Cops Raid Medical Marijuana Patient, Take Her Vibrator in Asset Forfeiture

Ginnifer-Hency-testifyingWhen the cops raided Ginnifer Hency’s home in Smiths Creek, Michigan, last July, “they took everything,” she told state legislators on Tuesday, including TV sets, ladders, her children’s cellphones and iPads, even her vibrator. They found six ounces of marijuana and arrested Hency for possession with intent to deliver, “even though I was fully compliant with the Michigan medical marijuana laws,” which means “I am allowed to possess and deliver.” Hency, a mother of four with multiple sclerosis, uses marijuana for pain relief based on her neurologist’s recommendation. She also serves as a state-registered caregiver for five other patients.

Hency’s compliance with state law explains why a St. Clair County judge last week dismissed the charges against her. But when she asked about getting back her property last Friday, she reported, “The prosecutor came out to me and said, ‘Well, I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff.'” When she heard that, Hency said, “I was at a loss. I literally just sat there dumbfounded.”

Hency told her story at a meeting of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee, which was considering several bills that would make this sort of legalized larceny more difficult. She was joined by Annette Shattuck, another medical marijuana patient who was raided by the St. Clair County Drug Task Force around the same time.

“After they breached the door at gunpoint with masks, they proceeded to take every belonging in my house,” Shattuck said. The cops’ haul included bicycles, her husband’s tools, a lawn mower, a weed whacker, her children’s Christmas presents, cash (totaling $85) taken from her daughter’s birthday cards, the kids’ car seats and soccer equipment, and vital documents such as driver’s licenses, insurance cards, and birth certificates. “How do you explain to your kids when they come home and everything is gone?” Shattuck asked. She added that her 9-year-old daughter is now afraid of the police and “cried for weeks” because the cops threatened to shoot the family dog during the raid. Although “my husband and I have not been convicted of any crime,” Shattuck said, they cannot get their property back, and their bank accounts remain frozen.

Last February The Detroit Free Press
highlighted various other examples of the cruel, greedy pettiness fostered by civil forfeiture laws, which allow police to take assets allegedly linked to crime without so much as filing charges, let alone obtaining a conviction. “Police seized more than $24 million in assets from Michiganders in 2013,” the paper noted. “In many cases the citizens were never charged with a crime but lost their property anyway.” Now a bipartisan group of state legislators is trying to reform the laws that have turned Michigan cops into robbers.

The bills, which are backed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), would require law enforcement agencies to keep track of all forfeitures and report them to the state police, prohibit the forfeiture of vehicles used to purchase small amounts of marijuana, and raise the standard of proof for forfeitures in cases involving drugs or public nuisances. “We must bring culpability and transparency to the system and rein in the ability of police to indiscriminately seize the property of innocent citizens,” Kesto says.

Michigan was one of five states that received a D–, the lowest grade awarded, in a 2010 report on forfeiture abuse from the Institute for Justice. Michigan’s “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which allows the government to complete a forfeiture based on any probability greater than 50 percent that the asset is connected to a crime, was one reason for that low grade. Bills introduced by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) and Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) would instead require “clear and convincing” evidence, which is more demanding than the current rule but not as strict as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard in criminal cases.

None of the bills addresses another major problem with forfeiture in Michigan: Law enforcement agencies keep 100 percent of the loot, which gives them a strong incentive to target people based on the assets they own instead of the threat they pose to public safety. Testifying before Kesto’s committee on Tuesday, Charmie Gholson, founder of Michigan Moms United, argued that cops’ financial stake in forfeitures helps explain why the arrest rates for consensual crimes involving drugs and prostitution are so much higher than the arrest rates for violent crimes such as rape, robbery, assault, and murder.

In Michigan, Gholson said, the arrest rate (the share of reported incidents that result in an arrest) is 82 percent for prostitution, compared to 44 percent for murder, 39 percent for felonious assault, 21 percent for robbery, and 15 percent for rape. “It’s because when they catch you with a prostitute, they take your car,” she said. “Civil asset forfeiture decreases public safety.”

Gholson thinks money from forfeitures should go into the general fund, which would eliminate such perverse incentives. She also argues that forfeiture should require a conviction based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which would effectively abolish the practice of civil (as opposed to criminal) forfeiture. The Institute for Justice, which has been fighting forfeiture abuse for years, agrees.

Both of those reforms were recently adopted by New Mexico, which got a D+ in the 2010 Institute for Justice report. The New Mexico law also bars police and prosecutors from evading state limits on forfeiture by pursuing seizures under federal law through the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program. Last month legislators in Montana, which like New Mexico got a D+ in 2010, likewise voted to require a conviction prior to forfeiture. But police and prosecutors in Montana will continue to keep all the proceeds from forfeitures, and they are still free to engage in joint forfeitures with the feds, which are subject to a lower evidentiary standard.

Compared to the reforms in New Mexico and Montana, the changes proposed in Michigan are pretty modest. But forfeiture critics hope the new comprehensive reporting requirement will set the stage for more ambitious reform by showing how the profit motive warps law enforcement priorities. “You need more details about how seizures are happening,” Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, told the Free Press. He said such data will expose the myth that “these forfeitures target big international criminal syndicates.” McGrath called the bills “a solid first step toward the ultimate goal of ending civil forfeiture.”

I have seen this type of Larceny during my career, The police and prosecutors do not care if you face charges or not, The get to keep you property anyway. Even if you are never convicted. They benefit personally in money for their departments or specific units that they work in. Anyone willing to step and put a stop to this?

Millions of Spiders Rain Down on Australia

Forget cats and dogs—it was raining spiders recently in southern Australia, according to local news reports.

Millions of spiders dropped from the sky in the Southern Tablelands region (map), blanketing the countryside with their webs. “They fly through the sky and then we see these falls of spiderwebs that look almost as if it’s snowing,” local resident Keith Basterfield told the Goulburn Post. (See “7 Bug and Spider Myths Squashed.”)

Though many news reports have called them babies, the spiders are actually just “very, very small” adults called sheet-web weavers or money spiders, according to Robb Bennett, a research associate in entomology at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

It’s unclear what spurs these spiders take to the skies in what are called mass ballooning events, Bennett notes.

But once they do, millions crawl to the highest points of their habitat—say a fence pole, or a tall plant—and send out silk strands that allow them to be lifted on air currents. (Also see “Photos: World’s Biggest, Strongest Spider Webs Found.”)

“It’s a reverse-parachute effect—they’re going from the ground into the air,” Bennett said. “It’s awe-inspiring.”

The vast majority of these “aerial plankton” will die during the journey, eaten by predators or killed by harsh weather conditions. But only a small fraction need to survive to set up shop in their new home.

Thanks to this impressive feat, spiders tend to be the first creatures to recolonize an area—say, an agricultural field—that has been completely destroyed.

Such ballooning events aren’t unique to Australia. They also occur in the Northern Hemisphere—ballooning spiders have been spotted in the United States and Britain, for instance—but are still “relatively rare and random,” Bennett says.

The spiders pose “no danger to people. It’s a spectacular natural history occurrence.”

Wonders of Silk

In 2012, record rains in the same Australian region spurred a mass ballooning event.

In that case, ballooning allowed the spiders “to move out of places where they’d surely be drowned,” Robert Matthews, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Georgia, said of that event.

Producing large quantities of silk creates a sort of “vast trampoline” that supports the spiders as they’re fleeing the water, he said. (Also see “Pictures: Trees Cocooned in Webs After Flood.”)

Although acres of spiderwebs may gross out some arachnophobes, the impressive feat shows “the versatility of things [spiders] can do with silk,” Matthews noted.

Silk has been a “huge evolutionary breakthrough,” he said, and “this is one more example of why spiders have been a successful group.”

FBI investigating death of teen shot 16 times by Chicago cop

FBI investigating death of teen shot 16 times by Chicago cop

Chicago police officers trailed the knife-wielding teen for nearly a half-mile last October, from a trucking yard where he’d allegedly been trying to break into vehicles through the parking lot of a Burger King and onto a busy street in the Archer Heights neighborhood.

As officers awaited backup units armed with Tasers, they tried to corral an uncooperative Laquan McDonald to keep him away from passers-by, city Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton told a panel of aldermen Monday.

Laquan McDonald’s wounds

But as the 17-year-old continued walking down Pulaski Road, another squad car pulled up to the teen, and two officers jumped out with guns drawn. A dashboard camera from a different squad car was rolling as one of the officers opened fire, striking McDonald 16 times and killing him, Patton said.

On Monday, federal authorities confirmed the FBI is leading a criminal probe of the officer who fired the barrage of shots. According to a statement by U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, the joint investigation also involves the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct.

In a briefing for reporters after the hearing, Patton said dashboard camera footage of the shooting was crucial to the city’s decision to settle the case before a federal lawsuit was filed. He said lawyers for the family initially sought $16 million.

During the hearing, Patton said the officer who fired all 16 shots has claimed he was in fear for his life. A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police said shortly after the shooting that the teen had lunged at the officer with the knife.

But Patton noted that lawyers for the teen would question why none of the other five officers on the scene opened fire.

Furthermore, lawyers for McDonald’s family contend “very vehemently” that the videotape showed that McDonald was still walking away from police when the lone officer pulled the trigger, Patton said.

A spokesman for police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has said that the officer who shot McDonald has been stripped of his police powers and put on paid desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation. The identity of the officer has not been made public. Patton said the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the FOP bars naming the officer until he is identified in a criminal or other proceeding.

According to Patton’s account, the incident started with a 911 call reporting that an offender was trying to break into vehicles in a trucking yard at 41st Street and Kildare Avenue. The caller told the 911 dispatcher that the man had a knife and threatened him with it.

Two police officers found McDonald about a block away from the trucking yard holding a knife in his right hand, Patton said. McDonald ignored orders to drop the weapon and instead walked down 40th Street while one of the officers followed on foot and another in a marked squad car.

Since neither officer was armed with a Taser, one of them requested that a dispatcher send another officer to the scene who had one, Patton said.

When the officer behind the wheel pulled his vehicle in front of the teen to prevent him from encountering possible passers-by or other civilians, McDonald punctured one of the tires with his knife before striking the windshield with the weapon, Patton said.

Still holding the knife, McDonald walked around the squad car and walked or jogged away from the officers through a nearby Burger King parking lot, Patton said. At that point, two additional squad cars showed up to the scene, he said. One of those cars — equipped with the dashboard camera — followed McDonald as he walked on Pulaski.

Camera footage captured the other car pulling in front of the teen and two officers exiting with guns drawn before one of them opened fire.

An autopsy found that McDonald suffered wounds to his chest, neck, back, arms and right leg, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

City atty’s have recommended a $5,000,000 settlement with the family.

I also saw one unconfirmed report that some surveillance video at the fast food restaurant had some of its contents erased by the police. The time of the erasing was the time frame during the shooting. This was posted on a highly agenda driven web site and I cannot confirm it one way or another.


Amazon rolls out free same-day delivery


 In another blow to bricks-and-mortar retail stores, is launching free same-day delivery for Prime members in 14 metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles.

Starting Thursday, shoppers who belong to Amazon’s annual Prime membership program and make a purchase of $35 or more by noon will receive their items by 9 p.m. that day, seven days a week. The initial rollout includes more than 1 million items, such as books, cables and chargers, games, cooking tools and electronics.

It’s that last bit of fruit that people want…. It would probably win over those last few holdouts that just gotta have stuff now. The problem is it’s a logistical hell.– Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities

Chris Rupp, Amazon’s vice president of Prime, called the move “a real life-changer,” particularly for shoppers who find themselves strapped for time and in need of a product quickly — baby supplies or a birthday gift, for instance.

“These things just pop up in life, and this is meant to simplify our customers’ lives,” she said in an interview. “Some of the feedback we’ve gotten from customers is it already feels like we’re living in the future.”

The same-day option will be available in much of the Southland, stretching from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Irvine in the south, to Redlands and Moreno Valley in the east.

Rupp said Amazon doesn’t have plans to increase the price of Prime, which costs $99 a year and comes with additional benefits including free two-day delivery and instant streaming of movies and television shows.

As online shopping has become more prevalent, affordable same-day delivery was seen as the Holy Grail.

“It’s that last bit of fruit that people want…. It would probably win over those last few holdouts that just gotta have stuff now,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. “The problem is it’s a logistical hell.”

Although every retailer would like to offer same-day delivery, few have the infrastructure in place to handle such a complex undertaking or the sales volume to make it worth it.

Amazon Prime shoppers who make a purchase of $35 or more by noon can get their items that day at no extra cost. Above, Kathleen Jelly fills an order at Amazon’s Fulfillment Center in San Bernardino.

Amazon, the nation’s largest e-commerce operation, is the rare exception. It began offering same-day delivery in select markets a few years ago and, before Thursday’s announcement, charged a same-day delivery fee of $5.99 per order for Prime members; non-Prime members pay a higher $8.99 delivery fee plus a 99-cent-per-item fee for same-day service.

Going forward, Prime members with orders totaling less than $35 will still pay the $5.99 same-day delivery fee.

The service proved to be popular over the holidays, with Amazon announcing on the day after Christmas that its customers ordered more than 10 times as many items with same-day delivery as they did in 2013.

Now, the Seattle company is ready to make the option more mainstream by offering it free.

The decision, Rupp said, stemmed from customers’ desire for the service and Amazon’s improved ability to get a wide range of products to customers in just a few hours’ time, thanks to a surge of new warehouses.

In the last four years, Amazon has added 50 fulfillment centers around the world; it has 109 warehouses total.

That means merchandise is housed closer to shoppers, making same-day delivery more feasible.

Amazon is touting the move as an increased benefit for its most loyal customers, but it was also facing stiff pressure to expand same-day turnaround as rivals — including giants Google Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as well as start-ups such as Deliv — began seriously encroaching on the space.

At the same time, companies have gotten creative, experimenting with shipping goods to local lockers or physical stores where customers could pick up their items on the same day.

Amazon’s biggest threat arguably comes from Google, which offers same-day delivery on eligible orders over $15 for members of its Google Express service. Membership is $10 a month or $95 a year. Participating retailers include Target, Barnes & Noble and Costco.

Speeding up delivery times has been a major goal for Amazon since its inception. In 2013, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos sparked intense interest after he revealed that Amazon planned to one day use drones to deliver products quickly.

For now, Amazon will rely on a fleet of trucks to deliver orders on the same day, although Rupp declined to name its delivery partners.

She also would not comment on how Amazon will absorb the costs of offering free same-day delivery or discuss other financial details of the move.

The other metro areas where Amazon is rolling out free same-day delivery are: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Indianapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle-Tacoma, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. All told, more than 500 cities and towns are included at launch, with more regions to be added down the line.

The new free same-day delivery offering is separate from Amazon Fresh, the company’s grocery delivery service.

House bill would require gun owners to have liability insurance

House Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) has introduced a bill that would require gun owners to carry liability insurance.

The Firearm Risk Protection Act, unveiled Friday, would require gun buyers to have liability insurance coverage before being allowed to purchase a weapon, and would impose a fine of $10,000 if an owner is found not to have it. Service members and law enforcement officers, however, would be exempt from the requirement.

“We require insurance to own a car, but no such requirement exists for guns,” Maloney said in a statement. “The results are clear: car fatalities have declined by 25 percent in the last decade, but gun fatalities continue to rise.”

Maloney said auto insurance carriers incentivize drivers to take precautions to reduce accidents, but no such incentives exist for firearm owners.

“An insurance requirement would allow the free market to encourage cautious behavior and help save lives,” she said. “Adequate liability coverage would also ensure that the victims of gun violence are fairly compensated when crimes or accidents occur.”

This is the second time Maloney, who is one of the biggest gun control advocates in Congress, has introduced the legislation. A few weeks ago she reintroduced legislation that would require sellers to obtain a background check for all guns sold at gun shows.

The Gun Show Loophole Closing Act, long championed by former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), would subject anyone selling or transferring a gun to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and require that transfers be reported to the attorney general.

They cannot get rid of the guns, So their tactic now is to make them unaffordable to own.

Retro of the day: Bruce Springsteen

Dancing in the Dark” is a song written and performed by American rock singer Bruce Springsteen. With added uptempo synthesizer riffs and some syncopation to his sound for the first time, the song spent four weeks at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually sold over one million singles in the U.S. alone. As the first single released from his 1984 album, Born in the U.S.A., it became his biggest hit and propelled the album to become the best-selling one of his career.

“Dancing in the Dark” was the last song written and recorded for Born in the U.S.A. Springsteen’s producer and manager Jon Landau liked the album but wanted a sure-fire first single, one that was fresh and directly relevant to Springsteen’s current state of mind (because much of Born in the U.S.A. had been written two years earlier). Landau and Springsteen argued and Springsteen later wrote “Dancing in the Dark”. His irked mood from the day’s argument, combined with the frustrations at trying to complete the album, poured out into the lyrics.