Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird. No, it’s a plane. No…

Police officers perform job duties using a variety of modes of transportation: helicopter, airplane, motorcycle, bicycle, horse, Ferrari, ATV, segway, and paraglider. Wait—paraglider???

Now this from the innovative police news (there is a video with the story at the link):

The Palm Bay Police Department (FL) has announced that it will begin to use a paragliding team of police officers in special operations.

The Search Operations Aerial Response team will deploy for surveillance, to locate missing vehicles and other property, photograph crime scenes, search for missing people and assess damage after disasters.

Palm Bay's police are believed to be the first law enforcement agency in the country to use paragliding officers.

The department also expects to use the aircraft for routine aerial patrols over sections of the city with higher crime rates.

"It's able to fly very low, and it's also able to fly thousands of feet in the air," said Lt. Joe Eakins, who worked with Lt. Mark Renkins to develop the paragliding program for the department…
I wouldn’t volunteer for that assignment (I am hoping that they have metal plates underneath to protect those flying from ground-based potshots), but to each his/her own.

I can see using something like that to search for a missing child in rugged beach-like terrain, but in patrol work?

I think cameras in high-crime areas supported by walking or bicycle units would be much more efficient, effective, and approachable by the public. Or, at least I did until I read this response to the paragliding issue by an Officer.com poster named Flanker:

In my county the SO (sheriff’s office) is switching their bike unit to a unicycle unit in order to save money on refilling tires.
Now that is too funny.

Tuber of the Week #6: Meow

I love animals. Growing-up, my family always surrounded us with dogs, and it was not until I married into a family who owned lots cats (and dogs) had I ever spent much time with cats.

Our family cat was a stray who followed my dog and I back from a walk at my then fiancée’s (now Mrs.) apartment building. This pudgy cat has always been around more dogs than animals of her own kind and most likely thinks she is a canine anyway (comes to you when whistled-at, begs for food, etc.).

In any event, we do enjoy cats that will play. Our in-laws had a fluffy white cat, who despite being very old, would still chase small bounce balls down the stairs—much to the amusement of our little kids.

This week’s best on You Tube is a smorgasbord piece of the funniest Internet cat videos. It includes lots of playful and/or clumsy meowers.

Two notes about the video: 1) The cat and the fan scene starting at 1:02 is not real—it was from a European television commercial; 2) My favorite felines are the “tough guy” at 1:21 and the “turf protector” at 2:10.

Our crew has enjoyed this video immensely:

Note: I am still having the technical issue with comments not being visible from the homepage on posts with You Tube videos. Rest assured, comments are there, but for some reason you have to click on the title of this post to write/view them.

Routines and Mugshots

How do you start your weekday morning? Does it include a small caffeinated coffee with a touch of cream and sugar? How about rolling out of bed, slipping on the running shoes, and motoring out the front door for that three mile run?

People in general are creatures of habit. We follow predictable patterns. Routine helps us stay organized and makes us feel safe. Police officers know that behaviors are predictable. Just ask an officer what his/her least favorite question is when while he is sitting in a patrol car temporarily blocking a road.

Probably one in five drivers will stop in the middle of the road, further disrupt traffic, and ask the officer something to the extent of this: “I am trying to get to (insert work/home/school/a friend’s house), and this road is the only way I know how to get there. Will you tell me another way?”

Unfortunately, many criminals know humans are predictable as well. We leave the house at the same time on work days. We walk the dog at the same time and follow the exact same route.

One activity that is disappearing from the routine of most Americans is reading the newspaper. Declining readership and fewer advertisers have forced many newspapers large and small to cut staff and in some cases, cease operations.

Traditional newspapers have struggled to compete with the Internet. If they use password protected sites, people will simply go to free sites for information. If the papers post information for free, the paid readership and advertisers complain.

Well, I don’t subscribe to a newspaper, but part of my morning routine is reading the news and blog information online. What content would make me want to go to a newspaper website that is not national, but is away from my hometown? I think the St. Petersburg Times newspaper website at Tampa Bay.com has discovered a fantastic attraction to drive traffic to their frontpage.

What is this big carrot? Mugshots. Yes, those pictures of persons arrested in the previous 24 hours are a big hit.

The Smoking Gun website has developed quite a niche for celebrity booking photos--so why not a local site of picures of persons arrested? It provides a service to the locals so they can see which neighbor/co-worker/ex-dating interest was locked-up the night before, but for us crime geeks, the site has lots of arrest statistics.

Want to know how many people in one part of Florida over the age of 70 have been recently arrested in the last day or how many defendants are over six foot five? This site provides that information for you.

Not all of the charges are listed on the site, but a little research can fill in the missing pieces. For instance, Nicole Mason-Suares' not so happy looking picture appears on the site as I am writing this post (and oddly she looks similar too missing person Brianna Maitland).

Clicking on her picture (she is charged with False Verification of Ownership), you can then review the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department’s booking report and see that there are three listed charges: 1) Aggravated Battery on a Person>65 Years of Age; 2) False Verification of Ownership (I am guessing that means she tried to pawn something that was not hers); and 3) A possession charge.

A quick google search reveals more about Ms. Mason-Suares’ criminal history.

In 2008, she was tackled and restrained by an elderly home owner who caught her wandering around in his Florida home. She was charged with armed burglary, aggravated battery on a person 65 or over and possession of burglary tools. Comparing the current list of charges with this history, my guess is that charge one and three are historical while number two is the current offense.

Nonetheless, it makes for interesting reading and I could see how the police may benefit from citizens seeing all of the mug shots. First, people looking at the site may contact authorities after recognizing a defendant as someone who was involved in other crime in the community. Second, citizens may see a familiar face, but know the person under a different name—this can also aid police in identifying additional aliases used by the defendants.

One of the primary reasons that folks read local papers is to learn about crime in their jurisdiction that would not be posted elsewhere. Also, people love to know what authorities are involved in or “the goings on” of their community. I think having a local mug shot database is an innovative way to provide the locals with plenty to talk about and us out-of towners with a good way to start the morning--by putting faces with the names of defendants involved in last night’s police activity.

And pardon me, while I finish off this bowl of Lucky Charms and look at more of last night’s arrestees in South Florida.

Part V: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the fifth post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.

After skipping a week to focus on new developments in the Ray Gricar case, I’ll continue discussing the Maitland case. In my fourth post on this topic, I discussed how Maura Murray, a young college student from Massachusetts, also went missing after an apparent traffic collision approximately 90 miles from where Maitland’s car was recovered. After reviewing the details of that case and despite similarities to Maitland’s disappearance—I agree with authorities that they do not appear to be related.

Another odd fact in the Maitland case is the location that her car was recovered--after what authorities believe was a staged traffic accident. The abandoned old farmhouse where Maitland’s Buick had crashed is known locally as the Dutchburn House.

At the time of the incident, the house had been vacant for several years. In 1986, the two elderly brothers who lived at the residence, Myron and Harry Dutchburn, were severely beaten by an intruder who burglarized their home. The brothers were hospitalized and then subsequently moved to a nursing home—never returning to live in the house.

The Dutchburn House reminded me of the unusual/scary home that is a part of every neighborhood. Young children are too frightened to go near it. Teens find it fascinating and are drawn to it. At the time of Brianna’s disappearance, the home was boarded-up with plywood. Obviously, meaning that unwelcomed people had visited the house before—perhaps to party and/or vandalize the place.

In the photographs of Brianna’s car crash, a piece of the house’s plywood was knocked free, and access into the home was certainly possible. This leads one to ask several questions: were people inside the home waiting for Brianna? Was she lured to the inside of the house?

The information released to the public by police does not indicate that access inside the farmhouse was a part of this mystery. It was reported that authorities searched the home, and did not believe anything related to the case occurred inside.

The position of the car would seem to support this information. If one needed to gain access to a boarded home, backing a car into a front window is not the most inconspicuous approach; especially, since the home sits right on a well-traveled highway.

Also, Brianna’s scattered belongings and broken necklace found adjacent to the car, indicate that the physical part of the incident occurred outside the home (unless you believe that part was staged as well). From the picture and the where the belongings were, it just seems that the car being backed into the house was either an accident or occurred during a struggle—and both likely resulted in subjects fleeing the farmhouse area in a hurry.

Is it strange that one old farmhouse would be the setting for one violent crime and another potentially violent crime during the span of twenty years? Certainly, but the evidence at the scene of the Maitland case does not seem to support any of the theories that include details from inside the Dutchburn House.

Previous posts in this series can be accessed by clicking "Brianna Maitland" on the left margin of the home page.

What the District Attorney Should Not Say to the Media

I saw this article originally on the opinionated Cassy Fiano’s blog. Blogger The Electric Lawyer also commented on the story.

In perhaps the most questionable public relations move of the week, Contra Costa (CA) County District Attorney told members of the media this about policy changes in his office:

Misdemeanors such as assaults, thefts and burglaries will no longer be prosecuted in Contra Costa County because of budget cuts, the county's top prosecutor said Tuesday.

District Attorney Robert Kochly also said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won't be charged.

People who are suspected of misdemeanor drug crimes, break minor traffic laws, shoplift, trespass or commit misdemeanor vandalism will also be in the clear. Those crimes won't be prosecuted, either.

"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do…"
Say what?

I can understand having to alter prosecution strategies to address budget shortfalls, but providing a list to the public of the offenses that will no longer be criminally prosecuted—yikes!

A better strategy would have been to provide a more generalized statement to media (if asked). He could then meet with other managers in the criminal justice system and let them know that due to funding problems, the DA’s office will not be able to prosecute “every” misdemeanor and leave each case open for review.

From a policing perspectives, I have a feeling innovative officers will find charges that the DA’s office still pursues and make sure that defendant still gets cited appropriately—like a guy who is living in an abandoned building may not be prosecuted for trespassing or burglary, but he may be charged with an equivalent littering charge (he damaged the environment—it is California you know).

For retail shop owners, I would suggest just moving to another county or perhaps following the hoards of people exiting the Golden State and setup in a new community—as allowing shoplifters to proceed without any possibility of prosecution would lead to lots of closed retail businesses.

Updated Mock NFL Draft

After making a few changes, I wanted to post my updated draft—-so I can either do a victory lap later tonight or eat plenty of crow.

1) Detroit Lions: QB Matt Stafford, University of Georgia

2) St. Louis Rams: OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia

3) Kansas City Chiefs: ILB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest

4) Seattle Seahawks: OT Jason Smith, Baylor

5) Cleveland Browns: DE/OLB Brian Orakpo, Texas

6) Cincinnati Bengals: WR Michel Crabtree, Texas Tech

7) Oakland Raiders: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland

8) Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Mark Sanchez, USC

9) Green Bay Packers: NT B.J. Raji, Boston College

10) San Francisco 49ers: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State

12) Denver Broncos: Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss

It's True! I Know This One Guy Who...

My usual Friday Off the Beaten Path segment will appear next week—I have at least one more place of interest to highlight.

Over at the General Blog on Crime, the resident conservative Scooby (they have several contributors, but only Scooby offers opinions from a conservative perspective) provides some thoughts on the US Department of Homeland Security’s recent report for law enforcement agencies that seems to smear certain groups:

…The newest national threat assessment identifies the biggest threats to our nation as "rightwing extremists." Among these groups are groups that are "primarily hate-oriented..., and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration…"

Thank God Thomas Jefferson is not still alive, I fear he would be getting the early morning "knock, knock" by federal agents. Among those growing class of dangerous "rightwing extremists" are radicalized veterans returning from war. Yes, there is some apparent conspiracy among vets to bring down the government they have risked their lives to protect...
The controversial DHS report can be viewed here.

Not to keep mentioning the MIAC report, but in continuing to question that writing style: when are these intelligence analysts going to start making arguments using empirical research? Stating that the world is a certain way based on anecdotal evidence is something not permitted by professors for undergraduate term papers, so why do these experts think it is a viable approach for them to use?

Just because Timothy McVeigh was a veteran and had certain characteristics or some serial arsonist in Baltimore prefers green shoe laces does not necessarily mean that these qualities are exhibited by all or even by many criminals.

The unfortunate result of this type of unsubstantiated report is that law enforcement practitioners will soon have little interest in looking at such documents, and any worthwhile information contained therein will never make it to the patrol officer working the streets.

My NFL Mock Draft

After a lackluster NCAA basketball bracket, though my son and I did have the Spartans in the Championship game, I am now focusing my attention on the NFL draft. For the past three years, I pay the older son a set amount of money for each first round selection that I miss. We limit the picks to the first ten, plus two additional--the Broncos pick (his team) and the Buccaneers pick (my team).

I enjoy reading about all of the possibilities each team has, but I definitely will not quit my day job to become a pro football analyst—as the kid knows it is always a good day for him to make a few dollars off of Dad’s mistakes.

So, here are my picks for this weekend’s draft. I reserve the right to modify these picks up to draft day, and of course one surprise trade could make my predicted selections completely worthless, but it is a fun endeavor anyway.

1) Detroit Lions: QB Matt Stafford, University of Georgia
This team recently traded last year’s starting QB John Kitna; an aging veteran who missed most of last year to injuries. Detroit’s only legit QB on the roster is Daunte Culpepper--another aging veteran who was unwanted by anyone else last year until mid-season when the Lions signed him. He started the last part of the season for them and their historic winless season.

Culpepper basically came from his home couch to the Lions’ facility, and as soon as he walked in the door, was handed the starting job as coaches deemed him better than the QBs that been with the team all year.

During the off-season, they did not sign any of the potential starting QB free agents. What else can the Lions do except pick a QB here?

2) St. Louis Rams: OT Jason Smith, Baylor
During the off-season, the Rams cut seven-time Pro-Bowl and 12-year veteran LT Orlando Pace—who was recovering from an assortment of injuries. Pace was the number one overall pick in 1997, and had been a solid performer during his time with the team. Obviously, this move creates a glaring need to protect the QB and the Rams will choose between Smith and another great OT prospect in Eugene Monroe. Reports say Smith is the better run-blocker, so I give him the edge.

Recently, rumors have the Rams interested in USC’s QB Sanchez, but I think the Rams are bluffing and trying to entice a team to trade-up.

3) Kansas City Chiefs: ILB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
Curry had a fantastic NFL combine and the Chiefs, with a new administration, are looking for an impact player to help an inconsistent defense. After spending big money on offense through the Matt Cassel trade, this seems to be a consensus pick for KC.

4)Seattle Seahawks: OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia
A lot of insiders have the Seahawks picking elite WR Michael Crabtree or QB Mark Sanchez here, but with the acquisition of former Bengal TJ Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch a couple of years ago, I think they will draft a WR later. With Monroe or Smith being available at #4, the Seahawks will have difficulty in resisting the non-glamorous big guy—a pick that could cement an offensive line position for a decade.

5) Cleveland Browns: DE/OLB Brian Orakpo, Texas
With a similar dilemma in 2008, Browns current head coach yet then the Jets head coach, went for a speed-based defense player. I would expect the Browns to pick defense here again unless the rumored trade of disgruntled WR Braylon Edwards comes to fruition. If the Browns do trade Edwards, which I am surprised that they are entertaining considering they already traded one gifted pass-catcher in TE Kellen Winslow, WR Michael Crabtree would become the favorite for a pick in this slot.

6) Cincinnati Bengals: WR Michel Crabtree, Texas Tech
The Bengals would prefer to select an offensive lineman here, but Smith and Monroe should be off the board. With Chad Ocho Cinco (yes, that is legally his name now—previously Chad Johnson) not happy about being in Cincinnati, and TJ traded to Seattle, the receiving core is a glaring need. Crabtree had a great collegiate career and should be a solid contributor in the NFL.

7) Oakland Raiders: DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
The experts have a lot of fun trying to get inside the head of longtime Raider owner Al Davis. One thing for certain with Mr. Davis is that he loves players who have explosive speed. With that said, Johnson reportedly ran 40 yards in 4.49 seconds—unbelievable considering he is 6 foot 7 and weighs 266 lbs. Evidently, Johnson draft stock has been hurt due to reports that he is not the most motivated player in the world, but Mr. Davis has never been afraid to employ persons with real or alleged attitude problems.

8) Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Mark Sanchez, USC
Several of the draft experts believe that the Broncos or Redskins will trade-up to acquire Sanchez at this spot. If not, the Jags need to add some QB competition to their roster, and Sanchez having good skills and coming from a pro-style offense at USC, would be very tempting here.

9) Green Bay Packers: NT B.J. Raji, Boston College
To build an elite 3-4 defense, a team needs to find an outstanding middle-clogger who helps stop the run and requires consistent double teams. Currently, the Packers do not have an experienced nose tackle and Raji is a fantastic big athlete. I would not be surprised to see Raji taken in the Top 5, but if my predictions are accurate, the Packers will not be able to pass on this big guy.

10) San Francisco 49ers: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
The 49ers have many needs in the OL, DL and LB, but I think Maybin’s athleticism and potential as a speed pass rusher will appeal to them. His explosiveness off the ball against quality OT opponents in the Big 10 Conference shows that he can dominate against good blockers. I could see the team selecting a DE here like Tyson Jackson from LSU, but Jackson’s poor bench press performance at the NFL combine is a turn-off for teams looking for a strong lineman.

12) Denver Broncos: Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State
With having multiple first round selections after the trade of starting QB Jay Cutler, predicting what the Broncos will do is more of a crap-shoot. They obviously would like a franchise QB (but I don’t see one worthy of the #12 pick), but the need for DL and LB are urgent. Brown can play DL or LB and I think the Broncos will pick him at #12 and not risk waiting to see if he is still available when they pick again at the #18 spot.

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Peria Jerry, DT Ole Miss
As I have blogged previously about my favorite team, they have a new and inexperienced head coach and general manager in place. This is not necessarily a bad thing as their talent may just be undiscovered, but I have not liked the personnel moves made by management thus far. Some experts have the Bucs selecting strong-armed QB prospect Josh Freeman from Kansas St. here, but with Tampa just signing veteran backup Byron Leftwich to add to three other QBs that management reportedly like, I don’t see them investing in a long-term project like Freeman.

During the off-season, Tampa released or did not resign several productive LB and DL players. The moves were reportedly to allow for bigger players to be acquired as the team shifts away from a defensive strategy that featured undersized but fast athletes. If this is the case, then a good DL like Jerry would be essential for the “please don’t call this rebuilding” going on in South Florida.

At 299 lbs., he is considered undersized (wow huh) for a 3-4 alignment, but I am sure the NFL trainers will quickly put him on a program that will add girth and muscle—so that he will be shaped in the preferred form by opening day.

Whomever the Bucs pick, I think it will be a 4 or 5 win season next year—a difficult schedule and too many question marks at key positions will hinder performance. Hopefully, management will not officially declare 2009 as a rebuilding year and draft the QB Freeman with their #1 or you may hear me crying like a baby.

Disappearing Comments

One reader emailed me and asked if I have been deleting comments since some of them seem to be disappearing. My response is "certainly not" and it appears to be a glitch on my posts containing YouTube videos. Whether it is due to my embedding of a video or a problem with the template that I use, the comments on posts with videos are sometimes visible and sometimes not from the homepage. All comments are really there when you click on that post specifically, but it is annoying.

I am looking through the blog technical help files to try to correct the issue. In the meantime, my apologies.

Tuber of the Week #5: The Underdog

Been beat up
Been broken down
Nowhere but up
When you're face down
On the ground
I'm in last place
If I place at all
But there's hope for this underdog! AA
Americans love underdogs. We relish in seeing a person or team win that was given no chance to succeed.

Whether you enjoyed Scotland’s Susan Boyle as she stunned the world with her recent unforgettable vocal performance on Britain’s Got Talent (the producers did an admirable job of helping to setup the scene), or you (like I do) watch the early round basketball games of the annual NCAA Tournament just hoping to see one small college (David) knock off a gigantic number-one-seeded state university (Goliath), we all cheer for the competitor(s) who is not favored.

A couple of years ago, the nation was treated to a fantastic underdog story that was set in a small high school gymnasium in Rochester, NY:

McElwain finished the only game of his career making seven shots and scoring 20 points.

One Crafty Thief

The Philadelphia Examiner’s Jerry DeMarco, who covers crime in North Jersey, always has something interesting to say:

"Can I get you a drink before you order?"

"Sure. Show me some ID."

College kids were "double-dooring" pubs back when they were lit by gaslamps. But a new kind of scam has emerged -- in, of all places, that gentrified hub of waterfront bars and bistros: Hoboken.

Police say a young man posing as a waiter is fleecing unsuspecting restaurant customers -- proving once again that mom was right when she told you to be careful with your cash.

Investing little time in each establishment, the 20-something guttersnipe has filched nearly $200 -- and those are just from two incidents that were reported late last week.

Police won't know how many others the garçon serveur has conned unless more of them come forward. But in a city overflowing with eateries, that poses a problem: Do officials publicize the thefts -- and, in doing so, hopefully catch the chiseler -- or low-key it and not give copycats any ideas?

In one joint, the imposter approached two women who'd gotten their bill, asked them if they needed anything else before paying, then ducked out with $90 in cash.

In another, he asked to be put on a list to wait for a table, milled around for 20 minutes or so, then pulled the same scam on a trio of women. Only they gave him nearly $100 for a $66 bill, expecting change.

He was gone before they knew it...
Wow, pretending to be a waiter and then running off with the customer's payment--now that is clever.

I wonder: is the craftiness of thieves more apparent in economic downturns when employment is more difficult to find or during good economies when more wealth is available to be pilferred?

Part XII: Ray Gricar Missing Person

Note: Due to a recent development in the Ray Gricar case that I wanted to mention, I’ll hold my post on the Brianna Maitland case until next week.

After completing my discussion of the Ray Gricar Missing Person case a few weeks ago, I said that I would only return to the unsolved disappearance if something new surfaced. Well, last week it did.

In review, Gricar was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and she last heard from him as he was driving on a local highway. His car was found abandoned the next day in a town about an hour east of his home, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

JJ from Phila*, the Ray Gricar blogger for the Centre Daily Times (State College, PA) website, commented a few days ago how police confirmed one of the search terms used on Mr. Gricar’s home computer (different from the laptop recovered from the river) was related to how one could erase a computer’s hard drive in water. Yes, that is what someone searched on Mr. Gricar’s home computer prior to his disappearance and his laptop computer taking a swim.

Now, combine this with another excellent point that JJ previously makes* in describing how Mr. Gricar returned to his office late on the night before he disappeared, and suddenly my well argued (at least I think it was well argued) belief that Mr. Gricar was a crime victim, has much less appeal.

Staying late at work may not seem all that suspicious, until you disappear the next day. But then, why would a powerful individual like the missing man be Googling hard-drive destruction and then his laptop be later found at the bottom of a shallow river?

These added details certainly do not remove the crime victim theory, but for me not to reconsider my explanation and possibly alter my opinion to favor a theory of voluntary missing or suicide would be silly. Ok, I am considering revising my thoughts on the case and lessening the chance that Mr. Gricar was a crime victim.

Outside of him being curious about a criminal case he was studying or unlikely coincidence, I can’t think of a good reason why someone would search Google for information on destroying laptop hard drives in water. Well, whether this is enough to change opinions on which theory is most likely for Mr. Gricar’s disappearance remains to be determined. It certainly does not help to explain how or why the laptop was put in the shallow water near Mr. Gricar’s vehicle--when it probably could have been dumped 1,000+ other places in water, and it would not have been suspicious--likely to be considered as more garbage and ignored.

One important result of the new information is that it means that investigators have a list of other Internet search terms that were pulled from Gricar’s home computer. Wouldn’t it be interesting to get a glimpse at those terms? What may not have appeared as relevant at the time of the evidence collection, could represent a big break in the case now that other information is available.

I read on crime writer Stacy Horn’s blog that another investigative author was recently denied access by investigators to information involving a cold murder case in New York state. Obviously, cooperation levels between police and non-sworn interested persons will vary by case and department.

In my opinion, the Gricar investigation is going nowhere. By releasing the search list, it could represent a chance for the smaller investigating agency to have lots of fresh eyes and perspectives as to what Mr. Gricar's Internet activity could reveal about the case.

If it is determined later to be a crime, the defense for anyone charged, will have access to the search term list anyway, so what do investigators have to lose in releasing a full list of terms (filtered, if necessary)? I doubt Mr. Gricar’s girlfriend at the time would have a problem with the action, and it may lead to someone linking previously unconnected dots.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy reallocating my explanation theories. If Ray Gricar did stage his disappearance, it will be nice to be proven wrong and that no loss of life was involved in this strange case.


You can view all of the post in this series on Ray Gricar by clicking on the "Ray Gricar" keyword to the right of the homepage or by going here.

*Note: To view JJ from Phila's blog, you have to be logged-in, and you can create a free account there by going here.

Part VI: Off the Beaten Path

We are still recovering from the cold weather blahs up here, but a couple of sunny afternoons have done wonders to lift the spirits. I’ll continue with my pursuit of warmer places in today’s featured stop. For the second week in a row, I am going to talk about the beach. In contrast to Hana, HI, Corolla, NC’s beaches are white and soft.

Corolla is at the end of the paved road and located at the Northern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. One can drive farther north into Virginia from Corolla, but it requires a four-wheel drive vehicle with traction on sand.

I believe the popular amenities advertised to Corolla visitors are not its true jewel. The view from Corolla is nice but probably is similar to that of many small ocean communities on land between water—-one side a calm picturesque bay while the other features the dark murky blue color of the Atlantic Ocean. This Southern town has lots of large rental homes for vacationers—-I think a quarter of New Jersey’s population must descend on the Outer Banks during June and July. Several golf courses are also located in the area.

Corolla even has a wonderfully unique red brick lighthouse and an expansive restored historic home (called the Whalehead Club) that includes acres of ponds, boat docks, and manicured grounds open to the public--truly a sight to see (grounds are pictured directly below).

For beach-walkers, Corolla even offers groups of dolphins sometimes swimming less than forty yards from shore and plainly visible for those looking dreamily out to sea.

No, I think the biggest but not most popular reason to visit Corolla is something that has been there for more than four centuries: wild horses. Corolla’s beaches are the stomping grounds of several herds of wild equines thought to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs. The original horses were stranded on the Outer Banks after surviving shipwrecks, and were first documented in the area in the 1500s.

They eat vegetation on the dunes, and can be seen on occasion prancing in the shallow surf.

A few years ago, the horses had the run of Corolla’s beaches, but the increasing human population led to more horses being killed in car accidents. As a result, the community had a fence built that extends from the ocean to the road that functions to keep the herds north of much of the traffic.

In any event, at least once per visit, we will see a local police officer playing herdsman and rounding-up (or standing by and waiting for one of local volunteers to do it) a horse that bypassed the fence barrier—directing the animal back into the protected areas.

Walking on the beach in an early morning fog, hearing the crashing of the waves, and then to be suddenly surrounded by these ancient beasts is simply a spectacular experience—making all of the extra beach fun simply just icing on a fantastic vacation cake.

If you are in the area to see horses, don’t forget to get some real Carolina Barbecue (vinegar based); a welcome sight for me after listening to the folks up north call their barbecue what I describe as a “sloppy-joe.”

Previous tour stops in this Off the Beaten Path Series are:

--Lynchburg, TN

--Centralia, PA

-- Murfreesboro, AR

--Washington, DC

--Hana, HI

No Good Deed…

Note: My next Off the Beaten Path segment will appear on the blog tomorrow. Can I blame tax preparation pressures for this week’s delay?

I have previously experienced a similar “wow, am I a turd” feeling like I am certain that this officer did:

STEVE THOMPSON, The Dallas Morning News

The man apparently looked innocent enough. An officer spotted his white Ford Mustang pulled partway onto the sidewalk with its flashers on, according to Dallas police reports.

"I need your help," the man said, out of breath. "I've run out of gas."

The officer agreed and helped push the Mustang to a nearby northwest Dallas gas station. Then the officer drove on.

Minutes passed before a dispatch sounded over his squad car's radio: Be on the lookout for a white Ford Mustang whose driver was a suspect in two aggravated robberies that had just occurred…

The chain of events, reconstructed from police reports, began about 9:20 a.m., as a 76-year-old woman pulled her black Lexus SUV into a parking space in front of a business at 6020 Sherry Lane in North Dallas.

A clean, white 2001 Mustang pulled in two spaces away. As the woman got out of her car, a man put his arms around her and forced her down into the driver's seat.

"Give me your purse," he demanded.

"No," the woman said.

"I've got a gun."

"No, you don't."

They began to struggle, and he tugged at her 2-carat, heart-shaped diamond ring.

She screamed for help, and witnesses started noticing. The man let her go, leaving her hand black and blue. He jumped back into the Mustang and fled as witnesses took down the license plate number.
The man tried again a few minutes later and this time successfully committed a strong-arm robbery from a 62 year-old woman breaking her nose during the incident.

The article continues:

It was about 9:47 a.m. when Officer Timothy Drummond spotted a white Mustang partially blocking the right turn lane at Forest Lane and Inwood Road.

Minutes later, as he heard dispatchers putting out a description of the getaway car -- a white Ford Mustang, very clean, driven by a black man wearing a ball cap -- Drummond realized he probably just helped get the robber back on the road.

The 18-year Dallas police veteran turned his squad car around and headed back toward the intersection. He spotted the Mustang at a red light just up Inwood Road at Willow Lane. After it turned south onto the Dallas North Tollway, Drummond pulled it over. He ordered (Timothy) Franklin to the ground at gunpoint.

Franklin was booked into the Dallas County Jail on $150,000 bail. He faces two aggravated robbery charges...
I am glad the officer was able to make the arrest himself.

In a similar experience, I was not so fortunate.

I was working a busy weekend overnight shift and in between calls saw a guy walking on a lonely and lightly populated road early in the morning. I stopped and chatted with him and the guy told me that his Red Dodge Dakota truck had broken down a few miles back and he was walking to a pay phone. He was holding keys to a vehicle, showed me some identification, and the ID indicated that he was a resident of a nearby county.

I quickly patted him down and finding no weapons drove him two miles to a strip mall that had a pay phone. I was content with my citizen assist, said good–bye to the fellow, and went back to doing "real police" work.

Not more than an hour later the dispatcher read the following “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) announcement over the air: “Attention all units, be on the lookout for a red Dodge Dakota pickup stolen this morning from (insert a town in the neighboring county where my guy needing help was from). The keys were with the vehicle.”

After saying to myself “don’t let it be the same one” and practicing my limited knowledge of appropriate explicatives, I got back to the location where I helped my stranded driver and sure enough a mile or so back up the road was the parked and stolen Red Dodge Dakota. I had another unit check the strip mall area for the driver and put a description out on him, but my friend was long gone.

We were able to get the owner’s vehicle back to him undamaged-—which he was thrilled about. He also said the suspect that I encountered was a former employee who knew where the truck’s owner left an extra set of keys.

My final act of the shift was to let my supervisor know what had happened and to give him a heads-up as to why I knew so much about the suspect—-since I actually aided in his escape. My veteran sergeant being wise and good-humored had a good laugh.

After listening to my tale of screwing-up, he replied, “Well Officer, I guess this reinforces the notion that no good deed goes unpunished.”

Ryan Moats Traffic Stop Controversy

Note: As with any of my opinions on police encounters, they are based on my personal experience and the limited information provided to the media.

Fellow blogger EPH recently asked me my opinion of the Ryan Moats traffic stop controversy that occurred last month in Plano, TX. I have to confess that I was juggling quite a few responsibilities late last month, and had only read an initial article on the incident (did not watch the video until this week) before the officer resigned and the story disappeared from the media.

For those not familiar with the Ryan Moats incident, here is a summary:

Ryan Moats, an American professional football player with the Houston Texans, was driving a sport utility vehicle and was allegedly observed stopping and then rolling through a traffic control signal on red by Dallas Police officer Robert Powell. The officer made the traffic stop in front of Baylor Medical Center and two of the vehicle’s passengers immediately exited and tried to walk toward the hospital.

The officer evidently had his gun drawn and ordered everyone to remain in the vehicle. The two passengers paused for a few seconds and then ran inside the medical center.

The officer then requested information from the Moats. Moats was visibly upset and tried to explain that his mother-in-law was dying inside the Center. During the stop, security from the hospital as well as medical professionals came out and verified the driver’s story about his dying relative.

The officer evidently held Moats for approximately 13 minutes before issuing him a traffic citation for the red light infraction. When Moats did finally make it to his mother-in-law’s hospital bed, she had died.

During the encounter, the officer stated that he drew his weapon, but did not point it anyone, while members of the Moats family said that the officer had pointed his handgun at Moats’ wife. The video does not capture Powell with his sidearm drawn.

After viewing the officer’s dashboard camera tape of the incident, the Dallas P.D.’s chief sided with Moats and his family and described the officer’s behavior as embarrassing.

You can view the video of the encounter here.

Just a few thoughts:

--It will not take long during an officer’s career before he/she encounters something similar on a traffic stop. Officers will get legitimate and made-up excuses as to why a driver ran a red light or was speeding that range from my girlfriend is not feeling well and I am taking her to the hospital to my dog is in the backseat in labor and I am rushing to the vet to I was being chased by possible militia members who were driving trucks with Missouri plates and Ron Paul bumper stickers (sorry I couldn’t resist).

The officer must quickly sort out the bs from the facts. I do not see anything wrong with ordering people back to a vehicle until it can be reasonably determined that they are being truthful.

--An officer drawing a weapon when persons start jumping out of a vehicle that he/she has stopped is ok by me as well. If an officer has ever been in a situation where persons start fleeing from a car, he/she has no way to determine if they just murdered someone or are running to the hospital to be with a dying relative.

--Just because a car pulls-up to a hospital at night does not mean the occupants are not dangerous. Gangster-types in my patrol area would typically drop-off wounded buddies outside the ER and then quickly leave the scene—since they were involved in whatever happened but did not want to be questioned by authorities.

--I read that the delay in this incident was supposedly caused by the officer running a record check on Moats. With improved technology, I certainly hope that computer record checks are faster in 2009. Unfortunately, where I worked, 13 minutes was not an unusual to wait for a record check on a busy shift—but that was years ago.

--I think what drew the ire of Dallas PD’s command staff was that the incident occurred outside a hospital, yet the officer never attempted to confirm the citizen’s story—and then after 13 minutes, it was too late for Mr. Moats.

--In my opinion, I think the long wait could be attributed to that the officer felt that his authority was not respected by the vehicle occupants. I think the officer shows evidence of this in his closing comments before explaining the citation. He lectures Moats regarding how he and his family should have acted and that if it had happened another way, officers would have simply let the driver go with a warning.

If he felt a ticket was necessary, he could have issued it and saved the lecture until after Moats had attended to his family.

In summary, initially ordering the occupants back to the vehicle, drawing his weapon, and requesting that the driver provide specific information pertaining to the vehicle was reasonable. Choosing not to verify the driver’s story or listening to hospital officials, holding the driver for what seems to be an extended period, and then lecturing him on the proper behaviors during a traffic stop, I would characterize as poor decision-making.

In closing, a similar incident happened to a relative a few years ago. He works in a small city as an OBGYN and is regularly called to the hospital at all hours to deliver babies. One early morning, he was called to the hospital to assist a woman in labor experiencing life-threatening complications. While speeding with his flashers on, he was stopped by a police officer.

Immediately, the doctor informed the officer of the emergency, and the officer responded that he still needed to see his license and registration papers.

The Dr. provided the information and said: “With all due respect officer, you can either follow me another few blocks to the hospital or explain to the mother-to-be why you let her infant die.”

The officer frowned and then motioned for him to go—following him to the hospital. The patrolman let Dr. do his work, but left word at the nurses’ station for to be notified when the physician was done (he had kept the license). The officer then returned to the hospital and had Dr. sign a speeding ticket.

Again, not the way I would have handled the situation, but at least the officer realized that his traffic enforcement was only a minor piece of a larger puzzle that morning and allowed Dr. to attend to the emergency and deliver a breathing baby.

Tuber of the Week #4: Spring Twisters

Having spent most of my childhood in Oklahoma, tornadoes and severe weather were just part of life during those times. In grade school, I can still remember putting my hands on my head and sitting with my knees bent suffering through more tornado drills than we ever had to practice building evacuations for fires.

Since all of my family left the Sooner state in the 1990s, our old hometown has sadly been hit hard by several fierce twisters. In fact, one of the storm systems involved an F5 tornado that produced the fastest wind speed ever recorded on earth (318 mph as recorded at the Oklahoma City airport).

Today’s video of the week involves an F2 tornado last year in Western Kansas as filmed by weather photographer and storm chaser Jim Reed. He is able to get very close to the action and gets his dream photo opp (taken between the 3:15 and 4:00 mark on the clip):

I found Jim Reed’s photography website and it has some amazing images (including his tornado close encounter).

One other note, his partner for the day of the featured video was an intern—-some learning experience that she was able to share with her peers especially when they asked: “so, what did you do this summer?”

Part IV: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the fourth post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.

After last week’s detour to offer why officers may not have recognized the scene where Maitland’s car was recovered as anything more than a simple traffic collision, I’ll now return to discussing her disappearance.

Initially investigators classified Brianna’s disappearance as voluntary. She had evidently runaway before and police believed that some unsavory relationships had influenced her into fleeing Vermont. After intense lobbying by the family and an investigation that revealed little evidence for a voluntary disappearance (in contrast, the information found led away from believing that Brianna wanted to leave), the case was investigated as a missing person and open to all possibilities.

What concerned the family and others following the case was that Brianna was not the only young female to disappear in the area under similar circumstances. College student Maura Murray’s vehicle was found unattended and damaged on the side of a rural New Hampshire highway. This is Maura’s story:

Murray was involved in a one-car accident Route 112 in the Woodsville section of Haverhill in northern New Hampshire between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. on February 9, 2004. Her car, a black 1996 Saturn with Massachusetts license plates, failed to negotiate a sharp curve and ran off the road, striking a tree. Haverhill is five miles away from Wells River, Vermont and one mile away from Swift Water Village by the Connecticut River.

This was the second car Murray had wrecked in three days; she had previously damaged her father's vehicle in another accident.

A resident near the site of the February 9 crash called the police, even though Murray had asked him not to. She had vanished by the time authorities arrived at the scene about ten minutes later. Her car was left behind, severely damaged in the front end and not in a drivable condition.

The doors were locked and a few personal belongings, including Murray's cellular phone and credit and bank cards, were missing, but most of her possessions had been left inside. Murray has never been seen again.

There were no footprints in the snow around the car and no indications of a struggle, and tracker dogs lost her scent within 100 yards. Police believe she got a ride from the scene of the accident to parts unknown. The witness to the accident says she did not appear to be injured, but she may have been intoxicated.

Murray resided in Hanson, Massachusetts and was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst at the time she disappeared; the university police are assisting with her case. She was a nursing major and was a dean's list student, and was employed by a local art gallery in addition to having a job on campus. She had made arrangements to take a nursing job in Oklahoma after her graduation.

Four days before she disappeared, she left her job early at her supervisor's suggestion; she appeared to be extremely upset about something and was unable to work. It has not been discovered what was bothering her, but Murray's sister spoke to her on the phone that same evening and said their conversation was normal.

Murray emailed her professors the day of her disappearance and said there was a death in her family and she had to go away, but would be in touch upon her return in about a week. No one had actually died. After her disappearance, Murray's dormitory room was found packed up, as if she was planning on moving out altogether.

She withdrew $280 from her bank account the day she disappeared, but there has been no activity on her bank accounts or credit cards since then. She packed up all her belongings in her dormitory room into boxes, and left behind a personal note for her fiancé, an Army lieutenant named William Rausch who was stationed in Fort Still, Oklahoma.

Murray also emailed Rausch on the afternoon of her disappearance. In the email she asked to speak with him. The day after she was last seen, Murray called Rausch, but he only heard her breathing on the line. The call could not be traced. Investigators inspected Murray's computer after she vanished; they discovered she had been searching on the internet for information on hotels in the Burlington, Vermont area.

Based on this information, they checked Burlington hotels for any signs of Murray, but turned up no clues as to her whereabouts. Murray and her father went hiking together in the Burlington area in the fall of 2003, but she has no other connections to the city. She used to camp regularly in New Hampshire and knew the state well, but there are no known reasons why she would go to Haverhill.

Extensive searches of the woods around Haverhill have turned up no evidence as to her whereabouts.
Several blogs and articles have compared the Maitland and Murray cases, but the most comprehensive public-view examination was written by investigative report H.P. Albarelli Jr. in 2006.

I am an advocate of crime typologies. Just because cases are classified as auto thefts and neat analytical tools are run to look for correlations, and color maps are provided that show spatial links, does not mean much if the cases include different kinds of auto thefts--ranging from teen joyriding to offenders looking to strip a stolen car.

I think that similar reasoning can be made here with the Murray and Maitland cases—they appear to be two types of crimes despite both being classified as missing persons.

The most convincing reason for Maitland to stop at the vacant farmhouse the night she disappeared relate to seeing someone that she knew or recognized. She was close to home and less than a mile from work.

In contrast, Murray’s vehicle clearly left the roadway during the collision. Authorities reported that she was depressed and had been consuming alcohol. The accident scene was not near her home or college. Since no body was found and she was seen with the car at the time of the collision, it is probable to assume that she was offered a ride by a stranger—whereas the details of the Maitland case do not indicate the solitary involvement of a stranger.

Two sad missing person cases: yes. Ninety miles and just over a month apart: yes. Both involving apparent traffic collisions; yes. Both cars apparently abandoned: yes. Same or similar perpetrators—I just don’t see it that way.

Previous posts on the Brianna Maitland case are here: Post I, Post II, and Post III.

Unusual Murder-Suicide in Florida

Note: I’m still playing catch-up after the holiday weekend. As a result, my next post on the Brianna Maitland missing person case will be delayed until tomorrow.

I hope this does not become a trend:

FLORIDA -- A central Florida woman who fatally shot her 20-year-old son then killed herself at a shooting range left recorded messages that said she was the anti-Christ and that she needed to save her son.

In rambling, teary audio recordings left for her boyfriend and authorities, as well as shorter suicide notes, Marie Moore, 44, apologized several times and said repeatedly: "I had to send my son to heaven and myself to Hell."

Authorities said Wednesday they still had no motive for the murder-suicide that shocked fellow customers and employees at the Shoot Straight range in Casselberry, about 10 miles north of Orlando, on Sunday.

"We have no clue. I don't even want to begin to speculate," said Deputy Chief Bill McNeil of the Casselberry Police Department.

The gun range's security video shows 20-year-old Mitchell Moore taking aim at a target in a booth when his mother, 44, walks up behind him and points a gun at the back of his head. In the next frame, the son is seen falling to the ground and a nearby patron appears to alert others as he points to the unseen carnage.
The gun used was rented at the range.

According to a police report, earlier footage from the surveillance video shows the mother and son taking turns shooting and talking with other customers in the adjacent lane. "They seem to be getting along fine," one of the responding officers said.

The son died at the scene. Marie Moore was still alive when officers arrived at the range but later died at a hospital.

Mitchell's father, Charles Moore, told police that Marie Moore had a history of mental illness, had previously attempted suicide and been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 2002 under the Florida law known as the Baker Act.

Marie Moore refers to the incident in records she left for police and Shoot Straight, saying she spent a year in and out of a "mental home" but insisted: "I'm not sick."

Family members found the audio tapes and three suicide notes late Monday and gave them to police.

"I'm sorry to do this in your place of business, but I had to save my son," one message said. "God made me a queen and I failed. I'm a fallen angel. He turned me into the anti-Christ."

Moore said she could have killed only herself but felt she had to "save" her son and do it in a public way so the world could also be saved. "Hopefully when I die, there will 1,000 years of peace..."

Larry Anderson, a manager at Shoot Straight, said it's unclear whether the Moores had been to the range before, but they weren't regular customers. The range requires that customers fill out a form with a series of questions, including whether they have ever been convicted of a felony or been declared mentally unstable, but Anderson said they have no way to verify the information.

Anderson defended the range's policies, saying: "If someone acts right, we have to assume they are right."

Based on the writings and audio recordings that he's seen in the media, Anderson said, it's clear that Marie Moore was "bent on doing it."

"Sometimes, like what happens Sunday, you have no control," Anderson said. "There's nothing you can do to prevent it."

Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha said criminal histories are available online for a $24 fee, but that ranges are not required to run background checks on customers. Mental health histories are not publicly available because of patient privacy laws, Perezluha said.

According to the police report, Moore's son lived in an apartment with his girlfriend and was due to have dinner with his father the day he died.
The released video of the shooting can be found here (a little graphic).

I would not be surprised to see civil litigation filed against the gun range since the firearm was rented onsite. I do not know Florida’s laws, but I don’t think the range owner’s “if someone acts right, we have to assume they are right” comment is helpful in the realm of litigation protection. He then opens himself to questions regarding his staff’s level of mental health training as well as rental policies.

I can hear an attorney probing into the topics with: “Well, Mr. Anderson, what exactly does a mentally unstable person look like?” What is your policy to evaluate folks renting guns? If there is no way to verify any of the information listed on your form prior to renting a gun, what actions have you taken to rectify this problem?

How is your staff trained to identify persons who don't look "right" to deny renting them firearm? Have you ever not rented a firearm to someone?

If a situation like this happens again, I don’t think a citizen will be able to rent a gun at a firing range anytime soon.

Part V: Off the Beaten Path

Note: I’ll be on a blog holiday for the next couple of days so no new posts until Monday. Happy Easter!

With this week’s mid-30 degree weather that included falling snow (thank you calendar for reminding me that it is now spring), I have been thinking of warm destinations. Well, today’s neat travel spot is somewhere that never receives snow. Actually, some folks might actually get bored with the weather (I am not sure how though) as the outside temperature stays in the 80 degree range most of the year.

Where is this place of dreams? Hawaii of course—-the island of Maui to be exact. Several years ago, my sister-in-law decided to get married in Hawaii. The spouse and I had only been married a short time and were debating whether to just have me stay home or both attend the event.

We decided that we may never get another shot at going to Maui (and haven’t had any offers since), so we cut some of the stupid costs out of the mother-in-law’s planned budget (most expensive hotel, allocations for something like five meals per day, etc.) and took the plunge for a short stay in Hawaii.

Our time there was fantastic, but for this post, I wanted to stay with one particular part of the trip. Maui’s rich history includes the undeveloped community of Hana on the island’s east coast. No trip to Maui is complete without driving from where many of the hotels are located in the south and east to the other side of the island and Hana.

The road to Hana is only 53 miles long. What persons may not tell you is that the pathway consists of mostly one-lane of travel, 600 curves, plenty of cliffs and waterfalls, and over 54 bridges—-all driving at speeds topping out at 15 mph to make the trip, well one long drive.

If you do decide to brave the road to Hana, do three things:

1) Volunteer to drive. The road is so twisting that the driver will be so focused on steering that he/she will not notice how motion sick (even an avid roller coaster fan like the other sister-in-law who was with us got queasy) that everyone else is in the car.

2) Bring barf bags—well, you get the idea.

3) Do not let an impatient driver remove the audio tour DVD during the trip or you will likely miss the turn and never see this week’s off the beaten path stop (as father-in-law and the folks he was with did).

Fortunately the waterfalls, watching surfers, and at least one other stop make the crazy drive worthwhile. Along the road to Hana, is a volcanic ash beach. The Honokalani Black Sand Beach sand is a rich black color and you can watch the tide gliding back and forth. It is surrounded by hills of hardened lava rocks—terrain that makes you feel like you are walking on the moon or something.

When I was boy, I for some reason, I had saved a magazine photo of a black sand beach. I always imagined myself standing there looking at the surf. Well, this dream became reality as I walked barefoot on a black sand beach--which is really small smooth lava pebbles. At Honokalani Beach there is also a path into a cave along the shore, where from inside, you can watch the waves crash and spray water through circular holes in the rocks.

The Road to Hana’s black sand beaches (there are actually two on the trip) will not disappoint—-even if there are no bikini clad models doing a photo shoot when you go as was the case on our visit.

Previous tour stops in this Off the Beaten Path Series are:

--Centralia, PA

--Murfreesboro, AR

--Lynchburg, TN

--Washington DC

A St. Louis Airport Encounter

I have a few other posts in the queue, but saw this topic and wanted to get my thoughts posted before the topic became ad nauseam.

Last week, I discussed how the director of the Missouri State Highway Patrol retracted a controversial report issued by the Missouri Intelligence Analysis Center (MIAC) that attempted to link individuals who vote for libertarian candidates as commonly associated with militia groups.

Related to my thoughts on MIAC, on April 7, Blogger Shotgunwildatheart had an interesting post and video of a young man who had an encounter with Federal Transportation Security Administration officers. During the incident, the man was detained by TSA personnel at the St. Louis airport.

Officers were apparently suspicious of the $4,700 that the subject possessed in a carry-on bag, as well as his willingness to only answer questions that he believed to be “required to by law.” Evidently, the TSA officers released the man prior to having him speak with any other agencies.

The video is long, but the actual audio recording of the interrogation is from about 1:08 to 4:15:

Just a few thoughts:

--When an officer thinks something is wrong and bluffs an individual, he/she has to know when to stop pushing. If the TSA officer’s reason to detain was solely the $4,700 and there is no law against carrying that amount of cash onto an airplane, the appropriate action would be to make a record of the stop and release him. The officer can always continue the investigation later using all of the individual’s information or forward it to the appropriate agency.

--If you are going to bring a subject to another agency, you best be certain that it is a valid arrest/detainment. Dumping a bad (legal) stop in the lap of officers/agents with another agency is a quick way to have your credibility ruined—especially in future incidents.

--The TSA officer that becomes angry and discharges a few explicatives will be an easy target for management to reprimand. When an officer lets loose a verbal bomb or two his/her only defense with management is heat of the moment—-being angry because someone appears to be responding to questions evasively simply does not look professional in the eyes of the public or supervisors.

--Similar to the fellow arrested in Orlando that I featured previously as my Tuber of the Week post, I think this subject was very enthusiastic about being stopped by authorities. I picture the guy rehearsing his cell phone recording technique and other parts of the encounter as this certainly has given his organization and a huge boost in publicity.

The guy’s mention of the MIAC militia report in the news interview afterward seems opportunistic as I would be very surprised if TSA was even on the MIAC distribution list.

Unfortunately for police agencies, each incident with lots of media attention involving questionable behavior by enforcement personnel makes the job that much more difficult for other officers even when they are acting on firm legal footing.

Tuber of the Week #3: The Rock Skip

I recently and officially labeled myself as “old” after spending thirty minutes with the youngest kiddo (he is almost 3 now) skipping rocks at the local riverbed and then awaking the next morning with a sore arm. At least I have not lost my once young and signature sidearm throwing motion that can still produce a double digit skipper as the flat rock glides across the murky water.

Though I like to marvel at my rock hurling abilities, leave it to the Internet and YouTube to reduce my proud smile to a mouth-breathing gasp. This is the current Guinness World Record for a rock skipping throw:

In case you counted, that was 51 unbelievable skips. Perhaps, if I just start stretching before trips to the river with the kids and spend more time with stone selection I could top that world record throw. Yes, right after I break the 4 minute mark for a mile run…

Where a Kid Can Be a… Kid/Delinquent/Frat Pledge

Last week it was released to the public that an employee of the Chuck E. Cheese pizza place in Batavia, IL was cited for selling alcohol to minors in the eatery (original seen on the American Princess blog):
A suburban Chuck E. Cheese is in hot water after an employee was caught selling alcohol to a minor…

The family entertainment center that uses the advertising slogan, “where a kid can be a kid” was ticketed earlier this month during a routine alcohol compliance operation in west suburban Batavia.

The Chuck E. Cheese restaurant at 511 N. Randall Rd. and El Taco Grande at 1890 Mill St., both in Batavia, is licensed to sell beer.

Detective Shawn Mazza says a Chuck E. Cheese worker allegedly sold to an underage police decoy. The state sometimes sends in high school and college students undercover to check establishments to make sure they are not selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.

Mazza says he was astonished the incident happened given that most of the customers were parents with young kids.“I would say that the night of the compliance check when they failed to comply I was surprised by that, as was the rest of the team” said Mazza.

Because of the incident, the Chuck E. Cheese worker will have to appear in court and the liquor license holder will be summoned before the local liquor commission where they could be fined or face a license suspension…
The editor for the Chicagoist website adds this:

…Our favorite kid-friendly spot has seen its share of scandals in the last year or so. In February a woman filed a lawsuit against the Oak Lawn Chuck E. Cheese, claiming that the franchise was responsible for injuries her child sustained in the play area because there were too many kids in it.

In Dec. 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported on how often fights break out at Chuck E. Cheeses around the nation, including a particularly brutal brawl in Brookfield, Wis., last April that involved 40 people. These incidences of violence have cause many locations to stop serving alcohol and to hire armed security guards…
I remember during my patrol days, during a pre-shift briefing, one of the supervisors read an extra patrol due to gang activity at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza. Amidst all of the laughter, I immediately thought about how much street credibility that “gang members” could possibly have who were concerned with marking the skee-ball and dancing mouse stage as their turf.

Part III: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the third post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, as she was completing her shift at the Black Lantern Inn restaurant in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in an accident.

In my previous post on the case, I discussed the photographs taken of the missing woman’s car as it apparently had struck the side of an abandoned farmhouse. I listed a few notes that I noticed about the picture as well as information contained in printed articles on the topic.

A commenter on Part II of my thoughts on the Maitland case as well as those involved in previous discussion boards on the investigation, ask a relevant question regarding the initial trooper’s actions the night he first discovered the car and then left it for another unit to process the next day: why did he not know something was terribly wrong there at the farmhouse?

With today’s post, I am going to discuss the officer’s initial discovery of Maitland’s vehicle scene through my experience in similar situations. I had to make an educated guess regarding several aspects pertaining to what the trooper actually saw, but I think the officer’s primary actions on that early morning have been accurately reported. With this hypothetical, I wanted to argue a plausible scenario as to why the responding trooper performed the actions that he did.

The Trooper First Encounters Maitland’s Car

Trooper A is on routine patrol at 0100 on Saturday March 20, 2004 near Montgomery, Vermont. There is a light snow falling and temperatures are hovering just below the freezing mark. Approaching an abandoned farmhouse on Rt. 118, his headlights illuminate the front windshield of another vehicle. The car is backed into the side of the house with no lights on anywhere.

The trooper passes the house, cuts a U-Turn and pulls in front of the vehicle. He shines two spotlights on the car, and uses the radio to notify his dispatcher of the location of a possible vehicular accident.

The bright lights shower the Buick, but no movement is seen. The trooper cautiously exits his patrol car and approaches the vehicle's passenger side—-flashlight in hand.

The officer walks to the vehicle and sees no one in it. "Drunks," he mumbles to himself.

"Our call volume would be ¾ less if we did not have to deal with the antics of alcohol abusers. Our station must get five or more of these drunk driver hit and runs on Friday and Saturday nights," he adds speaking to the wind.

He looks at the damage to the house and notices that the boarded-up window of the house seemed to have taken the worst of the impact, and that the plywood lay across the rear of the Buick. The vehicle’s windows do not appear to have been broken to initially gain access to the car. Inside the vehicle, the steering column is intact, no keys visible anywhere, and he sees some assorted personal belongings and two uncashed checks lying on the seat.

Trooper A performs a quick look around the perimeter of the car for the driver—making sure that no injured persons were lying nearby. While searching, he notices more personal effects on the ground near the driver’s door including a broken necklace.

Trooper A remarks: "hmm, this one was in a hurry to flee the scene." He opens the Buick’s door and tosses the belongings into the vehicle-—including the necklace.

He methodically works his way to the point of impact, examining each view of the car as he goes, leans behind the Buick, scribbles down down the license tag number on his hand, and has his dispatcher provide a vehicle listing. The owner of the Buick is listed as a local (computer records had Brianna’s mother as the car owner) woman. He then requests that his agency’s communications worker run a search for a phone number to contact the listed owner.

After a few minutes, his radio squawks with the sound of the dispatchers voice: "Sorry the phone number we have for that owner is not a working number."

Trooper A grunts.

He refocuses his attention on the apparent accident scene. His mind begins operating like a DvD player--running through and then rewinding different possible trajectories in which the car would end its motion with a rear-end impact into the house.

Did the vehicle leave the highway after losing control and strike the house rear first? Why then did he not see any skid marks? Working the area, he knew that vehicles drove rapidly along this stretch of highway—-if this car was speeding when the driver lost control, why is there not more damage to the vehicle and house?

He then considers a second alternative. What if the driver of the Buick had turned from the highway onto the farmhouse property to meet or speak to someone? What if the collision occurred after this stop? What if the driver was so drunk he/she simply put the car accidentally into reverse and plowed into the house.

His eyes studied the farmhouse. It was abandoned, but not sure for how long. If the Buick started driving from a stopped position on the grass away from the roadway then the collision would have been on private property and not necessarily considered a traffic accident.

The more he thought about drunk teenagers, the more that this Buick looked like the result of some weekend fun and making the second alternative more reasonable. The trooper then reached a decision. He would leave the vehicle for now and have someone else take care of it later if it was still there. He took a picture of the collision scene and then left the farmhouse.
Just a few notes on my hypothetical story:

--Drunk drivers, especially after-hours on weekends, involved in a collision regularly leave the scene and their vehicle behind.

--Uncashed paychecks in the vehicle, personal effects near the collision scene, and a broken necklace are not necessarily indicators of a violent crime. The officer evidently saw no blood or evidence of a physical altercation so it is reasonable to assume that the items were the result of a driver hastily fleeing the scene.

--The trooper’s decision not to have the car towed immediately were based on a variety of factors that I would simply not know-—including his agency’s policy for such matters. Depending on the jurisdiction, vehicles on private property and not on a roadway that strike privately owned structures (like houses) are not necessarily accidents that police can file a traffic report and have a vehicle towed.

--If the vehicle looked stolen (e.g. broken vent window, peeled steering column, etc.) the Trooper's efforts to contact the owner would have likely been more diligent.

--From my memory of the family’s discussions, the reported attempt to contact the vehicle’s owner (Brianna’s mom) is also unclear. The family was not sure why police were unable to contact them (phone number apparently was correct). At some departments, the phone call from the scene is simply a courtesy and not mandated. Often, owners are not contacted until the vehicle is being held at a tow-in lot.

Unfortunately, the call is the step that would have changed the course of the case had the trooper been successful in speaking with the Buick’s owner that night—as the parents would have been alerted within hours that something was wrong with their daughter instead of days passing before realizing that she was missing.

Despite the fact that representatives from the Vermont State Police had apologized for some errors that occurred in the initial investigation, my intention with this post is not to state that police did a good or bad job in handling the case. What I hope with my story is that if one considers the scene of the farmhouse on that cold Saturday morning—that it can be argued that the trooper’s actions were rational as to why the officer did not treat Brianna’s found Buick immediately as a missing person’s case.

Police officers commonly talk about gut feelings that help them unmask the truth about incidents. Unfortunately, “gut feelings” are not 100% accurate and there were evidently not enough oddities about this incident to trigger a “something is not right here” thought with the initial responder. The car backed into a farmhouse on a snowy March morning simply looked too much like another drunk driver who had fled the scene.

Ok, I think I talked too much. I'll continue my discussion of the Brianna Maitland case next week and here is the link to my initial post on the topic.

About those "Dark" Days of the Inquisition

I am just finishing Vox Day’s book The Irrational Atheist. In the work, he argues against many of the assertions currently being offered by famous atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In Chapter XII, he spends some time on the Inquisition and describes its history as grossly misunderstood.

Day states that the Inquisition actually is comprised of four different inquisitions—the Medieval, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Roman. The Spanish is the one most commonly referred to in attacks on Christianity and he cites three facts to help clarify the past of this period:

1) The Spanish Inquisition did not attempt to convert anyone to Christianity. It had no authority over professing Jews, Muslims, or atheists; its sole mission was to distinguish between genuine Christians and those who were falsely pretending to be Christians and were actually practicing another faith.

2) The inquisitors were not slobbering psychotics as portrayed by Dostoevsky and Edgar Allan Poe…

3) Torture was rarely used, and only when there was substantial evidence to indicate that the accused was lying. Torture could only be used for 15 minutes, and could not cause the loss of a limb, or shed blood; although there were occasional excesses, the main reason we know about them is because those responsible for committing them were held accountable by Church authorities.

4) The main reason there was a Spanish Inquisition in the first place is that, unlike in other European kingdoms, Ferdinand and Isabella encouraged Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity instead of simply expelling them all… Religion may have been the measure, but the motive behind the Spanish Inquisition was unmasking treason and potential rebellion against the crown…
My previous studies of periods like the Inquisition was dominated by a much different message. I wish my undergraduate history courses had done a better job of presenting multiple sides of issues rather than portraying them from one perspective—-especially since the professor I took multiple classes with was a socialist.

Does Size Matter?

Note: I’m taking a week off from “Off the Beaten Path” segment. I plan to have the next can’t miss travel stop post ready for next Friday.

Recently, I participated in an interesting discussion over at Officer.com regarding physical attributes of police officers. The exchange resulted from an article in the St. Petersburg Times:
When the Tampa Police Department needs a touch of compassion, someone who can roll into any situation and defuse it with a calm, tolerant demeanor, they know just the guy.

He's like a superhero of sorts, a man of many powers. His specialty is children, especially those who have been abused, as he has a knack for dealing with them, literally, eye to eye. His mere presence can calm a thrashing, fighting criminal. Thugs just don't feel like taking a punch when they see him.

His supervisor says he's great for crawling through small windows or tossing on roofs or over fences. He can do it all, it seems ... except maybe put you in a standing headlock. Or dunk a basketball.

Go ahead and make a wisecrack. Officer Mike Ruiz, not quite 4 feet 11, has pretty much heard it all.

For someone who stopped growing in middle school, "Mikey" (as some of his friends and colleagues call him) picked a tough job. Fighting the bad guys isn't always easy when you're half their size.

But by the time he joined the Police Department 15 years ago, Ruiz, now 38, had become used to proving people wrong.

He was among the smallest kids at Robinson High School, where he wrestled for three years. His parents sent him to the doctor for a series of tests to find out why he wasn't growing, but his doctor determined it was genetics. (Ruiz also had a small uncle.) He doesn't have dwarfism, which is characterized by short limbs and other physical traits. He's just short.

After high school, Ruiz wasn't sure what he wanted to do for a living. He spent a couple years in the Army, deflecting the taunting of his supervisors. When he got out, a police officer friend of his suggested he try law enforcement.

He spent a few years as a reserve officer when Tampa police had a hiring freeze. It was the only time he wondered if his size was holding him back. A veteran police officer once told him to think about another line of work as Ruiz applied to 37 law enforcement agencies around the state. But Ruiz, who now lives in Brooksville near the Pasco County border, held strong to something his mother once told him.

"Consider the source," she said.

It's his mantra when anyone says something unkind, and really, his approach to people in general.

Ruiz, who now works out of District 2 headquarters near Busch Gardens, has a policy to "be the nicest guy in the world to you" until he has a reason to treat you otherwise. Everyone is a ma'am or a sir. Everyone deserves to tell his side of the story.

"Interestingly, (his size has) caused him to be a really good communicator," said Sgt. Mark Delage, Ruiz's supervisor. "He's learned a lot of different techniques to make up for his lack of height and, a lot of times, the big bad guys don't feel as threatened by him…
The debate centered around the officer’s small size after a user posed a question regarding if the closest back-up unit was a long way away, should an officer 4 foot 11 be expected to “hold serve” in a fight? Obviously, the question is unfair on a number of levels, but my response was this:

I think if you answer "no" (that 4’11 is too small) then the follow-up question is what ht./wt is acceptable? Is 5 foot 5 or what about 5 foot 9? Should then American policing return to the real old days when police officers were often times hired because they were the biggest (in stature) men?

As the other posters stated, the officer would simply need to use some more conservative strategies in doing his job.

I used to work with a sergeant that had been shot in the leg and continued on the job after his recovery despite a pronounced limp. When he was involved in situations where a subject was likely to flee on foot, he and the other officers in the detail knew that more cautious approaches would be used until another unit got to him.
Every officer deals with strengths and weaknesses, and each department sets minimum requirements for physical activity. If an officer exceeds those guidelines, but needs to sit on a phone book to drive a patrol car (at 5 foot tall) or has to sit with his/her head hanging out the window (at 7 foot tall), I am all for them being allowed to do their job.