does not appear to be moving and certainly is not jerking. But Parker grabs him by the back of the neck, trips him, and thrusts him forward to violently land on his head.

(3) After all of this, the cops still don't seem to get it. "He don't speak a lick of English," one cop says. "I don't know what the problem is," another says. (See 3:26 video at the top of this post.) After the officers have almost broken Patel's neck by jamming his head into the ground, they seem amazed that he can't walk. "Stand up, stand up," one of them says. "You can walk," says another.

Let's consider a few elements from my encounter with Shelby County officer Chris Blevins:

(1) In his incident report, Blevins states that he has two warrants for contempt of court in his vehicle. But the video shows that they stayed in his vehicle, and he never showed them to me or mentioned that he had them. (See incident report at the end of this post.) He reports walking inside our garage to tap on the trunk of our car--all without showing he had any legal authority to be there or verbally stating why he was there. Despite that, Blevins apparently was surprised when I got out of my vehicle and, in his words, "began yelling for me to get out of his house." Gee, can't imagine why I would do that. An armed stranger, who has shown he has no legal grounds to be there, is walking right into my house--even after being told to get out. Why would that concern me?

(2) Blevins admits he made the initial physical contact after I put my right hand in my right front pocket. Apparently, he thought I was reaching for an assault weapon. (News flash: I was putting my car keys in my pocket, where they always go when I get home.) Blevins also noted that I pushed a button to close the garage door behind us. I don't remember doing that, but I do remember thinking, "Don't close the door because you want this guy out of here." It's possible I reflexively pushed the button because I've been doing it that way when I've come home for 25 years.

(3) Blevins then writes, "I told Mr. Shuler that I had a warrant for his arrest," but this is a lie--and the video proves it. He never mentions an arrest, his apparent purpose for being there, until after I've been knocked to a concrete floor three times and maced in the face.

(4) On the video, Blevins can be heard repeatedly saying, "Don't fight me, don't fight me" as he is shoving me around. But according to Blevins own words, I wasn't fighting him--it was the other way around. The only physical act that Blevins describes of me is putting my arms in front of me--an effort to try to protect my face and glasses from his flailing arms.

(5) Blevins admits throwing me through boxes, to the floor, three times. Never does he say I took any offensive action against him, other than raising my arms in front of my face.

(6) At my resisting-arrest trial, before District Judge Ron Jackson, prosecutor Willingham was ordered to turn over copies of any warrants as evidence. Her reply? "Your Honor, we don't have any." And she didn't ask for a recess, so that she could go find the warrants in her office, which is in the same building. As of now, it's a matter of court record that no warrant existed for my arrest. And that raises a whole bunch of disturbing questions under a landmark U.S. Supreme Court that we will be discussing in upcoming posts.

My entire arrest was captured on video, although it has some flaws. Blevins' vehicle was parked at about a 45-degree angle to our garage, so when we go inside the garage and the door closes, the dash cam loses sight of us and mostly shows our backyard. Audio, however picks up the whole thing--and that shows that Blevins entered our home without showing, or saying he had, a warrant. Blevins' own words, show that he initiated physical contact, and I never lashed out at him; I never cursed or threatened him, and I never tried to run away. Also, after Blevins and I exit the garage, Officer Jason Valenti can be heard threatening to break my arms.

The video should be made public.

Meanwhile, how in the world did I get charged with resisting arrest from all of this? Even conservative legal analysts, such as Ken White at Popehat blog, have said the preliminary injunction against me was prohibited under the First Amendment, and that means my arrest for allegedly violating the injunction was unlawful. On top of that, I contested service in the lawsuit--I did not ignore the court's order, as has been widely reported--and I'm aware of no hearing at which proper service was established. Without that, the court did not even have jurisdiction over me.

Maybe that's why no warrant has turned up. Perhaps no one wanted to sign a warrant for a citizen over whom the court had no jurisdiction.

Popehat is based in Los Angeles, and over all that distance, attorney White smelled something funny about my conviction for resisting arrest. He wrote:

It's not clear from the reporting how the prosecution proved the elements of the offense. I'm not talking about my standard skepticism of police claims that a suspect improperly resisted. I'm talking about proving that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

Under Alabama law resisting arrest is an attempt to prevent a lawful arrest. Resisting an unlawful arrest is not, as I understand Alabama law, a violation of the resisting arrest statute. To make a lawful arrest under Alabama law, a peace officer must have an arrest warrant, or must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, or must observe the suspect commit a crime. Shuler apparently argued at trial that the arresting officer didn't have a warrant and didn't observe any crime, and that therefore the arrest was not lawful and Shuler could not have committed the crime of resisting arrest. . . . Regrettably the news coverage of the brief bench trial doesn't clarify how the prosecution proved (if it did) that the arrest was lawful in the first place.

Popehat raises a powerful question: Can you be charged with resisting an unlawful arrest?

We will address that question shortly.


(To be continued)


(Note: Below is Officer Chris Blevins' incident report on my arrest. I have not run this previously because I've seen an Alabama Attorney General's opinion that says only the front page of an incident report is public information; the back page, including the narrative, is considered officer work product and therefore is not public. However, as the subject of the arrest, I am entitled to have a copy of the report, so I believe that overrides any work-product privilege that Blevins might assert. Anyone who wants to challenge this is welcome to contact me, but under the circumstances, I believe the following document is public information, especially since it all took place inside my home.)




Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Indian legal expert says lawsuit in Sureshbhai Patel beating is "anaemic" and unlikely to achieve justice


Sureshbhai Patel
The lawsuit filed in an Alabama police officer's beating of a grandfather from India is weak and might not result in significant restitution for the victim, an Indian legal expert says.

Ravi Batra, a lawyer based in New York, used the term "anaemic" to describe the civil complaint.

Sureshbhai Patel, 57, remains in a Huntsville, Alabama, following spinal fusion surgery to treat his injuries. At the moment, it appears Patel will not achieve justice on the criminal front either. That's because Officer Eric Parker has been charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, even though the law shows the charge should have been a felony (either second- or first-degree assault). Parker already has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor count.

Batra's critical take on the Patel lawsuit came in an interview with Narayan Lakshman, of The Hindu newspaper. From the article:

Speaking to The Hindu Ravi Batra, the New York-based lawyer who defended Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her party in a U.S. court, argued that the case filed in Madison by attorney Hank Sherrod mentions the City of Madison as a defendant but excludes it from individual counts brought by the lawsuit, instead targeting the individual officers who assaulted Mr. Patel.
Compounding the apparent weakness of the lawsuit is the fact that a jury trial for Mr. Patel’s case, which his complaint calls for, risks being racially tilted given that U.S. Census data indicates that within the population of Madison County there are more than 27 white residents for every Asian.

The Madison Police Department also could be getting off easy in the civil case, Batra says:

While it was unclear whether Mr. Sherrod was taking a soft approach toward suing the City of Madison, it appeared that the Madison Police Department was also neatly manoeuvring towards a position where it may not be possible for a court to require the Department to pay Mr. Patel to the full $100,000 legal limit for such tort claims.
This was apparent after Police Chief Larry Muncey took action last week to arrest and recommend firing Eric Parker, the officer who threw Mr. Patel to the ground without warning and left him with severe spinal column injuries.
With Parker unlikely to remain in the police force, Mr. Batra noted, Chief Muncey may have effectively “immunised” the Police Department from lawsuits, as supervisory liability apparently does not exist for civil rights violation cases such as these unless there was evidence of a conspiracy.

Could the lawsuit be made stronger? The answer appears to be yes, but the road to justice for Mr. Patel still presents obstacles. One can only imagine how tough the case would be if the assault had not been videotaped:

The Patel family may still have an option to strengthen the lawsuit by proving that it was the “policy and practice” of the Madison Police Department that led to the attack on Mr. Patel, a fact that could be corroborated by the fact that the two other officers at the scene did not appear to stop or criticise the actions of Parker.
Meanwhile, The Hindu has also analysed U.S. Census data for Madison County which suggest that 69.6 per cent of county residents were “white alone,” that is, not of mixed race, and only 2.5 per cent of residents were “Asian alone.”
Given that juries across the country are usually selected across socioeconomic groups broadly to represent the distribution of the population of the county or district in question, the Patel lawsuit may face a preponderantly white jury who may not be keen to convict a white police officer of an attack on an Asian and foreign national.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why isn't Alabama police officer charged with a felony for assaulting a 57-year-old grandfather from India?


Officer Eric Parker
An Alabama police officer faces a charge of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for body slamming a 57-year grandfather from India. But our analysis of applicable law indicates officer Eric Parker should be charged with either second- or first-degree assault, both felonies that call for potential prison time.

Is the Alabama legal establishment trying to protect Parker, even though his body slam of Sureshbhai Patel near a Madison sidewalk has drawn international news coverage? The answer appears to be yes.

Ironically, news broke this afternoon that Parker had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. One could argue that is appropriate because the misdemeanor charge is improper; it should be a felony.

Assaults are covered under Code of Alabama 13A-6-(20-22). Third-degree assault is a Class A misdemeanor, second-degree assault is a Class C felony, and first-degree-assault is a Class B felony.

The dividing line between misdemeanor and felony assault is the presence of "serious physical injury." That clearly is present in the Patel case, so Parker must be charged with felony assault.

How badly was Patel injured? According to news reports, he has been hospitalized for several days, he has been partially paralyzed, he has undergone spinal-fusion surgery, and he faces months of physical therapy. Does that amount to "serious physical injury"? Let's look at Alabama law.

A case styled Brock v. State, 555 So. 2d 285 (Ala. Crim. App, 1989) is instructive. It states:

"Serious physical injury" is "[p]hysical injury [impairment of physical condition or substantial pain] which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." Section 13A-1-2(9).

Mr. Patel received an injury to his spine, which clearly involves "protracted impairment of health." The violence with which he was slammed on his head also created a "substantial risk of death."

It's hard to see how anyone could seriously argue that the Patel case does not involve "serious physical injury." Because of that, under Alabama law, the charge against Parker must be a felony--either second- or first-degree assault.

Code of Alabama 13A-6-21 (Assault in the Second Degree) states, in part:

(a) A person commits the crime of assault in the second degree if the person does any of the following:

(1) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he or she causes serious physical injury to any person.

(2) With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he or she causes physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

(3) He or she recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

Under Alabama law, (2) involves only "physical injury," so that would not apply to the assault on Sureshbhai Patel. But Nos. (1) and (3) would. No. (1) involves straightforward infliction of "serious physical injury," which is present here. No. (3) involves infliction of such injury by use of a "deadly weapon or dangerous instrument."

Sureshbai Patel
What does that mean? Alabama law has held that various body parts, including hands and fists, can meet the definition of deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. A case styled Hollis v. State, 417 So. 2d 617 (Ala. Crim. App., 1982) involved charges of an adult male using his fists to beat his 81-year-old mother. From Hollis:

The indictment charged that appellant caused serious physical injury to Dixie Hollis "by means of a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument, to-wit: by beating her with his fists." In Stewart v. State, 405 So.2d 402 (Ala.Cr.App.1981) this court stated the following:

"Certainly the use of an adult man's fists to beat a seventeen month child may appropriately allow those fists to be classified as a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument." 405 So.2d at 405.

In our judgment, the same classification is appropriate when an adult man uses his fists to beat his eighty-one-year-old mother, and under the facts of this case, we hold that appellant's fists were a "deadly weapon" or "dangerous instrument," Stewart v. State, supra.

Under the facts and the law, Officer Parker used a "dangerous instrument" (his hands) to inflict "serious physical injury" on Mr. Patel. That points to a felony--second-degree assault.

What about the intent required in a felony assault? That's not as difficult to prove as you might think. From Wells v. State, 768 So. 2d 412 (Al. Crim. App., 1999):

Intent may be presumed from the use of a deadly weapon, the character of the assault, and other attendant circumstances surrounding the assault.

Case law also has held:

"Further, `"[i]ntent, we know, being a state or condition of the mind, is rarely, if ever, susceptible of direct or positive proof, and must usually be inferred from the facts testified to by witnesses and the circumstances as developed by the evidence."'

The facts, as made clear on video, make it likely that intent easily could be proven, under the law.

Could this be a case of first-degree assault, under Alabama law? I believe the answer is yes. Code of Alabama 13A-6-20 (Assault in the First Degree) states, in part:

(a) A person commits the crime of assault in the first degree if:

(1) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes serious physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument; or

(2) With intent to disfigure another person seriously and permanently, or to destroy, amputate or disable permanently a member or organ of his body, he causes such an injury to any person; or

(3) Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to any person;

The law classifies Parker's hands as "deadly weapons" or "dangerous instruments," so I believe No. (1) applies. A solid case also could be made for No. (3).

Why can this not be a misdemeanor assault? Because the law on third-degree assault involves only cases that result in "physical injury" (as opposed to "serious physical injury.")  "Physical injury" has been defined, in a case styled Vo v. State, 612 So. 2d 1323 (Al., Crim. App., 1992):

A "physical injury" is "[i]mpairment of physical condition or substantial pain." § 13A-1-2(8), Code of Alabama 1975.

Courts have held that cuts, scrapes, bruises, and abrasions can qualify as "physical injuries." The damage to Mr. Patel went way beyond those.

The bottom line? Someone in Alabama's legal hierarchy classified this as a misdemeanor case when it is, in fact, a felony case.

What difference does it make? With a misdemeanor assault conviction, Parker likely would face probation and a relatively small fine. Incarceration of up to one year is possible, but my research indicates that is extremely unlikely.

A felony conviction could bring imprisonment of 1 to 20 years and a fine ranging from $15,000 to $30,000.

The difference is substantial--a felony charge says this is being treated as a serious matter; a misdemeanor means, more or less, that "the officer didn't really mean to do it, and spinal surgery isn't all that serious anyway." Not sure what kind of person could view the facts and the law here, and make that kind of statement with a straight face.

So far, it appears that someone is trying to do a favor for Officer Parker. The public should not stand for it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Indian grandfather Sureshbhai Patel is not alone; Alabama cops assaulted me in a similar fashion





The story of an Alabama police officer body slamming a 57-year-old grandfather from India, leaving the man partially paralyzed, should not come as a surprise to Legal Schnauzer readers. That's because a similar event happened to me, and I've chronicled it here.

Sureshbhai Patel was in Madison, Alabama (a Huntsville suburb), to help his engineer son and daughter-in-law with their newborn baby. Officer Eric Parker responded to a "suspicious activity" call, confronted the non-English speaking Patel, and wound up slamming him to the ground headfirst--all for the apparent "crime" of "walking on the sidewalk while having dark skin and wearing a toboggan."

Parker was fired and faces a third-degree assault charge. Patel had spinal-fusion surgery and faces months of physical therapy.

Patel weighs about 130 pounds, and at last report he remains in a Huntsville hospital--it's unknown if he will regain full use of his limbs, although his condition seems to be improving. The assault has become an international story, with many news outlets in India running it on the front page of their Web sites.

A video of the violent encounter, which can be seen at the beginning of this post, probably has gone viral. I've watched it perhaps a dozen times, and I get a sense of dread each time before clicking "play".

Why the visceral reaction from me? To a considerable extent, I've been in Patel's shoes. I know firsthand the lack of regard Alabama "law enforcement" officers can show toward a citizen who has committed no crime--and for whom they have no lawful grounds to detain.

The assault against me also was captured on video, but it has not been made public. I've seen it, and it should be available via Tonya Willingham, of the Shelby County, Alabama, district attorney's office at tonya.willingham@alabamada.gov or (205) 669-3750.

On October 23, 2013, about 6 p.m., Shelby County, Alabama, officer Chris Blevins almost hit my vehicle with his cruiser as I tried to pull into our garage. Blevins was unable to block my path, so I pulled into the garage, exited the vehicle, and prepared to push a button to close the garage door. Blevins showed no warrant, said he had no warrant, and did not state why he was there--but he began entering my garage anyway. He asked me to step outside, and I told him to get out of my house. In a matter of seconds, he was on me--shoving me to a concrete floor three times, spraying me with mace, and calling for another officer to help drag me some 25 feet to the driveway outside.

Ironically, Sureshbhai Patel and I are almost the same age. I was one month from my 57th birthday when Chris Blevins attacked me. I'm 58 now, so Mr. Patel actually is a little younger than me.

I was lying face down on my driveway when Officer Jason Valenti threatened to break my arms because I couldn't get my hands in the proper position to be handcuffed. That was largely because I had never been arrested in my life and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing--plus, I was disoriented and almost immobilized from the mace, which was dripping all over me.

Someone placed me in the back of a sheriff's vehicle, where I could hear officers talking about also trying to arrest my wife, Carol. Thankfully, she was taking a nap in an upstairs bedroom and did not hear what was going on. She awoke later that evening, well after dark, and had no idea where I was. Her first clue came when she went downstairs to our basement and saw boxes and other items strewn everywhere--clear signs of violence. Her first thought was that I had been murdered, probably because of something I had reported on this blog.

She contacted a friend who has a legal background, and he was able to discover that I had been booked into the Shelby County Jail. I had been arrested and would stay in jail for more than five months, becoming the only journalist to be arrested in the western hemisphere in 2013, and the only one this century to be arrested on a purely civil matter.

In the week after my arrest, officers came to our house several more times, in apparent efforts to arrest Carol. They failed, and she was able to get out word about what had happened to me--and like the Patel case, it made international news.

(A video at the end of this post shows the scene in our garage after I was attacked. Carol describes for a reporter what I had told her about the nature of my arrest. Thanks to Matt Osborne for this video and his coverage.)

What prompted law enforcement to swarm our property, both before and after my arrest? No one had made remotely criminal allegations against me or Carol. Rather, a powerful Republican political figure named Rob Riley (son of former governor Bob Riley) had filed a defamation lawsuit against me--and he named Carol in the suit, claiming she served as "administrator" of the blog, even though she was not involved with it in any capacity.

Sureshbhai Patel
Riley had sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, both of which are prior restraints that are prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law, including a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from 1931 called Near v. Minnesota, plus a 1993 case styled Alexander v. United States. I had responded to Riley's lawsuit--I did not ignore it, as has been widely reported--by filing a motion to quash service because we had been given court papers during a bogus traffic stop that represented a violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures.

I'm not aware of a hearing ever being held on my motion to quash, and I'm not aware that Riley provided any evidence that service was lawful, as was required of him under Alabama law. If a plaintiff has not proven proper service--and I never was notified of any hearing on the subject--the court has no jurisdiction over defendants.

That was the status of the case at the moment Chris Blevins set foot in my garage.

Service had been contested as improper and invalid, the court had no jurisdiction over me until proper service was proven, and there had been no hearing or ruling on that issue. With the relevant law as a backdrop, perhaps you can understand why I was insistent that Chris Blevins get the hell out of my garage.

I knew Blevins had no lawful grounds to be in my house, just as Officer Parker had no lawful grounds for body slamming Sureshbhai Patel.

The point here is not to compare the two incidents; both are horrifying examples of police abuse. An argument could be made that, due to the nature of Mr. Patel's physical injuries, his case was worse than mine. An argument could be made that, due to the fact I unlawfully spent five months in jail, my case was worse than his.

What's important, in my view, is that no one has been held accountable for what happened to me--and that could have contributed to what happened to Mr. Patel. My case remains fresh, well within any applicable statute of limitations, but there has been no civil-rights lawsuit, no FBI investigation, no criminal investigation of any sort. All of those things have happened, or are happening, in the Patel case--as they should.

If serious action had been taken against the bad actors in my case, would the Patel case have never happened? Did my case represent the kind of harsh lesson that needed to be driven home to Alabama law enforcement, in order to protect people like Mr. Patel, to protect all of us?

At the very least, the assault against me indicates you are not safe from law-enforcement thugs even if you have white skin, speak English, are standing inside your own home, and have lived in Alabama for 35 years, as I have. Mr. Patel's sin seemingly was having dark skin and an inability to understand English; mine was being a practicing journalist, willing to write tough stories about the state's legal and political elites.

(By the way, none of my reporting has been proven at trial to be false or defamatory. In the Riley case, there was no trial because Riley didn't ask for one. Judge Claud Neilson acted as a one-man censor of this blog, in gross violation of Near v. Minnesota and its progeny.)

With no accountability so far in my case, did that help set the stage for the abuse of Sureshbhai Patel--did it almost make his case inevitable, given Alabama's toxic history on race and justice? I would argue that the answer is yes.


(To be continued)