The Albuquerque Journal is reporting that the Utah inmate I mentioned earlier has been identified, but sadly, it appears he is not the missing DA from Pennsylvania. John Doe's brother reportedly recognized him after the mug shot was released to the media, and identified him as one Phillip T. Beavers of New Mexico.
Few details are available at the moment, so we still don't know why Mr. Beavers was in Utah or why he has kept his identity a secret for three weeks. Although if my name was "Mr. Beavers," I might not be in a big hurry to reveal that, either.
The Utah sheriff's office where Mr. Beavers is being held would not immediately confirm the report, but an officer was quoted as saying he felt "pretty comfortable" with the identification. Maybe they will also feel comfortable now letting him out of jail, since he's been there three weeks already for what was basically a refusal to get out of a parking garage. No one has claimed he is mentally ill or dangerous, and I'm pretty sure you can't constitutionally be required to show a police officer your ID. So even if they can't solve this mystery, he's probably entitled to be on his way.
Please don't make me start a "Free Phillip T. Beavers" campaign.
From a summary this week in Science Daily of a study conducted at the University of Leicester:
Mr Nolan said: "It is common knowledge that broken glass bottles can be used as an effective stabbing weapon and the results of the study have reaffirmed this."
The study was apparently intended primarily to measure the amount of force it takes to stab someone effectively with a broken bottle, which the summary suggests could be important in stabbing prosecutions although it's not obvious to me why that would be true. A possibly more useful result was suggested by another researcher who said they might be able to use the data to design new types of pint glasses that create less damaging surfaces when they fracture.
As I have mentioned before, people in the UK have a habit of stabbing each other (hey, guns are harder to get there) and if there are no pointy knives handy, they will fall back on their well-known British pluck and resourcefulness by breaking bottles or pint glasses and carving each other up with those. Despite all the evidence that people will find things to try to kill each other with no matter what you ban, the British government responded to the bar-stabbing problem by considering a ban on pint glasses made out of glass. Happily, it then seemed to have reconsidered, and instead started trying to redesign glass pint glasses to make them less stab-friendly. So this may be part of that effort.
Again, I have no problem with taking reasonable steps to make things safer, but the world cannot be made completely safe, nor would that be any fun. More to the point, if you try to force me to drink beer out of a plastic glass, I will find something to cut you with.
There is some speculation that a mystery prisoner in Utah, who was arrested three weeks ago for trespassing and has refused to give any information about himself, is actually a former Pennsylvania district attorney who disappeared six years ago and who, coincidentally, was just declared legally dead.
The man was arrested on July 1 for trespassing after he refused to leave a parking garage when asked, and has been sitting in jail ever since, stubbornly refusing to identify himself. He had no ID, running his fingerprints turned up nothing, and he even declined an offer to make a phone call because if he did, he said, "you guys will know right who I am." Police finally appealed to the public, because they were stumped. "We've run the gamut with this guy," an officer said, "and he's just cool as can be. He just absolutely does not want us to know who he is."
"He did say the food was good," the officer added, so maybe that helps explain it.
But reports today discussed suspicions that John Doe is actually Ray Gricar, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania who disappeared six years ago. Last month, Gricar's family had finally filed to have him declared legally dead, and that petition was approved yesterday. "I'm sure the investigation will continue," said the family's attorney, "and hopefully something will happen. But as far as the family's concerned, it's now over."
Maybe not quite.
One newspaper put this composite together (more pictures here), and there does seem to be a resemblance, but it's hard to say. Officers said John Doe seems to be in his 60s or 70s (he won't say, of course), and Gricar would be 65 today. On the other hand, Gricar almost certainly would have been fingerprinted as part of his application for the bar, but if he was, those didn't turn up in a search of any database.
For the family's sake, of course, I hope this does turn out to be Ray Gricar, but either way it's an interesting story. If you recognize this person, call the sheriff's office at 801-851-4202. You may help reunite a man with his family, or at least help cut the sheriff's food bill.
Update: I'm told that the Pennsylvania Bar doesn't require fingerprints as part of the background check (some states do, some don't), so that may not rule out the Gricar theory.
An Ohio man faces trial for "assaulting a police dog" now that a judge has rejected his argument that the law is unconstitutional. Ryan Stephens was arrested in Mason, Ohio, after he allegedly walked up to the window of a police cruiser and barked at a police dog inside. Stephens argued that prosecuting him for barking violated his First Amendment rights, but the judge rejected that argument this week.
The report says that the law was a municipal ordinance, and so it must be Section 525.16, Assaulting Police Dog, Horse or Assistance Dog. Stephens didn't make contact with the dog (luckily for him), but the law also provides that no person shall "recklessly ... [t]aunt, torment, or strike a police dog or horse ...." So this appears to be a dog-taunting prosecution.
Setting aside the question of whether law enforcement in Mason, Ohio, has anything better to do than prosecute somebody for barking at Timber the Police Dog, the judge was probably right to reject the First Amendment defense.
The first question is whether the law restricts speech or conduct. The line is actually not that clear, because the First Amendment also protects "expressive conduct." The test is whether there was an "intent to convey a particularized message" and a likelihood that the message would be understood by the recipient. You certainly could communicate by barking -- I've seen Lassie do it many times -- but there's no evidence that was happening here.
Second, if this was "speech," we would then have to ask whether the law restricted it based on content. If so, the law would be presumed to be invalid, except that "fighting words" threatening imminent lawless action can be punished. If not, then it's much easier for the government to justify.
In fact, the prosecution did argue that even if the barking was speech, it would then be "fighting words" because it upset Timber (although since he was apparently stuck inside the car, lawless action was not "imminent"). The judge does not seem to have reached that question, holding instead that in this case the barking was conduct, not speech, and that even if it was speech, the law was aimed at conduct and any "impairment of a First Amendment right is incidental."
When he was arrested, Stephens reportedly contended that "the dog started it," but he will apparently have to make that argument to a jury.
In similar news, we are still waiting for a decision from the Washington Supreme Court on whether Helen Immelt had the right to honk her car horn at a neighbor and a police officer, an offense she was convicted of in June 2009. That case, too, involved a First Amendment defense that was rejected on the grounds that "horn honking per se," done to harass without the intent to convey a particularized message, was not protected speech. The case was argued some time ago, and I know you are anticipating the result as eagerly as I am.
It's not me -- I just checked, and I've used that phrase exactly once, back when Robert Blake was in jail on suspicion of killing his wife, and he was recorded saying he didn't care if he got life imprisonment because he'd write his memoirs and maybe set up a website like Charlie Manson did. So I guess he didn't take it seriously. But then he was, hilariously, later acquitted.
There are other hilarious book titles in this post at Bookride (via Boing Boing), but this was the only law book featured. If you have any similar examples of bad titles, whether they are disgracing law books or law-review articles, please let me know.
Analogies are tricky in legal writing, mainly because of the risk you may stretch one too far and lose credibility. This one might have been a bit overstretched.
According to the Telegraph, which reported the story in November 2010 and yes I'm just getting around to finishing this post, Gillian Martin worked for the UK's GMB trade union (led by general secretary Paul Kenny) for six years. After she was fired, she alleged she was wrongly terminated for blowing the whistle on misuses of union funds, and said the union discriminates against women.
In a written statement presented to an employment tribunal, she drew what turned into a fairly extended analogy between her case and The Lord of the Rings:
I draw an analogy of my situation with the movie Lord of the Rings in the inferences which I invite the tribunal to make in relation to this case.
For this purpose, I am suggesting that Paul Kenny is the Dark Lord Sauron, the eye at the top of the tower seeing everything, missing nothing and directing everything. His GMB kingdom is the equivalent of Mordor, Lord Sauron's domain.
I see myself in all this as a female version of the hobbit Frodo Baggins carrying the ring, these precious claims of mine, to this tribunal of Mount Doom.
I hope that by submitting my claims to the tribunal, in the same way as the ring was submitted to the molten lava of Mount Doom, that the eye of Lord Sauron will dissolve and justice will prevail.
In general, this analogy works, setting aside the mild exaggeration.
I'm pretty sure they did discriminate against women in Mordor, for example. (I don't remember any there at all, in fact, but maybe they were all stuck underground, forced to type and make coffee.) The analogy is missing some important characters, though, like Sam (who I assume would be Martin's lawyer, if she had one), and Gollum. Remember that in the end, Frodo wasn't able to let go of the precious, and the quest only succeeded because Gollum bit his finger off, took the Ring, and then fell into the Crack of Doom with it. So either Martin has left out an important event, or filing a claim with the Leeds Employment Tribunal is way more difficult than it should be.
I guess maybe Gollum would be the lawyer in that scenario.
I haven't been able to find any record of how this particular case was resolved, but I did notice that the Dark Lord Kenny was later reelected as General Secretary of the GMB, and in fact he ran unopposed. So that quest failed, although Martin may of course have won a lesser victory.
If that's true, or if a vast darkness has since spread across the land, please let me know.
Sooner or later, the Lujan Zoo in Argentina is going to get around to providing an excellent demonstration of how evolution works. This is not necessarily because the zoo does a good job of explaining the science behind it, but rather because they let people ride the animals.
"Here at the Lujan Zoo," reported the Daily Mail, "visitors can ride lions, cuddle bears, stroke tigers and feed cheetahs." A variety of other unique and perhaps irresistible though also shockingly dumb activities are also available, including picking up and holding the smaller animals or hand-feeding grapes to a grizzly bear. Yes, that says "hand-feeding grapes to a grizzly bear." I can only think of one other place you should expect to see that appear:
Not dangerous enough? According to another report, "if so inclined, [visitors can] follow the trainer's lead and allow the bears to snatch the grapes from between their lips." What could go wrong?
The zoo's manager "insisted the zoo takes stringent precautions to prevent accidents" although as you can see, it doesn't. The "precautions" turn out to be regular feedings "so they won't feel hungry when a human is inside their cage," and that the animals grow up around dogs. (Also, visitors are reportedly asked to make no "sudden movements," which is equally comforting.) He also noted that whenever a patron is inside a cage, there are always at least two zoo workers there as well (one is visible above), workers he referred to as "specially trained keepers" but who I would call "dessert."
To take advantage of this opportunity to be eaten alive, all you have to do is drive out from Buenos Aires, pay 50-100 pesos and, according to one report, sign "a paper that says the zoo [will] not be responsible for any accidents or deaths caused by the animals." Actually, I'm not sure there is such a "paper" -- the zoo's website doesn't mention this issue at all, and the report that mentioned the grape-snatching said that "[a]ll of this ... takes place without patrons being required to sign any legal waivers." Of course, at least under U.S. law, lion-riding or french-kissing a bear would pretty clearly fall in the categories of "primary assumption of risk" or "open and obvious danger," meaning one could not successfully sue if injured, waiver or no waiver. This is not to say people don't file, let's say, tiger-based lawsuits, but to my knowledge they don't win.
To be fair, the manager also claimed that, in fact, there have been no attacks since the zoo opened in 1994, and I could find no evidence of any, either directly or by inference from reports of increased bowel movements on the part of the big cats. If that's true, it certainly is some evidence (but not proof) that the zoo's techniques make this reasonably safe for visitors, as it claims. And by all means, if you want to do this or any other dangerous thing, I think you should be able to. Just please consider yourself adequately warned.
The zoo has been controversial for other reasons too. Many people don't like it because they think the treatment of the animals is abnormal and degrading, setting aside the risk to visitors. And some claim the animals are docile only because they're sedated, a claim the zoo denies. I don't have a position on that except to say before I tried to ride a tiger, at least one of us would have to be heavily sedated.
That was its official position, anyway. In reality, the first 60 seconds or so is pretty good:
An investigator looking into the incident apparently put the video together from surveillance-camera footage, sped it up and added the "Benny Hill" theme.
It was sent to the Times Union recently by an officer who was hurt during the chase (maybe the one in the lead who falls down), and who unsuccessfully sued the department alleging that the video was used to humiliate him. He also apparently alleged that he was discriminated against because of his partial Native-American heritage, claiming that another officer told him that "[y]ou ran after that guy like he stole your land," a joke I am officially not endorsing.