This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: NBC News highlights the pro-reform candidates who swept prosecutorial races across the country this election, in states both red and blue, on platforms that emphasized the need to decriminalize drug use, invest in alternatives to incarceration, and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. As this wave of new leadership enters office, the piece calls on progressive prosecutors not only to prevent future harm, but to work to undo the damage their offices have already done. A piece from the New Yorker focuses on Kamala Harris and “the noble path of the prosecutor.” And the San Francisco Chronicle reports that this week, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin announced that he has filed manslaughter charges against the police officer who fatally shot 42-year-old Keita O’Neil during a 2017 chase – the first time in modern history that the city’s top prosecutor has charged a police officer with homicide in a use-of-force case.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A New York Times op-ed surveys the state of the pandemic in America’s prisons and jails. As of mid-November, more than 196,600 coronavirus infections had been reported among state and federal prisoners; more than 1,450 of those prisoners had died. Eight months into the pandemic, case rates among inmates are more than four times as high as those of the general public, and the death rate is more than twice as high. The Intercept goes inside the California Institution for Women in Southern California, where inmates are battling parallel crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the regular heat waves that have only intensified in recent years, with temperatures often reaching 100 degrees or higher inside the prison’s walls. And a piece from the Marshall Project focuses on the rise of electronic surveillance. In recent months, judges around the country have released or diverted thousands of people from local jails to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But as an alternative, they have significantly expanded the use of home confinement and electronic monitoring, especially for pretrial defendants who have not been convicted of a crime – and who wouldn’t be confined at all if they could afford bail. This trend has continued even as jail populations have begun to inch back up.
In complex crime storytelling: Texas Monthly profiles “a bad cop’s best friend.” Joe Gamaldi, a native of Long Island and veteran of the NYPD, now serves as president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union and national vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police. During his brief tenure, Gamaldi’s over-the-top rhetoric in defense of police officers accused of misconduct has earned him at least as many enemies as friends – especially over the summer, as mass protests thrust police brutality – and the role of unions in shielding officers from accountability – into the national spotlight. A piece from the Seattle Times focuses on the case of Autumn Lee Stone, a 23-year-old mother whose body was found last summer in Seattle’s Green Lake. Police quickly declared her death a suicide and closed the case. But that conclusion, and the process by which it came about, didn’t sit right with Autumn’s family and friends, nor with forensic experts, who say the police work doesn’t quite add up. A year later, they are still searching for answers – and, possibly, a murder suspect. And, in a piece for the Marshall Project, formerly incarcerated journalist Keri Blakinger reflects on her first Thanksgiving behind bars. Though holidays in prison are typically sad affairs, she remembers this one as a surprising bright spot of camaraderie, complete with an impromptu commissary feast shared between the women in her dorm.
And in culture/true crime: i-D reviews the HBO true-crime documentary Murder on Middle Beach. Filmmaker Madison Hamburg was 18 years old when his mother, Barbara Beach, was brutally murdered in the garden of her Connecticut home. More than a decade later, the crime remains unsolved. Through interviews with police, friends, and various family members – including the number-one suspect, his father Jeffrey Hamburg – Madison attempts to both uncover the truth about his mother’s death and to grapple with his family’s immeasurable loss. An intimate portrait of a crime and its aftermath, the film is both “eulogy and beady-eyed investigation.” The Washington Post reviews “The Woman Who Stole Vermeer,” a new book by the art crimes expert Anthony M. Amore. The book takes a deep dive into the peculiar life of Rose Dugdale, a millionaire heiress with an economics PhD and one of Britain’s most notorious art thieves. And Tom Brown’s Body, a new podcast from Texas Monthly, investigates an unsolved murder in a two-stoplight Texas town. In 2016, Tom Brown, a high school football star and president of his 71-member senior class, disappeared from the tiny Panhandle community of Canadian. Two years later, his remains were discovered beneath a tree outside of town. But to this day, no arrests have been made in the case, though nearly everyone involved has fallen under suspicion.