Gabby Petito: Police BodyCam Video of Traffic Stop

Tragically, 22 year old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito’s remains were found today in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after her being reported missing for weeks. She was on a van trip with her fiance Brian Laundrie. He returned home to Florida weeks ago in the Gabby’s van without Gabby. He decided not to talk to the police regarding Gabby’s whereabouts, although, he has a right to remain silent. As of last Tuesday, Brian is now missing. The cause of Ms. Petito’s death has not yet been determined.

Here is the full video from the officers bodycam of the traffic stop of Brian and Gabby weeks before she was reported missing. Traffic stop begins at 19:34 and was posted on youtube by Crime & Justice by Mentour lawyer. (posted here for educational purposes only).

As a former domestic violence prosecutor, may this video result in better training and response of officers in the handling of possible domestic violence situations (and Miranda rights training). Simply, my opinion.

May Ms. Petito rest in peace. My condolences to her family and loved ones.


Oscar Pistorius Faces Premeditated Murder Charge

Oscar Pistorius will be charged tomorrow with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He is expected to enter a plea of not guilty with a trial to begin in March 2014.

Did he plan to and intend to kill Steenkamp (premeditated murder) or was it an accidental killing?

Reeva was behind a locked interior toilet door with her cell phone in the very early morning hours of February 14, 2013. Neighbors claim they heard arguing coming from Oscar’s home. According to Oscar, he and Reeva were sleeping in the bed when he heard a noise. He gets out of the far side of the bed, goes to the other side of bed, the side closest to the bathroom where he hears the noise, and grabs his gun which is underneath the bed just below the area where Reeva was sleeping. According to the bail hearing, he doesn’t call out to Reeva or check that she is safe. He instead fires several shots into the toilet believing an intruder was inside and kills Steenkamp dead.

Read my posts: Oscar Pistorius Intruder Defense is Nonsense & Oscar Pistorius What Doesn’t Make Sense.

As a former domestic prosecutor, the evidence, so far, unfortunately, points to a tragic domestic violence killing. Fear of losing was the intruder.

Simply my opinion, what say you?


Oscar Pistorius Intruder Defense Is Nonsense

(Update 8/18/2013: Pistorius to be formally charged tomorrow with premeditated murder of Steenkamp. Not guilty plea expected with trial to begin in March 2014. No doubt, it will be a battle of the forensic experts.)

Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp out of fear. Fear of losing her, the same reason domestic violence victims are killed by their partners. The only intruder that evening was Oscar’s emotions. Call it jealous rage, heat of passion, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment or unresolved grief from the loss of another woman he deeply loved, his mother, the result is the same, a 29-year-old woman is dead. Shot 4 times by her boyfriend, Oscar.

Anyone who knows anything about domestic violence or has suffered as a victim of domestic violence knows what happened to Reeva in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day and knows why Reeva took her cellphone into the toilet and locked the toilet door at 3 am. Doors are locked for protection.

Yet, defenses can be crafted to play or capitalize on people’s fear. After all, any salesperson knows emotions are how you sway outcomes. Ask OJ Simpson, a high-profile athlete who walked, when he played on people’s fear of racism, police corruption, and distrust of the police to distract from a classic DV killing. So far, Oscar’s intruder defense is working. As reported, it clearly “resonates” with the public. It is meant to and it is meant to sway the ultimate decider, the trial judge. Who doesn’t have a fear of an intruder? Yet, is that really what happened here? Certainly, it allows people to look away from the ugly truth of domestic violence. But, unlike the OJ Simpson case, domestic violence is front and center. We know Oscar killed Reeva, he admitted it. The question is “why” not “who”. Now, we have to look even deeper as to the “WHY” did he kill and that puts domestic violence on trial.

The intruder defense is nonsense. Oscar claims he has a fear of intruders yet he leaves the bedroom balcony sliding doors open as they slept. There were no burglar bars on the bathroom window. The bathroom window was left open. Ladders were left outside of the house. Does that sound like someone who has a fear of intruders? Simply, not credible. But, maybe you want to “resonate” with an intruder fear because it is easier than looking at the ugliness of domestic violence. Or, maybe you’d rather focus on whether the police wore shoe covers and ignore that Oscar shot at someone behind a locked door, a situation lacking danger and provocation, amounting to an unjustified killing.

Oscar’s version is simply not plausible. Are we to believe that Oscar would not protect the “love of his life” when faced with a possible intruder? Would you leave “the love of your life” in bed without alerting them, ensuring their safety or even checking on their whereabouts before you go to check for an intruder? I find it interesting that the talking heads on TV explain it away by saying, “you never know what you would do in that situation” Hogwash. Ask anyone. We instinctively protect the ones we love.

Having prosecuted domestic violence cases, I get it. People don’t want to look at problem of domestic violence, they’d rather blame it on a victim’s clothing or an intruder. And, they certainly don’t want to see it in someone they have idolized for years like a national hero or a celebrity. Who wants to admit their hero is a killer? Or, that they were deceived? Or, if he could kill in rage, could I?

Given the public outrage over the recent brutal gang rape of a 17-year-old South African woman, the growing epidemic of violence against women and the fact that a woman in South Africa is raped every 3 minutes, an “accidental” killing would surely avoid more public outrage, unrest and a quick conviction. Maybe, Oscar believes he accidentally killed Reeva, but, who would believe that Reeva didn’t cry out after the first shot?

Maybe, it wasn’t a coincidence that Reeva had begun to speak out about violence against women. Just as she began to shine the light on domestic violence, her death will hopefully bring awareness, change and healing.

And, maybe, Oscar can turn his pain into helping others heal their emotional wounds before they act out in violence.

Rest in peace, Ms. Steenkamp.

Simply my opinion, what say you?

Read my other post: Oscar Pistorius What Doesn’t Make Sense


Brent Musburger Comments: Are Women Possessions?

You tell me, did ESPN Sportscaster Brent Musburger’s comments, during last Monday’s Alabama v. Notre Dame Football game, about the QB’s girlfriend, Miss Alabama’s Katherine Webb, place a value on women? Objectify women?

Brent Musburger said, “you see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I’ll admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama, and that’s A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend. Wow, I’m telling ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman! Whoa! So if you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops.”

CNN contributor, Dean Obeidallah, along with many others immediately dismissed Musburger’s comments as “playful” or otherwise, and they wonder why the “instant outrage”.

Are women possessions? Do men, young men or football players “get” women?

Although Mr. Obeidallah, a former attorney, did identify the problem (and the reason for the outrage) when he said, “The only criticism that’s arguably fair is Musburger’s implication that if you are great quarterback, you will have earned a beautiful woman– a reward, more than a human being. If that had been Musburger’s intention, that, of course, would have been wrong.”, he also doesn’t realize the damage. When you use words like “get” or earned” in reference to women, there is no implication or confusion as to what is meant. We all immediately understood the “implication”, as evidenced by the instant outrage. (Read his full article here)

When you place a value on or objectify any woman, you devalue all women. And, when women are devalued, women are fired for being “too attractive”, paid less, denied access to health care, lawful abortions, forced to submit to invasive vaginal probes, forced genital mutilation, forced into prostitution, trafficked for sex, beaten by their partners, raped and, gang raped, allegedly, in Steubenville Ohio and New Delhi India. (Read my prior article here)

I can tell you, as a former domestic violence prosecutor, the words and implications do matter.

And, gentlemen, hats off, for, unknowingly, opening up the discussion and shining the light on how women are valued, or, not valued.

Simply my opinion, what say you?


Ohio Gang Rape: DOJ Found Steubenville Police Misconduct in 1997

Turns out, the protests claiming a “police cover-up” or “corruption” by the Steubenville Police Department and City Leaders to protect a group of local “Big Red” high school football players allegedly involved in the gang rape of a teenage girl were to be expected.

Why?

In 1997, the US Department of Justice found a “pattern or practice of” civil rights violations by the Steubenville Police Department including excessive use of force, false arrests, false charges, tampering with evidence, false reporting, and political corruption resulting in a lawsuit against the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, the City Manager, and the Civil Service Commission.

The DOJ alleged in the Steubenville lawsuit, “that officers of the Steubenville Police Department have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges,or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, and the Steubenville City Manager (in his capacity as Director of Public Safety) have caused and condoned this conduct through inadequate policies and failure to train, monitor, supervise, and discipline police officers, and to investigate alleged misconduct, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 14141.” (US v. City of Steubenville, Steubenville Police Department, Steubenville City Manager, in his capacity as director of Public Safety, and Steubenville Civil Service Commission, Civil No. C2 97-966, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, August 28, 1997.)

Over a twenty year period, the city (Steubenville) lost, or settled out of court, 48 civil rights lawsuits involving its police force. The city paid out more than $800,000, $400,000 of which was between 1990 and 1996. As a result, the city’s police force became the second city in the United States to sign a consent decree with the federal government due to an excessive number of civil rights lawsuits, as stated on wikipedia.com. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steubenville,_Ohio)

Ouch.

As a settlement, the City of Steubenville agreed to a Court Consent Decree allowing for monitoring of the Steubenville police department by the DOJ and the implementation of an extensive list of changes to the police department’s training program, police procedures including the creation of an internal affairs unit to handle police complaints. Read full consent decree here.

This all may just be old news from 14 years ago, but, when the DOJ finds a “pattern or practice'” of civil rights violations and police misconduct, most attorneys will continue to look under the hood, especially, given that the current gang rape investigation was done and remains in the hands of the Steubenville Police Department. As we all know, cases can be won or lost depending on what a police officer/investigation did or didn’t do. Just ask OJ Simpson.

So, what’s changed in Steubenville? Has there been a significant reduction in the number of civil rights lawsuits and police complaints? Have the players changed? I can’t tell by the City’s new “transparent” website, but, I did find out that the current police chief and others did not go to the same Big Red high school as the defendant football players. (http://steubenvillefacts.squarespace.com/).

However, I did notice that Steubenville’s attorney has not changed. Mr. Gary Rapella, Steubenville’s law director, was the attorney of record back in 1997 for all the Steubenville defendants during the DOJ lawsuit and his name appears today as the law director. (http://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PN-OH-0002-0003.pdf) Having been a deputy city attorney myself, I presume that Mr. Rapella continues to provide legal advice to the Steubenville Police Department, City Council and the City of Steubenville on the handling of their current police cases including the current gang rape investigation, media scrutiny and public protests.

On most days, police departments and city officials walk a tough line. Yet, these days, it may be wiser to call in an outside agency to handle the prosecution and the investigation of a potentially high-profile case (think Penn State and Duke) to avoid allegations of a “cover-up”, the intense media scrutiny and the expected public protests (Anonymous'”Occupy Steubenville”) especially, when the jurisdiction has a marked history of police misconduct and civil rights violations. Not to mention, the potential of jeopardizing the underlying case.

The question remains has Steubenville learned the lessons of the past.

Simply my opinion, what say you?

(Update 1/31/2013: In the Ohio gang rape case, Judge Thomas R. Lipps denied the defense’s request for change of venue and trial will be open to media against the wishes of the victim’s family and the prosecution. Media lawyers had requested open proceedings. Trial date continued to March 13 in juvenile court.)

(Update 1/10/2013: Please read the comments, including those from Steubenville Attorney (and NAACP chair) Richard Olivito whose case “kicked” off the DOJ police misconduct investigation…he is still shining the light…)

(Update: 1/8/2013: As to what’s changed? It was not until 2005 that the Steubenville police department was found in full compliance with the 1997 court-ordered consent decree. During those 8 years, the court-appointed auditor Charles Reynolds filed quarterly reports, noting problems including with “supervision and discipline” of officers.http://www.parc.info/client_files/Newsletters/2002/7%20-%20novemberbpr02.pdf. The current police chief, William McCafferty, has been with the police department since 1989, thus, he was on the force during the time of the “excessive” “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations resulting in the consent decree. He was promoted to acting police chief in 2001, as many officers had left as they “didn’t want any part of the consent decree”. In 2003, he became the permanent police chief when the DOJ allowed him to be sworn in. His interview is worth the read. I wonder if it may have been a better idea to have an outside police chief, rather than promote one who was “trained” and “raised” in an environment that required a DOJ (taxpayer) lawsuit to get the police officers and the police department in compliance with the law. http://www.parc.info/client_files/Newsletters/2005/4%20-%20aprilppr05.pdf. Also, I wonder if the Steubenville police training includes the proper recovery and preservation of certain forensic evidence like cell phones, videos and tweets.

(Update 1/6/2013: As just reported on CNN, a defense attorney claims that the alleged victim sent a text to his client stating that the “rape didn’t happen” and that the attorney doesn’t think “she (victim) thinks she was raped”. The other defense attorney when asked about the issue of consent and alcohol, stated that the victim “was conscious”. What? This is an alleged gang rape case–who consents to a gang rape? Speaking as a former DV prosecutor, rape is about power, control, humiliation and violence. It is not about love or sex, and given those dynamics, alleged victim recantation is not a surprise and it doesn’t stop a prosecution in light of other physical and witness evidence. BTW in Ohio, it’s not a statutory rape case if the victim is 16, the age of consent. The defendants were charged as juveniles as the age of an adult is 18 and charging as an adult is up to the judge. Lastly, as to the police department, I wonder why no adult including the football coach who reportedly hosted one of the parties that August night where alcohol was allegedly served hasn’t been charged with any offense. Apparently, as reported on CNN, no other defendants will be charged in the alleged gang rape case. For rape crisis services, please contact http://www.rccmsc.org/faq.aspx or National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE; suspected civil rights violation contact US DOJ at http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/#one )