Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cocoanut Grove: Part II

I had been planning on writing more in the previous post, but something came up. You know how that goes, right?

Anyway, to get back to the tragedy that happened 65 years ago today, we have seen the same factors cause multiple deaths in fire after fire... and we never seem to learn.
Life Safety Issues

The only access to the Melody Lounge was a narrow staircase. Once the fire started, this stairwell was jammed with people. Although there were at least two other potential exits from the lounge, they were known only to the staff members; few people were able to escape using these routes.

The revolving door on the Piedmont Street side of the Grove was the main entrance. As with all the other revolving doors of the era, the leaves were fixed in position. As panicked patrons attempted to exit through that door, their bodies jammed it, rendering it completely useless. Boston police officer Elmer Brooks recalled that when rescuers tried to pull bodies from the door, arms and legs came off in their hands. Stephanie Schorow, in her book The Cocoanut Grove Fire: New England Remembers, cites rescuers looking through the glass panels, watching victims burn before their eyes. Primarily as a result of the fire, revolving doors were redesigned with "break-away" leaves, meaning the leaves would fold out of the way under sufficient pressure.

A fire exit was located at the top of the stairs leading from the Melody Lounge, but owner Barney Welanski had locked and bolted this door to prevent people from leaving without paying their tabs. The door had been equipped with panic hardware (a so-called "crash bar"), which should have allowed the door to open. Investigators found dozens of bodies stacked up by this exit.

As I noted in the previous piece, the only usable exit from the Broadway Lounge opened into the club; the crush of fleeing customers jammed this door solid, and again, dozens of bodies were found here. Several researchers have postulated that as many as 300 additional people might have survived, had the doors opened outward -- with the flow of traffic.

A number of survivors complained of a "sweet" odor to the smoke. While the source has never been conclusively proven, many believe it may have been a product of the burning imitation leather used on the walls. Additional sources of toxic by-products included the seat covers and many of the furnishings. Burning plastics emit such toxic gases as benzene, toluene, butane, and xylene, along with the more-common toxic gases like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and phosgene. It may have been any of these gases -- or a combination of them -- that caused the "sweet" odor.

Another aspect of the fire that has never been satisfactorily explained is why the fire spread so fast. Some researchers cite sources indicating that the Melody Lounge was completely engulfed within two minutes, and that the fire had spread from the basement to the Broadway Lounge -- the opposite end of the building -- in as little as five minutes. Such fire spread is highly unusual. Of course, the flammable decorations had much to do with it, but some witnesses also claim to have seen unusual colors in the flames and/or smoke. Again, this could be caused by the fuels feeding the blaze.

Recently, attention had turned to the refrigerant in the cooling systems at the Grove. It is claimed that methyl chloride -- a highly flammable and toxic coolant which had replaced Freon during the war -- was responsible for both the rapid spread of the fire and for many of the fatalities.

With the exception of the methyl chloride, we have seen the same factors time after time. Whether it was the Iroquois Theatre (1903), the Rhythm Club in Natchez, MS (1940), or the Station in West Warwick, RI (2003), flammable furnishings, blocked exits, and overcrowding continue to claim lives to this day.

There were also witnesses who stated the walls felt "unusually warm" the night of the fire. This may have indicated a fire smoldering within the walls. Subsequent investigation determined that at least some of the wiring in the club had been installed by an unlicensed electrician; obviously, defective wiring could have either caused the fire or contributed significantly to it.
Medical Isues

On the medical front, perhaps the most amazing story of survival was that of 20-year-old Coast Guardsman Clifford Johnson. Johnson received second- and third-degree burns over approximately 75% of his body. In the 1940's, that was virtually a death sentence. Johnson, brought to Boston City Hospital, was given up for dead. Doctors administered morphine to ease his pain and moved on to victims with "better" chances. Four days later, however, Johnson was still alive, and doctors decided they had to help this tough sailor. Johnson was one of the very few survivors who did not have serious lung damage. Over six thousand tiny skin grafts were applied to Johnson's back and seemed to be holding. Unfortunately, doctors turned Johnson over too soon, and the grafts on his back failed. All told, Johnson suffered through twenty-five to thirty-five thousand "pinprick" skin grafts. He also had to deal with a kidney infection, edema, high fevers, and a codeine addiction. Johnson was finally discharged from the hospital in November... of 1945. Johnson wound up marrying one of the medical students at Boston City, and took his new bride home to Missouri with him. Johnson's miraculous story ends on a bitter note, however: in 1956, Johnson -- now working as a park warden -- rolled his jeep into a ditch. He was pinned in the overturned vehicle; leaking gasoline ignited and he burned to death.

Another notable name at the Grove that night was famous before the fire: Buck Jones, cowboy movie star. Jones, one of the famous "Rough Riders" was appearing in Boston to sell war bonds. He had also appeared at Boston Children's Hospital, where he signed autographs for thrilled fans, before attending the BC-Holy Cross game. After the fire, it was claimed that Jones had re-entered the building several times, rescuing trapped patrons. It was subsequently determined, though, that he was rapidly overcome by smoke. He was pulled from the building and died several days later. Jones' local publicist, journalist Martin Sheridan, received such severe burns on his hands that he had special cards printed up: "Not that it's any of your damned business, but my hands were burned in the Cocoanut Grove and don't ask any more questions!!" An understandable reaction, of course, but not what one would expect from a professional publicist.
In addition to proving the value of penicillin, the disaster was validation of several medical research projects being undertaken at Boston City and Mass general. Up to this time, burn victims had been painted with tannic acid to form a leathery scab, sealing the wound to reduce the chances of infection. The new protocol -- gauze impregnated with a mixture of petroleum jelly and boric acid, administered with intensive intravenous fluids -- was proven quite successful. It was also proven that treatment for shock and internal injuries was just as important -- if not more important -- than treating surface injuries.
Many victims suffered severe damage to their lungs and airways, due to the toxic chemicals inhaled during the fire. Much of the internal trauma was located below the vocal cords. Dr Stanley Levenson suspected the presence of phosgene in the smoke, a belief buttressed by Suffolk County Medical Examiner William J. Brickley: "Many of the victims had the appearance of soldiers I had seen gasses in the First World War."
So much medical knowledge was gained as a result of this tragedy that the entire June 1943 issue of The Annals of Surgery was devoted to a wide-ranging symposium discussing the injuries, fatalities, and findings of the medical professionals involved.
Enforcement Issues
A number of sources report that just a weekbefore the fire, Boston Fire Prevention Lieutenant Frank Linney, who declared the club's condition to be "good;" Linney declared the club had sufficient exits and non-flammable decorations. It became obvious, however, that Boston's building and fire inspectors in 1942 were no better than those in Chicago in 1903. In both cases (the Grove and the Iroquois), buildings that were inherently unsafe were allowed to be open to the public (which was also the case with the E2 Club in Chicaho, which experienced 23 fatalities in a 2003 crowd stampede); it was never determined whether incompetence or corruption was to blame (experience would lead me to say both).
Furthermore, a Boston police captain, James Buccigross, was in the club that night, along with Suffolk County assistant district attorney Garrett Byrne. The presence of two high-ranking public officials, in a club with such a questionable legal history, is at best suspicious. The club had originally been financed by a "Jack Berman;" Berman was actually Jack Bennett, a professional con artist and stock manipulator. A later owner of the club, Charles "King" Solomon, was described this way by Stephanie Schorow, quoting an unidentified source:
[Solomon] was at the peak of his crime renaissance, with a complete sideline of alki-cooking, morphine, heroin, cocaine and the dandruff-like little granules which produce delirious uproar. He hogged the bail-bond market, owned a large loan shark company at usurious rates, held full partnership in the white slave industry, a cut in a growing lottery racket and drivers and such like et ceteras built on human mischief."
In 1933, Solomon was murdered in the bathroom of the Cotton Club in Roxbury, another of his clubs.
Tomorrow, in Part III of this article, we'll look at what changes came out of this fire.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

This Date in Fire History: Nov 28 - Cocoanut Grove

[See Update at end of piece... I forgot one of the most interesting pieces of trivia...]

NOTE: Due to the horrific nature of the Cocoanut Grove disaster, and the fact that survivors of this tragic fire are still alive, I want to empha­size once again that the use of quotations, excerpts, illustrations, or materials created by others in this post does not imply, and should not be construed to imply, their agree­ment with the opinions expressed elsewhere in 618 Rants.

Saturday, November 28, 1942, Boston… the day of the annual grudge football game between Boston College – going into the game undefeated – and arch-rival Holy Cross from nearby Worcester. BC was favored six-to-one as the winner, having outscored their opponents in the previous four games by a whopping 168-6, but Holy Cross – with a 4-4-1 record – pulled off a stunning 55-12 [1] upset at Fenway Park in front of 40,000 fans. The Boston College team cancelled their scheduled celebratory bash at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and went home to lick their wounds.

Losing that game probably saved the lives of most of the Boston College team [2].

Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub was named after the famous Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, although the two clubs were not affiliated. The Boston club was owned by Barnett “Barney” Welansky, who claimed ties to the Boston Mafia as well as a close relationship with Mayor (and future Governor) Maurice Tobin. Located at 17 Piedmont Street, in what is now called the “Bay Village” neighborhood, the Grove was a mecca for Boston’s modern urbanites, as well as service members either on leave or preparing to ship out to serve in World War II. The Boston Globe, described the club this way: “Lined with palm trees, it was a tropical paradise. In summer, the roof could be rolled back electrically for dancing under stars.”

This somewhat blurry picture, from the Boston Fire Museum,
shows the interior of the main dining area.

The main part of the building dated from about 1916 and had been used as both a garage and motion picture film exchange, prior to its incarnation as a night club. By 1942, the club had expanded to cover much of the block bordered by Broadway and Piedmont, Shawmut and Church Streets. The club operated both on the ground floor and in the basement of one portion. The area shown as “new cocktail lounge” below was also known as the “Broadway Lounge” and was the latest expansion of the club, having been completed in the fall of 1942. The main entrance to the club was through a revolving door on the Piedmont Street side. A separate entrance to the new lounge opened onto Broadway.

The overall d├ęcor of the club has been described as a Casablanca style – paper palm trees, cloth panels on the ceilings, and imitation-leather wall coverings, among other items. This “tropical paradise” had a price, however: some of the decorations obscured emergency exits and exit signs. A number of the exits had been locked to prevent patrons from leaving without paying their bills, and the plate glass windows on the Piedmont Street side of the building had been boarded over.

That Saturday, the Cocoanut Grove was filled beyond capacity, with well over 1,000 people crammed into a club with a nominal seating capacity of about 600 [3]. Additional tables and chairs had been placed to accommodate customers. Among those customers were a young serviceman and his girlfriend; many reports indicate the serviceman unscrewed a 7.5 watt light bulb (the wattage of a nightlight) to give himself a little more “privacy’ with his lady. A busboy, 16-year-old Stanley Tomaszewski, working in at the club illegally, was sent to replace the bulb.

At this point, there are conflicting stories of what happened: some people say Tomaszewski dropped the bulb and lit a match to find it, while other reports say he used the match to find the socket, which was concealed in the palm fronds. Witnesses said they saw flames spread out from the vicinity of the light socket, although others claimed seeing flames near the floor. Several survivors stated that the walls also appeared unusually warm to the touch (possibly indicating a smoldering fire within the walls). As the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) put it in their fire investigation report, “… the exact source of ignition was a factor of considerably less importance than was the inadequacy of exit facilities and the extensive use of combustible decorations.” [4]

By most reports, fire had fully engulfed the Melody Lounge within five minutes, before traveling up the stairs – which acted as a chimney – and exploding into the main dining area and continuing to the Broadway Lounge. The revolving door at the main entrance quickly became jammed as panicked patrons attempted to flee; more than 200 victims were found piled up at this door. An additional one hundred or more victims were found by the Broadway Lounge exit – a door that opened into the club. More lives were probably lost as people blundered about after the lights went out.

The scene outside the Cocoanut Grove.
Russell Priestley is on the right,
holding up the stretcher

Russell Priestley, who was in the Army Air Corps and awaiting deployment, was one of many people pressed into service that gruesome night. Excerpts from his account, which appeared in the Melrose Mirror, are repinted here with his permission.

Personally, I remember the disaster because I, with two friends, had attended a stage show at the RKO Boston. As we left the performance, sirens of fire engines and ambulances filled the crisp night air. We were compelled by the intense din to walk toward the source, a few blocks away. With my companions, John Bunker, now deceased and Ralph Pierce, now residing in Rye, New Hampshire, we edged our way close to the fire scene. We were close enough to be commanded, "Hey you, grab this stretcher!" We rushed to help. A stretcher for each victim was loaded into an ambulance, others were placed on the pavement, awaiting more vehicles ... in some cases cars, trucks and cabs were used.

I don't recall how long we stayed there to offer assistance, but I do know it was beyond the time for using public transportation. We ended our night by walking home from Boston, explaining to our parents where we had been, then going to bed for some sleep.

The final tally was 492 dead and several hundred more injured. Unlike most major conflagrations, those at the cocoanut Grove were more likely to be killed than injured; about 50% of those present died, while only 20-30% were injured. Usually, it's the other way around.

As noted above, the exact cause of the fire has never been conclusively proven, and probably never will be. The causes of the deaths, however, are all too familiar:
  • Overcrowding
  • Blocked, locked, and/or obstructed fire exits
  • No fire sprinkler system (sprinklers had been protecting Massachusetts factories for about 75 years in 1942)
  • Flammable decorations
  • Delay in notifying the fire department

As is the case with other major fires, however, some good came out of the tragedy. Two local hospitals -- Massachusetts General and Boston City -- were well-prepared for a disaster of this magnitude, thanks to their war preparations. Additionally, Mass General had been experimenting with new protocols for treating severe burn victims; these new protocols, after being validated by the Grove fire, were instituted in most American hospitals. Furthermore, the Grove fire was the first wide-spread use of a new "wonder drug" -- some stuff called "penicillin."

There is an apocryphal story that the city of Boston passed a law prohibiting any business within the city limits from using the Cocoanut Grove name. Several researchers have debunked this theory, but no business-owner in his right mind would choose such a "jinxed" name.

UPDATE: This is something I should have mentioned originally. The bookkeeper at the Grove, Rose Gnecco Ponzi, was the ex-wife of Charles Ponzi, who achieved fame at the inventor of the financial scam that bears his name, the "Ponzi scheme"). As Paul Harvey might say, "now you know the rest of the story."

Additional Resources

Boston Globe archives of the fire
National Fire Protection Association NFPA Journal articles on the fire
Books on the fire on
The Cocoanut Grove Fire (New England Remembers), Stephanie Schorow
Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy, John C. Esposito
Fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove: Holocaust, Paul Benzaquin
Cocoanut Grove: A Spellbinding Account of the Most Famous Fire in American History, Edward Keyes


[1] Much has been made of the “fact” that the final score, 55-12, “eerily” mirrors the jersey numbers of the BC co-captains. The cover for the game program is shown here:

[2] BC equipment manager Larry Kenney is the only person directly associated with the game who is known to have died in the fire.

[3] Various sources show differing seating capacities, ranging from 450 to over 600; most show 600.

[4] Moulton, Robert S, The Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire. Boston, MA: National Fire Protection Association, 1962, p 5

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Comments on Some of Digby's Commenters...

Some comments on the comments posted to Digby’s piece mentioned earlier… [All spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc, in indented text is from the original comment]

I can't even recall how many psycho cops I've run into during my years as a skateboarder. Yes, technically I was tresspassing by skateboarding in the supermarket parking lot after closing time, [….]

The legal terminology for this situation is attractive nuisance: “a person who creates or permits to exist on his or her land a dangerous condition attractive to children, as an unfenced swimming pool, is liable for their resulting injuries, even though the injured are trespassers.” [Emphasis added] This is probably the same mope who would sue the supermarket if he wiped out.

Tazers need a little video camera that records from the time they 'paint' wit the laser till fired, easy and cheap with new technology, this should be viewed by an independant review board after every taze! this will at least help both the cops and the tazee plead there case.

At least one county in Florida is doing just that. One result has been a decrease in the number of lawsuits being filed over Taser use. Apparently, lawyers view the video and tell their clients to “forget it.”

Based on the ACLU link (I'm a member by the way) the driver reacted all wrong (and unlawfully) to the situation. The officer was within his rights to arrest the driver. What were the officer's choices besides the taser? Use his gun? Beat the driver with fists or nightstick? Let the driver get back in the SUV, without really knowing anything about him or what the situation was? What if the driver had a gun hidden?

An earlier commenter posted a link to a card provided by the ACLU, “What To Do If You’re Stopped By The Police.” The card reinforces the points I made in my post.

I'm amazed that the second cop didn't intervene...was nowhere to be seen during the incident, and I'm also amazed that the woman did not get handcuffed as a precaution, considering how upset she was.

This commenter didn’t look closely enough at the video. At time stamp -3:19, the second officer can be seen approaching the stop from directly in front of the motorist – it’s the Explorer pulling off to the opposite side of the road.

In most states, an officer is obliged to arrest a person if they do not sign the citation. That has been true in the state of Maryland, for example, for nearly twenty years. The roadside is not a place to argue a traffic citation. That's what court is for. It's dangerous to have a prolonged discussion on the side of a bush highway, as plenty of "Shocking Video" television program can demonstrate quite capably.

This commenter brings up a valid point: the dangers inherent in arguing on the side of the road. The “Shocking Video” reference is 100% accurate.

Someone should just murder this cop. Seriously, as some point it has to come to that. If we don't start killing them, pretty soon they will start killing in even greater numbers.

Granted, this commenter was subsequently tagged as a troll, but it is this kind of comment – which has been made seriously by people like the Black Panthers and others – that explains why cops tend to have itchy “trigger fingers.” There really are people out there who believe this is a perfectly legitimate answer to “police brutality.” And yet these same people wonder why cops now approach cars with their hands on their guns (assuming the gun isn’t out and down by the side of the leg).

That and a flak vest (easily available) will protect against taser needles, rubber bullets, and body strikes from a baton...even some small arms fire (handgun, not rifle).

Another reason why cops tend to be more vigilant than in years past… more and more “bad guys” are wearing body armor, so, yes, the cops have to be prepared to deal with some scrote with better firepower and the same level of protection.

I travel through Utah a lot and now I am carrying weapons at ALL times. I would've popped a fucking cap in that officer and then emptied the entire clip, grabbed his taser and his wallet and gone home to taz the fuck out of his family. […] DEATH TO ALL FUCKING COCKSUCKER POLICE LIKE THIS. Thank fucking Jeebus I'm concealed-carry and I am going to purchase that for ALL friends and family for Christmas. And they will carry at all times.

Yup, that’s certainly the way to get cops to relax. I’ve got news for people who think this way: if you think it’s perfectly all right to kill me, then don’t be surprised if I make it as difficult as possible for you. My right to go home in one piece at the end of my shift outweighs your “right” to try to kill me. And if you do try to kill me, I’ll kill you… without a moment’s hesitation.

The cop WAS arresting him, and thus DID have to mirandize him, contrary to your statement that "this cop was not looking to [arrest him &] . . . proceed with a custodial interrogation."

Umm, WRONG. Read the Miranda decision, clown. It's amazing how many people "quote" the law, without knowing what the hell the law says. You've been watching too much Law & Order and CSI, dude.

And people wonder why the cops aren’t like Andy and Barney anymore…..

Utah Tasing: Another Perspective

This past Wednesday, Digby posted an article at Hullabaloo, discussing a You Tube video of a Utah Highway Patrol officer tasing a motorist. The original article appeared on, and was written by Steve Watson. Digby's article garnered almost 300 comments.

Here's my take, as a former police officer, on the situation. Bear in mind, I was not present at the scene. Nor, for that matter, were any of the commenters at Digby's. My comments are based on the video as posted to You Tube, Watson's article, Digby's comments, some of the responses Digby received, and my experience stretching over 14 years in law enforcement. Excerpts are from the Watson article as posted on InfoWars, unless otherwise noted.

Mr Massey tells the officer he does not understand why he has been stopped or what he is being charged with, at which point the officer orders Massey to get out of the car.

The trooper can be clearly heard telling Massey (the motorist) that he had been stopped for a speeding violation (time stamp -9:16, "You were going kinda fast"). Massey apparently refused to provide his license and registration to the trooper, which is a violation in every state (time stamps -9:15, -9:10, "license and registration, right now"... -9:01, "No..."). The driver was ordered from the vehicle after he refused to sign the speeding citation (time stamp -7:39, "I'm not signing anything"). Signing the citation is not an admission of guilt; it is an acknowledgement that the motorist has received a copy of the violation. In most states with whose laws I am familiar (and I'm not a lawyer), if a driver refuses to sign the citation, the violation moves from an infraction to a situation requiring a custodial arrest. This is a decision made by either the Legislature of the state or, more commonly, whichever Commissioner has jurisdiction over motor vehicles in a particular state; it is not left to the officer's discretion.

The officer then puts down his clipboard and immediately takes out his Taser and points it at Mr Massey without any provocation whatsoever, yelling "Turn around and put your hands behind your back" as Massey attempts to point out the speed limit sign and engage the officer in conversation.

Based on what is seen in the video, I would tend to agree that the trooper probably was not justified in drawing his Taser at this point. However, we did not see whatever the trooper may have seen when he approached the car and looked inside while dealing with Massey. There may have been indications that led the trooper -- based on his knowledge and experience -- to believe that Massey presented a potential threat.

The Plains and Western states are home to a tremendous number of militias, survivalists, "Christian Identity" followers, neo-Nazis, white supremecists, "sovereign citizens", "redemptionists", and assorted other anti-government extremists, many of whom view the police -- or any semblance of authority -- as a dictatorship to be overthrown by force (see, for instance, the Anti-Defamation League's page on extremism). There may have been indications within the vehicle -- not visible to the dash cam -- that Massey potentially subscribed to some of those beliefs. (And, yes, it is equally possible that there were no such indications; I'm simply saying that we cannot see what the trooper saw).

Insofar as Massey had already evidenced his unwillingness to cooperate, the trooper was within his rights, under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), to consider searching Massey for weapons. Additionally, if the trooper had a reasonable and articulable concern for his own safety, he would be justified in handcuffing Massey. Handcuffing, under these circumstances, does not constitute an arrest.

A shocked Massey asks "what the hell is wrong with you?" and backs away, turning around as the officer had demanded[....]

The video, as I view it, does not show Massey "turning around as the officer had demanded"; rather, it seems to me that Massey is walking away from the trooper and returning to his car (see time stamp -7:23; he is, in fact, walking away from the trooper). Again, based on what the trooper may have seen in the vehicle, he might have reasonably concluded that Massey was returning to the vehicle to retrieve a weapon.

He then asks for his rights to be read and points out that the officer cannot arrest him without doing this.
Also, see time stamps -4:34 and -3:44, "You cannot arrest me until you tell me my rights..."

This is a misconception that has affected society for years. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) does not require "Miranda" warnings at the time of arrest. Miranda comes into play only during "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody...."

In other words, the warnings are required only under these circumstances (as laid out in the Supreme Court decision):

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. Pp. 467-473. [Emphasis added]

In this case, Massey was not in custody as defined by Miranda, nor was he being subjected to "custodial interrogation." On television, Miranda warnings are an integral part of the arrest process; in the real world, however, many arrests do not require the warnings as there in no intention of conducting a custodial interrogation. Certain information -- name, date of birth, address, driver's license, etc -- may be requested without triggering Miranda safeguards; refusal to provide this information is generally considered a separate offense, generally custodial in nature (if the person refuses to identify himself, the officer is usually required by statute to take the offender into custody).

The officer had no legal right to make Massey sign any document he did not understand.

Every state, and the Federal government, view driving as a privilege, not a right (despite what most teenagers claim). This is why drivers licenses may be suspended or revoked after one or more convictions for driving offenses. Part of the legal background to obtaining a license is what could be called an "implied knowledge" of driving laws and regulations -- the "ignorance is no excuse" theory. Generally, these laws and regulations include what the driver's responsibilities are in violations. Again, once Massey refused to sign the citation, the trooper probably was required to take Massey into custody.

In commenting on Watson's piece, Digby says:

Word to the wise. Do not ever question the police, no matter whether they are violating your rights, ignoring the constitution or breaking the law. It is perfectly legal for them to torture you on the spot if you do.

From viewing the video, and applying what I learned over fourteen years, I have the following comments:

"...they are violating your rights..." The operator of a motor vehicle, on a public highway, does not have the right to refuse to provide his/her drivers license, registration, and/or proof of insurance to a police officer investigating a traffic violation. The operator does have the right to refuse to sign a traffic citation, but the operator must be prepared to accept the consequences, generally laid out in state statutes or regulations, for such a refusal. As noted above, the consequences generally include being taken into custody.

"...ignoring the constitution..." The trooper did not violate Massey's Constitutional rights. As I explained above, Miranda warnings are not required at the time of arrest, but rather at the time of custodial interrogation (if any).

"...breaking the law." At no point during the video, as posted, did the trooper violate the law. It was Massey who violated not one, but many laws.

Also, there are at least three obvious breaks in the video as posted: once when the trooper is writing the citation (time stamp -8:00), and others at time stamps -2:48 and -0:48. It is entirely possible that those "breaks" showed circumstances that would tend to undermine Massey's claim (or they could just be dead space that was edited out for brevity).

One of Digby's commenters, a former police police officer calling herself Carol, had this to add:

I forced myself to watch that clip, and as a retired peace officer, =my [sic] opinion is both the trooper and motorist were at fault. [...] I've had similar incidents in my career where the subject refused to cooperate and turned to leave before we were done. In each case, I explained quickly and briefly the options and consequences of their leaving without completing the detention - warrant for arrest, incarceration, huge fines, etc. At worst, I'd have to have a warrant issued for them to be stopped farther down the road, including escalation of force. But in no case was I warranted to use deadly force in preventing them from leaving.

I agree with Carol completely. Many people are perfectly willing to refuse to cooperate with cops (which is, after all, their right), but are unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions.

I had one such situation that still sticks in my mind. Sometime back around 1979, I stopped a vehicle for speeding. The operator refused to show any documentation -- license, reg, etc. I informed him that if he persisted in his refusal, I would apply for an arrest warrant for him. He refused, so I applied for a warrant. I served the warrant on him at work, placed him under arrest, handcuffed him, and led him from his office (he was a physician). He told the judge that he did not believe a police officer had the legal authority to make a speeding arrest, based upon Biblical and "constitutional guarantees of freedom of travel." He also told the judge the "only real law enforcement officer was a duly-elected sheriff." He further claimed that Superior Court, as an "equity court," (based on the presence of a gold fringe on the American flag) did not have jurisdiction over him. These claims are all part of the sovereign citizen creed. Needless to say, the judge did not buy his finely-honed legal reasoning. The man's license was suspended for a year for the motor vehicle charges, and he was incarcerated for seven months in the county jail for resisting and interfering. He received an additional four months for contempt -- he argued with the judge at sentencing.

Is it possible the trooper acted improperly or unreasonably? Yes, of course it is. However, I am not going to make that judgment call unless and until I have access to the full video of the confrontation. Nobody else should jump to conclusions without all the facts, either.

UPDATE: There is some interesting give-and-take in the comments to this post at PoliBlog, between the post's author, Dr. Steven Taylor and a commenter calling himself Paul. In comment #3, Paul makes many of the same points I made above, but he puts a different spin on a couple of them. Also, he brings up a couple of court decisions I had forgotten about: New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981) and Atwater v. Lago Vista, 000 U.S. 99-1408 (2001).

Paul makes another interesting and valid point in comment #7:

You seem concerned here with the officer’s obligation to diffuse the situation. I wonder: In your opinion, did Mr. Massey have any obligation to diffuse it? And couldn’t he have done so by simply signing the ticket and then seeking his day in court? Apparently, you would have the officer coddle Mr. Massey. I would not. The officer is not Mr. Massey mommy, and Mr. Massey is not a child.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Badtux and My Missus....

Badtux has a post up with a picture of his accomodations whilst he's on vacation (hope he doesn't mind that I swiped his pic).

Badtux probably considers this to be "living the high life:"

The lovely yet talented Mrs 618, on the other hand, considers this to be "roughing it," if the TV doesn't get SoapNet:

Personally, I tend more towards Badtux's point of view.

Friday "I'm Really Pissed at You Guys" Pet Blogging

Yesterday was one of "those" Thanksgivings.

You know, the ones where you have to work (ah, the joys of being in emergency services and related fields), and have to deal with coworkers who don't have lives but really need to get them. Twelve fun-filled hours (during which I did additional research on the infamous Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, about which, more on the 28th).

After work, I headed down to the lovely yet talented Mrs 618's lovely yet talented mother's house for dinner. Finished dinner and dropped off some goodie bags (sandwiches, chips, mac salad, cookies) at the local police department as a "Thank You" for the rest of the folks working.

Back to the MIL's house for cheesecake (hey, gimme a break, I'm a New Yorker), pumpkin pie, and the rest of that good stuff. The lovely yet talented missus and I headed back to the spacious yet luxurious Chez618 about 11:00.

When we got home, we crawled into bed and commenced cuddling.

Until, that is, Joey and Mr Bailey both decided to attack my feet under the blankets. Then Emily decided it was "Labrador Love Time" and shoved in between us.

Mustang Bobby has the right idea.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New "Terror Warning"

You can tell bush's ratings are in the crapper. The FBI released yet another warning indicating that al-Qaeda was intending to strike the US, this time at shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Coincidentally, this warning was released just as we head into a holiday shopping season... a season with the busheviks at incredibly low popularity ratings, and a season where bush's economic miracles -- gas and energy prices -- mean families will have less to spend on things like gifts. It's also the last shopping season before the campaigns get up to full speed. As a result, the mouth-breathin', Bible'thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idjits have to terrify us now so they can continue their efforts to gut everything the US stands for.

This is yet another attempt by the bush junta to distract attention form the administration's illegal actions. I guess LordGodKing Dick'n'George figure if we panic over swarthy A-rabs in the malls, we're less likely to worry about how they are raping the Constitution.

The warning reads:

December 2007 Al-Qa’ida Plan to Target US Shopping Malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.

As of August 2007, al-Qa’ida planned to strike US shopping malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California during the 2007 Christmas season. Al-Qa’ida hoped to disrupt the US economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years.

FBI Comment: This information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.

At least this time, the Feds are saying they cannot attest to the veracity of the information. Had the warning come from the Ministry of Homeland Security, of course, it would have been much more alarmist.

This is jusy the first of many warnings, I'm sure. As we get closer to the election, especially if the rethuglicans can't drag their ratings up a bit, we'll see more and more announcements of impending doom, accompanied by the usual bullshit that voting Democratic will allow the "terrists" to win.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Season of No Reason

One of our local "lite" rock stations ("your home for rock so lite it'll tranquilize an elephant and make you want to wrap your lips around your car's exhaust pipe") went to an all-Christmas programming format the day after Halloween.

Let me repeat that: the day after Halloween.

K-Mart was putting up Christmas decorations before they took down the Halloween stuff. Our local Meijer (a Target clone, for those outside the upper midwest) already has their inflatable Jack Frost in front of the store.


I'm going to run for president. My platform is going to be simple and -- I hope -- a sure-fire winner:

  • NO Christmas decorations or Christmas music OF ANY KIND until the day after Thanksgiving (this includes those obnoxious "Christmas in July" sales at furniture and electronics stores).
  • All gas pumps, self-scan registers and ATM's must have the same card readers - all cards go in the same way, instead of having different manufacturers set up readers any way they choose.
  • All automobiles must have the wiper and headlight switches in separate but standardized locations. My Explorer has the lights on the dash, the wipers on the turn signal stalk; my wife's Honda has the lights on the turn signal, the wipers on the right of the column. God only knows how many times I've turned off the lights trying to turn on the wipers.
  • Tweety, Timmeh, the entire News Corp staff, and anyone showing a "W" sticker and/or yellow ribbon magnet will be immediately extraordinarily-renditioned to a heavily-fortified area in the Nevada desert, where they will be forced to listen to the Chipmunk's "Christmas Song" 24-7-365.

I was going to add a fifth plank concerning "No Child Left Behind" but thought better of it. That did, however, remind me of something I saw at Meijer's last week: a set of pet stairs (to help your senior-citizen Cocker spaniel-American climb onto the bed)... with "No Pet Left Behind" in great big letters on the box.

Between that and dubya's "I'm the decider" comment being imortalized in an Equal commercial, it's obvious that dubya and his quaint commentary will be with us foreveh.