controversies, lessons learned, Police, true crime, YouTube

Maryland cops mimic kindergartner’s temper tantrum with one of their own…

A few days ago, The Washington Post shared an article about two cops in Montgomery County, Maryland, who have just been part of a lawsuit stemming from their actions on January 14, 2020. A five year old boy at East Silver Spring Elementary School had a meltdown shortly after lunch. He became upset and threw a clipboard at a teacher and a fellow student. Then he ran out of the classroom, outside of the school, and toward a congested section of Silver Spring, Maryland. Having been to Silver Spring myself, I know that this is basically a suburb of Washington, DC, and there’s a lot of traffic.

School officials called the police, and officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday arrived on the scene. They quickly located the boy, who was hiding nearby. At first, the cops were pleasant toward the boy, but when he refused to cooperate with him, the police officers became very controlling and, many would say, abusive. Christmon’s voice turns stern as he demands that the boy look at him, then asks why he’s out of school. When the boy doesn’t willingly emerge from his hiding spot, Christmon grabs him by the arm and yanks him toward the other officer. The boy starts screaming “No, no, no, no…” as the police order him into the back of their squad car. By that point, an assistant principal had arrived, and managed to get the boy to calm down enough to get into the car.

Bodycam footage was released on Friday, hence the news article I read. I watched the raw footage, and I was pretty shocked by the way those “peace officers” were berating that child. According to the Washington Post, the following exchange occurred:

“I don’t wanna to go,” [the boy] said, his voice shaking and coughing.

“I don’t care!” the officer replied. “You don’t make that decision for yourself!”

Holliday spoke to the child through an open door. “Does your momma spank you?” she asked, adding, “I’m going to ask her if I can do it.”

Naturally, the harsh words and threats served to upset the boy even more. He screamed and cried. The officers described his behavior as “headstrong” and “defiant”. Christmon said that he felt his actions were justified, because the boy was being “non-compliant.” Holliday said that she threatened him to “get him to shut up.” Both officers screamed at the boy, trying to overpower his screams with their voices. At one point, Holliday “primal screams” a couple of inches from the boy’s face, which only served to cause him to scream louder.

This is a news report from March 2021 from NBC news. It was aired before the outcome of the lawsuit was revealed.

At one point, Officer Christman holds the boy down in the chair for 80 seconds. Later, Christmon puts a handcuff on the boy’s wrist and tells him that handcuffs are what people who don’t want to listen end up wearing. The cops call the boy’s mother, who later comes to the school and complains that she has trouble disciplining the child. She says she fears using corporal punishment, because she doesn’t want child protection services to take him away. Officer Holliday then advises the boy’s mother on the level of corporal punishment that will not result in his being removed from her custody. She tells the mom, “We want you to beat him… All I can tell you is to beat that ass.” At one point, Holliday also made a comment about how “animals should be crated”, adding that that’s what should happen to boys who want to “act like a little beast.” And she referred to the child as “a shepherd for the devil.”

I wasn’t originally planning to write about this case, as I’ve found that a lot of times, people involved in these situations go looking for opinions and then get angry or upset when they disagree with mine. Regular readers might recall that I recently disabled my official Facebook page for this blog because someone contacted me through Facebook with abuse, threats, and insults because they didn’t like an old blog entry I reposted. I have a feeling that this case could inspire similar attempts to berate me, simply for having and sharing an opinion.

However… against my better judgment, I’m going to write about this. My heart broke for that poor kid, even as I have empathy for the adults who were trying to deal with him. I was never as out of control as that boy was, but I do remember being very small and emotionally immature, crying and screaming, and being threatened, bullied, and hit by some of the adults in my life– particularly, my father. I don’t remember anyone ever speaking to me calmly and trying to redirect the tantrum– which is a pretty normal thing for kids to have, by the way. I remember hyperventilating and being terrified. And when I saw and heard that boy’s screams, it took me back to that place, many years in the past.

Not surprisingly, the boy in this story had nightmares in the wee hours of the next morning. He woke up at 3:00am and cried to his mother, saying that he was afraid the police were going to shoot him. The mother filed a complaint with the police department and later sued. Her suit was settled out of court for $275,000, which according to Dr. Todd Grande, who also analyzed this case, the boy will get when he’s an adult.

I liked what Dr. Grande had to say about this case. He’s very astute.

Dr. Grande notes that the police, who are trained to “take control” of a crime situation, lost control in dealing with this child. Cops, as I have observed from watching many Bodycam videos on YouTube, are used to being able to get as physical as they need to with non-compliant adults. But this is a five year old child, so obviously, it would not have been appropriate for them to wrestle him to the ground, put him in handcuffs, and Taser the shit out of him. Instead, they tried to act like “stern adults” and browbeat the child into submission with screaming, yelling, threats, and insults. But, as we can all see, that technique only made things a lot worse.

Christmon later said, having watched the video footage, “Honestly, after looking at this, we should have dropped him off and left,”

I agree. Because it’s clear that these two officers don’t have much expertise in talking to children, and their methods were abusive and inappropriate for a young child. I believe that, even though I have worked with children myself, and I know that dealing with them can be frustrating. Kids don’t have the same situational awareness that adults have, and they often lack self-control. This child, who apparently has a record of acting out in school and at home, needed someone with more experience dealing with troubled children. From what I saw in the video footage, it appeared that the cops weren’t behaving much better than the boy was. However, the boy has his age and maturity level as an excuse.

The two officers did face discipline for the way they handled this case. Officer Christmon was suspended for almost two weeks. Officer Holliday got four weeks’ suspension. Both suspensions occurred without pay. The officers were also administratively charged with a number of infractions, including neglect of duty and failure to be courteous.  The police officers agreed with the punishments, did their penance, and the matter was closed. Both remain employed as police officers today.

Many people seemed to think that these two cops should be fired for their bad conduct, especially since it’s cost the county $275,000. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. It does sound to me like the officers recognize that they did wrong, and handled the situation poorly. They seem amenable to learning from the incident and doing a better job in the future. I’m not a big fan of canceling people’s livelihoods for one mistake, even when it’s a whopper like this one. In this case, the boy suffered significant mental distress that he’ll probably remember from now on. But no one was physically injured or killed, and it does sound like some learning happened.

I am not a fan of “beating children”, as most of my regular readers probably know. I had a teacher in the 80s who employed corporal punishment. He once carried it out on me, in front of my entire class of peers. Forty plus years later, I still haven’t forgotten it, and it still really pisses me off to think about it. That punishment was inappropriate. I also had a father whose methods of discipline involved force, yelling, insults, and physical abuse. He’s been dead for eight years, and I still have bad feelings toward him. That kind of “discipline” doesn’t teach anything but fear, and tends to make things much worse. Sadly, some school districts in the United States still use corporal punishment. At this writing, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, although happily, my home state of Virginia no longer does. The state of Missouri has just now brought the method back to schools, reportedly at the request of some parents. 

I understand that inflicting physical pain on someone who is out of control with emotion can sometimes “shock” them into compliance, especially when they are young children. However, in my experience, relying on that method of discipline leads to laziness on the part of the adult, and is ultimately disrespectful to the child, who is a human being and worthy of basic respect. We would never advocate for a husband slapping or spanking his wife when he became angry with or frustrated by her behavior. Many people would consider that “domestic violence.” And yet, a lot of people think it’s perfectly fine for a much larger human being to terrorize a child with threats of being hit or beaten, personal insults and comparisons to animals, and screaming and yelling. I promise, yelling and screaming at children doesn’t tend to inspire them to calm down and be quiet.

Police officers have a very difficult job, dealing with dangerous people who carry weapons. This was a case of a small child, obviously unarmed, and clearly much smaller and weaker than the cops were. The level of control the officers tried to inflict on the child was inappropriate, and clearly, very abusive. The boy wasn’t a threat to them. He was simply having a tantrum, which young kids often do. It seems to me the appropriate thing for the cops to do in this case was simply to see that the boy got back to school safely. And then, they should have allowed a professional who has much more experience working with children handle the boy’s meltdown. I don’t know if either of these cops have children, but their conduct offers a glimpse at how their children could be disciplined. It’s disturbing that one of the officers advocated for “beating” the child, even if she meant it in the vernacular. It’s really not a good look.

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law, Police, Reality TV, TV, YouTube

My evening with crusty, stinky feet, and “stinking drunk driving” cops…

Bill left for Stuttgart yesterday, so I spent last night on the proverbial wagon, catching up on episodes of My Feet Are Killing Me, which is a pretty gross, but oddly compelling, TLC show about podiatry. TLC isn’t exactly the best channel for highbrow television, but watching that show has given me new respect for foot and ankle surgeons. I remember how Dorothy on The Golden Girls was unimpressed when her daughter married a podiatrist. There were gags aplenty about what an uneventful, boring, unsexy speciality it is. But watching just one episode of My Feet Are Killing Me can prove just how challenging the field can be for the right people. I can see that they really do make a big difference in improving the quality of their patients’ lives.

I watched four action-packed episodes of My Feet Are Killing Me, all of which featured people with various tumors, swelling, crusts, warts, and oozing lesions that were embarrassing and horrifying. Then I went back to YouTube, looking for something short to pass the last minutes before it was time to turn out the light.

I ended up on yet another police action channel. This must be the latest YouTube trend– people getting bodycam videos from police stations around the United States and uploading them to YouTube. I found myself on a channel called Real World Police. I’ve watched several videos on this channel and ended up subscribing to it last night, when I happened to catch the bodycam documentation of former Lower Township, New Jersey police lieutenant John Chew, when he was caught driving while under the influence of lots and lots of alcohol.

Below you can see the three videos that lay out this astonishing incident in detail. The first two pretty much detail everything, while the third is a short soundless synopsis of Chew’s booking. His arrest happened on the lovely spring evening of April 27, 2018. Chew, then 48 years old and off duty, was driving his black Chevy truck erratically enough that several people called the police to complain. One caller had said that Chew was driving at a high rate of speed, had run a red light, and crashed several times. Fellow cops quickly found Chew, and noticed that he wasn’t able to stay in his lane. After a couple of miles, Chew was finally pulled over, and he was clearly inebriated. He was so impaired that he needed to lean on his truck to remain upright.

After he failed the field sobriety tests, Chew was advised that he was being arrested for DWI. Chew then tried to sit in the front seat of the police cruiser, but was told he had to sit in the back. He was not handcuffed. Although his cop brethren were treating him with great respect, Chew behaved like he was enraged at getting caught while driving so obviously loaded with booze. Chew was a 23 year veteran of the force, and had even been promoted a few months before he was pulled over for DWI.

The officers who arrested Mr. Chew were put in a pretty awkward situation, as Chew had trained at least one of them.

Once they got to the police station, Chew was confronted by another colleague, also a lieutenant, who asked him questions. To each “yes or no” question, Chew raised his hand and extended his middle finger, to which the sober officer said, “I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

The lieutenant who is handling Chew’s case tries so hard to preserve Chew’s dignity, telling Chew that he requested that his mug shot and other details not be uploaded to the agency’s Facebook page or Web site. News of the former cop’s arrest didn’t surface until a year after the incident happened, and only because the good people at Real World Police requested the public records regarding Chew’s case and reported on it. When officials at the agency were asked why the incident wasn’t publicized, Executive Officer Capt. Martin Biersbach explained “I requested it not be published at that time because an Internal Affairs complaint against Lt. Chew had been initiated and we are required by the Attorney General Guidelines to maintain confidentiality.”

As Chew is processed, his former colleague, the lieutenant, tries to reason with him, as Chew bellows that he intends to retire the following day. He is repeatedly told that he must go to the hospital. The lieutenant on duty repeatedly asks Chew to cooperate, warning him that if he doesn’t go quietly, they will have to “tie him down” and take him to the hospital. I assume that’s because they needed a blood sample, after several Breathalyzer tests indicated that Chew had a blood alcohol content of .36, which is EXTREMELY drunk. I also heard the lieutenant remind Chew of the police department’s policies, and then he said, “Frankly, I’m worried about your health.” Evidently, when suspects arrive at the police station with a BAC that high, they automatically go to the hospital for treatment.

In spite of being so wasted, Chew is able to stand up, walk, carry on a conversation… and sort of drive. That, my friends, is a professional level drunk. Chew obviously has an astonishing tolerance for alcohol. And believe me, I know of what I write. Most normal people who have that much booze on board are not coherent at all. According to the chart I linked, Chew must have had over a dozen drinks, and should have been about to drop into a coma. But, as you can see below, he was nowhere near losing consciousness. I was really thinking they were going to have to break out the restraints at some point. Chew kept insisting that he would NOT be voluntarily going to the hospital in an ambulance. He wanted the lieutenant to drive him, which was, of course, against policy.

Chew is handled with a lot of dignity and compassion… but he’s very belligerent, pathetic, and uncooperative. This second video is remarkable.
A shorter video with no sound.

On September 13, 2018, Chew pleaded guilty to a first offense of driving under the influence of alcohol. He was fined about $700, and required to use an ignition interlock for six months after losing his license to drive for seven months. He had to spend twelve hours per week at an intoxicated driver resource center. Mr. Chew was also suspended administratively from his job as police lieutenant, and later filed for retirement, as he was evidently unwilling to cooperate with the police department’s efforts to help him with his obvious problem with alcoholism.

Upon further investigation, I’ve found evidence that the incident from April 2018 was not Chew’s last experience with DWI. According to this link, he also got busted on December 28, 2020, this time while driving a 2015 white Nissan Altima. In that case, he was found sitting behind the wheel, slurring his speech, and stinking of booze. He was not wearing any shoes, but did have on a pair of socks. The police officer who approached him knew him, and Chew apparently felt he was owed a favor, as he asked the cop to either take him home, or follow him home. He repeatedly asked the officer to close his door, but the officer refused. When Chew exited the vehicle, he wasn’t able to stand upright. The officer arrested him, and handcuffed him in front, as Chew said he was in total pain all over.

After Chew was placed in a police car for transport to the station, officers noticed two bottles of Svedka Vodka in the front seat. One bottle was completely empty, and the other was partially empty. A third bottle was in the car’s console, with some vodka missing. At the police station, Chew initially refused to exit the vehicle, but was later convinced to cooperate. His breath was again tested, and that time, he blew a .33. Again– he should have been near comatose, and was very obviously impaired. And once again, he was taken to the hospital by ambulance for medical attention. I’m not sure if he protested as strongly the second time as he did the first time, back in 2018.

I wonder what caused Chew to imbibe so much. I know police work is very stressful. It’s hard on all levels, to include life at home, as well as on the job. Chew was a family man– a husband and father of two. I’m sure his work was hard on his family, especially his wife, who probably worried about him constantly. I hear him say, in the second video, that “life sucks” and to “fuckin’ take care of your fuckin’ marriage.” Chew’s wife probably had to deal with Chew in this state many times, along with the stress of his work. Maybe they were on the brink of divorce? It wouldn’t surprise me. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I also feel sorry for Chew’s kids.

Chew was a member of the SWAT team, which is definitely high stress, very dangerous work. Aside from that, I’ve been watching a lot of cop videos lately, and I’m astonished by what they have to put up with from members of the public. There’s a lot of disrespect and mistrust, which isn’t always unwarranted. But it is a dangerous and necessary job, and there is definitely a lot of danger and stress. I can understand why many cops drink. I also know, having been raised by an alcoholic, how devastating alcoholism is– for the alcoholic, and for all of the people who have to be around them. Then there’s the fact that alcoholism tends to run in families. It definitely does in mine. Maybe Chew has a family history of alcoholism, too.

I’m just glad Chew hasn’t killed anyone… yet.

I’ll probably watch more of the same kind of stuff tonight, as Bill will be gone until Friday. I also plan to keep trying to get through my latest book, so I can review it and move on to something a bit lighter. I could use a break from the doom and gloom that dominates the airwaves these days.

Incidentally, former TLC star Jill Duggar Dillard, has given birth to her third son, Frederick Michael Dillard. He was born July 7th, which is also Bill’s birthday. Looks like he was a little bit early, but otherwise basically healthy. Congratulations to Jill and Derick.

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law, Police, slut shamers

Woman takes pill on live television to de-stigmatize abortion…

Things continue to get weirder and weirder in the United States. A few months ago, Texas lawmakers passed a draconian bill that practically bans all abortions after six weeks’ gestation. Others states have jumped on the anti-abortion bandwagon, doing their best to outlaw what many women consider an important and fundamental right to have dominion over their own bodies. And yet, 49 years after Roe v. Wade allowed pregnant women to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, some people are still trying so very hard to rescind that right.

I have never made it a secret that I am pro-choice. I’m grateful that I’ve never been in a situation in which I’ve needed to consider having an abortion. At this point in my life, my need to be concerned about abortion on a personal level is pretty much over. I won’t ever be pregnant. I doubt I would have chosen to have an abortion, but I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have. I know women who are wonderful, loving mothers who have made that choice. I don’t think any less of them for choosing abortion. It’s none of my business. And as someone who has often felt unwanted and unwelcome, I might even say that given a choice, I might have even preferred it if my mom had made that decision when she was pregnant with me. I do know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been any the wiser. I simply would not have existed.

This morning over breakfast, Bill and I were talking about a news story that made national headlines yesterday— it was about a woman who took an abortion pill as she was debating abortion on Fox News. I suddenly realized that not only am I “pro-choice”… I could say that I’m actually rabidly pro-choice. I feel like it’s a personal decision that should always and only be made by the one “already born” person who will be directly affected by the pregnancy in question.

Pro-choice activist, Jex Blackmore, stuns when she takes a mail order abortion pill during a debate.

Detroit area pro-choice activist and former Satanic Temple spokesperson, Jex Blackmore, was squaring off with pro-life activist and attorney, Rebecca Kiessling, on Fox News 2’s segment, Let it Rip, when she took the little white pill that she said would “end a pregnancy.” Blackmore said, as she was arguing for the safety of mail order abortion pills, “I want to show you how easy it is, how safe it is, by taking it myself.” She held up the small white pill– mifepristone– which, when combined with a second pill– misoprostol– is used to end pregnancies before ten weeks’ gestation.

Blackmore stammered a little bit as she explained the pill to the host of the show, Charlie Langton, telling him that the pill is very safe and allows people to end their pregnancies in private. Then, Blackmore casually took the pill on live television, swallowing it with water.

Langton looked shocked and bewildered as he asked, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

To that, Blackmore said, “I would say that this is going to end a pregnancy. This would be my third abortion.”

Take that, Rebecca.

The camera then panned to lawyer and pro-life activist, Rebecca Kiessling, whose eyebrows raised and face registered shock and disgust. Then, Rebecca started talking… her part of the video is not very clear, like she didn’t have a good Internet connection. It’s funny to me that Kiessling’s part of the debate was muddled, while Jex Blackmore’s part came through clear as a bell. It’s almost as if there was a divine intervention. Then, at the end of the debate on Fox News, Blackmore shared a Web site where viewers can access the abortion pills, which were recently and permanently approved for mail order by the Food and Drug Administration.

Blackmore later said that she decided to take the pill on television to help de-stigmatize abortion. Frankly, given that this was her third abortion, it’s clear that she doesn’t want to be a mother right now. I think that forcing someone like Blackmore to give birth would be ill advised. She is very nonchalant about taking the pill on television, which tells me that if she got pregnant, and was forced to remain pregnant, she would likely be just as cavalier about safeguarding the health of the developing fetus. And what would pro-lifers choose to do about that? Is it humane to a developing fetus to force it to grow in the womb of an unwilling person? Especially since the personal choices pregnant people make have a direct and potentially disastrous effect on the development of the fetus?

We can’t even offer affordable and accessible healthcare to people who have already been born. How can we force people like Jex Blackmore to take care of themselves in support of a developing baby? The answer is, we can’t… at least not without depriving them of their civil rights. I truly hope the United States doesn’t go down that dark, dystopian, Handmaid’s Tale road. What would stop Jex Blackmore from doing things that would harm the developing fetus? And do we really want to live in a country where people who are pregnant have different civil rights than everybody else does?

I’ll be honest. It does disturb me a little bit to hear that this was Blackmore’s third abortion. Personally, I would be trying not to get pregnant in the first place. Obviously, she doesn’t see pregnancy the way I might see it. Given that she is so relaxed about the process of taking the abortion pill, I think it’s best that she doesn’t gestate against her will. I also want to make it very clear that I’m not judging her, either. I don’t know anything about her or what her life is like. This absolutely should be her choice, and it should not be anyone else’s business. When I look at the outrage and disgust on Rebecca Kiessling’s face as another woman makes a personal choice with which she disagrees, I wonder if she even cares about Jex Blackmore as a person, rather than just a vessel for a developing fetus. Below is a screenshot of Kiessling’s public Facebook post:

Except it wasn’t yet a “baby”, Rebecca. At under ten weeks gestation, it was still an embryo… and it was not at a stage where it looked like a baby. And given your clear distaste for Jex’s “satanic” proclivities, why would you want to force her to bring a baby into the world? You obviously find her disgusting.

Let’s be real. The “abortion pill” is a hell of a lot safer than a coat hanger is in ending pregnancies. If people are really “pro-life”, they should absolutely care about the health, safety, and well-being of already born people ahead of potentially born people. And they should consider the potential consequences of trying to force someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant to gestate that fetus that they pretend to care so much about. I think it’s much more humane for everyone involved to allow safe and early pregnancy terminations, than deny abortions to those who want them and will stop at nothing to get them.

I care more about people who have already been born and are living outside of the womb. Of course, I would prefer it if people who don’t want to get pregnant could just avoid getting pregnant. But that’s not always possible. Sometimes people get pregnant against their wills. Sometimes people want to be pregnant, but need to have an abortion for medical reasons. Sometimes the developing fetus has a condition that would make being born cruel. There are so many life situations that people find themselves in that would make them consider terminating a pregnancy. None of those situations are my business, since I am not directly affected by them. I don’t think it’s right to judge people for making such a personal decision.

So, while I don’t think I’m like Jex Blackmore, and I don’t think I would make the choices she’s made, I stand for her to be able to safely end her pregnancies if she chooses. And while taking the “abortion” pill on live television may seem callous and cavalier to many people, when it comes right down to it, all she did was take a pill. She might as well have been taking aspirin. It’s a non-issue. I’d much rather see her do that, than throw herself down a flight of stairs, or see some back alley butcher, or have someone punch her in the stomach a few times… or use a coat hanger.

I do think it’s interesting, though, that so many people who are against abortion are Republicans. Do they not realize that Romania, a notoriously communist country banned abortions during the Ceausescu era? The end result of that campaign was a lot of sick babies, horribly neglected in orphanages, tragically some of whom could not bond with other people because they were not properly cared for when they were infants. The babies grew up to be adults who, if they were lucky, simply couldn’t love others. If they weren’t lucky, they ended up criminals. It also resulted in very high maternal mortality rates, and people facing prison sentences if they dared to even try to get an abortion or aided and abetted in someone getting one.

So many Republicans are totally against paying for social welfare safety nets. Do they not realize that forcing people to give birth will contribute to poverty? Would they really like to see more people needing government assistance? Or are they thinking that a woman who is poor should be forced to give up her baby to a more affluent, cisgender adoptive couple, again, a la Handmaid’s Tale? Who gets to decide that for them? I thought Republicans were for smaller government and more personal freedom. Apparently they don’t necessarily like less government interference if the person wanting freedom is a woman in her childbearing years.

Also… what should we do with pregnant people who either can’t or refuse to properly take care of themselves? Arrest them and put them in jail? Have Republicans considered how jail and prison affect the health and welfare of pregnant women and their developing fetuses? For those who wonder what it’s like to be pregnant while locked up– in the South, no less– have a look at Jessica Kent’s video below.

Prison is not a safe place to be pregnant.

Or this shorter video about a woman in Minnesota who had to give birth while incarcerated…

Jeez… this is so sad. But at least she got out of jail sixteen days later.

Granted, these two women were not incarcerated because they were wanting abortions. But if we criminalize abortion, their stories could become a lot more common.

So… count me among those who is in favor of the abortion pill, and allowing people to make these choices safely and uninhibited by “big brother” governments run by anti-women politicians. And while I might not necessarily agree with someone’s choice to have an abortion, I also realize that it should be the pregnant individual’s decision alone, since it’s their body, and they will be the one who is most affected by the choice they make. I think Jex Blackmore showed tremendous chutzpah, taking that pill on live television… especially given that it was Fox News. And the savage part of me delights in watching Rebecca Kiessling figuratively clutching her pearls over that decision, as she asks people to “pray”. Obviously, her opinions are mostly formed by religion, which is yet another thing that not everyone embraces. And thank God for that. 😉

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documentaries, law, money, Police, true crime, YouTube

America really ain’t so great, is it? A French documentary leads me down another path of true crime discovery…

There are so many things I could write about this morning. Like, for instance, I read that Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend and fellow sex pest, has been convicted. She was facing six charges, and was convicted of five of them, including: sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and three related counts of conspiracy. She now faces up to 65 years in prison. Her sentencing date has not yet been announced, and her attorneys vow to appeal. That’s what they all say, of course…

I don’t take any particular delight when anyone gets convicted of a crime and faces a long stint in prison, but I do think justice has been served in this case, just as I did when Josh Duggar was found guilty. People who endanger others, particularly when there’s violence or coercion involved, and particularly when the crimes involve preying on vulnerable people, should go to prison. They should be removed from society so that law abiding citizens are less at risk. But, of course, that’s not saying a whole lot in the United States these days.

Anyway, suffice to say, I think it’s right that Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty. I think she should be treated humanely, as I hope all prisoners are, but I believe it’s correct to send her to prison for what she did. I hope Donald Trump is next.

MOVING ON…

Yesterday afternoon, I watched America’s Broken Dream, a 2012 French documentary that was posted on YouTube. The documentary, which was presented in English, was about homeless people in the United States as of about ten years ago. It was a bit depressing, on many levels, to watch it, especially given what has happened since 2012. Several families were interviewed– people who were homeless or “half homeless”, living in cheap motels. All of the stories were compelling, although it was the last family that really caught my attention.

This was a sad, but interesting, documentary done by the French filmmakers, Java Films. There is also a French version.

Toward the end of this documentary, a young couple with two adorable little daughters is profiled. The mom, Amber Carter, is in California with her girls, presumably because California, as a “blue” state, offers better social safety nets for poor people. Dad, Daniel Carter, is in Kentucky, working manual jobs to support his young family.

At one point, Daniel comes to California to see his wife and their little girls. I am struck by how much he seems to love the kids, and his wife. Amber is shown trying to fill out job applications, but finds it impossible because she has two tiny kids to look after. I was wondering what she would do with the girls if she did get hired. I know from my days as a MSW student that decent child care is not cheap, always available, or widely accessible to everyone.

It looked like things might be improving for the young family. I had some hope that they might recover. But then Daniel Carter is arrested in Kentucky for striking and killing his neighbor, a man named Christopher Mitchell, with a hatchet. Carter maintains that Mitchell was drunk and had attacked him. He claims that he hit the guy in the head with a hatchet in self-defense.

Carter did plead guilty to fleeing and evading the police, and resisting arrest. But somehow, there wasn’t enough evidence to try Carter for the murder of Christopher Mitchell. He was released after serving 135 days in jail, time he was already credited for when he faced the judge. Another blog, titled Liar Catchers, has this article about Daniel Carter. Christopher Mitchell’s family was “furious” that Carter got away with killing their relative, especially since it wasn’t the first time he had killed someone.

I don’t believe it was mentioned in the documentary that Daniel Carter also did some time as a juvenile in Florida for killing his Uncle Jack Carter with a knife, back in the early 00s. Carter spent 19 months locked up in jail, but was later acquitted of first degree murder charges stemming from the July 2002 stabbing death of his uncle. In that case, Carter also claimed self-defense, as his uncle reportedly had come to his home to help discipline him. Daniel Carter, who was fifteen years old at the time, claimed his uncle had gone into a rage, and he had attacked him with a rusty knife to protect himself. Jack Carter was stabbed ten times, with one wound to the neck that proved to be fatal.

Many people found it hard to believe that Carter got off in that case, too. One witness said that she’d never seen Jack Carter behave in a violent way and people were shocked that his nephew, Daniel Carter, wasn’t convicted. I’m sure that prior case could not be considered when Daniel Carter fatally wounded another man in Kentucky, but it does seem eerie that he killed two men in similar ways and got away with it both times.

I found the below 2015 post on Pensacola’s Community Bulletin Board:

Public Service Announcement

This is Daniel Carter. Pensacola natives might remember him as the boy who murdered his Uncle Jack Carter back in 2002. Though he stabbed his uncle over 10 times with a machete, cutting his throat and nearly severing one of his arms in the process, he was found not guilty of the crime. Why? I’ll never know. Jack’s sister, (Daniel’s mother), had called Jack over to the house that night to help her discipline Daniel, a troubled teen, whom she was unable to control. After the brutal murder of Jack Carter, members of the community, led by his mother Cindy, rallied around Daniel, who was only 15 at the time. Community members even held a fundraiser for Daniel’s defense at Bamboo Willie’s. They got him a renowned child advocacy attorney, who went on to paint a picture of a poor, abused teen, who feared for his life when he took a machete and stabbed his uncle over 10 times that night. When Daniel was release from jail after the trial, people rejoiced that he had won his freedom back. After all, poor Daniel didn’t mean to kill his uncle when he stabbed him repeatedly.  

Let’s fast forward to 2012. Daniel now lives in Kentucky. And in Kentucky, after a dispute with his landlord, (who apparently had a pointed stick in his hand), Daniel proceeded to take a hatchet, (yes, a HATCHET) and plant in right in the center of his landlord’s forehead, killing him. Believe it or not, Daniel was released from jail. Self defense again. In any case, the reason I am posting this is because Daniel is a Pensacola native, and I have no idea where he is now, but it’s defintely possible that he could be back here. If you ever happen to see him and have a disagreement with him, I would advise you to RUN. Whatever you do, DO NOT confront this man. He obvioulsy has a temper, and his history shows he is very dangerous!  

On a side note, the last time I saw Jack was about a week before he passed away. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so we exchanged hugs, and sat down to catch up over a drink. He was beaming. Smiling ear to ear. He told me he was in love. He told me he never thought “this kind of happiness was possible”. And he told me that for the first time in a long time, he was excited about the future, not just going through the motions of the day to day routine. He was happy to be alive ❤

And a few days later, he was gone.  
Rest in Peace, Jack.  
You are not forgotten.

One woman commented that she had been married to Daniel Carter. She wrote that he had conned her and her mother, and he was a very violent person. She expressed gratitude that they didn’t manage to have children together. I guess she must have been married to him before he was married to Amber, the woman who was portrayed as his wife in the documentary, as well as the mother to his two adorable little girls. If you click on the link directly above, you can read the comments about Daniel Carter and people who know him.

I didn’t know anything at all about this couple or the true crimes that were connected with them when I was watching the documentary. From what I could see on the video, Amber Carter was a good and attentive mom, even though she and her girls were living in their old car. It’s certainly not a crime to be poor. I was also struck by Daniel. He seemed to be a friendly, charismatic person. I could see how he charmed people, as he was well-spoken and seemed to work hard, and loved his daughters very much.

It just goes to show you that friendly, charming, well-spoken people really can be hiding monstrous characteristics under the surface. In the documentary, his boss says that Daniel Carter has an “amazing work ethic” and that his little girls are all he talks about. To hear him tell it, Daniel is a fine young man and dedicated provider to his family. I truly enjoyed watching him interact with his daughters, who really seemed to love him. He seemed to love them right back. I was genuinely saddened when the announcer in the documentary talked about Daniel’s arrest. The Carters seemed like they might somehow make it– or, at least it seemed like they were trying to get out of the hole they were in.

I got curious about Amber Carter, so I looked her up. Sadly, it appears that she might also have some serious legal problems. In September 2021, a woman named Amber Carter, who roughly matches the age and description of the Amber Carter in the documentary, was wanted by the police in Jones County, Mississippi. She was accused of “giving birth to a child who tested positive for methamphetamine” and was to face one count of felony child abuse. According to this article, Amber Carter was captured about a week after the news reported about her. She is, at this writing, listed on the inmate roster in Jones County, Mississippi.

As I was searching for more information about the recent charges against Amber Carter, I also ran across another item from May 2018, which appeared to involve the same woman– again, for giving birth to a baby who tested positive for cocaine and meth. If this is the same Amber, that means she’s had at least two more children who have been born into deplorable circumstances and are likely in foster care now.

A screen shot of a news brief about Amber Carter. Sure looks like the same person.

While it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the Amber Carter who was wanted in Mississippi is the same Amber Carter in the documentary, it does make me sad that it could be, and probably is, her. The Amber in the documentary genuinely seemed to be a good mom, although it could be she was only like that when the cameras were rolling. I suppose I can understand how a person in the situation Amber and the other people profiled in the documentary might fall into drug abuse, but it really does seem like a terrible shame.

Although there seems to be an age discrepancy between the documentary Amber and the Amber in the above mug shot, I do think they are one and the same. The documentary was released in 2012, but 2008 was when the recession was really bad. I think it’s very likely that the footage was filmed in the years prior to 2012, and if that’s the case, then the ages for Amber in the documentary and Amber in the mug shot line up perfectly. Also, there is a very strong physical resemblance.

After I finished watching the documentary, I happened across a guest opinion essay in The New York Times about a woman who had once owned a home and horses. She was raised in Palo Alto, California by successful parents, and went to college and studied journalism. Lori Teresa Yearwood once had it all– including her own business. But a series of misfortunes and subsequent mental health challenges plunged her into homelessness. She spent two years on the streets, where she was sexually assaulted multiple times.

Yearwood went to several hospitals via ambulance after the assaults. She was so traumatized that she couldn’t speak, so hospital administrators did not know she was homeless– or, so they claim. As she was getting back on her feet again, with the help of Utah-based non-profit organization, Journey of Hope and an accountant she knew from her days as a business owner, Yearwood discovered just how outrageously expensive being homeless is. People don’t realize that homeless people often incur debts because they get arrested and fined. Yearwood also had huge hospital and ambulance bills, due to visiting the facilities after she was assaulted and locked in a storage shed for two days.

Fortunately, once she was functioning again, Yearwood was able to advocate for herself. She’s now back to working as a reporter. She got the huge medical bills dismissed, after she explained to the hospital administrators that she would be reporting about how they treated her. From the opinion piece, Yearwood wrote:

A public relations official responded that while in the hospital’s care, I refused to speak, so staff members didn’t know I was homeless. I explained that I had not refused to speak; I had been traumatized and had gone essentially mute for two years. By this time in my renewed journalism career, I had obtained my medical records, so I showed the hospital administrators some of the doctors’ notes about me. The next email from the hospital was swift: “Upon reviewing your account, we have decided to honor your claim of being homeless at the time of service and wrote off the remaining balance.”

I asked the hospital administrators if they were going to respond to the harm they had caused by ruining my credit: the stress and sleepless nights, the fact that I could no longer qualify for low interest rates on mortgages. The spokesman apologized but said, “All I can do is make it right going forward.”

Lori Teresa Yearwood is one of the lucky ones. I know it’s hard to climb out of poverty. I remember when Bill and I were first married, we weren’t impoverished, but it sure felt that way. I seriously thought we’d never get out of debt. It took years to do it, but I had my eye on the prize, and we were very fortunate in many ways. Moving to Germany, for instance, was a great move for our finances. But not everyone can do what we did… and many people are burdened by having children to raise.

I look at Amber Carter and I suspect that years of living as she was depicted in the America’s Broken Dream documentary wore her down on many levels. I’m sure that using drugs and having unprotected sex were two escapes for her that made life temporarily more pleasant. But those decisions ultimately made her personal situation much worse, and they also made things worse for her innocent children. She joins so many Americans who are incarcerated, and will find it so much harder to function once they are released.

As for Yearwood, I think she makes an excellent point that Americans need to pay more attention to treating mental health issues. Yearwood was doing great until the 2008 recession hit, she had credit problems that led to foreclosure, the Oregon house she was renting burned down, her dog died, and then, in 2014, she had a mental health breakdown that made it impossible to continue operating her business. When she was slowly recovering in 2017, she was fortunate enough to run into people who coaxed her toward rejoining society. She writes:

Nonprofit employees who work with the homeless should be trained in how to interact with people who have experienced trauma. Otherwise, they may inadvertently shame their clients for being hesitant to return to an economic system that has already penalized and punished them. A classic symptom of trauma is avoiding the source of that trauma.

As I was emerging from homelessness, I trusted very few people. I needed what advocates call a soft handoff. I would never have considered going to a group trying to help me unless someone I trusted had referred me and would go with me. My initial soft handoff was arranged by Shannon Cox, a former police officer and the founder of Journey of Hope. She took me to lunch and drove me to the hospitals to pick up all the records that I had no idea I was going to need to later protect myself financially.

Now, Yearwood is able to advocate for herself and others, but if not for people who cared enough to help her, she might still be on the street. She might still be at risk of sexual assault and falling into illegal drug use to escape the despair. Maybe she might be in a position similar to Amber Carter’s, although thankfully, there probably wouldn’t be any innocent children involved.

The America’s Broken Dream documentary also profiles other families– people who had jobs and homes, and their children, who were forced to live in cheap motels and worry about being picked up by child protective services. I might have to see if any of those people managed to pull themselves out of homelessness. I know it’s hard, though, because as Yearwood points out, it’s very expensive to be poor. A lot of people have no idea. And there but by the grace of God go any of us, unfortunately.

Documentaries like America’s Broken Dream scare the hell out of me, and make me so grateful for what I have… and for Bill, who works so hard to provide for us. But, I swear, every time I read a news article about financial ruin– something that Bill has already survived when he was with his ex wife– I want to start another bank account. It really is hard getting by in America if you don’t have the right skills, enough support, and luck.

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communication, law, Police, travel

Damned if you do… damned if you don’t…

I still have a ton of travel blogging to do, and I’ll be getting to that in a little while. First, I want to write about a situation I read about this morning.

Last month, white mom, Mary MacCarthy, was traveling with her ten year old biracial daughter, Moira. They were on their way to a funeral in Denver, Colorado. Ms. MacCarthy’s brother died suddenly in October, so MacCarthy had to take a last minute flight from her home in California. MacCarthy is a single mom, and her brother was like a father to Moira. The girl was crying when she was boarding the flight, and the two were initially not able to sit together. MacCarthy asked other passengers if someone would be willing to move so that she and her daughter could be next to each other.

Another passenger was kind enough to oblige, and the pair arrived safely in Denver, where they were met on the jet bridge by a couple of Denver police officers. MacCarthy was shocked to be confronted by the cops. She worried that they were there to deliver more bad news. But, it turned out that they wanted to talk to her because someone had called them, suspicious about their behavior. Moira had been crying because her uncle died. Then, afterwards, she was confronted by the police, and terrified because of all of the news coverage about people of color being abused or even killed by the police.

After talking to MacCarthy and her daughter, Denver police cleared them of any wrongdoing, and they were free to go. MacCarthy recorded the incident on her phone. The initial police report indicated that a Southwest flight attendant had reported the duo for “suspicious behavior”.

Two weeks later, MacCarthy got a phone call from the Denver Police Human Trafficking unit. The caller said the unit was following up on MacCarthy’s case. It was only then that MacCarthy realized she had been suspected of human trafficking.

MacCarthy sent an email to Southwest Airlines about this incident and, she says, so far they have not apologized. Instead, she claims she has only received two brief automated responses. MacCarthy has retained an attorney and is accusing Southwest Airlines of “racial profiling”. She now wants “a written apology from the airline, immediate reimbursement of the full price of their tickets, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving ten year-old Black girl.”

Southwest Airlines has said it’s “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s story of the events and has “plans to reach out to her.” In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson said:

“We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year,”

I can’t blame Mary MacCarthy and her daughter for being very upset and traumatized by what happened to them last month. On the other hand, I also have some empathy for the flight attendant who called the police. It sounds like the flight attendant was following protocol based on training. And while it’s certainly possible that the call was based on the flight attendant’s racial biases, I can’t conclude for certain that it was, based on the information I’ve read about this case so far.

Just yesterday, I read another story about a sixteen year old girl who was abducted by a 61 year old man. The girl had seen a hand gesture on Tik Tok called the Signal for Help. She used it while riding in the car with her kidnapper, hoping someone in another car would notice her signal of distress. Fortunately, someone did notice, and called 911. The motorist who made the emergency call also stayed behind the car and updated the police to the kidnapper’s location. That’s how the Laurel County sheriff’s department in Kentucky managed to arrest James Herbert Brick and bring the teenager he’d abducted to safety.

Brick has been charged with two felonies: unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. He was locked up in the Laurel County Correctional Center in London, Ky., on a $10,000 bond.

In both of these scenarios, people saw something and said something, which is the advice often given to those who are concerned about something that is amiss. I’ve heard that advice given in situations involving potential crimes, as well as in situations that involve potential medical issues. Yes, it’s possible that a person is making much ado about nothing, but, as they say, “better safe than sorry”, especially when children are involved.

My heart goes out to Mary MacCarthy and Moira. They were already upset and anxious on that flight to Denver, given the terrible and sudden loss of MacCarthy’s brother, who was only 46 years old. Ms. MacCarthy also says that Moira is only ten, but she looks much older than ten. And it’s almost always scary to be confronted by the police, particularly in this era during which Black people have been injured or killed by American cops.

But… unfortunately, there are people out there who traffic children. Not all traffickers are scary looking men. Sometimes women are involved with trafficking children, and they get away with it, because they don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a trafficker. And flight attendants are trained to look for the signs of people who might be harming children. The flight attendant who called the police reported that Ms. MacCarthy and Moira were among the last to board the flight and the last to buy tickets. And they didn’t speak during the flight. Of course, the flight attendant had no way of knowing the circumstances of why the duo were behaving as they were, and she had many other passengers to look after on the flight. It might not have been possible for her to find out more about the situation before she made her judgment call.

It seems to me that Ms. MacCarthy is legitimately upset because she’s offended. I don’t blame her for being offended. But I would also hate to see people being discouraged from calling for help when they see something that doesn’t look right. I understand that calling the police on matters involving people of color can lead to tragic consequences. It shouldn’t be that way, though. People should feel free to call for help if they think help is needed. And I think in this case, the flight attendant was obviously concerned and felt that the situation merited calling the police. It turned out that she was wrong, but what if she hadn’t been wrong?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed several people hitting a post I wrote earlier this year about how the “Karen” stigma can actually be deadly. That post was about a column I read in The Atlantic magazine, about a woman who was concerned that her pharmacy wasn’t requiring people to wear face masks at the drive in pickup station. But she didn’t want to be a “Karen”, so she didn’t say anything about it.

That post was written in late January of this year, before a lot of people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The incident the article it was based on occurred even earlier than that. The point I made in that post is that being overly concerned about being labeled a “Karen” or a “BBQ Becky” or “Permit Patty” could actually cause harm to people. If there is a situation that is potentially dangerous, a person should feel okay about asking for help from people who have the ability to investigate. In a perfect world, making such a call would be perfectly safe, and would not result in someone being hurt, killed, or even humiliated.

Ms. MacCarthy assumes that she and her daughter were questioned because they don’t look alike. And it’s possible that racism played a part in the reason the flight attendant noticed them and called the cops. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the flight attendant was legitimately concerned and believed the duo were throwing up major red flags. The end result was that Mary MacCarthy and her daughter were cleared and allowed to go on their way. Yes, it was traumatic, embarrassing, and scary, but in the end, no one was hurt or killed, and no one actually was being trafficked. Those are good things, even if Southwest Airlines hasn’t apologized for the mistake.

For the record, yes, I do think the airline owes Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter a sincere apology. I’m sure that Southwest Airlines will eventually settle with Ms. MacCarthy. Hopefully, the settlement will be appropriate and make the situation less horrifying for MacCarthy and her daughter. According to NBC news:

“At this point they can speak with my attorneys,” MacCarthy said.

She says it’s about more than an apology.

“I travel with my daughter’s birth certificate because I’m ready to answer any questions if necessary,” she said. “The fact that we’re mother and daughter, the fact that I’m a single parent traveling with my daughter. It’s the right of TSA to ask those questions, I’m open to that. But the way this was handled was so unprofessional.

“I will do whatever it takes to speak out against the type of ignorant behavior and policies that lead to families being treated this way.”

I think people involved with serving and protecting the public have a tough and often thankless job. But I also think that these kinds of situations, where an offended person pursues legal remedies against those who act out of caution– especially when it involves children— could have a chilling effect that might lead to more children being harmed or killed. If someone sees something that raises a red flag, but they decide not to act because of the danger of being sued or even just being called a “Karen”, there could be even more tragedies. I’m sure the young lady who gave the Signal for Help while being driven through multiple states with her 61 year old captor is happy that someone acted and called the police.

But… in Mary MacCarthy’s defense, I also think that once the Denver Police cleared her and her daughter, that should have been the end of it. The human trafficking department should not have called her to “follow up”. I think if that hadn’t have happened, this story would have a different trajectory. And I do believe her when she says that Moira is traumatized by what happened.

I hope someday, the police situation in the United States will be overhauled, so that officers can actually be thought of as good people to call for help, rather than just threatening and potentially deadly. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. And… on another note, flying has gotten to be pretty terrible these days. Stories like these make me want to avoid flying even more than ever.

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