Category: Opinion

Vigilantes Aren’t Heroes; They’re Criminals

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

I was recently lectured by someone on social media who felt compelled to defend vigilantes who target sex offenders. He claimed that “vigilante” was some sort of badge of honor, and that no vigilante would ever harm innocent people. He then qualified that statement by adding, “And if they did, they wouldn’t be vigilantes any more. So, you’re using the term incorrectly.”

I beg to differ.

First, he’s obviously confusing what he thinks they’re supposed to be doing with what they actually do. That’s a little like saying, “Cops aren’t supposed to kill innocent people. And if they do, they aren’t cops anymore. So, you can’t say cops kill innocent people!” Au contraire, my friend!

They do, and I can. You don’t get to change the meanings of words in the middle of a murder, just so you can absolve yourself of any moral responsibility or legal complicity. Sure, the English language is wonderfully flexible and evolving, but that’s abusing your parlance privileges.

Let’s start with the history and meaning of the word vigilante. That way, at the very least, we can proceed with a common definition of the word. Consider this, from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Vigilante entered English in the 19th century, borrowed from the Spanish word of the same spelling which meant “watchman, guard” in that language. The Spanish word can be traced back to the Latin vigilare, meaning “to keep awake.” The earliest use of the word in English was to refer to a member of a vigilance committee, a committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily, as when the processes of law appear inadequate. The word may often be found in an attributive role, as in the phrases “vigilante justice,” or “vigilante group.” In this slightly broadened sense it carries the suggestion of the enforcement of laws without regard to due process or the general rule of law.

In short, a vigilante is someone who operates outside of the law. That, alone, should be enough for most discerning individuals to identify them as what they are: criminals. Unfortunately, for others, it’s all a matter of semantics.  One man’s “freedom fighter” is another man’s “terrorist.”

Perhaps the real answer lies in examining their actions, rather than in how they wish to redefine certain words to fit their self-serving and conspicuously inflated self-regard as “avenging angels,” supposedly acting on the behalf of innocent children who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of “perverts and pedophiles.” Let’s start with a few of the murders committed by these “angels.”

In 2005, two men were murdered by a vigilante impersonating an FBI agent in Bellingham, WA. The registrants, Hank Eisses, 49, and Victor Vasquez, 68, were shot and killed by Michael Anthony Mullen, who was later convicted and sentenced to 44 years in prison.

In 2006, 20-year old Stephan Marshall, a self-styled vigilante using the sex offender registry as a hit list, shot and killed 57-year old Joseph Gray in his living room in front of his wife while they watched TV in their home in Milo, Maine. Several hours later in Corinth, Maine, Marshall knocked on William Elliott’s front door and shot him dead in front of his girlfriend. Later, he took a bus to Boston, where he committed suicide when approached by the police.

In September 2012, self-styled Washington state vigilante Patrick Drum was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of two registrants, Gary Lee Blanton, 28, and Jerry Wayne Ray, 57, who were fatally shot in June of that year. Drum told police investigators that that he was targeting sex offenders specifically and planned to continue doing so until he was caught.

couple
Jermy & Christine Moody in court

In May 2014, Jeremy Moody, 30, and his wife, Christine Moody, 36, told a sentencing judge in Union, SC they murdered Charles “Butch” Parker, 59, and his wife, Gretchen Parker, 51, because he was a “pervert” and because his wife supported him. The murderers, who were described as neo-Nazis who were part of a white-supremacist group called Crew 41, recalled telling Charles Parker “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.” Charles was shot in the neck and chest and then stabbed multiple times. Gretchen was shot in the chest and also stabbed multiple times. As Christine Moody left court she said, “My lawyer made me say that I repented. It was a lie.” She added, “I have no regrets. Killing that pedophile was the best day of my life.” As they were being led out of the courthouse, Christine was asked if she had anything to say to the family of the murdered couple. “May they die also,” she said before officers placed her in the back of a squad car.

In December 2017, Nathaniel Henry, a 37-year old London resident, went to the home of Noel Brown, a 69-year old U.K. registrant and killed him. He dismembered the body and carried the limbs out the front door in a backpack, making multiple trips to do so. The limbs were never found. The police believe Henry was interrupted at some point by Brown’s daughter Marie, who was 41-years old and a mother of two children, so he killed her too.

In January 2018, registrant John Haig Marshall was attacked in his own home in Redondo Beach, CA as he stepped out of the shower. He was tortured with pliers and bolt cutters, and then killed by blunt force trauma to the head by four attackers. The men – Taylor J. Cervantes, Tyler L. Stark, Myles J. Sawyer, and his brother, Brandon S. Takeo Sawyer – were charged with felony counts of murder, conspiracy to commit burglary, first-degree burglary with a person present, and home-invasion robbery.

Also, in January 2018, a Sabine Parish, LA man named Blake Joseph Kendall, 39, was arrested for the vigilante killings of two registrants, Jerry W. Scott, 72, of Many, LA and Adam L. Jeter, 34, of Zwolle, LA.  Scott was killed by a single shot through the storm door of his mobile home, hitting Scott in the upper chest and killing him instantly. Jeter was shot four times while inside his vehicle as he checked his mailbox in front of his home.

One more for January 2018: Michael Thompson, a Las Vegas, NV resident admitted to police that he killed a homeless man named Alfred Wilhelm, 53, because he was a sex offender, and a bystander named Rhonda Ballow, 27, because “she refused to leave.”  He explained that “he had been sexually assaulted as a child and took offense to sex offenders.”

In February 2018, registrant Demetrius Graves, 39, was found stabbed to death in Pasco, WA just days after sheriff’s deputies put out a press release announcing his release into the community. His alleged killer Hector Orozco Jr., 42, was captured hours later at a nearby Rodeway Inn.

In March of 2018 in Osceola County, Florida, a man named Jorge Porto-Sierra was arrested for trying to kill four people, two of which were sex offenders, by setting them on fire. Witnesses told deputies that Porto-Sierra made several threats, screaming “I’m going to kill you, child molester,” and began throwing gasoline on their front door.

And let’s not forget all of the people who are assaulted or killed because they were mistaken for registrants, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time while vigilantes were “protecting the community.”

In Bithlo, FL, 78-year old Hugh Edwards was beaten to death with a black Louisville Slugger baseball bat because the killer – Robert Pascale, 20 – mistakenly thought the man was a sex offender.

In Bakersfield, CA, the murder of Roderick White may be connected to comments and Facebook rumors alleging that the 32-year-old was a child molester. Investigators have found no indication that he was, in fact, a registrant.

In 2014, Walter Field, 48, of Depot Road, NH answered a knock at the door at 8:30 p.m. He said the attacker asked for the next-door neighbor – who is a registrant – and then assaulted Field with an unknown object when he was told he had the wrong house. He was taken to the hospital, where he required extensive facial reconstructive surgery. The same assailant, still working off of a sex offender hit list, is believed to have shot and killed David Wheelock in his wheelchair after he answered a knock at the front door of his Keene, NH home.

acid-attackIn 2014, a vigilante in the U.K. attacked Andreas Christopheros, 32, by throwing highly concentrated sulfuric acid into his face in the mistaken belief that he was a registered sex offender because he was at the wrong address. Over 90% of Christopheros’ face has had to be reconstructed surgically as a result.

For every vigilante attack on a registrant and his or her family that makes the headlines, there are many that don’t, and for obvious reasons. Registrants are already on a virtual “hit list.” The last thing they need is more publicity and a bigger target on their backs. As a result, a great many vigilante assaults or acts of vandalism go unreported. Additionally, even when they are reported to law enforcement, the report is often met with apathy and inaction from the police. To add insult to injury, the news media typically spends more column inches on the registrant’s prior crimes than the vigilante assault. It’s no wonder most registrants who become the victims of so-called “vigilante justice” prefer to stay mum about it.

Here’s the bottom line. Vigilantes who target registrants (or anyone else) are criminals. More often than not, they’re just morally bankrupt, mentally deranged, self-obsessed, pathetically incompetent criminals who aren’t making our communities any safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. They are a threat, not only to the rule of law, but to everyone around them.

It’s time to stop glorifying and enabling these criminals.

Picture Yourself a Registrant

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

Consider this hypothetical scenario:  While your 15-year old son is scrolling through the pictures on his phone, you catch a brief glimpse of a nude photo and ask him to hand the phone over. Reluctantly, he does, and upon inspection you discover that his girlfriend – who is also 15 years old – has recently sent him a couple of nude photos. Would you call the police and report it?

If you’re like most parents, the answer is probably going to be no.

Related imageMost parents would likely confiscate his phone, revoke all privileges for a reasonable period of time, and continue to lecture him until his head explodes. You might even contact the young lady’s parents to ensure that an adequate level of “boom lowering” is taking place in that household, as well. Naturally, they self-righteously proclaim that their innocent little angel would never do such a thing! So, to prove your case, you send them the photos. That’s when “Murphy’s Law” begins to exert its awful influence.

Instead of thanking you and nominating you for “Parent of the Year,” the young lady’s parents are suddenly and inexplicably angry about the fact that you’ve seen naked pictures of their little angel. They rant and rail at you over the phone, calling you a pervert and plenty worse. You hang up, your head reeling from the unexpected attack. You shake your head, mumbling to yourself, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  You delete the offending photos from your son’s phone and go back to your daily routine.

Related imageWithin a couple of hours, there are a two police officers at your door with a search warrant. After talking to your son (who is still mad at you) and seizing all phones, tablets, and computers in the house, they inform you that you are being arrested for possession of child pornography, exploitation of a minor, distribution of child pornography, destruction of evidence, and obstructing an investigation. They explain to you that some of those charges carry a potential twenty-to-life sentence and that it’s their fondest wish that you’ll grow old and die from scabies in prison. Then they give you a scribbled receipt for your stuff, which you’ll never see again.

Months later, while still in jail, you have several meetings with your attorney where he explains your choices. You can fight these five charges, but the prosecutor only needs to convict you of one of them to put you away for a long, long time. Sure, he says, you can definitely beat some of the charges, that’s not a problem. But expecting to beat all five charges – especially when prosecutors have a 97% conviction rate – is unrealistic. He tells you that your best bet is to plead guilty to a single charge that will result in a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In return for your plea, the prosecutor will drop the other four charges. With luck, he says, you’ll be home in a year or two. He says this with a used-car salesman’s grin and pats you on the back as if you’ve just won the lottery.  As much as this plea agreement goes completely against the grain of everything you’ve ever believed in, you agree to do it. It isn’t until three months later, at your sentencing hearing, that your attorney whispers to you, “Did I forget to mention that this plea agreement means you’ll be listed on the sex offender registry?”

Welcome to the never-ending hell that is life as a registrant. Even if you are lucky enough to be removed from the registry someday, you’ll always be referred to by the authorities and the media as “a sex offender who no longer has to register.” That label has a special kind of glue.

Perhaps that hypothetical scenario is a little too far-fetched for you to believe that it could ever happen to you. Maybe you can’t really relate to it because you don’t have kids, or you simply can’t imagine our judicial system being so fatuously dysfunctional. Fair enough. Let’s talk about some things that you may have actually experienced in real-life.

selfie1Have you ever sent a nude photo of yourself to another person without first getting permission to do so from the other person? In most states, without explicit prior consent, that’s considered a sex crime. And if you didn’t verify that the person was over 18, you may have unwittingly committed a sex crime against a minor. Ignorance of the person’s age is not a defense, nor is being lied to by the minor.

Have you ever engaged in a sexual act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or with someone else who was under the influence? An inebriated person cannot legally give or get consent. How do you know if someone is too inebriated to consent? That’s a very good question! Police officers regularly resort to breathalyzer or blood alcohol tests to determine if a person is too drunk to drive. So, how is an average person supposed to know if someone is too drunk to engage in sex?

Image result for furry handcuffsSpeaking of consent, this bears repeating loudly and often: Minors cannot consent to sex under any circumstances, even with other minors. A person who is asleep or unconscious cannot legally consent to sex. A person with a mental illness that impairs his or her judgement is cannot legally consent to sex. A person who is restrained by bondage or handcuffs cannot legally consent to sex in most states. Generally speaking, students cannot consent to sex with their teachers, prisoners cannot consent to sex with their jailors, patients cannot consent to sex with their doctors, and clients cannot consent to sex with their lawyers.

Ever pinched, patted, or swatted someone on the behind without first getting his or her permission to do so? That’s considered a sexual assault just about everywhere. Maybe you’re thinking, “No worries, I’ve only ever done that to my wife.” Sorry, there’s no spousal exemption from the law.

tracylords
Tracy Lords

Do you ever watch porn? How do you know for certain that the porn stars you’re ogling are of legal age? More to the point – how could you possibly know? In 1987, porn super-star Tracy Lords was a coast-to-coast sensation with dozens of films to her credit when it was discovered that she had used false identification to get hired when she was just 15 years old. Retailers nationwide scrambled to pull her films off the shelves to avoid child pornography indictments, and several industry moguls went to prison.

Consensual sex between teenagers under the age of 18 is a registry offense in twenty-nine states. Cohabitation with a member of the opposite sex is still illegal in four states.  Being HIV-positive can result in involuntary civil commitment after incarceration or being placed on the sex offender registry in six states, and thirty-three states have HIV-specific criminal statutes. Soliciting a sex-worker can land you on the registry in five states, even if you never had sex. Sodomy (defined as “unnatural sex,” which can include oral and anal sex) is still illegal in twelve states, despite a Supreme Court decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws. Urinating in public can land you on the registry in thirteen states. Exposing yourself, even if there is no sexual or lascivious motivation – such as when streaking, flashing your breasts, or skinny dipping – is a registerable sex offense in thirty-two states!

The average person – unless he has spent his entire life in a cave on a remote, deserted island – has probably committed at least a few of these “sex crimes” and yet most are spared from being chewed up by our crapulously obnoxious legal system.

It’s easy to imagine that every person who is listed on the sex offender registry is a monster who is an imminent danger to the community, but that simply isn’t the case. While there will always be a small percentage of registrants who recidivate, the overwhelming majority of registrants live quiet, lawful lives, harming no one in the process.

Those people deserve a chance at redemption – just as you would, if you were on that list.

The Sex Offender Registry: A Gorilla on the Basketball Court

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

 Why does the public ignore the obvious unconstitutionality and overt cruelty of a sex offender registry that not only fails to accomplish its stated purpose – keeping our communities safer – but also condemns hundreds of thousands of registrants and their family members to a lifetime of humiliation, harassment, and possibility of unemployment, homelessness, and vigilantism?  It would be easy to assume that this apathy and inattentiveness by the public is simply the result of hatred, bias, or ignorance but there may be something else at work here, something that scientists have dubbed “inattentional blindness.”

gorillaIn 1999, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted an experiment that became world famous and was the subject of their 2010 book entitled, “The Invisible Gorilla.”  In their experiment, test subjects were shown a video of a basketball game after being asked to count the number of times the basketball is passed by players wearing white shirts.  During the game, a person in a gorilla suit strolls to the center of the screen, pauses to beat on his chest, and then wanders off.  After viewing the video, as many as 70% of the test subjects had no recollection whatsoever of a gorilla being in the video.

kenneth conley
Officer Kenneth Conley

This study has become the cornerstone of various theories and further experimentation centered on the phenomenon which became known as “inattentional blindness.”  The legal community took further notice of this topic when an undercover police officer named Kenny Conley was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1995 for claiming that he did not see a fellow officer beating a suspect as he ran by in pursuit of another suspect.  The jury simply did not believe that it was possible to miss something that obvious and convicted Officer Conley of lying to protect his colleague.

Simons, Chabris, and others decided to conduct a test to see if it was indeed possible that Officer Conley hadn’t seen the incident.  They set up a similar scenario and asked test subjects to chase a suspect and count the number of times the suspect touched his head while running. The route took the test subjects right past an on-going fist fight yet, afterwards, as many as 72% of the test subjects had no recollection of seeing the fight, which “obviously” occurred right in front of them.  As a result, Officer Conley was exonerated in July 2000.  The results of this study were published in 2011 under the title, “You do not talk about Fight Club if you do not notice Fight Club: Inattentional blindness for a simulated real-world assault.”

The conclusion of this and other similar studies is rather straightforward and simple.  Our brains pay attention to what we think is important or, at the very least, what others tell us is important.  Everything else is subconsciously categorized as being irrelevant and is discarded before having any effect on cognition or thought. As a result, we are literally blind to it; we simply don’t see it.

misdirection-3-638The mainstream media tells us daily what we should be paying attention to.  Their laser-like focus is invariably trained on sex offender registrants, high visibility or highly-placed pedophiles, and sex-traffickers.  The constant drum-beat and warnings of “stranger danger” not only stoke our natural anxieties as parents, but it also blinds us to the potential dangers that may exist right under our noses.

97% of the sexual assaults against juveniles are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  59% are committed by acquaintances; 34% by family members.  Less than 7% of sexual assaults against juveniles are committed by strangers and an even smaller fraction of that number is attributable to known sex offenders.  “Stranger danger” is largely a myth.  Targeting registered sex offenders as your primary focus of fear and loathing is not only irrational, it is dangerous.

As for America’s “epidemic of missing children,” over 91% of them are runaways. 5% are the victims of family abduction. Less than 1% of the missing children were abducted by strangers and most of those were not registrants.  Again, the conspicuous focus on registered sex offenders makes the public blind to the real dangers that abound in our society.

Bu what about sex trafficking?  Surely, that is an issue we can all agree needs more attention and aggressive prosecution.  Yet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an astonishing 88% of the children who end up being sex-trafficked became victims after going missing from government social services and foster homes!  It isn’t some creepy guy at the park who is snatching children from their homes and turning them into chattel, it is the very same government that is fueling your unwarranted fears of “stranger danger” and registrants.

Inattentional blindness causes the great majority of Americans to overlook the unconstitutionality and cruelty of a sex offender registry that makes our communities less safe by focusing your attention where it is least needed and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  It is a classic case of misdirection, blinding you to the political incompetence, law enforcement impotence, and contemptible court decisions that are so pervasive in the realm of sexual offense laws and policies.

It’s time we “just said no” to the media hysterics and political grandstanding about sexual offenses and start paying attention to the (now) painfully obvious gorilla on the basketball court.

How to Advocate for Registry Reform with Minimal Risk

restaurant-small1

By Michael M.,  Registry Report Editor

My decision to become a full-time advocate for criminal justice and registry reform wasn’t an easy one.  When I was arrested, the news media took whatever they could find online about me and ran with it, exercising complete disregard for its source or validity.  At one point, they published the photos of over a dozen of my professional associates, some of whom I’d never even met, and asserted that they were all members of a sex cult.  Anyone unfortunate enough to have been associated with me in business or socially was instantly branded as a probable co-conspirator, cult member, or sex-trafficker.

During my incarceration, my family and friends were targeted with harassment, vandalism, and death threats.  So, given that back-story, you can probably imagine their reaction when I announced that I was about to become a very public advocate for changing how the judicial system and society deal with sex crimes, victims, and offenders.

Related imageThey freaked out.

But this was something I really needed to do.  I’ve never been one to sit back and let life dictate to me how things ought to be.  My stay in federal prison left me desperately needing to feel in charge of my own destiny once again.  Because of what I’ve been through, I feel I may be uniquely qualified to contribute to the national discussion in ways that I hope are insightful and based on real experiences rather than conjecture and ideology.  The fact that I have extensive previous experience in writing, politics, and public relations is icing on the cake.

I needed to assure my family and friends that I would do everything possible to prevent them from becoming the “collateral damage” in a fight that none of them wanted to have any part of.  I gave it a lot of thought, and this is the result of that contemplation.

Ten tips for sex offender registry advocates.  I hope you find this useful.

1  It isn’t always about you.  Despite appearances in the first few paragraphs of this article, I am trying very hard not to make my advocacy all about me.  Sure, I truly believe I’ve been screwed by an unfair and uncaring system but, then again, so has pretty much everyone else who’s been touched by our labyrinthine and dysfunctional judicial system.  I will let my experience inform and shape my advocacy and infuse my message with some level of credibility, but I won’t let it become a holy crusade to fix my particular problem.  You shouldn’t either.

2 Focus your message on your target market.  Your objective shouldn’t be to preach to the converted, but to convince the undecided.  To do that, we must find common ground for discussion and potential agreement with people outside our comfort zone.  Picking social media fights with people who are obstinately against you is a terrible waste of your valuable time and resources.  That hour you spent in a flame-war with a pin-head who will never see things your way could have been better spent engaging with a handful of people who are willing to see things your way. Focus also means looking for the most efficient expenditures or your energy.  Marching up and down the street with a protest sign isn’t very effective or safe.  Writing a letter to your congressman? Better.  Donating time or money to an organization working on your behalf?  Great!

3 Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent to evil.  It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of “whataboutism” or relative morality.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”  Some folks unthinkingly justify themselves by accepting or minimizing the immoral or illegal actions of others.  Others feel better about themselves if they can condemn and persecute someone whom they consider more despicable than they are.  The world is confusing and complicated enough without all the dissembling.  Pointing out that rape is evil, even if you happen to be a sex offender, isn’t hypocrisy.  It’s simply stating the truth.

4 Never get suckered into being portrayed as someone who wants to abolish sex crimes altogether.  No one wants that.  Those laws exist for a darn good reason – they serve to protect society.  A person attempting to undermine your credibility will often use a “straw man argument” such as: “So, if you had your way, child sex abuse would be legal!”  Our position should unequivocally be that sexual crime is indeed a serious problem, but it can’t be solved through mass incarceration, shaming, humiliation, banishment, unemployment, forced homelessness, and vigilantism.

5 Don’t lower yourself to the same level of vitriol as the haters.  Christ was reported to have said, “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.” (“Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.”)  By using their logic, their tactics, you’re validating their position.  If you want to put all false accusers on a registry to be humiliated and persecuted, you’re accepting the notion that registries actually accomplish something.  If you think that people pressing for longer terms of incarceration should spend a year in some rat-hole jail cell to “learn what it’s like,” you’re just as bad as they are.

6 Avoid no-win arguments.  Getting into one with someone who is incapable or unwilling to use reason is a losing proposition for all concerned.  A person who is spewing hatred and duplicity at you is never going to suddenly smack himself in the forehead and say, “Wow! You know what? You’re right!  I am a fatuous moron! Thanks for setting me straight!” except, perhaps, in your dreams.  Far more likely is the possibility that the enraged nitwit will try to track you down and try to make your life miserable in some way.  Block and move on to something productive and less emotionally draining.

7 Keep your privileged information privileged.  Abstain from publishing your home address, phone number, employer identification, or other critical information that could be used to identify, harass, or harm you or your family, friends and employer.  It’s bad enough that, if you’re a registrant, the government is already publicly publishing this stuff about you, you shouldn’t be making matters even worse.  Yes, people may be curious about you, but their curiosity doesn’t give them a right to know personal details that might put your family at risk. Even allies could someday become adversaries.  Get used to asking, “Why do you want to know?”

8 Victims of sexual assault absolutely deserve to be treated with respect.  Many registrants were, themselves, victims of childhood sexual assault.  A broken judicial system victimizes practically everyone it touches.  Registry reform is not an issue that requires polarization into opposing camps.  We all want safer communities, less sexual abuse, better investigative tools, rehabilitated offenders, rational laws and sentencing, and greater respect for everyone’s constitutional rights.  Focus on commonalities, not differences.  The only way we can accomplish anything is to work together, not against one another.

9 Don’t just talk the talk; Walk the walk.  It’s easy to grouse about how bad things are, but what are you actually doing about the situation?  If you think simply “liking” stuff on social media is going to bring about meaningful change in our society, you’re seriously deluding yourself.  Change always involves risk, and it’s invariably painful.  It’s up to you to decide how much risk is acceptable and where your pain tolerance lies.  If you haven’t volunteered your talents or donated even a small amount of cash to the cause, then you’re as much a part of the problem as the uninformed and apathetic public.

10 Keep your advocacy focused on the betterment of society as a whole, not just a better world for former sex offenders.  We aren’t advocating for constitutional rights for sex offenders. We are advocating for constitutional rights for everyone.  Registrants are simply the canary in the coal mine, bringing to light the kinds of legislative and prosecutorial overreach that should be worrisome to anyone who believes in the constitution.  We’re not looking for a free pass.  We just want a system that is fair and does what it is supposed to do, which is keep our communities safer.

The Shameful Mugshot Extortion Racket

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

The internet has created a booming mugshot extortion racket that, by some estimates, has bilked millions of victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars.  And as if the financial shake-downs weren’t bad enough, many of the people who’ve been “featured” on these websites have reported police harassment, attacks by vigilantes, job losses, evictions, and even killings as a result of their police booking photos being posted on these sites.

Here’s how the scam works:  An enterprising extortionist creates a computer program that scans police department websites daily and harvests all the photos and booking information.  The pics and data are then fed into a database that automatically funnels that data to be displayed on their website.  The website is typically engineered with search engine optimization techniques to rank higher than the police departments’ own sites, since the police are rarely concerned with maximizing site traffic and followers. The scammers’ fully automated system is very efficient at putting people into the system; not so capable of updating and removing people whose charges were dropped or who were subsequently found to be innocent of the charges they were arrested for. This is not, by any means, an oversight on their part.  After all, they make a lot more money off the innocent people, since those folks are free, have income, and are outraged.

Image result for mugshots
Frank Sinatra’s mugshot, 1938

Eventually, either the victim or someone associated with the victim finds the mugshot online and the victim loses a job, home, friends, or reputation.  When the victim calls the owners of the mugshot website, they are told that the photo can be removed for a fee, which typically ranges from $200 to $1000.  Many victims are outraged and walk away, but some pay the extortion fee.

Later, when they recheck the website, the photo is still there.  The victim recontacts the owners, who often inform them that the fee is for each charge of the criminal complaint they were arrested for.  Sometimes, they use other excuses for failing to remove the mugshots.  Other times, they don’t even bother coming up with an excuse; they simply laugh and hang up.

Gregory Rakoczy’s mugshot was listed on one such website for an offense that occurred 15 years ago.  As a result of the website incorrectly stating that he was still a fugitive on the run, Rakoczy has been falsely detained by the police six times.  In each case, someone had seen his mugshot on Mugshots.com and called the police, reporting him as a fugitive.  When he tried to have his information removed from the site, the owners charged him $399 and then did nothing.

In May 2018, the owners of Mugshots.com were arrested for extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.  Despite their arrests, the website is still operating.  Dozens of other similar websites are running the exact same scam.  Some of them are hosted outside of the U.S., making enforcement of the law difficult or impossible in many cases.

There are other, similar websites that may not actually be committing financial extortion, but are nevertheless profiting handsomely from the misery of people who get arrested.  Take TheSmokingGun.com, for example.  They have a popular mugshot section that not only lists mugshots and personal data, but categorizes them into categories such as: Cleavage, Topless Men, Topless Women, College, Funny Faces, Pretty Perps, Strippers, Fogeys, and Weepers.  They also invite viewers to comment on the mugshots, which invariably leads to tasteless jokes, threats, and worse.  Imagine being the innocent family member of someone being ridiculed and humiliated publicly or even threatened in such a fashion.

Police Chief Trevor Whipple, of South Burlington, Vermont, says of his own department’s mugshot page, “We saw people playing off personal characteristics: ‘He doesn’t look smart. He looks like a dufus,’” Whipple recalled. “I thought: Have we run out the usefulness of this? I don’t want to have people humiliated.” On July 4, 2015, after a year of posting mugshots for the public, Whipple took the webpage down.

According to the Marshall Project, a panel of federal appeals judges weighed in on the mugshot industry last year when they denied a newspaper’s request for access to the U.S. Marshals’ booking photos and issued this observation:  “Mugshots now present an acute problem in the digital age,” wrote the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge, R. Guy Cole Jr.. “These images preserve the indignity of a deprivation of liberty.”

It’s high time these websites were shut down permanently and their owners charged with extortion, theft, and racketeering.  It’s the right thing to do.

Sexting is Not Pornography

by Dwayne Daughtry

Growing up as a teen, I had no idea what “age of consent” meant. Typically most teenagers’ understanding of the law is obey the speed limit, don’t drink and drive, and basically, don’t harm another person. However, in today’s modern society, age of consent issues have become an uncomfortable leap forward in birds and bees education because of its effects on families and anyone capable of holding a smartphone.

Image result for sextingStudies show that sexting and exchanging nude photographs is somewhat common among youth. Kids do not understand the law because sexting, to them, is a private exchange between two consenting parties.  Essentially, to their interpretations, it has become a new safer sex method and replacement to defunct gloss magazines. When a parent or adult explains to youth the consequences of sexting as an issue that could wind them up in jail, it seems like a parental discussion rather than a stern warning. That is, until it actually affects them with criminal charges.

Youth understanding the effects of sexting is a hit and miss market because of public embarrassment to begin discussions about sex education. Long gone are the boy’s bathroom gang holding up proof of girls panties too as a measure they have reached some form of adulthood. Smartphones have replaced such high-school rituals. When parents become involved because of policing private exchanges, the complications get much worse and in most cases places adults in a precarious situation because there is no pamphlet to explain what crosses parental discipline versus notification of authorities.

This is why children are now the most vulnerable to be listed as sex offenders in the United States because in many cases police bypass the parental obligations and enforce laws intended for professional performance to become cosigned parents and social workers.

Sexting isn’t going away anytime soon. Youth have learned to circumvent technology by no longer engaging in SMS texting or using software to delete its traces. This is why smartphone applications such as Snapchat, Signal, or Smiley Private texting are huge hits. Applications such as Blur, WhatsApp, and Digify allow photos to self-destruct. The amount of technology is outpacing public policy and keeping a step beyond authorities. The critical question is when will it backfire and be evidence down the road? Current public policy and laws are not attempting to facilitate a unified national age to protect young people.

This is a discussion that folks must engage in and advocate updates to current policy. However, the conversation should be at the heart of a feasible and humane age in keeping with the rest of the industrialized world. Once we institute a level field that everyone can understand then and only then will be able to engage in sensible dialog.

Read the full article at Subjective Belief.

County Agrees to Pay $115,000 to Man Mistakenly Listed as Sex Offender

restaurant-small1by Michael M., Registry Report

Yakima County, Washington – Damian Garza Cantu sued Yakima County in November of 2016 for damages after someone else’s criminal conviction for third degree rape somehow ended up on his record way back in the mid-1990s.  For the last 20 years, Mr. Cantu failed background checks for jobs and housing, but assumed that it was because of a DWI that he’d gotten in 1993. In 2016, he learned that he was erroneously listed as a sex offender because of a rape conviction for one Damian Eduardo Gutierrez Cantu, and sued the county for $800,000.

Rather than go to court, both parties agreed to a settlement which was announced on June 3, 2018 awarding $115,000 to Mr. Cantu.  We’re going to assume that, like most settlement agreements of this type, Mr. Cantu will be prohibited in the future from discussing the details of the case, sparing Yakima County from the embarassment of having to explain how something like this happened in the first place.

Like others before him, Mr. Cantu will take the hush money and run, kicking this particular can down the road for the next poor victim to deal with.  He can hardly be blamed for coming to such an agreement with Yakima County, though. After all, he’s had just a tiny taste of what sex offenders everywhere have to deal with on a daily basis, many of them for the rest of their lives, and in states with much harsher sex offender laws than Washington.  If someone offered to remove me from registry and pay me $115,000 to keep my mouth shut about the indignities and harm my family has suffered as a result of being on the sex offender registry, I wouldn’t have to think twice about accepting the offer.

Here, however, is the crux of the story that will be missed by many.  Yakima County would never have agreed to this settlement unless they believed there was a realistic chance of losing this case in court.  And by losing, I mean that the court would not only rule against the county, but award substantial damages.

Damages are calculated by the court from quantitative measurements of harm.

Yet, we’re told time and again that being on the sex offender register isn’t punitive and that, while it may be inconvenient and embarassing, it doesn’t actually do anyone any harm. I’m not sure anyone actually believes that load of malarkey, but officials and judges repeat it like the rosary hoping, perhaps, to ward off any “cruel and unusual” judgments from on high.  Finally, someone is admitting (although in a round-about way) that being on the sex offender registry causes a person a great deal of harm.

The only question now is, if Mr. Cantu’s experience on the registry is worth $115,000 in damages, then what is a lifetime on it worth?

Read the news release at KIMATV.com

Read the story in the Yakima Herald