Category Archives: Law

Map of the day: Freedom of Expression Index

From Global Support for Principle of Free Expression, but Opposition to Some Forms of Speech [PDF], a new report on attitudes across the globe from the Pew Research Center:

Microsoft Word - Pew Research Center Democracy Report FINAL Nove

Laura Flanders: Surveillance and community

Los Angeles has always been one of the bastions of the surveillance state, where all means, fair and foul, were used to investigate and discredit not only criminals but activists who were deemed a threat to the city’s powerful business interests.

Bombs, sex, blackmail, and — quite possibly — murder were tools in the hands of the city’s “Red Squad” and its successors, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, and the Anti-Terrorist Division.

We have written before about our own journalistic experience with these organizations, as have other journalists, and the record is indeed grim [see this timeline from the Anderson Valley Advertiser for more details].

While a series of lawsuits forced significant reforms in LAPD’s surveillance regime, they have been significantly undone thanks to the political expediency of the “War on Terror.”

From the Laura Flanders Show via Telesur English:

Hamid Khan: The Surveillance-Industrial Complex

Program notes:

Surveillance, spying, and infiltration has a long history in the United States — from the Police Red Squads in the 1880s to the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to today. This week’s guest says The “surveillance-industrial complex” has profound but poorly understood impacts on our political, structural, economic, and cultural lives. Hamid Kahn is the director of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Political Research Associates, and Youth Justice Coalition. Also in this episode, we meet the students that forced Columbia University to divest from private prisons. All this, and Laura discusses US government spying on Black Lives Matter movement activists.

In October, 2011, Larry Aubry described one notorious Los Angeles Police surveillance program for readers of his column in the LA Sentinel, a publication serving that city’s African American community:

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 11 (SO 11) is the lead model of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) initiative launched in 2008. SO 11 trains and authorizes LAPD officers to gather street level intelligence and information based entirely on “observed behavior.” Such purely, and/or largely subjective and arbitrary police action signals a “surveillance industrial/governmental complex” at the local level. Through SO 11, LAPD and the Department of Homeland Security have established a vague and ambiguous reporting system combined with vague and virtually unlimited authority. SO 11 solidifies a system that normalizes racial profiling and places the brunt of repressive policies on Blacks, other communities of color and immigrants.

SO 11’s fundamental premise is that each and every person is a suspect, hence, a threat to national security. It codifies “suspicious activities” through a LAPD, Suspicious Activities Report (SAR) that documents “any reported or observed activity or criminal act, or attempted criminal act which an officer “believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism,” which is downright scary.

Here are excerpts from LAPD Special Order on SAR, APPENDIX B: “Information reported in a SAR may be the result of observations or investigations by police officers, or may be reported to them by private parties. Incidents (over 40 listed) which shall be reported on a SAR include the following: “Engages in suspected pre-operational surveillance (used binoculars or cameras, takes measurements, draws diagrams, etc.); appears to engage in counter-surveillance efforts (doubles back, changes appearance, evasive driving, etc.); engages security personnel in questions focusing on sensitive subjects (security information, hours of operation, shift changes, what security cameras film, etc.);

“Takes measurements (counts footsteps, measures building entrances or perimeters, distances between security locations, distances between cameras, etc.; takes pictures of video footage (with no apparent aesthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.); in possession of, or solicits, sensitive event schedules (i. e., Staples, Convention Center) ” , etc., etc…….” God forbid!

And Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston wrote about the newest twists in LAPD’s panopticon ambitions for LA Weekly in February 2014:

Los Angeles and Southern California police. . .are expanding their use of surveillance technology such as intelligent video analytics, digital biometric identification and military-pedigree software for analyzing and predicting crime. Information on the identity and movements of millions of Southern California residents is being collected and tracked.

In fact, Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring.

The use of militarized surveillance technology appears to be spreading beyond its initial applications during the mid-2000s in high-crime areas to now target narrow, specific crimes such as auto theft. Now, LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff are monitoring the whereabouts of residents whether they have committed a crime or not. The biggest surveillance net is license plate reading technology that records your car’s plate number as you pass police cruisers equipped with a rooftop camera, or as you drive past street locations where such cameras are mounted.

If history teaches anything, it’s that the forces of repression will exploit any tragedy to augment their own powers. The history of the LAPD offers ample proof.

Quote of the day II: Willie+Barry+Weed

From Joe Heims interview of Willie Nelson for the Washington Post:

JOE: You’ve been a big proponent of legalizing marijuana, and as you probably know, D.C. legalized it last year.

WILLIE: You know, I was in Washington the day they legalized it. I happened to be playing at the White House, so I asked President Obama, “Did you hear they legalized pot here today?” and he said, “Yeah, I heard about that.” And I laughed. And he said, “Well, you know, I’m from Hawaii.” So we had a big laugh about it.

JOE: Did you light one up at the White House?

WILLIE: No. Well, I did, but not with him.

And the Hawaii reference refers to antics of this young Occidental College student from Hawaii, a hip-lookin’ dude sportin’ a Panama hat and Bogartin’ a doobie:

The Infamous Bogartin' Barry O

The Infamous Bogartin’ Barry O

Quote of the day: Police bodycam letdown

From Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge:

[W]hichever cameras are used, it’s increasingly clear police will control the footage. In a recent survey of 25 departments with body camera programs, only two made the footage available to individuals filing complaints against the department, and only four had systems to prevent tampering or unauthorized access. There are a number of pending state bills that would clarify policy standards, but it’s unlikely the rules will get any stricter about sharing video. If anything, the current systems will cut off more radical solutions like sharing video outside the police department. “We see that starting to fade,” one camera manufacturer told me, referring to citizen access systems. “The more you bring transparency into the process, the less need there is for that.”

The Mafioso, missing beef, and death by arson: A censored story appears, four decades later

esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee for three years, starting in January, 1983. We left because of censorship of stories we reported involving organized crime in California and its ties to politics and corrupt union officials.

What follows is one of those stories, the last we wrote on the Bee’s payroll. It is a story about the Mafia, corrupt businessmen, and a fatal arson.

It is also a story that’s never before been told in its full scope. We submitted it on 28 June 1985 and met with the expected response from an editor wearing a solid gold Rolex with a diamond-studded bezel: “It’s not the sort of thing we’re interested in.”

But it’s a story that should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas, and we think it should be finally told:

An element of mystery still lingers

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened,” said the judge. “There was just too much going on.”

“My feelings are that all of these little arms are part of the same octopus,” said the prosecutor. “I think organized crime is the right adjective. I think it’s totally organized.”

All the investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case agree that they never got to the bottom of it all. But some things can be said for sure about a drama that had been playing out for more than a decade.

Tehama County’s largest stable employer was bankrupted, scores of workers lost their jobs, a arsonist died in a Long Beach because of a fire he had set, and scores of ranchers lost livestock and cash.

The cast of players includes a talented sausage-maker who was less skillful as an entrepreneur, an Arizona businessman with a shadowy past and shadowier linkers to th Teamsters Union, and a mafioso with powerful connections.

The name of then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also surfaced in a nor found in a fugitive’s briefcase that triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The Beginnings

The story opens in 1972.

Nicholas J. Cichirillo Sr. was a skilled maker of Italian sausage and, the the time, principal officer of Messina Sausage Company.

“Cichirillo decided he wanted to expand, explained Roger Boren, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who got to know Chicirillo when he prosecuted him got arson and grand theft.

Cichirillo engineered the merger of four firms into one company. They were: Messina Sausage; Selecto Sausage, an East Los Angeles manufacturer of Mexican-style sausage; Capri Sausage of Covina, another Italian sausage firm; and The Red Devil, Inc., a pizza restaurant chain.

The resulting firm was called Messina Meat Products, Inc., and was based in Covina — although Cichirillo incorporated in Utah after buying a corporate “shell” called Wasatch Iron and Gold Co.

It was in 1975 that Cichirillo ran into trouble. That’s when Messina Meat Products acquired Minch Meats of Red Bluff.

A family-owned firm for 41 years, Mich Meats was Tehama County’s largest employer. Minch was an attractive takeover target. The company owned equipment for reprocessing meat — for removing fat and boine and packing the beef into leaner, more nutritious cuts.

In 1974, according to former company president Robert Minch, the firm had done just over $30 million in business and employed over 150 people.

Just how Cichirillo learned of Minch is still an open question in the minds of law enforcement investigators.

Enter ‘Sal the Swindler’

Sources have told the Bee that before the sale to Messina, Salvatore Pisello may have met with one of the company’s owners. Munch, the grandson of the firm’s founder, says he doesn’t recall ever meeting Pisello, although “somebody mentioned that Sal was going to do this or that.”

Though a sale was allegedly discussed, Pisello didn’t buy the firm then — it went to Cichirillo. Pisello surfaced as an owner later, along with one of Southern California’s most prominent citrus and meat magnates. But more of that later.

Pisello had been a target of law enforcement investigators for decades. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have labeled him a member of the powerful Gambino Family from New York.

According to an FBI report, Pisello once bragged to an informant of starting restaurants with “laundered” underworld funds received from Meyer Lansky, the mob’s late financial genius [and model for the Hyman Roth character in Godfather, Part 2].

Pisello has also been linked to frauds in Italy, a ripoff at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and to an alleged scheme to smuggle heroin into the country in airborne lobster tanks used in a fish importing business he once ran.

According to an FBI file, one of his street names is “Sal the Swindler.”

And the troubles begin

Minch and his three partner taded their interest in Minch for a share in Messina and the deal was consummated in July.

But Minch Meats was in trouble even as the deal was being signed. Minch said his company simply couldn’t compete with Midwestern firms, which relied on lower-priced labor, assembly line techniques,m and cheaper feeding procedures.

In the West, Minch said, Safeway set the price standard for beef carcasses, and the price was less than the cost of production. To avoid financial hemorrhaging, Minch remodeled the plant to produce “portion control” prepackaged cuts which, he hoped, could be sold as a higher-priced brand name line.

But stock of beef accumulated in the Minch plant. Buyer weren’t that interested in portion control, and unions refused to accept company-suggested wage concessions.

An attempt to void the existing labor contract failed, despite predictions from company lawyers that courts would strike down the contract, Minch said.

Then disaster fell. Messina filed for bankruptcy on 5 December 1975. When the front doors were locked and workers forced out, some of the plant’s new equipment disappeared — although no one knows where it went, according to William O. Scott, the former Tehama County District Attorney who conducted a seven-year investigation of Messina in conjunction with the district attorney’s office.

Also missing was a large amount of beef for which Tehma County ranchers and feedlots hadn’t been paid.

The investigations commence

Alerted to the missing beef and equipment, Scott began an investigation with the help of Robert Crim, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

According to the public statements of the California Cattlemen’s Association at the time of the collapse, Minch owned $780,000 [$3.53 million in 2015 dollars] to beef producers and $100,000 [$452,000 today] to workers.

At one point the missing beef was reportedly stored in a Sacramento warehouse, but by the time a creditor appeared at the warehouse with a court order, the beef had vanished. Minch speculates that it was unloaded by his former partners for ten cents on the dollar.

During the period of the collapse, one of the four original partners, Donald L. Stroud, had been unloaded his own stock onto another partner, H.L. “Tex” Allen.

According to a lawsuit Allen filed later, Stroud had told him that he had access to 60,000 shares of Messina stock they could acquire jointly at a bargain price.

The stock Allen bought turned out to be Stroud’s personal or family holdings — sold, according to court records, after Stroud had assured Allen that the company’s financial outlook was good.

When Messina collapse, Allen was left holding Stroud’s stock and Stroud was holding $37,000 of Allen’s cash.

[Stroud became a controversial character in Tehama County again in the mid-1980s when his Exchange Enterprises, a barter service exchange, collapse, leaving particpants on the hook for thousands of dollars and leading to another criminal investigation by the county district attorney.]

After the jump, a wiseguy takeover, the lethal arson, Teamsters money-laundering, a political connection, convictions, and more. . . Continue reading

Ayotzinapa students get another beatdown

On 26 September 2014, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Tixtla, Guerrero, Mexico, went missing after police and possibly soldiers opened fire after the students commandeered buses in nearby Iguala — an event which we covered in some depth.

The state teachers colleges produce poorly paid instructors for rural communities, instructors drawn from the regional poor, and at Ayotzinapa they live in cold, concrete-floored unfurnished rooms.

So if students want to go to events in nearby communities, they sometimes commandeered local buses, something that had gone without violent suppression until that night, which had the misfortune to coincide with a with an event of major importance to the mayor’s spouse.

Just what happened to the students remains a mystery, though one bone fragment has been identified as belonging to one of the 43.

Less than 14 months later, students again commandeered buses, along with a gas truck to keep them fueled. And police violence followed.

From the Los Angeles Times:

More than a dozen students were hospitalized in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero after they were detained and beaten by scores of state and federal police officers, according to human rights activists.

About 150 students from a rural teachers college were traveling in eight buses on the highway from the state capital of Chilpancingo toward the small rural town of Ayotzinapa just after 4 p.m. Wednesday when state police pickups began pursuing them, according to the Guerrero-based human rights group Tlachinollan and witnesses.

Cellphone video provided by one of the students purports to show a police pickup driving up to the back of one of the buses and breaking in the windows.

The students attend the Ayotzinapa teachers school; 43 of their were detained and subsequently disappeared in the nearby city of Iguala in September 2014. The students Wednesday were on their way back from raising money for their campaign on behalf of the missing, Tlachinollan said.

Here’s that video, via Anon Hispano, along with a Google translation of the Spanish text:

Federal police began assaulting students #Ayotzinapa 11/11/2015

Program notes:

Treacherous attack took place in the shed nearby Tixtla, Guerrero, by federal and state police to students of the Normal Rural ‘Isidro Burgos’ Ayotzinapa, under the pretext of the abduction of a pipe of Pemex, with a balance at least 20 injured and 10 arrested.

More context from Fox News Latino:

Wednesday’s confrontation outside the municipality of Tixtla occurred when the officers intercepted a tanker truck carrying 30,000 liters of gasoline that the students had commandeered in the state capital of Chilpancingo and were taking to Tixtla, where the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School is located.

The students, who were traveling in around 10 buses, tried to recover the tanker, leading to a clash in which the state police used batons and tear gas and the trainee teachers responded by hurling rocks and other objects at the officers.

An Ayotzinapa spokesperson told EFE that many of the students took refuge in nearby hills and that one of the 15 detainees was Ernesto Guerrero, a survivor of the deadly Sept. 26, 2014, events in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.

Al Jazeera’s AJ+ has more video from the scene:

Ayotzinapa Students Attacked By Mexican Police On Video

Program notes:

“The truth is these m*****f****** were chasing us, but this is how they chase criminals, isn’t it?” At least 8 Ayotzinapa students were hospitalized after they said they were attacked by Mexican police.

More in a video report from Telesur English:

Mexico: Police Attack on Ayotzinapa Students Repudiated

Program notes:

In the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, public opinion and social organizations are deeply concerned and angered over Wednesday’s police attack on Ayotzinapa students. The brutal attack, video of which was filmed by the students, left 8 students seriously injured and hospitalized. Critics say the attack is part of a strategy by the state government, now in the hands of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, to discredit the students and criminalize their protests. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

And a Telesur English website update has the latest on the conditions of the injured students:

In Mexico, eight students from the now-infamous teacher training school in Ayotzinapa from which 43 students were disappeared in 2014 remain hospitalized after they suffered police brutality Wednesday: four are in critical condition.

According to the students’ lawyer, Vidulfo Rosales, two people have fractured bones in their the arms, and another in the face. Juan Castro Rodriguez was left in the most serious condition, with a “grade one” head injury.

Rosales, a human rights attorney, demanded that the students be moved from the Raymundo Abarca Alarcon hospital to private facilities, paid for by the Guerrero state government, as he said a bed shortage meant the students were kept standing while waiting for medical attention and did not receive adequate care.

Along with the 20 injured students, 13 students were detained and 20 injured during the attacks by Guerrero state police Wednesday night.

And elsewhere in Mexico. . .

From Telesur English:

Hundreds of Afro-Mexicans in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero lived moments of terror when a group of men armed with AK-47s and AR-15s stormed their local celebrations and opened fire, killing at least 12 people, including two children and a women, according to local reports on Tuesday.

The attack was carried out Sunday night in the small, mostly Afro-descent community of Cuajinicuilapa, near the border with neighboring state of Oaxaca, the town mayor Constantino Garcia said.

Police officials also found shells that they say were fired by .38 caliber and 9 mm semi-automatic handguns.

Authorities have yet to reveal the possible motives of the attack, because as it stands now and based on the weapons used, federal security forces, including military, could be responsible, as well as organized crime.

Boosting the political chances of xenophobes

With the xenophobic parties and candidates on the rise in the U.S. and Europe, today’s front pages are an undisguised blessing for their rabble-rousing rhetoric.

First, the homepage of the Washington Post:


Next, the New York Daily News:


Next, USA Today:

BLOG Paris USA Today

And the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Paris LA Times

Next, on to London, where the immigrant issue is equally volatile, first with the London Daily Mail:

BLOG Paris London Mail

And the London Telegraph:

BLOG Paris London Telegraph

Finally, to France and the homepage of Le Monde:

BLOG Paris Le Monde

UPDATE: Another Parisian paper, Libération, Tweeted an image of the front page of its print edition:

BLOG Paris Liberation

UPDATE II: And the New York Times, a paper we somehow had neglected to include, a very rare full page banner on the website::

BLOG Paris NYT 2

UPDATE III: And our final one for the night, with The Guardian and the latest numbers:

BLOG Paris Guardian