What if I Encountered a Guerrilla Artist?

Surfing blogs has made me cognizant of the many talented people there are in this world.

From time to time, I encounter a writer and/or artist whose site goes beyond simply impressing me.

I Stare at People is one such amazing blog.

"Guerrilla artist" and blogger Lavanna Martin describes her work like this:

I am an artist that has left the studio. I paint people from life. Most of the time,my subjects do not know that they are being painted. I travel light, and usually by bike.

I stare at people. I trace them with my finger in under the table.

It took a long time for me to actually put the years of engraphing to the test. There was always an excuse: “I don’t have a good, portable easel; I don’t want to get caught; I can’t relax enough if people are watching…”.

Slowly, I whittled away at the excuses. I got the good easel, and I went to Epoch Coffeehouse, which is close to my house.

It was easy; I was in my element.

All those years of wondering what to do with myself melted away. I had found my addiction, if not my calling. On that first day, I did about 9 paintings and was no longer fearful of painting in public.
Not only does she produce covert live oil sketches of subjects at coffee shops, she also offers the reader some of the results of her keen observation skills with a short write-up that accompanies each work of art:

He was reading the paper, and chatting with two girls at Epoch Coffee. He had his folded hands resting on his forehead for just a few moments – long enough for me to get the gesture.

He seemed to be filled with the youthful optimism that everything will work itself out for the best. But for a moment, with his head in his hands, he exhibited what my niece terms, “The Dark Years of the 20’s”.

I loved his scrawny figure, the nice authentic Panama, and the way that he interacted with his friends…
Ms. Martin’s approach made me think-—what would my sketch look like if I wandered into a coffee shop while she was creating?

I hope that she would describe me as “attentive and patient, as he actively listened to an acquaintance’s story.”

In contrast, with my current life as kiddo-juggling dad, Lavanna's image would likely reflect a disheveled and red-eyed father, fending off his three-year-old twins while trying to place an order.

What qualities do you think Lavanna would capture if she sketched you?

Note: Ms. Martin graciously allowed me to use the image above for this post.

Ten Degrees: A Survivor's Story

Another theme that interests me is tales of survival.

What motivates a human being, faced with overwhelming odds, to continue fighting for his/her life or the lives of others?

Here is one answer to that question.

In 1993, Michael and Judith Sleavin, originally from Tacoma, Washington, along with their two young children, set sail on a dream trip around the world. The family voyage was expected to take five years aboard their 47-foot boat, the Melinda Lee.

Three years into their journey tragedy struck.

On November 24, 1995 at 2 am, a large South Korean cargo ship loaded with timber and steel, altered its course without warning and crushed the Sleavin’s boat near the coast of New Zealand.

In a few brief moments, the family’s vessel sunk into the darkness-—carrying their nine-year old son Ben to his death.

The mother, Judith, received a near fatal head injury and lost feeling in her body from the waist down. Father Michael was able to begin inflating a small dinghy, and help Judith and seven-year old daughter Annie aboard before the icy ocean water enveloped them.

The panicked family yelled at the South Korean vessel for help, but, reportedly, instead of assisting the injured three, the large commercial vessel quickly sailed from the scene.

It was thought that the crew was afraid of the consequences of the collision, and as a result, they decided not to notify anyone.

Hours later, the group struggled to stay afloat in the partially inflated raft. Several times, the trio was flipped into the water, but each instance, Michael was able to regroup everyone at the craft.

Finally, a rogue wave crashed into the family, knocking their little Annie away from the boat. Michael jumped into the rough ocean in an effort to save his daughter, but both drowned.

Judith’s inspirational tale of 44 hours of survival—-alone in a sinking raft, suffering hypothermia, with limited mobility and a brain injury—-is told in a book released in 2009 entitled Ten Degrees of Reckoning.

The author is a Sleavin family friend named Hester Rumberg.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Ms. Rumberg by Michelle Burford:

Between the time when Judith's boat was hit and the day that she was rescued, what was her lowest moment?

The lowest moment was when she finally saw her daughter, Annie, die. Most people would try to wipe these things from memory, but Judy wanted to be able to tell people what happened. She chose to never abandon her family in memory after the ship had abandoned them.

So the whole time she was on the dinghy, she repeated the sequence of events in minute detail…

Each of us has the potential to survive chaotic life-threatening events.

Outside of luck (or something else, if you are a person of Faith), finding a motivator to develop the proper “I will win” mindset is essential in an effort to cheat death.*

In this instance, Judith’s focus was to tell others of her children and not to let her family’s death remain a mystery.

Though I have never faced adversity at this level, I can admire and draw strength from the courage displayed by Judith Sleavin.

One final note.

After reading the part about Michael jumping into the water to rescue his daughter, Annie, after she had fallen from the dinghy for the final time, a haunting image of the father swimming to her and then both of them realizing that the current was too strong for them to ever return to the raft crept into my mind.

I just can’t shake it.


Images and Credit: Additional photos of the family and their boat are available here and the picture above was from here.

*Note: Based on a reader comment, I revised this sentence after initial publication--thanks for the insight Chuck.

Part I: The Disappearance of Beau Ramsey

When I started this blog, a primary intent was to discuss three missing person cases: Ray Gricar, Brianna Maitland, and Beau Ramsey.

While continuing to post on Mr. Gricar and Ms. Maitland, I wanted to introduce the circumstances surrounding Mr. Ramsey’s disappearance.

Beau’s story started much the same as the previous two persons named above.

He unexpectedly vanished after leaving work, his mode of transportation was found abandoned in an unusual place, several witnesses reported seeing him after work, and intensive ground searches revealed nothing useful to investigators.

The difference between Mr. Ramsey’s disappearance in comparison to the others is its sad ending—10 months later Beau was found deceased and the case became an active homicide investigation.



On August 17, 2004, twenty-three year old Beau Ramsey, was operating a motorcycle and following his employer to a construction site in Benton, Arkansas. Beau’s coworkers reported that Ramsey fell behind in traffic and never made it to the job’s location.

At least two witnesses reported seeing Ramsey later in the day; one person allegedly lent him gas.*

Investigators also learned that the missing man was videoed making a purchase at Wal-Mart on the same afternoon—the contents which generated lots of speculation as to Ramsey’s motivations.

After these sightings, it is difficult to establish when Beau was seen alive again.

A few days later, his motorcycle, with the keys in the ignition, was found abandoned on a dirt road near the county line.

About the Victim

Friends described Beau as "good-looking" and full of personality.

In high school, he was elected "Biggest Flirt" by classmates. He was considered physically strong and a gifted athlete and, after graduation, received a small cheerleading scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee.

After his first semester, Beau impressed his cheerleading coach with his drive and skill, and also excelled scholastically--finishing with a B average.

Despite his initial success and prior to spring classes starting, he told his mother that he was homesick and decided to drop-out of college. He then returned home to the Arkansas.

Beau spent the next several years living and working in Benton, a suburb of Little Rock. During that time, he evidently struggled with substance abuse and was also reportedly arrested for DUI and domestic assault.

His mother’s support never wavered despite her son’s problems and he eventually agreed to attend an out-of-state rehabilitation center for drug addiction.

At the time of his disappearance, Beau was living with his father (his parents are divorced).


More to come on this sad case including details about a what the victim’s cell phone records told authorities, controversy over the Wal-Mart video, why little information could be gleaned from processing the victim’s motorcycle, a person of interest that emerged, and how the deceased man’s body was located.

Note: When additional entries are added to this series, interested readers can click “Beau Ramsey” to the right sidebar from any page on this site to see all related posts.

Also, the photo was used from here.

*This sentence was corrected after the initial posting.

More than Anyone Wants to Know

Note: I'll have my regular Monday missing person post online tomorrow.

In the meantime...

This post is to meet the requirements of the recent recognition that I have undeservedly received.

Many thanks to Ann T. Hathaway and My Husband's Watching for the blog awards.

Also, thanks to Hurstburst for tagging me.

These three talented authors host entertaining sites and I enjoy visiting.


First the awards.

I chose to combine the recognition rules listed (here and here), and bestow the same awards on the following seven excellent bloggers (no pressure to participate of course):

Amy Elizabeth at Windy City Whimsy-Compassionate person with an interest in sports cars.

ALH at Kind of That Girl--Fantastic author whose secret creative writing spot involves a bridge.

Lipstick at the Mailbox --Mom, pharmacist, and caring Southerner who recently showed off her ability to throw a spiral with a football.

A Doc 2 Be--Honest, intelligent, and interesting topics that often detail the author's challenges in pursuing a new career.

Dan at the Art of Panic--Dr. Dan combines interesting and informed commentary with superb writing.

Junie at JavaJune--Great writing, great photography, and a contagious positive outlook on life.

Katherine at Poems from the Battlefield--A caring person who combined her talents in poetry and photography to recently publish a book.


Here are "Seven Interesting Things" about me*:

*Note: Interesting may not apply to any of these and I had to review a previous related post to ensure I was not being redundant.

1) Several relatives in my family truly believe that am a traitor for moving north of the Mason Dixon line. In general, folks up North consider Southerners stupid in a court jester sort of way while residents from the South use "Yankee" as an expletive—and mean it.

2) Though I like to read about other nations, I have only left the US one time. Several years ago I took a trip to a police conference in Montreal. As a result, my blog will not contain any insights on international travel or politics.

3) My biggest challenge in the police academy was maneuvering through the driving course backwards. I had to sneak out to the track for lots of extra practice and the traffic cone fatality rate for the county has not been higher since I graduated.

4) Our family consists of three children: a nine-year old, and twin three-year olds (a boy and a girl). I am the disciplinarian of the family.


What is that bit of wisdom from the yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea: “Don’t worry Patrick, they are not laughing at us. They are laughing next to us.”

5) After a weightlifting accident that resulted in a 45 lbs plate sliding off a bench press bar and breaking my 9th grade baseball coach’s foot, I was inexplicably cut from the team a few weeks later. Go figure.

Note: I did redeem myself the following years and was contacted by a JUCO coach about playing for his team after high school.

6) I was elected president of my fraternity in college, not in recognition of my leadership potential or abilities, but for the sole reason that I was most likely to be sober at organizational events.

7) Just to clarify the “former police officer” label--I really did not leave policing through termination (due to arrest, indictment, scandal, etc.), but chose to do so rather than start all over again with a new agency and no seniority after we decided to start a family and move north to be closer to my wife’s relatives.


In regard to Hurstburst's "8 or 80 Things that You Need to Know About" tag, here are my responses:

8 TV shows I watch:

I don’t watch any television shows regularly. I watch some news, sports, the Discovery Channel, and related.

8 favorite places to eat and drink:

With twins and our schedules, we don’t get out much. In ten years, I’ll be able to answer this question better—once the kids learn that dad is not cool but a moron.

8 things I look forward to:

•Warm weather
•Regular workouts again
•Seeing my relatives in Texas
•Talking about crime
•Annual visits to the ocean
•Playing tennis with family

8 things that happened yesterday:

•Watched health videos and completed online surveys so that we would qualify for insurance discounts (painful...)
•Played with kids
•Coordinated 3 am bathroom/diaper change needs
•Washed dishes
•Listened to the Mrs. read a portion of a gifted student’s paper
•Talked to my father on the phone
•Played Monopoly with the older son
•Pushed the little girl on her swing

8 things I love about winter:

•The end
•Snow on Saturday and Sunday
•Wearing a hooded sweatshirt often
•Sleeping with covers

8 things on my wish list:

•Better dad
•Better husband
•Better son
•Learning more patience
•Write 4 times per week
•Run 4 times per week (when the weather warms)
•Continue to work with families of missing persons
•Speak less and say more

8 things I am passionate about

•My faith in Jesus Christ
•Crime and Criminal Justice
•Missing Persons
•My family
•Being charitable

8 words or phrases I use often

•Informed opinion
•J’eet? (southern for “did you eat?”)
•Bloom where you are planted.
•Who needs to go to the bathroom?

8 things I have learned from the past

•History repeats
•Stuff clusters
•I only think I can run as fast as I could in high school
•Leaving my keys in the front door lock overnight is not safety conscious
•Almost every situation is not as bad upon reflection
•Being a parent is a great excuse to act like a kid again
•As I get older, cold swimming pool water is unappealing
•No good deed goes unpunished

8 things I want/need

None—I am content.


Ok, thanks for hanging with me for this 1,000+ word post. Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Putting a Face on a Number

Note: This week, I received an award (thanks Ann T.) and was tagged (thanks HurstBurst). I'll have a corresponding post to meet the requirements of that recognition soon.


The poor economy not only impacts businesses and citizens, but government agencies as well—as government is dependent on struggling for-profit companies for tax revenues.

As a result, government officials will deal with shrinking income through a variety of actions including tax hikes, hiring freezes, service reductions, and/or layoffs.

I mentioned in a previous post that the Cleveland Police Department reduced its force by 67 earlier this month. That represents around 4% of their sworn personnel. Previously in 2004, the agency was downsized by 250 officers.

It is easy to get lost in the aggregate job-loss totals and forget about the lives impacted by each reduction.

One of the 67 faces in Cleveland’s total is Michael Schmitt.

Schmitt was working as a police safety aide at the department’s training academy when he was told of his job loss.

The former officer took the job after he was seriously injured on-duty--shot in the face during a struggle with a homeless PCP-user that had attacked him.

The bullet passed through the officer’s jaw and lodged into his brain.

After months of surgeries and the removal of part of his skull, Schmitt recovered, but was obviously unable to meet the physical requirements to be a police officer in Cleveland any longer and had taken a new job as a non-sworn support employee for the department.

I can't imagine the regret that the mayor, local officials, and police managers must have had in accepting this workforce reduction--especially with Officer Schmitt's situation.

Schmitt appears to be an intelligent man with marketable professional skills. I hope that he finds another job opportunity soon.

His award medal for valor from the Cleveland Police Department will not soon be forgotten, but unfortunately, he won’t continue working for the agency where he nearly paid the ultimate sacrifice.


The photo was used from here.

Tuber of the Week #26: Irresponsible

I do not think that this crime news article could possibly be any more erroneous:


(JAN 17, 2009) We all know it's dangerous to be the only one in a section cheering for the away team. But did you know you could be arrested for it?

San Diego police officers arrested a New York Jets fan during this Sunday's playoff game at San Diego's stadium.

As you can see in the video..., the fan (and his lady friend) was clearly posing no threat to his nearby seatmates when the police began to go after him...
The video that author Lisa Freedman is describing is here:

Despite Ms. Freedman's "analysis," here is what the video tells me:

1) A man seen cheering and wearing a NY Jets pullover shirt was arrested.

It does not show that he was arrested for "nothing." It certainly does not document the man's actions during the previous couple of hours at the game leading up to the confrontation with police.

2) It does not support or refute a claim that the defendant was a threat to other attendees.

Actually, in the video's YouTube description, the poster (who also backs the defendant) states that earlier in the game the man and a wheelchair-bound woman were involved in a verbal exchange in which (again in his words) the woman struck the arrestee in the face.

Obviously, there is more to this story than a cheering fan.

3) The footage shows only a snippet of the man's behavior and the article's author should have done more to clarify.

Could she have contacted the San Diego Police for a statement? Would it be useful to know the formal charges against the defendant and included that? What if she obtained and read the arrest report--would that have helped clarify the situation?

Since Ms. Freedman's did none of the above, it is clear that her article is simply meant to attract attention.

It was easy for her to offer uninformed commentary disguised as news--as opposed to researching and building an informative and interesting post. With the publication, Freedman chose to offer nothing useful to the reader.

Could the man in the video be innocent and simply the victim of police misconduct?

Absolutely, but writing an article that makes such an accusation and then offers this footage as proof of police indiscretion is irresponsible and likely, in my opinion, the product of someone who watches too much television.

Since Ms. Freedman's stories are being featured in the "AOL News" headlines (through Asylum.com's site), I would hope for some journalistic integrity to be included in her work.

Am I asking for too much?


Update: Thanks to the anonymous commenter who left a link to the San Diego PD's version of the incident.

Library Dates

On Tuesdays, I have a standing obligation. It is an appointment that I try never to miss.

On that second day of the work week, I take our three-year old daughter to the library where we read children’s books.

A library date.

She is getting better at recognizing her numbers and letters, but for now, the little one is content to sit back in the large comfortable chair and listen to Dad tell stories written by others.

Her attention-span limit is four books, and we take turns selecting them from the seemingly endless rows of titles. Her choice is usually reflective of a book's cover illustration-—she likes pink and blue and gravitates to the titles that feature a dancing girl.

On my turn, I like to search for the books with meaning. Often, I dig through the discolored books; the dusty and forgotten ones in the back of the building.

Sure, silly stories have a place, but I enjoy hearing a message that is skillfully developed and delivered. Something that we can take home and not have to "check-out."

One such fantastic “message” book was written by Jan Karon.

Ms. Karon’s story is inspirational in that after a successful career as an advertising executive, she decided to quit and pursue a second life as an author.

Her literary pitch was to develop a fictional series, known as The Mitford Years, set in a small town that featured a minister as the main character.

No explosions. No car chases. No gunfights involving jealous ex-lovers. No grisly members of the undead. Just regular folks interacting with an Episcopal priest.

I can imagine her trying to sell agents on this concept, and I am sure that Karon needed every ounce of the persuasive powers honed in her previous career to get past the common response of: “Zzzzz, you lost me there” or “Where exactly are you going to find an audience for that?”

Well, nine novels later with the last several appearing on the New York Times bestseller list shortly after being released, she must take satisfaction in that she achieved her writing dream against the odds.

In our library, there is a copy of Karon’s The Trellis and the Seed:

…Soon afterward, a summer shower swept over the garden. And suddenly, the top of the trellis didn’t seem so far away, after all.

Foxgloves and hollyhocks blossomed by the doorstep. Cosmos and lavender bordered the path. Old- fashioned roses twined up an arbor, spilling petals onto ruffled petunias.

In the Nice Lady’s garden, everything was blooming. Everything but the vine on the trellis.

Though it had climbed all the way to the top of the trellis and started up the brick wall, it felt very disappointed. For it knew, at last, that the story about fragrant blossoms wasn’t true at all.

Wait, said the Earth. God’s timing for you is different.

That evening, a full moon appeared in the cloudless sky. It rose slowly over the Nice Lady’s house, turning the garden path into a ribbon of silver.

The vine felt the soft moonlight steal among its leaves.

Something happened that felt like a tickle.

Then something happened that felt like a kiss.

Soon the Nice Lady appeared in her nightdress and bare feet, walking on the silver ribbon.

“What’s going on? She asked the garden. “A wondrous fragrance awakened me and called me to come out!”

She followed the scent until she came to the trellis.

There, half hidden among the leaves, she saw dozens of ivory blossoms unfolding on the vine. As each blossom opened, a heavenly aroma escaped upon the air, bathing the garden with sweet perfume.

The Nice Lady looked on in amazement. She could hardly believe that so much beauty and mystery had come from one tiny seed.

“I just knew you were going to be something wonderfully different!” she exclaimed.

Happily she twined an ivory blossom in her hair. She tucked another in a buttonhole of her nightdress.

She picked an especially beautiful bloom to put by her bed in a painted china cup.

“Thank you!” she said, filled with admiration.

As she walked back to her house on the silver ribbon, a shiver of joy stirred in the vine that blooms only at night--the vine whose lovely name is Moonflower.

And over the Nice Lady’s garden, there was stillness and peace.
Message received. Thank you Ms. Karon.

Note: Image was used from the ScifiDaily Blog.

107 and Counting: Finding the Missing

A recent publication by crime writer David Lohr reveals a lesson that can be used to inspire us all:

(JAN. 15, 2009): Texas EquuSearch made its 107th find Thursday morning when the body of a missing postal worker was recovered in Cleveland, less than a week after it recovered the body of Becky Hamilton, a 52-year-old woman who had been missing from Huffman, Texas.

The group has been involved in more than 1,000 searches, most notably the Natalie Holloway and Caylee Anthony cases…

In the most recent Ohio case, 49-year-old postal worker Robert Lathan Jr. went missing early Jan. 7 after he was involved in a single-car accident on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Doan Creek on the city's East Side.

Police found Lathan's brother, Christopher Lathan, alone in the car. He didn't say anything about Robert initially, according to reports.

Police say it was not until later that night that they discovered Robert had also been inside the vehicle at the time of the crash. Christopher subsequently claimed that he and his brother had been drinking before the wreck and that Robert was driving.

Authorities confirmed that no one had seen Robert since the accident. They conducted several searches of the area without locating him…

Family members became frustrated with the search efforts. On Monday, they decided to reach out to Tim Miller's group to see if he could assist the effort.

"I spoke with the lead investigator, and he said, 'We don't have any money to reimburse you. The city is broke, but if there is any way you could help, we would greatly appreciate it,'" Miller said in an interview with Sphere.com.

"I told him, 'I'm on the next flight out.' I met with law enforcement yesterday morning and then began searching Doan Creek."

Miller said that snow and thick ice made it especially difficult for his team to conduct the search. They painstakingly used sledgehammers and axes to break through the ice to the surface of the water.

"The ice was a lot thicker than we had anticipated, so we broke ice all day Wednesday," Miller said. "

On Thursday, temperatures in Cleveland climbed to 40 degrees, melting some of the snow and ice that had been hindering the search. Texas EquuSearch team member Jeff Kruger said the group was in the water for less than five minutes when they found Robert's body.

"I saw what appeared to be a leg sticking up," Kruger said. "Tim told me to break back the ice some more so we could get a closer look, and there he was."…

As stated in the article, when members of Lathan’s family contacted Miller and requested help, he did not evaluate the opportunity in terms of profitability.

He was not dismayed when authorities, in a city that just implemented a layoff of 67 police officers, told him there was no money to even provide travel reimbursements for his team.

He simply made the trip, met with officials, and began searching.

Whatever cause or non-profit that one champions, we should all be as passionate about it as Miller.

If so, the resulting accomplishments would make the world an unrecognizably improved place.


Note: Equusearch is a nonprofit that searches for missing persons, and was founded by Texas resident Tim Miller. In 1984, Miller’s teenage daughter, Laura, was abducted and murdered.

Donation information for Equusearch can be found here.

The photo was used from their site as well.

From the Bomb Squad to Tactical Corsets

Note: I do not receive any compensation or benefits from the following post.

The content is strictly my opinion, and has not been reviewed by the organizations or representatives mentioned.


I enjoy the freedom of blogging. As an individual blogger, I pick the topic and can argue/complain/whine to my heart’s desire.

This would not be the case if I wrote posts for an organization. Blogging for a company or other entity is more of a challenge. The goal is different. There are constraints.

For many organizations, I imagine their blogging experience goes something like this:

I envision a company meeting being directed by a well-dressed executive. The exec is busy barking orders at the staff like:

“I want our product information on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger yesterday. Now get it done!”

Employees immediately scramble in different directions; all knowing that the boss has no idea what any of these social media tools do and that his desk is still the home of a 1980s Smith-Corona typewriter instead of a computer.

Initially, entries are made daily and include lots of product pictures, but eventually the posting frequency shifts to weekly then to monthly before the blog finally goes extinct.

The last entry is page four from a top selling product’s warranty manual—-as the employees have had nothing of value to post for months.


Now, there are exceptions to my description of a blog’s slow and painful death.

Previously, I discussed my respect for Cst. and K-9 officer Sandra Glendinning’s writings over at the Vancouver Police Department--so today, I’ll offer two additional examples of excellent company/organizational blogs.

1) Houston Police Department Recruiting Unit

Officer Mike McCoy’s goal is obvious: to disseminate information about becoming a police officer in Houston and to attract high quality recruits from around the country.

I am certain that he accomplishes this and more with the help of his blog. It is informative and includes lots of creativity and humor.

For instance, one reader requested information about how to become a member of HPD’s bomb squad. He could have just posted a blah blah blah reply, but instead selected this approach.

(Note: Ok, the guy in the video is acting, but nonetheless…)

Or, in this post from a series, Officer McCoy provides information on the type of applicants that the agency is not seeking.

The HPD recruiting blog is a fun visit; not to mention that you may even win a police prize during one of their contests.

2) TacticalPants.com

Based in St. Louis, blogger Jeanette promotes the firm’s products for emergency response personnel with an appealing mix of interesting tidbits and laughs.

In Attack of the Tactical Pens, Jeanette discusses steel writing pens that can be used for self defense and of course cool stuff like breaking windows.

I want to try some of the moves including in the last video of her post, but have not been able to coax any of our young kids into being the “crash dummies.”

Where do you go on the Internet to learn about tactical corsets?

Well, Jeanette’s blog of course as she provides resources and commentary to this er... um... “innovative” idea.


In sum, useful and clever organizational blogging is alive and well—-as demonstrated by the creative efforts of Officer McCoy and Jeanette.

On the Oakland Shooting Report

Note: I was planning a tribal crime post for today, but I need to do some additional reading to succinctly state my perspective.

In the meantime, I offer this.


Late last week, a report produced by the Independent Board of Inquiry into the Oakland Police Department was released to the public.

This board, comprised of police professionals from other agencies including the Los Angeles Police Department, was tasked with investigating the March 21 (2009) tragic shootings of four Oakland police officers.

In describing the report, news outlets offered these headlines:

Police missteps linked to Oakland officers' deaths, report finds

Report rips police decisions on day four Oakland officers were fatally shot

Report On OPD Officer Slayings Notes Major Errors

I prefer to skim the news articles and go directly to these reports when possible (unfortunately, many news organizations don't provide the source document, so it is up to the reader to search).

The Board's report contains support and criticism for actions that day, and is an educational read for the public in providing perspective of the chaos that is represented in these life-and-death events.

In the following important excerpt, a team of officers had been formed to enter an apartment where authorities were uncertain if the shooting suspect was hiding.

Evidently, commanders did not expect to find the gunman in the apartment. The primary motivation for the entry was to clear the residence so a K-9 unit could finish the track of the suspect from the initial shooting site past this dwelling:

...The ad hoc Entry Team moved into position at 3:02 pm. The suspect's door was forced open and Sergeant #4 entered first, followed by Sergeant #3. As Sergent #3 entered, he was mortally wounded. Sergeant #4 was shot and wounded in the shoulder.

The Entry Team had not yet fired a shot, unable to identify a target, and they continued to move into the poorly illuminated front room.

Unexpectedly, a female started screaming and emerged from the bathroom (the general direction from where the shots were being fired at police), and ran past the oncoming Entry Team.

Surprised Entry Team members alerted on her as a possible shooter but held their fire while they assessed the threat she posed as she ran yelling past them into the outer hallway..." (5)
After seeing two sergeants shot in front of them by a hidden assailant in a dark apartment, officers had to decide in an instant whether the female running at them screaming was a danger or not.

They made an amazing call, as the sprinting woman was not armed, and she escaped the incident unharmed.

It is unfortunate that a reader must delve into the articles and the original report to extract this positive amid all the negative coverage of the incident response.

Tuber of the Week #25: Who Needs Oars?

For his next birthday in the warmer months, the nine-year-old son told mom that he wanted a two-person kayak. Something like this:

He has dreams of bringing Dad along for a paddle on one of our local freshwater streams and finding a sunken treasure ship.

If no gold can be immediately located, the little guy wants to at least be able to drop a fishing line in midstream, hook a monster walleye or smallmouth bass, and then show-off his trophy catch.

In any event, it sounds like an appealing way to see nature and spend some quality father-son time.

With her video camera in hand, the Mrs. will be standing by as this kayak, the “Not Quite SS Slamdunk”, begins her maiden voyage.

She predicts our boat launch will resemble this:

If so, we are fortunate that the little guy and I are both above average swimmers.

On a related note, my son enjoyed this paddler’s close encounter with ocean life.

Part XXVII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

Reader "Joey" recently submitted several questions about the Brianna Maitland disappearance. The following post includes responses by guest blogger "Bob" and myself to some of those questions.

Case Summary: Seventeen-year-old Brianna 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 (referred to as the Dutchburn place)--about one mile from her employer. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.

--Question Set 1--

Was the car mechanically checked? Was it possible that Brianna ran out of gas, or the car broke down due to a mechanical problem and HAD to stop where she did? Had the engine been tampered with in any way?

Bob: Joey, pleasure to hear from you… I inspected the engine myself, used to work as an auto-technician among other things. Nothing was tampered with. There was gas in the tank as far as I know.

Nothing seemed amiss with her car, although, I did find one thing that caused concern. The driver's side windshield wiper was "stuck" beneath the lower sill of the molding around the windshield.

See, that model car had a sill that was an overhang, and it was possible for the wiper to set the wiper blade under the recess. I showed Mr. Maitland this finding, but you have to remember I inspected the car months later after it had been returned to the Maitlands.

Still here's why it is worth considering. There are two ways the wiper blade could have been stuck under the sill. First, if pushed down and under. Either on purpose or if someone leaned down on the blade by mistake. The former is more likely, because the latter is quite the lean - a body contortion, not something that would be a comfortable recline.

So if on purpose, our concern was the blade was stuck there by someone the night she disappeared, on purpose, and it froze in position so it wouldn't work.

Two, someone was tossed onto the windshield and that forced the blade under the sill. Again the latter is more likely or possible. Mr. Maitland and MJA (a private search and recovery group) started up the car and tried the wipers to see if it would pop out from under the sill. It did, but then it wasn't frozen. But we also know the car started.

Slam: I am not aware of authorities releasing specifics as to what examination was performed on Brianna’s car. It is my understanding that the vehicle did “turn-over” after being recovered from the Dutchburn property, and authorities have released no indication that there were any mechanical problems with her car.

--Question Set 2--

Did Bri receive any phone calls that night at the Black Lantern? I wondered if someone called her workplace that night, to perhaps arrange a meeting with her on the way home. You said Bri's cell phone was left at her house, so if someone needed to call her, they would've had to call the restaurant. Were Bri's employers aware of her making any outgoing calls from her work? Were the Black Lantern's phone records checked? Was Bri in the habit of leaving her cell at home, or was this unusual?

Bob: My recall of the time was that the owners of the Black Lantern weren't very cooperative, though I believe they did speak with the police. The details of any interviews with the police were confidential. Obviously the big question the family had along with myself and others helping was that, I recall the Maitlands were told she definitely DID NOT receive nor make any phone calls at work that evening. Nor did she have any visitors.

Regarding, Brianna having a cell phone? I remember it was one of my first questions. I recall the answer was Brianna did not have her own cell-phone. However the idea of cell-phones being used by others came up... and it was originally assumed that there was no cell-phone reception near the Dutchburn place, as I recall. I pretty much solved this assumption myself - as my Tracphone worked fine. 3 bars at least.

Slam: These are good questions, and ones that I hope investigators have already exhausted. As you observe, checking with Brianna’s coworkers about potential contacts and examining phone records for that evening would have been easy. My guess is that these avenues were pursued, but it is unknown if anything useful was learned.

--Question Set 3--

It was bitterly cold the night Bri drove home, but not snowing. Were there ANY tire tracks at all from Bri's Oldsmobile on the grass, such as marks to indicate the car's original position, from which it had been reversed?

Bob: Not that I saw in the photo's - my computer has very good graphics software and, I painstakingly examined original high resolution photo's provided to me by the World Travelers (WT) using this software. It was the apparent lack of tire tracks that puzzles me! Tufts of grass are seen everywhere - so again, hard to see if a struggle is evident in the pictures.

I really tried to get good details on the weather that night and heard conflicting information. I have gone with what the WT told me, that it didn't snow that night, but later in the morning it did. I asked my source close to the case about this again, and I'm told "there were dry, very light flurries, the night was cold with a breeze.

There wasn't enough snow to blanket the ground, which can be seen in the pictures taken by the World Travelers that morning." I might add myself, the ground was frozen solid - I asked that numerous times as that means "no digging could have been done in the area.

Slam: I am not aware of any information on the original position of Brianna’s car has been released by authorities. Because the incident at the Dutchburn was initially treated as a simple traffic collision, any educated guess at the path of Brianna’s car would be in the officer’s accident report that resulted in the car being towed.

When authorities realized that the scene was more than a collision and returned to the property several days later, I doubt that much additional information was gleaned from the scene.

--Question Set 4--

Was the driver's seat pushed back? Bri was around 5' 4" tall - and I wondered if the seat was in a position to indicate she was the last to drive the vehicle. If it was pushed back, it would show a much taller person was responsible for the vehicle hitting the house.

Bob: No. I sat in her seat, and it was still set for someone Bri’s size… I don't think the position of the front seat was ever changed, because the controls were electronic and down on the lower, left-hand base of the seat, hard to locate.

Slam: If the seat was found reclined back, authorities would have to ascertain whether the wrecker driver among others adjusted the seat (since it was only considered a traffic accident at the time).

After checking with a source close to the investigation, I was informed that this was the order of persons having access to Brianna’s car: 1) the officer who assumed it was an abandoned DWI; 2) the garage guy who towed it; 3) Brianna’s father and brother in the company of another police officer as they searched the trunk for Brianna; and, 4) the Vermont State Police crime lab.

Previous posts in this series can be accessed by clicking "Brianna Maitland" on the right margin of the home page or a list of historical posts is here.

Guest Blogger: The Gricar Witness List, Part I

One of my blog's themes has been that citizens using the Internet can assist police to solve cases.

Social media tools, blogs, and discussion boards at the very least can help publicize information about crimes or alleged crimes; especially in those instances involving missing persons.

The analysis that JJ in Phila has provided through his Ray Gricar blog, hosted by the Centre Daily Times (State College, PA), has been phenomenal.

Case Summary: Ray 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 last spoke to her via his cell phone while 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 near his parked vehicle.

JJ has detailed just about every aspect of this missing person case and has recently published multiple indices to help citizens learn more about the theories, known evidence, and witnesses in this strange disappearance.

Graciously, JJ agreed to be today’s guest blogger.

This entry is divided into two posts.

Post #1 (below) describes how the list was compiled and includes interesting notes.

Post #2 (here): shows the list (described by as JJ as a work in progress).


Part I

Slamdunk asked me to discuss the witness list that I constructed for the disappearance of Ray Gricar. About eight months ago, I managed to compile a rough witness list. This blog is about how I put the list together.

The witnesses that I’m looking at are those who saw Mr. Gricar in the time since his girlfriend left from work on the morning of 4/15/05 to midnight on 4/18/05.

--How did I get this list of witnesses?--

All have been reported, at least generally (and there others that have not been).

Some of the details were not. I got those by, well, asking. I asked people in the press that reported the story and that either talked to law enforcement or talked to the witnesses themselves. I did the same thing with people in law enforcement that were familiar with the case. I also had some of them review the list before I published it in my blog.

--What did I learn while compiling it?--

Only one thing surprised me about doing this. Nobody else thought of it before. These reports were scattered all over news stories for nearly four years.

The last information actually came out in July of 2008, that several witnesses saw Mr. Gricar moving his car in the parking lot across from the Street of Shops between 5:30-6:30 PM on 4/15/05. I just put them together. I wanted to see if the fit a timeline; they do.

I also found out some background about several of the unpublished witnesses, from reliable (and sometimes multiple) sources.

For instance, the witness known as “McKnight’s witness” was going to Harrisburg, for a birthday party for a family member; he’d remember the time and date. He reads the Centre Daily Times and recognized Mr. Gricar from a photo.

The off duty police officer wasn’t tossing a few (or a few too many) after a rough shift. He was not a police officer from the Wilkes-Barre area; he was from southeastern Pennsylvania.

He was in Wilkes-Barre for a family related event held nearby. It would be hugely unlikely that he would be drinking so much that his judgment would be impaired to misidentify someone as Mr. Gricar and not run into a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way home.

His family members may have been with him. He saw the story later in the week and called the police.

The officer, a veteran police officer with rank, noted something; from what I understand about his background, he would notice things.

The man he identified as Mr. Gricar was smoking, but clumsily. He didn’t look like a habitual smoker. He reported this prior to the disclosure that cigarette ash and the smell of smoke were discovered in the Mini Cooper Mr. Gricar drove.

While I couldn’t speak to the witnesses, I could hear from people that had spoken to them or from people that had talked to their police interviewers.

I have reports of other witnesses from the Lewisburg area and I know that some of the details of what these witnesses saw have not been released. When released, it would not, however, change my estimations on what happened to Mr. Gricar.


In sum, JJ painstakingly constructed this detailed witness list along with a timeline—something that no one else, outside of the investigators, have done.

He, however, has said, "The witness list should be considered a work in progress, with both more witnesses and more details about what they saw quite possibly being unreported."

JJ spoke with family members, friends, and colleagues of Mr. Gricar, as well as those in law enforcement.

With such information published, citizens in the three described areas of Central Pennsylvania (Wilkes Barre, Lewisburg, and Bellefonte) are more likely to recall seeing or hearing something that might be relevant to the case—-pieces of information that could help provide answers to assist in the search for this missing person.

To view the witness list, go here.

Note: To read more of JJ’s insights go to his blog located here.

Guest Blogger: The Gricar Witness List, Part II

This is the second post of JJ from Phila's witness list from the Ray Gricar missing person case.

The first part is here.


Part II

Guest Blogger JJ from Phila’s Witness List*: Ray Gricar Missing Person

Brush Valley Area:

11:12 AM. Ms. Fornicola receives a brief call from Mr. Gricar; call carried by a cell tower in the Brush Valley area (in the Rebersburg Area).

Lewisburg: 4/15/05 (Prior to 4:00 PM)

Around noon:

Ms. Snyder, saw Mr. Gricar and the Mini across from the Packwood House Museum

Afternoon (possibly before 1:30 PM):

At least two other witnesses saw Mr. Gricar moving the car across from the Packwood House Museum.

Bellefonte: 4/15/05

3:00 PM:

Ms. Fenton sees Mr. Gricar in a metallic colored car behind the Centre County Courthouse. (Judge Grine is unsure of the day).

Lewisburg: 4/15/05 (After 4:00 PM)

4:00 PM-5:00 PM:

McKnight’s witness saw Mr. Gricar, driving the Mini, on Route 15 near the Country Cupboard.

Circa 5:30 PM:

At least two witnesses saw Mr. Gricar moving the Mini in the parking lot across from the Street of Shops. The Mini was seen parked there later.

Two people, Mr. Alvey and another person saw Mr. Gricar in the Street of Shops at about the same time; one saw him with the “Mystery Woman.”

Lewisburg: 4/16/05

11:00 AM to Noon:

Two employees, Mr. Bennett see Mr. Gricar in Street of Shops.

6:30 PM:

State Police Trooper spots the Mini Cooper in the parking lot across from the Street of Shops.

Wilkes-Barre: 4/18/05


An off duty police officer and bartender spot Mr. Gricar in an establishment (possibly a Bennigan’s) on or near Highland Avenue in Wilkes-Barre.


Thanks again to JJ for discussing this valuable information.

Part I can be read here.

*Note: This list should be considered a work in progress with both more witnesses and more details about what they saw quite possibly being unreported.

Open Toilet Seats and Crime

Domestic disturbances and related calls are far too common for police.

Specifically, domestic incidents that actually result in the arrest of one or more parties are uncommon, as officers are more likely to act as negotiators and peace-makers to deflate family arguments.

French authorities have decided to take a new approach to dealing with relationship squabbles:

...France will become the first country in the world to ban ‘psychological violence’ within marriage.*

Insulting loved ones during domestic arguments could become a crime and partners who abuse their spouses in this way could end up with a criminal record under a new French law.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said electronic tagging would be used on repeat offenders

Mr Fillon said: ‘It’s an important step forward as the creation of this offence will allow us to deal with the most insidious situations – situations that leave no visible scars, but which leave victims torn up inside.’

‘Psychological violence is a very serious matter, but punishing it through the courts is a very different matter altogether.’

Critics have also said the government should not be intervening in private domestic arguments in which no one got hurt.

Sociologist Pierre Bonnet said: ‘The next step will be to make rudeness a criminal offence. The police and courts will be over-stretched trying to deal with the numerous cases.’

Physical violence in domestics can be a complicated crime to investigate, but I can't imagine trying to sort through a "psychological violence" investigation.

In my opinion, trying to criminalize such behaviors is nonsensical.

What does psychological violence mean specifically? Does it require a specific pattern over time or can it be observed in one argument?

Can the investigating officer prosecute if the offense was not in his/her presence (as can be done with physical domestic violence)?

Depending on the definition of "psychological violence" by French politicians, my spouse offered five insulting and beyond irritating behaviors that may be applicable in building a future case against me:

5) Refuses to keep smelly running shoes away from general-family use areas.

4) Does not close lid on the toilet seat.

3) Forgets to remove "treasures" from pants pockets prior to placing them in the clothes hamper.

2) Uses the Mrs.'s razors when his are not within arm's reach.

And for the top reason:

1) Still tries to wear his sweatshirts from undergrad in public.

*Note: I initially saw this story on Vox Day's blog.

Small Town Moment

The bicycle slowly climbed the slight incline staying in the middle of the residential street.

The rider, with child-like mannerisms, giggled in the summer shadows of the Victorian village’s 19th century brick homes that majestically lined "small town’s" streets.

“Keep balancing honey, you’re doing great!”

The cyclist's mom shouted as she jogged alongside the Schwinn.

The blue bicycle looked new, but was fitted with one of those oversized seats; like the type that you see vacationers, who are not accustomed to bike rides, maneuvering on the paths of popular beach destinations.

The young woman pedaling did not need the seat because she possessed a large body-type or anything. She just felt more comfortable with the bulky rest, and comfort had been a priority for the parents in their multi-year effort to teach their twenty-something daughter “Grace” to ride.

Grace had always beaten the odds. As an infant she had suffered brain damage, the victim of medical malpractice, and had not been expected to survive.

Despite her obstacles, she not only survived, but had grown-up healthy, joyful, and very self sufficient.

Grace lives each day with grace.

She is known in small town as the smiling worker at the tiny grocery store a few blocks to the south; eagerly bagging food purchases between 10 am and 3pm on most days of the week.

Grace’s parents, nearing retirement and saddled with the fear of not always being able to care for their only daughter, had invested countless hours to develop the young woman’s practical skills.

For the past couple of years, Grace has even lived in a group home within walking distance of work and her childhood house. Mom and Dad viewed this as a blessing--though Grace is no stranger at her parent’s home and can be seen regularly sitting on the porch swing with her father.

But today, all that did not seem to matter. This was her first "solo" ride.

Grace laughed and stuttered a few unintelligible words between pedals as her shoulder length hair was lifted by the breeze and movement.

Grace’s father ran ahead of his cycling daughter.

While trying to hide the tears streaming down his face with one hand, her dad stood at a four-way stop to halt traffic so that his slow moving family members could pass through safely.

Drivers waiting for the old man to signal them through the stop sign were not agitated by the unexpected delay, but instead waved to the dad and mom.

The town’s police officer, the only one on-duty, silently observed the spectacle from an adjacent church parking lot

I paused and watched the dad.

He was winded and obviously wishing he was in better physical condition as he continued to run ahead of the pair directing traffic through two more intersections.

During the scene, I also remembered hearing that the couple’s older son had moved back to town with his pregnant wife from out of state.

Grace was living and working on her own. She now had “young” family back in town to look after her for many years to come.

And her smile was big as she pedaled a bicycle, ever so slowly, on the street.

Their carefully constructed safety net was complete.

I am sure dad’s tears were for reasons in aggregate.

For one fleeting moment, in small town America, everything was right with the world.

Additional Thoughts on Susan Powell

Note: Related to missing persons, I am working on two drafts on the Brianna Maitland disappearance, and another featuring a guest blogger on the Ray Gricar case.

In the meantime, several announcements have been made on the missing mother in Utah, Susan Powell, that I wanted to discuss.

Ms. Powell was reportedly last seen by her husband, Josh Powell, on December 7, 2009, when he told authorities that he took their two young sons on a frigid early morning camping trip.


Last week, I mentioned how police investigating the Susan Powell disappearance are still trying to determine where Josh Powell drove his rental car while the family's mini-van was being examined by forensic specialists. I think agency administrators have to be really kicking themselves for not having Mr. Powell under close watch.

I had a few additional observations regarding the case:

1) Josh Powell's Initial Comments

John Kays wrote an interesting analysis on the story. He points to this brief interview that a Fox 13 (Salt Lake City) reporter conducts with Mr. Powell, as revealing with respect to the husband's responses and body language.

This segment was recorded shortly after Mr. Powell's wife was reported missing, not long after the alleged camping trip, and likely prior to any legal advice that the husband was provided.


Evidently, detectives were interested in this video as well, since they requested copies for their investigation.

2. Family & Friends Launch Social Networking Blitz

On Monday, friends and family of the missing woman will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to flood the Internet with pictures of Susan and other information on the case. The goal is to raise awareness about Ms. Powell's disappearance, and hopefully provide authorities with new information pertaining to the case.

If they are not doing so, I think this would be an excellent opportunity for law enforcement to partner with this effort so that any tips can be sent directly to investigators as opposed to being forwarded second or third-hand.

Also for police, I think they would be grateful for information as to the whereabouts of Josh Powell during the morning/day of Susan's disappearance or while the family van was being examined.

3. Sealed Search Warrants

Apparently, three of the search warrants served in the case are "sealed."

Sealing a warrant is not unusual in a high profile investigation like this. Detectives can request that a judge seal a warrant to prevent the defendant or anyone else from knowing what items are being sought or other related case information (in contrast, when an unsealed search warrant is used, the defendant is informed of what police are looking for).

To seal a search warrant, investigators simply need to convince a judge that to broadcast the contents of the search would jeopardize their case.

In the Powell investigation, it is believed that one warrant was to draw blood and take other biological samples from Josh Powell. The other two warrants involved searching the family's van and home.

What is in those warrants?

Only police, the DA, the judge, and a few court personnel know, but the representatives of the Salt Lake City Tribune filed a motion in hopes of granting disclosure.

I do not blame media officials for wanting a look at the search warrants (it would help sell newspapers), but I don't expect the effort to be successful.

In addition, I believe police need this form of protection to advance the investigation.

For instance, a search warrant is sealed, but a newspaper reporter is provided access to the contents of the warrant by the courts. The reporter publishes a comprehensive article that police are looking for specific receipts--documents that were not located during their search. The suspect is then tipped-off as to items that need to be destroyed or hidden.

My prayers are with the Powell family for Susan's safe return.