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A Seattle Shootout: Some Lessons for Citizens, the Police and Mayor McGinn

“A Seattle Shootout: Some Lessons for Citizens, the Police and Mayor McGinn” by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

The shootout

At about noon on a Saturday in July, my wife and I were standing, talking, on the SE corner of an intersection in the business district of a popular Seattle neighborhood. We were with friends and were on our way to a day of fun at a festival in the International District. We had stopped at a coffee shop so our friends could go inside to get coffees-to-go. It was a beautiful morning with lots of people out strolling and going in and out of restaurants and shops.

My attention was attracted to yelling coming from the north side of the cross-street we were on, mid-block and east of our position. I looked to see a stocky black male, 30-something, in a green shirt, yelling while facing west towards our location on the arterial street. I couldn’t make out what he was saying; but his voice had an angry tone.

While making these observations, I became aware of a 30-something, tall, slim black male and a short, slender black female crossing from a restaurant on the NE corner of the intersection, toward a point just east of us on the cross-street. These two people were obviously together and would have been unremarkable but for three things. One: She was paying a lot of attention to the yelling man up the street and seemed to be reluctant to follow the man she was with. Two: He gave a couple of sharp and abrupt hand signals to her, indicating that she should come along with him and quit lagging behind. Three: When he made these gestures, he pulled up his gray t-shirt and exposed what appeared to be a gun tucked in his dark colored pants. The view I had was so brief in duration that I couldn’t be sure I had seen a gun. She continued to hold back as he headed east on the sidewalk, moving closer to the yelling man. When she finally speeded up to catch up with her companion, I turned my attention back to my wife. Then the shooting started.

I pulled my wife to me and took cover behind a metal utility pole. Simultaneously, our friends came out of the coffee shop. I ordered them and the people at the tables in front of the shop to get down and stay down. Thankfully, they complied.

The shooting lasted only seconds. When it stopped, I looked east up the street and saw the woman who had been with the guy in the gray t-shirt coming out of a hairdressing salon behind the coffee shop. I saw a black SUV leaving the scene headed east. People flooded out onto the street. The woman headed east and away from me; I followed her.

When the police started to flood into the area, I directed the attention of one officer to the woman, an associate of one of the shooters and a material witness. When I tried to explain why he should talk to her, he asked me if I was a cop. When I told him no, he said “Then be quiet”. Not wanting to risk arrest for interfering, I stood and waited, listening to her lie about not being involved. I expected him to next turn to me. Instead he turned and walked away. A second attempt to get the same officer’s attention resulted in another rebuff when he directed another officer to talk to me. At that point all I could tell this officer was that the woman had already left the scene but that she had been in the salon and the folks in there might be able to ID her. Having done all I could, I rejoined my wife and friends. We went on to have a great day.

I was left angry and frustrated by the way I was treated by the officer who rebuffed me twice, allowing a material witness to leave a crime scene, unidentified. Rather than forgetting the matter, I sought out a meeting. I wanted to talk to the officer, his boss and the watch commander for the unit involved. The watch commander set up a meeting at the precinct.

Without going into the details, I’ve got to say that I left the meeting pleased that we had been able to talk openly about the situation. They listened actively and attentively to my concerns and were able to explain to my satisfaction how officers responding to such situations can be, or can appear to be, a bit rude. The safety of the public and the responding officers and securing the scene of the crime takes precedence over everything else.

They also informed me that the woman had been ID’d by the folks in the salon and that she and the shooters were gang associated.

The lessons for the public? Chill; it’s not about you. Oh, and get out of the line of fire.

Don’t expect polite and respectful behavior from police officers at active crime scenes, especially when the crime is violent and the scene is still chaotic. They are under a lot of pressure and are trying their best to re-establish safety and order.

Do demand answers when you have not been treated with respect; but do it after the situation is over.

When the shooting starts, don’t stand up and gawk. Don’t move closer to the action. Take cover or escape safely. Stay out of the fight unless it comes to you. Then fight as if your life depended on it, because it might.

For those who legally carry concealed firearms, the situation I describe did not warrant drawing a weapon. None of us standing or crouching behind cover on the corner were being directly threatened. We were within range of the bullets being fired; so cover and/or escape were our best defense.

Lessons for the police? Lighten up.

Command and control doesn’t require rudeness. Polite but firm will work for most otherwise good citizens who want nothing more than to help you do your job, if they can.

Unnecessary use of authority can be a barrier to getting the cooperation and information from the public necessary to do your work. Use your authority only as much as you have to in getting the job done.

Lessons for Mayor McGinn? It’s the gangs, not the guns.

Rather than trying to constrain our Second Amendment rights, strictly enforce existing gun laws. They are more than adequate, if enforced.

Aggressively go after the gangs that are the cause of the vast majority of gun violence in Seattle. And to help you accomplish that…

Go to Olympia and ask legislators to introduce mandatory, minimum sentences for those convicted of crimes where guns are used in crime or where persons committing violent and non-violent crimes are found possessing guns.

There should be no compromise with violent felons who endanger the public as well as each other. Ask the legislature to change the law to disallow plea bargaining on gun charges associated with any other felonies.

 

Guns, Violence and Society – Family and Community Level Solutions

Guns, Violence and Society – Family and Community Level Solutions by: John F. Hays,  a Seattle Private Investigator.

Violence in our society is a problem with no easy solutions. Since the “experts” and our social institutions haven’t fixed the problem, the subject is wide open for conversation. I don’t have “the answer”; but I’d like to offer up some ideas, in the form of assertions, for conversation.

The causes of violence are many and are linked together in a complex web of interrelationships. Possible fixes for the myriad small and large defects in our personal, family, community and national lives are as numerous as the causes. The interrelationships of the causes makes applying fixes a societal level experiment demanding careful observation of consequences within that web of interrelationships. Real solutions will come out of a concerted effort over a time-line measured in generations.

The solutions to criminal violence in our society lay primarily in the environment we create within which we raise our children. To save society, save the children.

Children are the future of society and of every subgroup into which we can divide society. Children are future contributing citizens and future criminals, the future rich and the future poor, the future workers and the future unemployed, the future leaders and the future led.

The United States of America is an incredibly wasteful society, the saddest example being our treatment of poor and minority children and any children who are “different”. We throw away our positive potential as a nation when we throw away our children. Those thrown away don’t disappear. Many fail to overcome their situations. Some turn to the dark side.

In the majority of cases, the potential for violent criminal behavior is indicated by earlier behavior and environmental factors that are visible to anyone who cares to watch and listen. The earlier we can identify and intervene with a person moving toward criminal, and, especially, violent criminal behavior, the more opportunities we have to intervene and divert the person from that path.

Violent criminals often arise from dysfunctional families. If a dysfunctional family is described as having some combination of poor or nonexistent parenting, intra-family emotional and physical violence and other mental health issues, drug abuse, unemployment and poverty, then possible solutions should address those factors.

Addressing causes within the family requires community level social programs aimed at positively improving the environment in which children are raised. We must work harder to identify children at risk and lower the threshold at which community level social service agencies can intervene to deal with the conditions jeopardizing children’s welfare. A child’s welfare should trump parental rights whenever the child is threatened by parents who don’t parent at all or who are so incompetent that the child’s mental and physical health are threatened. The same should apply to parental abuse or neglect arising from parents’ drug abuse, mental health issues and criminal activities. Parents who are emotionally or physically violent or who are sexually abusing children should lose all parental rights.

Children who develop their potential to be involved and productive citizens are less likely to become violent criminals. Each child should receive the best possible education, with the purpose of developing all the potential that each individual has, with no limits based on anything but that potential. High quality education should not be treated as a commodity that only the wealthy can afford.

Children, even those in loving and supportive families, cannot take full advantage of even the best educational opportunities if they have poor health care. Health care should not be treated as a commodity only the wealthy can afford. Health care should be nationalized, taking control from insurance companies and returning it to the hands of the people and their health care providers.

Good nutrition is the foundation of good health. Junk food is an oxymoron. Those who produce real food should receive the subsidies that now go to the corporations that produce the junk food to which so many people seem to be addicted. Organic, locally sourced food producers should get the subsidies that go to factory farms.

With so much of our future in the balance, why do we continually fail to prepare each and every child to grow up to be positive contributors to that future? Why do we write-off so many who happen to be born into poor and/or minority families. Why do we write-off so many who happen to be square pegs in a round-peg educational system. We create the future through the way in which we raise our children.

If you ask how we can afford to do any of these things, consider the money wasted on subsidies to corporate entities claiming to be free enterprise capitalists. Real free enterprise capitalists wouldn’t take subsidies. And don’t forget the subsidies mislabeled as tax breaks for the 1%. Public money should be spent on public good, not private profits.

Next: Guns, Violence and Society – The National Violence Addiction 

 

U of Washington PI Certification Program #1 in Nation

U of Washington PI Certification Program #1 in Nation by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

As a successful Seattle private investigator and graduate of the Private Investigation Certification program at the University of Washington in Seattle, I am very pleased to see that PInow.com ranked the program as #1 of the “Top 25 Private Investigator Training and Education Programs” in the nation.

As a professional trainer and as someone with a lot of formal education, I had ranked it, based on personal experience, as excellent, both for faculty and program content. I’ve recommended the program to several people who wanted to know how to get into the business. It’s nice to get validation for my views from PInow.com.

 

Prosecutorial Intimidation Subverts Criminal Justice System

Prosecutorial Intimidation Subverts Criminal Justice System by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

An opinion piece in a recent New York Times SundayReview raises an issue that goes to the heart of the criminal justice system as it plays out in our current society. It asks where the justice is in a system that coerces most people accused of crime into accepting plea deals over jury trials.

According to the author, over 90% of criminal cases are never heard by juries. That means that over 90% of the accused cede their constitutional rights to trial by jury to accept plea deals. These plea deals are often portrayed by prosecutors as easy ways out of facing far more onerous outcomes if the accused insists on trial by jury. That means that the peoples’ power to determine the facts of all these cases and to decide the fate of the accused has been taken away by a system more interested in incarceration than justice.

I would also ask where the justice is in a system that replaces due process and the presumption of innocence with what amounts to backroom kangaroo courts run by prosecutors. Prosecutors represent the State. The power to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt belongs to the people.

The author also points out that the court system would collapse if everyone accused of crime insisted on jury trials. There wouldn’t be enough money and judges to handle the flood of trials that would result.

Maybe that’s what we need to open people’s eyes to a system of “justice” that fills prisons with minor offenders who could be better dealt with in community based programs.

The US has about 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. We also have a growing corporate prison industry that thrives on incarcerating as many people as possible and keeping them in lock up while they profit at the taxpayers expense.

This whole situation smells.

See my blog post about jury nullification, another way for the people to exercise their rights as citizen jurors to correct injustice.

 

 

 

 

The Gun Violence Fantasies of Seattle Mayor

The Gun Violence Fantasies of Seattle Mayor by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

Mayor McGinn persists in trying to stem gun violence by trying to create a Seattle Parks gun ban in spite of courts rejecting the idea as contrary to state law. The courts are correct; so the mayor and the city attorney will go to the state legislature to try to get them to give cities the right to make their own gun control laws. My prediction? It won’t happen.

“A park is no place for a gun,” says the mayor. This simple minded statement shows that either the mayor is incredibly ignorant regarding human behavior or extremely cynical in offering up feel-good but ineffective laws to please the gun control crowd. I’m sure that will get him some votes in the next election; but if he were to get what he wants, it would have absolutely no impact on gun violence in Seattle.

The problem with this effort and the sentiment behind it is the irrationality of expecting that thugs with guns are going to be deterred by unenforceable laws. Does the mayor have a budget for fencing and gating all the parks in Seattle and then setting up a TSA style “security” system at the gates to detect weapons?

The thugs with guns who actually pose a threat to people in parks and everywhere else in the city will continue to carry and act as predators. Those who have State concealed carry licenses will continue to carry. Stalemate!

Legally armed citizens aren’t the problem. The mayor needs to concentrate on dealing with criminals through the efforts of the community groups and social service agencies trying to get at the root causes that turn innocent children into armed thugs. He also needs to do more to support the police whose job it is to deal with the consequences of parents, communities and society-at-large failing to prevent children from choosing lives of violent crime.

 

Domestic Violence Victims Likely Child Victims First

Adult Domestic Violence Victims Likely Child Victims First by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

Domestic violence cases almost always leave me feeling a mix of emotions, anger, sadness and frustration. Too often, adult domestic violence cases involve the abuser and a victim who keeps coming back for more abuse, time after time after time. When a victim keeps making excuses for the abuser’s behavior and keeps returning for more, the sick co-dependency becomes obvious. The emotions I feel are for both abuser and victim, because the abuser very likely has a history of being a victim of abuse as a child.

The following report about a recently published research project helps explain this phenomenon. I believe that teenage abusers and some of their victims are very likely to go on to similar behavior in adulthood.

“Teen victims of dating violence are overwhelmingly more likely to have been victims of other forms of violence, such as sexual violence and child abuse, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center.”

 

Guns, Violence and Society – Causes

Guns, Violence and Society – Causes by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

I think we already know at least some of the causes of violence in our society; but we’re too diverted and divided to look closely at the problem and take it on.

Aside from a limited number of cases where brain damage, drugs (Phencyclidine or PCP, et al.), or psychosis (schizophrenia, paranoia, et al.) contribute to violent behavior, most people, including researchers, believe that violent behavior arises from conditions that might be labeled as environmental. While the scientific community seems unwilling to say that they know the exact causes of violence in society, or in the case of any individual violent person, they do acknowledge a number of conditions or factors that appear to make individual violence more likely. They also point out that sometimes these factors show a “which came first” complexity.

It’s a nature versus nurture question. We are all born with the potential for violence. However, civilizing factors make most of us much less violent than that potential. I believe that most of us can be brought to violence by certain situations or conditions that threaten the life and safety of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.

The factors cited that contribute to, if not cause, violent behavior are numerous and often interrelated. It is clear that some people survive the adverse influence of these same factors and never act out violently. The following is only illustrative and is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

Causes within the family

Being born into a dysfunctional family, including some combination of

    poor or nonexistent parenting
    intra-family violence
    drug abuse
    unemployment and poverty

Causes within the larger society

Being raised in a society

    that glorifies violence and distorts its true nature and consequences
    that feeds us violence as entertainment
    that engages in a violent domestic war, labeled The Drug War, which enables violent gang culture and police corruption
    that engages in perpetual war against domestic and foreign terrorists as a substitute for The Cold War, in order to feed the Military Industrial Complex at the expense of our warriors, our domestic needs, and our economy
    that has turned our prisons into advanced training bases that fail to rehabilitate while enabling the incarcerated to learn more criminal skills.

 

Guns, Violence and Society – Addiction

Guns, Violence and Society – Addiction By: John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

In spite of the best efforts of my history and civics instructors, I eventually found out that they lied and distorted many things about the history and government of my country of birth. They didn’t do this out of malice. They were doing no more than unconsciously engaging in the propaganda and indoctrination that they were subjected to in their own educations. It’s what the political classes do in every country. The victors not only get the spoils; they get to write or rewrite history, the revisionist history that glorifies the winners and ignores or justifies all the less than glorious truths behind their “victories”.

I’ve been around for more than 66 years and I’ve been paying attention for most of that time. I credit my political awakening to the Jesuits who ran my high school and the first university I attended. Though I am no longer a Catholic or a Christian, I greatly appreciate Jesuit involvement in my intellectual development, such as it is. They taught me two things that inform my way of thinking to this day. They taught me how to think, as opposed to what to think; and they taught me to question authority. These are dangerous traits, but are, in fact, essential to citizenship in a democracy. How can we learn and advance as a nation if we don’t know the truth about our past and the current machinations of those in power? How can we aspire to match the potential espoused in our high and mighty principles if we aren’t willing to look at our failures at living by those principles?

Our history starts with an invasion and the forceful taking of land belonging to indigenous peoples. By violent revolution, we broke away from an onerous overseas government. We continued our violent subjugation of the indigenous people, an effort that continues, in a somewhat less overt way, to this day. We fought wars to establish our northern and southern borders. We fought an internal war over the economic and human rights issue of slavery. We’ve had labor wars. We’ve had outbreaks of violence directed against voluntary and involuntary immigrants (Africans, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics, Irish etc). We’ve experienced political assassinations and attempts at assassination. We’ve fought numerous foreign wars, some seemingly justified, some not. Violent crime, domestic violence, sexual violence, gang violence, road rage, highway carnage fueled by alcohol and drugs, the Drug War, the list goes on.

Modern culture is rife with violence and we wallow in it willingly. Movies, TV, music, games, sports, all glory in violence. Billions are spent producing and consuming violence. We honor and pay handsomely the actors, singers and athletes who feed our blood lust.

We are a product of violence…and we love it.

The debate continues over the effect of media depictions of violence on human behavior, especially that of our children. Now we are debating whether violent and hateful political speech can influence or cause violent behavior. We love to debate. We hate to actually engage collectively in defining problems that can be solved, finding real solutions and doing the hard work to attain them.

We are like alcoholics; and like alcoholics, we must admit to our addiction to violence before we can begin the journey to a cure. As a citizen, I have a stake in this situation. As a Seattle private investigator, working mostly in criminal defense, the stake I have has become more clear and tangible.

 

Eyewitnesses Can’t Be Trusted.

Eyewitnesses Can’t Be Trusted by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

Eyewitnesses helped send an innocent man to prison. He ended up spending 30 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Seattle Times article. Because of cases like this, this Seattle criminal defense investigator is against the death penalty. Because of cases like this, this investigator is strongly motivated in my criminal defense and personal injury cases to get the best information from witnesses that I can and to expose unreliable witnesses when I find them.

Eyewitness identification is unreliable. We’ve known that for a very long time. An eyewitness can be honest, but wrong. An eyewitness can be confused by a variety of factors. An eyewitness can lie for a variety of reasons. An eyewitness can be manipulated by careless or unscrupulous law enforcement officers. In the absence of substantial collaborating evidence, why do we continue to accept eyewitness testimony as sufficient to convict anybody of anything?

 

Criminal Defense? Part 1

Criminal Defense? Part 1 by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

“You help criminal defense attorneys?”

“You want to help set criminals free?”

I get asked these questions all the time when I tell people I’m a criminal defense investigator. “What if the person you are helping to defend is really guilty; and the defense attorney you work for on the case gets him acquitted so he walks free? How can you justify your part in his defense?”

I’ve been asked these and similar questions by some family and friends and by a few people whom I’ve just met. It usually happens just after they find out what I do for a living. These questions usually come from good and well-meaning people.

But the question shows that the person asking is woefully ignorant of our system of justice and its underlying principles. In my experience, it’s unusual to find a person who does understand, who isn’t in the business or wasn’t involved in a criminal or civil lawsuit.

I’m a private investigator who assists defense attorneys, not an attorney.

My job is to find, verify and document information, gathered from a variety of sources, which my attorney/clients need to properly defend accused persons from criminal charges. I am not judge, jury or prosecutor. It is not my role to judge the accused, even if the accused has a criminal record.

I’ve developed an answer that seems to work for me and for my questioners.

Consider an answer in two parts

I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer to this sort of question has two elements: 1) an examination of the language we use and 2) a review of the basic legal principles involved. I’ll give the first part of my answer in this blog and the second part in the next blog, in about a week.

Is language part of the problem?

Why is it called criminal defense rather than defense of the accused? If a person accused in our court system is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, why do we use a term that labels the person “criminal” before the trial is conducted and concluded?

I’m a criminal defense investigator. I work for criminal defense lawyers. We work to defend accused persons, only some of whom are truly guilty, truly criminals. The trial is where the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined.

Why is it guilty versus not-guilty instead of proven versus not-proven? In criminal cases the jury must find the accused guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to convict. Doesn’t the use of “guilty” imply certainty? This term is subjective and less than absolutely certain.

A jury in a criminal case examines and evaluates the evidence and the arguments of opposing attorneys and then deliberates to come to a conclusion about guilt or innocence based on a judge’s instructions about the applicable law.

If a jury doesn’t deadlock, they come back to the courtroom after concluding their deliberations with a verdict of guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt) or not guilty (meaning that they have a reasonable doubt). Where is the certainty in this usage? Shouldn’t it be “proven” beyond a reasonable doubt or “not proven” beyond a reasonable doubt?

Words are powerful. They sometimes convey meaning beyond, or at odds with, the intent of the users. They consequently program those who hear the words to misunderstand and prejudge.

Maybe people would have a better understanding if we were more precise in the language we use to discuss our criminal justice system and the people charged with crimes in that system.

Maybe my first jury experience would have been different had the language used been different and more precise.

 
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