The Pain That Prison Inflicts on Kids

I never knew how much prison could affect a child until I got home.

Rebuilding a relationship with my youngest child by far is the hardest part of my reintegration process.

I left when Aaliyah was 4, at an age when all she wanted was her dad. I couldn’t leave her side. She had to sleep in my arms to fall asleep. I couldn’t leave the house without getting a call from her mom to come back because Aaliyah wouldn’t stop crying for me.

Prison took all of that away!

When I left, a huge part of Aaliyah left also.

A child that was an extrovert became an introvert. A child that had so much spirit, now isolates herself. Now that joy that was once there for her dad struggles to show when she’s around me.

I called my children more than any other prisoner during the time I was incarcerated, but I see, that still wasn’t enough. A parent being snatched out of a child’s life with no warning — with no cushion to soften the blow — affected her deeply.

The reality of it all: she was so young when I left that she has forgotten how close we used to be. My time away, pushed her away. Since I’ve returned home, I work to reclaim my position as her hero, but she resists.

The 4-year-old I once had, is now 14.

It is difficult to rebuild what we had, so I try to be strategic with how I talk to her, correct her and love her. I don’t want to be too hard on her with discipline and run her away. I don’t want to just buy her things and have her think I can be used to get stuff.

Instead, I try to spend time with her, so we can relearn each other. We have our ups and downs.

It’s a daily struggle.

Aaliyah Nickens. Photo by Mike Greenlar/The Stand

Being in prison didn’t just affect me. It affected my kids more because they grew up without that balance of love from a mother and father. I now struggle to replace it.

I missed many of Aaliyah’s special moments.

I was absent to help with Aaliyah’s growth and development. Sometimes I feel like a stranger to my child, because she really doesn’t know me.

However, I’m not giving up on fighting for my position as the father she once couldn’t be away from.

It’s my responsibility to rebuild what we once had, so I’m not letting nothing come between me and family again.

I will keep you posted on the progress I make as time goes on.

This essay was originally published this week in The Stand. The Crime Report is pleased to cross-post it as part of a series, “Seeking Redemption,” examining how former prisoners navigate their journey back to civil society. See Habakkuk’s earlier columns on June 20 and June 13.

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August 5, 2022 at 07:32AM

Reputed Gang Member Faces Felony For Uploading Rap Music Video To YouTube

August 4, 2022

A reputed Florida gang member is facing a felony charge for uploading a homemade rap video to YouTube, court records show.

Tito Burney is a member of St. Petersburg’s Auburn Park crew, according to police who Tuesday arrested the 26-year-old on multiple felony counts. Burney, seen below, is locked up on $80,000 bond.

Citing a law barring “criminal gang electronic communication,” police collared Burney for posting “Aint Duckin No Rec” to YouTube in mid-February. The 2:21 rap song, which has been viewed about 2100 times and has garnered four comments, is one of three videos on Burney’s YouTube page (which has 237 subscribers).

Police allege that the song contains lyrics that “are being utilized to benefit, promote, or further the interests of the Auburn Park gang” and “intimidate or harass other persons.” Specifically, a police detective in an arrest affidavit noted that Burney rapped about handling “beef” with firearms and spoke of “doing a drive by shooting” with a TEC-9 submachine gun.

In the video, which was filmed outside a St. Petersburg food market, Burney–who is wearing a balaclava and a Lacoste t-shirt–“appears to be holding real firearms,” Detective Michael Bletsch alleged.

When Burney was apprehended Tuesday evening on the rap video count, he was allegedly carrying a stolen Beretta handgun, which allowed cops to charge him with three additional felonies.

Burney’s rap sheet includes convictions for criminal mischief; grand theft auto; possession of drug paraphernalia; obstructing police; trespass; heroin possession; fleeing law enforcement; Ecstasy possession; and firearms possession by a convicted felon.

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August 4, 2022 at 07:09PM

Federal charges filed against 4 Kentucky officers in raid that led to Breonna Taylor’s death

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Four current and former Louisville, Kentucky, police officers have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the 2020 police raid that led to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the federal civil rights charges Thursday, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Taylor was a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot and killed by Kentucky police during a botched home raid. She was killed after her boyfriend fired his gun at officers who broke down the door of Taylor’s apartment in the early hours of March 13, 2020. The boyfriend has said he thought that he was firing at intruders. Taylor was killed as officers returned fire.

Police were searching for items belonging to Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who no longer lived at the address. The raid was based on a falsified affidavit, the charges allege.

Among the publications with coverage of the DOJ’s press conference are the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.

“We share but we cannot fully imagine the grief felt by Breonna Taylor’s loved ones and all of those affected by the events of March 13, 2020,” Garland said. “Breonna Taylor should be alive today.”

The charges allege that two officers with the Louisville Metro Police Department prepared and approved a false affidavit used to obtain a warrant to search Taylor’s apartment, that another officer conspired to falsify the search warrant and cover up officers’ actions, and that a fourth officer fired a gun into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and a covered glass door.

AP Garland Clarke Aug 2022

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks during a news conference at the DOJ on Thursday. Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press.

Brett Hankison is the officer accused of firing 10 shots through the covered window and the door, according to an Aug. 3 indictment. He is charged with civil rights violations for allegedly using unconstitutionally excessive force.

Hankison, who was fired, was previously charged with wanton endangerment by the state. He was acquitted on all counts in March, according to WHAS11.

Also facing federal charges are fired detective Joshua Jaynes, who allegedly swore the false affidavit, and current police Sgt. Kyle Meany, who approved the affidavit. According to allegations in the indictment, both men knew that the affidavit was “false, misleading and out of date; that the affidavit omitted material information; and that the officers lacked probable cause for the search.”

Jaynes and Meany were charged with deprivation of civil rights. Jaynes was also charged with conspiracy and making false statements for allegedly agreeing with a fourth detective to cover up the false affidavit by drafting a false investigative letter and making false statements. Meany was also charged with making false statements to investigators.

The investigative letter falsely asserted that Taylor’s ex-boyfriend had been receiving packages at her home, the indictment alleges.

The fourth officer, Kelly Goodlett, was charged in a federal information for allegedly conspiring with Jaynes to falsify the search warrant and cover up their actions.

See also:

ABA Journal: “For some civil rights lawyers, police body camera video can be hard to come by”

ABAJournal.com: “Painter donates $1M for undergraduate and law school students”

ABAJournal.com: “Afternoon Briefs: $950M malpractice lawsuit can proceed against Katten; Breonna Taylor’s family says police withheld bodycam footage”

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August 4, 2022 at 03:54PM

Former Governor of Puerto Rico Arrested on Bribery Charges After Being Swept into Office Amid Massive Government Corruption Scandal

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced speaks during a press conference to announce strict new rules for all passengers flying into Puerto Rico to curb coronavirus cases in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on June 30, 2020.

A former governor of Puerto Rico whose term in office was preceded by the prior governor’s own career-ending corruption scandal has been arrested in connection with campaign finance bribery charges.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Wanda Vázquez Garced, 62, stands accused of conspiracy, federal programs bribery, and honest services wire fraud, along with several co-defendants.

According to the DOJ, Vázquez Garced’s indictment says that an international bank run by Herrera Velutini, 50, was given certain regulatory leeway in exchange for funding the then-governor’s 2020 campaign. That campaign would have been Vázquez Garced’s first electoral effort for the post. She was was swept into office the year before after Ricardo Rosselló resigned the governorship following widespread protests after Rosselló and members of his cabinet were found to have shared racist and homophobic text messages.

According to the DOJ, Velutini’s bank was the subject of an examination by the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions. With the alleged help of former FBI special agent Mark Rossini, 60, and other “intermediaries” the banker allegedly made overtures to Vázquez Garced to make the oversight issue go away.

“Velutini and Rossini allegedly promised to provide funding to support Vazquez Garced’s 2020 gubernatorial election campaign in exchange for Vázquez Garced terminating the Commissioner of OCIF and appointing a new Commissioner of Herrera Velutini’s choosing,” the DOJ said in a Thursday press release citing the indictment.

Vázquez Garced allegedly accepted the offer and in February 2020 replaced an unnamed OCIF commissioner with another commissioner who is not identified by name, according to the DOJ. The replacement, however, is identified as “a former consultant for the international bank owned by Herrera Velutini,” authorities allege.

“The criminal actions of the defendants in this case strike a blow to the heart of our democracy and further erode the confidence of our citizens in their institutions of governance,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow said in the press release. “Our resolve to bring to justice those entrusted by the public to serve with integrity and who violate that trust remains steadfast. Equally steadfast is our resolve to prosecute those who seek to use their wealth and power to enrich themselves at the expense of honest government.”

Whatever came of the alleged financial improprieties didn’t exactly pay off. Vázquez Garced, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, lost her primary election in August 2020.

Federal authorities allege that Velutini later sought to bribe Vázquez Garced’s successor as well. In service of this second alleged scheme, the banker allegedly ended up paying an FBI informant.

During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Vázquez Garced supported then-president Donald Trump. Answering for criticism of that endorsement, she reportedly said: “no one is perfect.”

Vázquez Garced’s indictment had not been made available on the federal docket as of this writing.

If convicted as charged, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

[image via RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images]

The post Former Governor of Puerto Rico Arrested on Bribery Charges After Being Swept into Office Amid Massive Government Corruption Scandal first appeared on Law & Crime.

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August 4, 2022 at 02:54PM

WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years(!) in prison by Russian judge for “drug smuggling”

I know next to nothing about Russia’s criminal justice system, but I do know I was still shocked to hear about basketball star Brittney Griner’s sentencing before a Russian judge today.  This Fox News report provides these details:

Brittney Griner, an American basketball superstar and Olympic gold medalist, learned her hate in a Russian court after she pleaded guilty to a drug charge last month.

A Russian judge convicted Griner of drug possession and drug smuggling and sentenced her to 9 years in prison. She was also fined 1 million rubles, the equivalent of about $16,400.

Griner, 31, appeared in a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow. She issued an apology ahead of her verdict and sentencing as prosecutors pushed for a 9.5-year sentence….

Griner contended she made “an honest mistake” when she brought vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis into a Moscow airport back in February, adding “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.” Griner was returning to her Russian basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg after their was a pause in the season for international play. She called Yekaterinburg her “second home.”…

Russian prosecutors argued Griner purposely packed the cannabis oil. Griner’s lawyers argued that Griner was using marijuana to treat pain. But Russian officials said the U.S. laws regarding the legality of the drug had no bearing on the Russian judicial system.

The U.S. State Department had classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last week that the Biden administration offered a “substantial proposal” for the return of the basketball player and fellow American Paul Whelan. Blinken said during a press conference that the Biden administration made the proposal weeks ago and is hoping to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time since Feb. 15.

Russian media has speculated the trade could be for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia made a “bad faith” response to the U.S. government’s offer. She did not elaborate. Russian officials have made clear that no prisoner swap could happen until a conviction and sentence is handed down.

President Biden reacted to Russia’s sentencing. “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he said.

It seems likely that all sorts of politics, both international and domestic, played a role in this sentencing outcome. And I am inclined to predict that Griner will be back on American soil well before 2031. But despite all the international intrigue in play and whatever happens next, the sad reality is that the US in the past (and still today) has sentenced plenty of individuals to many years on various types of drug charges.  And that drug war reality necessarily impacts our nation’s ability to assert the moral high ground when it comes to reacting to harsh law enforcement in other nations.

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August 4, 2022 at 12:00PM

Florida Gov Suspends Prosecutor for Refusing to Criminalize Abortion

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has suspended Andrew H. Warren, the elected state attorney of Hillsborough County and the top prosecutor in Tampa, accusing him of incompetence and neglect of duty for vowing not to prosecute those who seek or provide abortions, reports the New York Times. Warren was among 90 elected prosecutors across the country who in June vowed not to prosecute those who seek or provide abortions.

Law enforcement officials who appeared with DeSantis expressed frustration with Warren for not prosecuting certain crimes. Under Florida law, a governor can suspend state officials for wrongdoing that includes neglect of duty, incompetence, malfeasance, drunkenness or commission of a felony.

DeSantis is up for re-election in November and has faced growing criticism from Democrats that his approach to governing has become increasingly authoritarian.

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, called Warren’s suspension “an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion on the separation of powers and the will of the voters.”

Additional Reading: How Some Prosecutors Changed the Face of Justice in 2021, The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2021

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August 5, 2022 at 09:34AM

Will a New Law Limit Prosecutors From Using an Artist’s Lyrics Against Them?

A pair of legislators have introduced a bill that would tamp down on the decades-old practice of using rappers’ lyrics against them in court, convincing judges and juries that their music should be considered evidence, not art, Vice reports. The RAP Act, introduced by Georgia’s Hank Johnson and New York’s Jamaal Bowman, seeks to limit lyrics from being used as evidence in criminal and civil trials, amending the rules governing how evidence is used in federal court to prohibit that legal tactic, at least in large part. Exceptions included in the bill state that prosecutors could still use lyrics against a defendant if they were meant literally and if a given lyric “refers to the specific facts of the crime alleged;” is “relevant to an issue of fact that is disputed;” and “has distinct probative value not provided by other admissible evidence.”

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August 5, 2022 at 09:22AM

This Week’s Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Pennsylvania got too friendly with the local drug dealer, a small-town Ohio cop probably wishes he had maintained domestic bliss, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]In Ironton, Ohio, an Ironton police officer was arrested last Wednesday after a domestic dispute turned into a drug bust. Officer Bradley Spoljaric, 29, went down after Ironton police responded to a morning domestic disturbance call at his home. By that evening, he was arrested and charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence, second-degree felony possession/trafficking in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 dugs and third-degree felony tampering with evidence. That’s about all we know.

In Dickson City, Pennsylvania, a Dickson City police office was arrested last Thursday for revealing a confidential informant’s identity to a drug dealer. Patrolman Brandon Muta, 23, drew suspicions when he grew angry upon learning that another officer’s informant had identified a certain man as a meth dealer. Muta told a detective that the dealer sometimes supplied him with information. Days later, that informant reported that the dealer had refused to sell her drugs and called her a “snitch,” When interviewed later by the detective, the dealer had revealed the informant’s name to him. The dealer also confirmed that he had snitched on other dealers for Muta and that Muta had revealed the identities of other informants. It’s not clear what the exact charges against Muta are.

In LaGrange, Georgia, a Troup County Sheriff’s Office detention officer was arrested Tuesday after he got caught bringing drugs into the jail for money. Officer Steven Michael Crowder, 23, went down after allegations were made that he was bringing drugs in for inmates and being paid by a third party. An investigation ensued, and his arrest was the result. He faces four counts of violation of oath by a public officer, four counts of items prohibited for possession by inmates, and one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

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August 4, 2022 at 12:07AM

In ‘Perry Mason moment,’ lawyer impeaches Infowars host Alex Jones with texts mistakenly sent by opposing counsel

By Debra Cassens Weiss

AP Mark Bankston Alex Jones

Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, asks Infowars host Alex Jones questions about text messages during trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday. Photo by Briana Sanchez/The Austin American-Statesman via the Associated Press.

Updated: A lawyer for the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, confronted Infowars host Alex Jones on Wednesday with information from texts said to be mistakenly sent by Jones’ lawyers.

Lawyer Mark Bankston revealed the blunder while Jones was on the stand in a trial to establish defamation and emotional-distress damages for the broadcaster’s false claims that the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, NBC News and Law360 are among the publications with coverage of the trial revelation in Travis County, Texas.

Law360 and the New York Times have Bankston’s comment.

“Mr. Jones,” Bankston said, “did you know that 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone with every text message you’ve sent for the past two years, and when informed, did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protected in any way, and as of two days ago, it fell free and clear into my possession and that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn’t have text messages about Sandy Hook.”

“This is your Perry Mason moment,” Jones responded, referring to the old TV show in which defense lawyer Perry Mason won cases after last-minute revelations.

Jones maintained that “I’m not a tech guy” to explain why he previously testified that he was unable to provide the plaintiffs with text messages about Sandy Hook.

The texts could also be of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reports that Jones is being scrutinized in connection with planning events around the attack.

Bankston also highlighted text messages showing that Infowars made around $100,000 to $200,000 per day. One day, Bankston said, Infowars made about $800,000. That contradicted Jones’s claims about income, Bankston alleged. Infowars has filed for bankruptcy, as have other Jones business ventures.

Bankston also confronted Jones with broadcast segments in which he disparaged the judge, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas. Jones said Gamble came from child protective services, which has been exposed for “working with pedophiles.” He also showed a photograph of the judge engulfed in flames.

Bankston represents parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis in the lawsuit. Gamble, the judge in the case, had entered a default judgment against Jones in September 2021 for failing to turn over requested information.

Jones’ lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, previously got media attention for flipping the bird at Bankston during a heated discussion after Gamble left the bench.

On Thursday, Reynal filed an emergency motion to protect the cellphone information and requested a mistrial, report Law.com, the Austin American-Statesman and the Independent in a story printed by Yahoo News.

Reynal argued that he had complied with a Texas “snapback” law that allows lawyers to claw back evidence sent by mistake to legal opponents. Reynal said he had sent Bankston an email to “please disregard the link” to cellphone files when Bankston informed him of the possible error.

Bankston countered that the “please disregard” response created no legal duty on his part. He said Reynal had to identify the privileged material.

Gamble denied the mistrial motion, but she allowed Reynal to review the cellphone information and mark the items that he wants to keep confidential.

Updated Aug. 4 at 4:15 p.m. to report on the mistrial motion.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Infowars host who called Sandy Hook shooting a ‘giant hoax’ loses suits because of discovery abuse”

ABAJournal.com: “Infowars host’s lawyer says the N-word in a dropped-pants comedy routine; should he face discipline?”

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August 4, 2022 at 11:39AM

Feds Go After Shark Fin Trade

A spate of recent criminal indictments highlights how U.S. companies taking advantage of a patchwork of federal and state laws are supplying a market for fins that activists say is as reprehensible as the now-illegal trade in elephant ivory once was, reports the Associated Press. A complaint filed in Miami federal court in July accused an exporter based in the Florida Keys, Elite Sky International, of falsely labeling some 5,666 pounds of China-bound shark fins as live Florida spiny lobsters.

Every year, American wildlife inspectors seize thousands of shark fins while in transit to Asia for failing to declare the shipments. Since 2000, federal law has made it illegal to cut the fins off sharks and discard their bodies into the ocean. However, individual states have broad leeway to decide whether or not businesses can harvest fins from dead sharks at a dock or import them from overseas. The heightened scrutiny from law enforcement comes as Congress debates a near-total federal ban on shark fins.

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August 3, 2022 at 10:21AM