Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Rights of victims are a low priority

Post by Brian O'Neill on Feb. 19, 2012 at 7:48 pm with 17 Comments »
February 20, 2012 3:30 pm

Consider the following news headline: “Mother loses court battle – accused serial molester will have access to kids”

How about this one: “Visitation granted to man after court advised of sexually deviant images on his computer”

Or even: “Defeat of HB 2588 a signal that accused have more rights than future victims”

I’ll admit it - these headlines are fiction. However, they do represent another possible spin on recent events. These examples are alternate versions that, instead of highlighting individuals arrested for crimes focus on the safety and the rights of their victims.

Jerry Sandusky arrested/ abcnews.com

The mother in the first example is Jill Thomas, Jerry Sandusky’s daughter-in-law. Thomas’ situation is very troubling: She failed to convince a Pennsylvania court that Sandusky, who is awaiting trial on several counts of child sexual assault, should not have access to her children (source: Pennlive.com). This case has garnered a great deal of media attention, both from the vile crimes reported by the large number of victims’ to Sandusky’s own disturbing comments in a televised interview. Sandusky has not only failed to project his innocence, he has managed to portrayed himself as the creepy monster his crimes suggest.

The second headline is an obvious reference to the Josh Powell murder fiasco. Much has been said about the supposedly incestuous images in Powell’s computer and the psychosexual exam to which he had been ordered to submit. Unfortunately, little has been said about the court’s decision to grant Powell supervised visitation with his kids. From an objective standpoint, he was a bad risk. In Utah, he was and remains the only person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell. Upon his return to our area he chose to reside with his father, Steven Powell, who was soon arrested for child pornography. Powell himself was recently found in possession of 400 sexual images on his own computer, some of which were incestuous in nature. These caution markers should have served as a roadblock for the civil court which granted Powell custody of his sons, Charlie and Braden Powell. We know how that turned out.

The last example refers to HB 2588, a that bill would have required people arrested for felonies to provide a DNA sample. As a Trib update reports, HB 2588 simply failed to make it to the floor. Despite the fact that DNA matching has already shown real promise in catching dangerous criminals (not to mention assisting in the release of wrongly incarcerated individuals), the legislature chose instead to focus on the potential technicalities involved in swabbing the mouth of people arrested for serious crimes. The legislature should have compared DNA collection to the level of intrusion the innocent air traveler must endure: barefooted and beltless, with the option of a semi-nude scan or hand search. 

If this is the reaction to a simple mouth swab, then it is a wonder fingerprinting was ever allowed.

These examples make a loud statement about the rights of victims in our system of justice. In deference to the political action committees of the ACLU, defense attorneys and other ultra-liberal cognoscenti, our courts and legislatures continue to defend the accused while refusing a victim, either now or in the future, the right to be safe from violence.

That means the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world, arrested and awaiting trial for unspeakable acts against children, have the legal right to mingle with kids. It means that courts can grant deeply troubled individuals access to their children, while ignoring any number of danger signs. It means that the legislature is less concerned with preventing future acts of violence if it means challenging the notion that the rights of the accused are sacred in our society.

It is time for our courts and our lawmakers to get their priorities straight.

A mother’s sense of outrage notwithstanding, in civil court the rights of the accused trump any potential harm to children.

  • The victim of a vicious rape decided that she could not withstand the stress of trial, a decision which freed her stalker and negated the sexual assault protection order against him
  • The U.S. Supreme Court was forced, yet again, to overrule the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco over its decision to allow the parents of a
Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. PumainTacoma says:

    Sweep up corrupt Tacoma police mess
    SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2012 SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER.
    Published 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, November 18, 2003

    Few in Tacoma can be heartened by the news that their city’s police department is corrupt, but not “criminally corrupt.” Even if criminal charges can’t be filed, heads should roll.

    The damning report from Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Washington State Patrol Chief Ron Serpas on the troubled cop shop gives a chilling context to the Brame murder-suicide case. It shows that even seemingly isolated acts of violence may be connected to the culture surrounding the perpetrator.

    Tacoma’s citizens are well served by the fact that Gregoire and Serpas possessed the fortitude and force of law to take over the investigation.

    While alleging no criminal violations, Gregoire and Serpas reported finding evidence of discrimination and harassment, illegal orders, immoral conduct, failure to investigate domestic violence (not surprising when the chief is himself a perp), lying, improper evidence handling and using sex as a route to promotion.

    The department culture needs immediate attention by Tacoma’s mayor and City Council.

    Waves of scandal have arisen out of this case like stench off rotten meat: the chief, the assistant chief, the city manager — the last two slinking off with healthy pensions. The scandal and the scandalous behavior must be stopped. The bad cops need to be identified and disciplined or dismissed.

    The people elected to govern the city must make cleaning up this department their highest priority. “Hey, it’s not like we’re criminally corrupt” makes a lousy campaign slogan.

    Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/opinion/article/Sweep-up-corrupt-Tacoma-police-mess-1130065.php#ixzz1mwL0Yewl

  2. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Brian:

    While I share yours (and everyone’s) outrage with the Powell scenario, if we’re going to analyze this through the perfect lens of hindsight, let’s consider the fact that there was ample opportunity on the part of the state to prevent this tragedy.

    In recent days, social workers have come out said they had concerns about Powell’s potential to hurt his kids. If so, why only mention that fact after the kids had been killed? If it was such a huge concern, why not bring it up sooner, and better yet, to the court? If those concerns weren’t enough to dissuade the court from allowing visitation, then why allow the children to enter Powell’s home before the supervisor?

    The court ordered a psychosexual exam of Powell, that’s a fact that is constantly brought up, as if it were simply a formality before concluding what everyone already knew. What no one seems to mention is the fact that the results of that exam were in no way damning of Powell. The psychologist noted that Powell had a problem reigning in his criticism of the boy’s maternal grandparents, but otherwise found him to be a good, fit parent.

    Given that, why would the court deny him visitation? In hindsight, yes, he was a murderer, but anyone who says they knew something that could prove that fact before the tragedy is ultimately responsible for allowing it to happen. If the social workers were so sure that their opinions of Powell were more accurate than the psychologist who examined him and the judge that authorized the visitation, then why wait until the kids had been taken from their control to contact law enforcement? If your job is to protect those kids on their visitation and you don’t feel they are safe on that visitation, then you need to call the police before handing the kids over to that potential threat.

    As for Sandusky, like Powell, he has not been convicted yet. And while one of the several parents of his many grandchildren object to him having supervised visitation, none of the others do.

    Believe me, I’m not defending Powell or Sandusky; I’m just saying, look objectively at the two cases. In Sandusky, supervised visitation at the discretion of the childrens’ parents has resulted in 8 of 11 grandchildren being able to visit their grandfather, with no death or sexual abuse. In Powell, poorly-supervised visitation at the discretion of the state, supported by a realtively positive physchosexual exam and the silence of retrospectively concerned front-line agents resulted in two children being beaten with a hatchet and then burned alive.

    …Perhaps this is an issue the nanny state is not best equipped to address.

    Certainly, I see the need to supervise such visitations when a person has been accused of a crime. But to disallow visitation altogether presumes guilt. Further, should the accused be cleared, the state has potentially poisoned a familial relationship by assuming it knows how best to manage interpersonal dynamics.

    I understand that you view this as assigning more rights to the accused than to the victim, but you’re ignoring the fact that before Powell’s final acts, his boys weren’t — and as of now, Sandusky’s grandchildren aren’t — victims. Preserving the rights of the accused isn’t done for the accused; it’s done for the rest of us, so that we know that if we are ever falsely accused of a crime, the state can’t just come in and take away everything we have up to and including our closest personal relationships.

    The accusation of a victim may be sufficient to burden the freedoms of the accused, but it’s not enough to take away their rights. Otherwise, why would we even have trials?

    Lastly, I know we discussed HB2588 in a previous post, but please explain: just how it would have prevented the Powell tragedy or some future envisioned crime by Sandusky against his grandchildren, if it were in effect?

    The fact is, it wouldn’t. It would have simply been another overreach by an intrusive state to catalog genetic information on someone it once suspected of a crime. And even if it were conclusive proof of a crime, it would have absolutely no preventative quality, as that information could not become evidence of a future crime until that crime actually occurred.

  3. Objective says:

    Would like to say I agree with Slick, especially the last paragraph. There are NO preventive measures for future crimes being committed.

    The only advantage I could see from this, is more funding for local, county and state agencies. If they want more funding, I would say use it for a few more LEO’s on patrol.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Pimp- Good points, all. I would argue that No Contact Orders are routinely given to “alleged” victims of domestic violence because our society has recognized the grave danger to the victim that these crimes pose. That recognition is lacking when it comes to allegations of physical or sexual abuse, and the result is that many people are victimized who would otherwise have been kept safe from harm.

    The DNA collection bill may not have prevented either Sandusky’s or Powell’s crimes, but these are just two drops in a large ocean. Having DNA samples has enabled law enforcement to locate and incarcerate many individuals throughout the country, and the people they would otherwise have victimized are now safe. I don’t view the DNA mouth swab as being any different from fingerprinting – in the end, DNA technology will become ubiquitous and we’ll forget why we had this discussion.

  5. Brian.in spite of how many no contacts orders are in place,most of those no contact orders will be ignored.And when the ignored orders are reported, very little or nothing is done about that.I suspect the Justice System feel the problem will go away like dust in the wind.So I feel There will be continue to be tragedies printed in the Newspapers about ignored No contact orders.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Sincere- Thanks for your comment. I am aware that No Contact orders can be ignored. In fact, the chance of violence actually increases for women after the service of such protection orders, but that’s a different issue. Children who are allowed to remain in safe environments, rather than released to dangerous parents or guardians, are far less likely to come to harm than a lone woman with no place left to go.

    In terms of other victims’ rights issues, there are legitimate ways to go about protecting people. HB 2588, for example, will pay dividends for criminal justice because it will provide a higher case closure rate for violent crime.

  7. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Brian:

    No one is suggesting children be “released to dangerous parents or guardians;” rather, I’m suggesting supervised visits at the discretion of, and controlled by, the person(s) with legal custody of the children. This is what is presumably working with Sandusky and his grandchildren, and what we know was not employed in the case of Powell and his boys.

    As you said, these are only two drops in an ocean of examples, but they are the examples you provided in your blog post.

    You say that HB2588 would have paid dividends to the criminal justice system due to higher case closure rates. I don’t argue that point. I’m arguing the ethics of going that route. There are many ways to increase case closure rates: requiring the DNA of every person to be catalogued at birth; allowing police to conduct warrantless searches; allowing admission of any evidence/confession obtained by police, regardless of how it is obtained. All of those would help, I’m sure, but the point is that the criminal justice system from start to finish — by definition — is a rule-bound institution. What you suggest with the DNA collection is a teleological approach to policing.

    I realize this is an extreme that you probably wouldn’t want just for the sake of making your job easier, but police don’t make the laws. And if a legislator thinks he’s just making the job easier for police by taking your approach, how far off is it before we see laws that require annual polygraphs for groups of people the police find suspicious? Or laws eliminating the need for search warrants when the subject to be searched has criminal record — or even just an arrest record?

    I know my previous comments on HB2588 explained how poorly-devised that bill was. Building on that, let’s assume HB2588 were in effect, and Subject A has been accused of a crime, and his DNA is now on file with the state. Subject B’s DNA is found at a crime scene. Subject B’s DNA is not in the state database, but we are able to determine definitively that Subject B is the biological son of Subject A. Should the police now have the authority to round up every one of Subject A’s known children and test them? Would that require a warrant, or would definitive knowledge of Subject B’s relation to Subject A be sufficient to simply arrest the known children and collect their DNA for the database? And if it is, what happens when all of Subject A’s “known” children are tested, and none are Subject B? If any of Subject A’s known children have previous arrests, or are arrested within a year subsequent of that initial roundup, their DNA is never allowed to be purged from the database.

    But is that okay with you, because it might serve the end goal of closing cases, even though the police still don’t know the identity of Subject B?

    What if you, personally, were one of Subject A’s sons? Would it be fair to suspend you from your job, possibly arrest you, and definitely catalogue your DNA based solely on your known relation to Subjects A & B? This would be an inevitable consequence if HB2588 were law.

    Not every case is going to close. Bad things happen to people, and sometimes they don’t get justice. That’s the cost of ensuring everyone has the same rights. I just don’t see the very narrow potential benefits of DNA cataloguing outweighing the very real, very broad, and immediate intrusion on indivual rights that it guarantees.

  8. Chippert says:

    Brian,
    What you are decrying are two basic tenets of our form of government. The first is the principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty. I do not know all of the details of the Sandusky case but I do know that he (and most others charged with sex crimes) are convicted in the court of public opinion as soon as the charges are made known. Little regard is made for the foundation of our justice system. Fortunately some courts and the ACLU (even if I dislike many of their other “causes”) do recognize this and refuse to be swayed by popular opinion. In the Josh Powell case, with the discovery of the images on his Utah computer, there was definitely probable cause that could allow a court to provide a no-contact order and the failure to do so warrants investigation.

    The other principal that I refer to is the right to privacy. Yes, DNA sampling could solve many crimes but it is just another brick in the wall. What is next? DNA sampling at birth to be able to solve even more crimes? ID chips implanted in everyone just like we do pets? Tracking chips? Everyone presumed to be a potential criminal always? Each small step is a step down the road to complete lack of privacy and even more 1986-Big Brother form of society. And each step taken is extremely difficult to reverse.

    Yes, victims rights should be zealously guarded. But those VERY SAME rights apply to the accused and should be just as zealously guarded. Just because you are unfortunate to be a victim does not give you special privileges or rights under the Constitution. There is no such thing as “victim’s rights”, there are only Human Rights and that applies to all.

  9. I for one can see a huge benefit from all citizens being on a DNA database.For a database being available to law enforcement would be a huge Plus in my estimation.How many crimes have been solved with fingerprint technology?How many criminals are behind bars because of this action?The fingerprints can be wiped off but the DNA evidence is another matter.I know there are many people that would cry that the Police Power is too great in the DNA being collected from all citizens,but I see nothing wrong from the Guilty party being correctly identified by the best method available.Oh,this would also exonerate innocent people also!

  10. Chippert says:

    Yes, you could solve many more crimes if you tag all babies with an RFD tag so that their every movement could be tracked. That way, you can tell exactly who was at the scene of the crime. Are you willing to do that too? Or you can have your neighbors report your every move and every suspicion, as had been done in the past in certain countries. It really is not much more invasive than DNA-printing everyone. There is a limit to the amount of personal freedom that we can and should surrender in the guise of better law enforcement.

  11. Chippert says:

    RFID, not RFD.

  12. itwasntmethistime says:

    The difference between getting patted down at the airport and providing a DNA sample upon arrest lies in what is done with the information. If you don’t have anything dangerous with you at the airport there is no further scrutiny and there is no data to keep. Once you provide a DNA sample that data stays on file forever, even if you are not convicted of the crime you have been charged with.

    I don’t want rapists and murderers running around free, but I also don’t want to permanently invade the privacy of innocent people. If you don’t think that’s a big deal think about how you’d feel if it happened to you. How would you like to miss work or your kid’s graduation because some cop decides he doesn’t like your haircut or the color of your skin so he makes up a reckless driving charge just so he can get you added to the database?

  13. Brian O'Neill says:

    itwasntme- Thanks for the comment, but…

    How do you equate the idea of rapists and murderers running around with innocent people having DNA samples resting dormant in a file? I think most people would gladly donate a wad of their spit for the noble effort of keeping their friends, family and fellow citizens safe. Many people already donate a bodily fluid for that purpose at the blood bank.

    I assume that the “kid’s graduation” incident happened to you, because otherwise you are treading in a bizarre and random world to which I have yet to travel. Either way, you are assuming the corruption of a police officer and I see no point in switching topics – especially since you toss out the statement in an offhand and very demeaning fashion.

  14. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    itwasntme:

    I agree with Brian that your “kid’s graduation” example is a bit of a stretch. And you’re wrong in identifying the difference between a TSA patdown and a DNA collection at arrest. The difference there is not what is done with the information, but rather that you voluntarily submit to one and the other will be done by force if you don’t cooperate.

    As much as you dislike the TSA groping you, you are in complete control of that situation. If you don’t want to be searched by the TSA, you can leave. They can’t detain you and they can’t require you to submit to a search, unless you insist on moving past the checkpoint — something you do not have a Constitutional right to do. DNA collection as Brian is in favor of, on the other hand, would consist of police taking people off the street or out of their homes (and don’t read into that comment Brian, I’m not implying impropriety) and taking them to jail where an involuntary and warrantless search and seizure of a constituent part of their body would be conducted — by force, if necessary — in the off chance that what they take might possibly identify or exclude that person as a perpetrator of a future crime that may never occur.

    Brian:

    I don’t think itwasntme was equating rapists and murderers running around to innocent people having DNA samples sitting in a file… the 4th, 5th, 8th & 14th Amendments make that comparison.

    I’m sure most people would gladly donate their spit for such a purpose. You have to admit that most people are sheep, though, and will do whatever they are told. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

    Also, I wouldn’t say that the “DNA will sit dormant in a file” is an accurate assessment. It will be constantly referenced everytime DNA from a new crime scene is found. That may not be an intrusion that the provider of the DNA is aware of, but it is an intrusion nonetheless. Every time DNA is found, every person in that database will be a suspect. Granted, nearly all will be cleared of suspicion right away, but having your DNA on file due to a public intoxication charge doesn’t warrant placing you in a suspect group for rape or murder, whether you’re aware of it or not.

    And it’s disingenuous to say that people donate blood for the same purpose. Blood banks aren’t administered by the state, and the blood they collect isn’t kept. There is no law enforcement aspect of what blood banks do, and most importantly, blood donation is just that — a a voluntary donation. In fact, it is a crime to take blood from a person without their consent. The state can’t even force prisoners to donate blood or organs (assuming blood banks or UNOS would take them).

  15. BlaineCGarver says:

    Brian, how about some words of wisdom on how people can improve their odds NOT to be a victim? I’m not sure you actually approve of armed citizens, but that is a good place to start, and work down in effectiveness from there.

  16. serendipity says:

    Brian, read The United States Constitution. A person is innocent until proven guilty. This is a premise of our nation allowing us to be a free society. Requiring a DNA sample prior to a conviction is very strange. One would have to burn the Constitution. I understand this is frustrating for foot patrol officers and others, but there is a reason for this protection.

    What I wish could happen is that all DNA samples taken from rape kits could get tested. I know women who had the tests done after being raped and those kits sit untested despite the fact they and foot patrol officers, detectives, etc. have objective evidence of who the rapist is. This would result in more convictions.

    As for fingerprints, anyone who has served in the military, been a teacher or arrested has those on file on disc at a prosecutor’s or FBI agent’s “fingertips” within minutes now thanks to a French company that was based (partially) here in Tacoma (Morpho). A detective can enter a crime scene, dust for prints and find out who that person is in a nano second. I see how this contradicts the DNA statement I just made earlier. Well, those kits would remain unopened anyway. How about starting by seeking justice for living victims by opening the existing DNA kits. This would help a friend of mine who through no fault of her own (many men like to blame women)was raped in Pullman. The horrible joke about Pullman and WSU is as follows: Men go there to get drunk and women to get raped even if they have not been drinking, which my friend had not been doing.

  17. BlaineCGarver says:

    Why is a DNA sample different than a fingerprint that is taken taken in, and processed. There is no conviction yet in that case???

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