This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Mother Jones and New York Magazine report from Maryland, where, earlier this week, state legislators overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to pass a sweeping package of police reforms. Measures in the bill include the mandatory use of body cameras, the establishment of a civilian role in police discipline, and a restriction on the use of no-knock warrants. One of its most important aspects involves an increased standard for use of force, requiring officers to first use de-escalation tactics. The Maryland legislation is the second landmark policing bill making its way into law this week inspired by the nationwide reckoning over police violence after George Floyd’s death last May. The Wall Street Journal reports that on Wednesday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed a law banning qualified immunity for government employees in the state, making it easier to sue police for civil rights violations. The move comes amid a national push to curb legal protections for police in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the US Congress and at least two dozen other states are currently considering limiting or eliminating qualified immunity. A piece from The Trace examines the future of police reform in Newark, NJ. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2021, Newark reached a policing milestone: for the first time since 2015, the city’s police had gone an entire calendar year without firing a shot at a civilian. But the new year also brought Newark’s streak to an abrupt end: at 12:03 AM on January 1, a plainclothes cop shot and killed 39-year-old father Carl Dorsey. Dorsey’s killing occurred at a crossroads for policing in Newark, as residents and officials hash out decisions that will shape public safety for years to come. After decades of activism and federal supervision finally brought change to Newark, the most immediate question is, “Can the reforms hold?”. And, in a piece for the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb reflects on “the shooting of Daunte Wright and the meaning of George Floyd’s death.” In the eleven months since Floyd’s agonizing death, he writes, “we have seen changes ranging from mercenary corporate endorsements of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ to personal reckonings with the role of race in American society as well as substantial legislative and policy changes regarding policing.” The biggest question surrounding this raft of changes has been “whether it will translate into a decreased likelihood of Black people dying during routine interactions with law enforcement.” In Minneapolis, a city already on edge with the trial of Derek Chauvin now in its third week, and where protests have again broken out in response to the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a routine traffic stop last Sunday, “the answer to that question… is no.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: More than a year into the pandemic, a piece from the New York Times tracks the spread of COVID-19 through the US prison system. Worldwide, about 2 in 100 people are known to have had COVID-19. In the United States, which has among the worst infection rates globally, that number is 9 in 100. And inside US prisons, jails, and detention centers, the rate is 34 in 100 – more than three times as high. The Guardian reports from St. Louis, where, earlier this month, inmates at the ironically named City Justice Center – many of whom are in pre-trial detention and have been sitting in jail since the pandemic began – staged an uprising, chanting, lighting fires, and hanging signs reading “HELP US” in the windows of the jail. The demonstrations marked the fourth major disturbance at the jail within the last year – one of many such protests around the country, with inmates calling for humane treatment and increased protections against COVID-19. “The uprising at the St. Louis City Justice Center,” the piece argues, “was necessary and justified. It was a wake-up call and reminder that there is a hidden pandemic in the United States: our addiction to incarceration, which has led the supposed land of the free to become the home of the largest prison system on the planet. That sickness far predates COVID-19.” The LA Times reports from California, where the emergency suspension of federal jury trials during the pandemic has upended the state’s criminal justice system. While many of those charged with crimes have been free on bail as they await trial, others have remained behind bars, enduring long stretches of solitude as detainees are kept apart to minimize the spread of COVID-19. An increasing number of defendants are alleging violations of their speedy trial rights, casting uncertainty over their cases as the pandemic subsides and federal courts prepare to reopen. And a piece from The Atlantic goes inside the strange new world of “Zoom court.” Last spring, as COVID‑19 infections surged for the first time, many American courts curtailed their operations. As case backlogs swelled, courts moved online, “at a speed that has amazed —and sometimes alarmed — judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.” In the past year alone, US courts have conducted millions of hearings, depositions, arraignments, settlement conferences, and even trials over Zoom. Now, as a “post-pandemic future glimmers,” it remains unclear how much of that experimentation will survive after the crisis abates – and, given the stakes involved in the justice system, how much of it should.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from Rolling Stone centers on the so-called “Grindr Murder.” A little after 5PM on Christmas Eve, 2019, 25-year-old Kevin Bacon left his home in suburban Swartz Creek, Michigan, to meet a guy from Grindr, the dating and hookup app for predominantly gay men. He never came back. The assailant was his date, Mark Latunski, who, as it turned out, had attacked two other men within the past three months. Both victims had placed frantic 911 calls from Latunski’s basement, where, they told police, they had awoken in chains after being drugged and kidnapped. In the aftermath of Kevin’s death, his friends and family have been left wondering why more wasn’t done – and whether Kevin’s murder might have been prevented. A piece from The Atlantic recounts “the forgotten story of a diplomat who disappeared.” In 1974, John Patterson, a junior diplomat at the American consulate in Hermosillo, Mexico, was abducted by the People’s Liberation Army of Mexico – a group no one had ever heard of. The kidnappers demanded $500,000, insisting that Patterson’s wife Andra hand-deliver the ransom. But as Andra scrambled to scrounge up the money, gaps in the Pattersons’ story, and strange inconsistencies in the kidnappers’ MO, began to raise red flags for the FBI investigators looking into John’s disappearance. And a piece from ProPublica centers on Steven Carrillo, the “active duty airman [who] tried to start a civil war.” On June 6, 2020, Carrillo – a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant who belonged to the anti-government Boogaloo Bois movement, and who, a week earlier, had shot and killed a security officer guarding Oakland’s federal courthouse – was on the run in the tiny mountain town of Ben Lomond, CA. As Santa Cruz County deputy sheriffs closed in, Carrillo opened fire, killing one officer and severely injuring two more. When he was finally subdued, cellphone footage captured Carrillo shouting at deputies as they led him away: “This is what I came to fight — I’m sick of these goddamn police.” For Carrillo, that “final frenzied expression of rage marked the culmination of a long slide into extremism,” a journey that had begun more than a decade earlier. Carrillo’s arrest was also an omen of something larger and even more ominous: the rise of an increasingly extreme, aggressive, and violent insurrection movement across the United States.
In culture/true crime: New York Magazine reviews Mare of Easttown, a new crime drama from HBO. The series follows a “traumatized police detective” (Kate Winslet) in her attempts to solve the murder of a young woman and the possibly related disappearances of two others from their small Pennsylvania town. At first, Mare of Easttown looks familiar – this plot has “played out on television more times than can be counted” – but the series distinguishes itself with strong characters and thorough attention to detail, drawing “even its most flawed Easttowners with a sense of humanity and complexity.” CNN highlights The Serpent, a new true-crime miniseries from Netflix and BBC One. The series captures a time in the early 1970s when “hippie backpackers” jaunted around southeast Asia, “often in need of a friendly face and sympathetic ear as they quested for spiritual enlightenment.” Their openness made them easy prey for the suave Charles Sobhraj, who befriended them, poisoned and eventually killed many of them, using their passports and cash to fuel his schemes. Even taking “acknowledged creative liberties, the true story at the core of The Serpent sinks its teeth into you, chronicling a murder spree by a slick con man, and the unlikely diplomat whose determined efforts helped apprehend him.” And a piece from People Magazine centers on the murder of Kristin Smart and the true-crime podcast that helped crack the case. This week, police officials in San Luis Obispo, CA, announced that two men had been arrested in connection with the 1996 death of 19-year-old Cal Poly student Kristin Smart. In a press conference Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson credited the popular eight-part podcast series Your Own Backyard for helping authorities solve the case. The podcast, created by SLO native Chris Lambert, led police to interview several new witnesses whose testimony proved instrumental in making the arrests. “I feel good about the case at this point,” Lambert told the SLO Tribune. “I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to come to some sort of resolution.”