5 Shocking Failures Of Criminal Justice You've Never Heard
The legal system isn't run by all-knowing super-robots (yet), so we're stuck with regular old law enforcement officers, who are human beings. Ones who are going to make mistakes. Sometimes authorities make the right call. Sometimes they make honest mistakes. But then there are the times you get stories like ...
A Woman Reported Her Stalker To The Cops 125 Times, And They Did Nothing (Until He Nearly Murdered Her)
In Exeter, England, 2009, Joseph Willis asked his neighbor, Helen Pearson, if she'd be willing to go to the pub with him to see a band. Pearson declined the offer. Willis took the rejection a little rougher than most people would. He began stalking Pearson, sending her cute flirty messages like, "I want to play a game ... I want to see how you would cope if you were attacked ... Would you fight back? Scream? Let the game begin." Yeah, if you find yourself quoting Jigsaw, you have to wonder if you're the good guy here.
For the next five years, Pearson received insane messages, had her tires slashed, and walked by graffiti in her neighborhood reading "Die Helen." Pearson sent in 125 separate police reports, resulting in an official response we can barely call half-assed. Quarter-assed? Stalking precludes 94 percent of murders, but it's hard to say what exactly crosses the line into stalking. Is the dead cat he left on her doorstep stalking? Who are the cops to say?
They are cops. That's who they are to say.
After five long years, the inevitable happened and Willis attacked Pearson. He stabbed her eight times in the face and neck with a pair of scissors. A passerby saw them and intervened, preventing it from becoming a homicide. The police figured this was finally enough to arrest Willis, and he was sentenced to life in prison. The cops also apologized for their mind-boggling failure. So all's well that ends well, right? Oh wait, no, a woman was stabbed in the face. Like a whole bunch.
A Police Officer Was Fired For Not Shooting A Suicidal Man
In May of 2016, officer Stephen Mader responded to a domestic disturbance report at the home of R.J. Williams. At the scene, Mader found Williams with his hands behind his back. He ordered Williams to show his hands, and Williams revealed he was concealing a gun. When Mader drew his gun in response, Williams yelled "Just shoot me!" Mader didn't think Williams had any intention of hurting anyone; he thought he was trying to commit suicide by cop. Mader tried to deescalate the situation, saying, "I don't wanna shoot you, brother, just put down the gun." That ... is a surprisingly reasonable encounter. If only all police interactions ended that way. If only this police interaction ended that way. Mader's fellow officers arrived moments later, and immediately shot Williams dead. They would later find out his gun was never loaded.
Shortly after the incident, Mader received a letter of termination. According to the police department, Mader had "frozen" in the line of duty and put his fellow officers in danger. By their account, he had "failed to make a decision," showing he was not fit to be a cop. This didn't sit well with Mader, since talking someone down from suicide is actually a pretty good decision. Mader argued that his military experience played into his decision, since he had seen real hostility, and this was not the same thing. The police force responded by saying, "No officer was ever trained to deduce the intention of a suspect," all but admitting that they operate under the "Shoot first, ask questions later" method.
A Man Spent 17 Years In Jail After Being Mistaken For His Doppelganger
In 1999, police arrested Richard Jones and two other men for stealing a woman's cellphone in a Walmart parking lot in Kansas City, Missouri. Jones insisted he was innocent, saying he did not know the other men, and that he was in another state at the time of the mugging. Nobody believed him, and he got 19 years in prison ... for maybe stealing a phone that probably only played Snake.
Then, in 2015, Jones started hearing about another inmate who looked like he could be his twin brother. Instead of getting excited about all the kooky hijinks he could get into with a newfound twin, Jones became suspicious. He contacted the Midwest Innocence Project and the Project for Innocence for help. Together, they found a man named Ricky Lee Amos, who looked exactly like Jones. On top of having similar first names, they were both six feet tall, weighed about 200 pounds, and were a year apart in age. Here are their mugshots:
That's Amos on the left, Jones on the right.
You've guessed where this is going. Amos had lived at the drug house where the other two muggers said they picked up their third man. They said they were too high to remember exactly who they had picked up -- like when you get too high and forget that you ate all the frozen waffles last night, only way, way worse. In June 2017, enough evidence had come to light for authorities to decide they had arrested the wrong man. Jones was set free, serving a mere 17 years of his wrongful 19-year sentence. Justice!
All Kinds Of Things Are Constantly Mistaken For Drugs
In April of 2017, police pulled over Karlos Cashe for driving with his headlights off. When they searched his vehicle, they found white powder in his trunk. Cashe explained to the police that he was a handyman and the powder was drywall. They did an on-the-spot field test and determined that Cashe was lying and did in fact have Tony Montana levels of cocaine in his car. After spending two months in jail, the crime lab finally got around to testing the samples and concluded that it was indeed drywall after all.
Cops mistake innocuous substances for drugs all the time. In 2013, police arrested a New York woman after field-testing a substance in her car and concluding it was cocaine. It turned out to be homemade soap. In January 2017, police field-tested a giant bag of what they suspected was meth in Ross Lebeau's car. It came back positive, and his arrest was a big story. An official lab test proved the bag was cat litter, which Lebeau kept in his car to prevent his windows from fogging up -- the fancy kind, with crystals. Like some kind of a king.
Breaking Bad Luck
The cheap field tests cops use are notoriously unreliable, returning false positives all the time. A whopping 21 percent of all substances the tests find to be meth are not at all meth -- half the time, they're not even drugs. But the flimsy evidence they provide is enough to throw people in jail for months, so we'd recommend not driving to your job as an Italian chef with bulk bags of loose oregano.
A Mistranslation Landed A Man In Guantanamo Bay For 13 Years
Emad Hassan was a Yemeni college student studying in Pakistan in 2002. He was minding his business in his dorm room when authorities Falcon-punched his door in and arrested him and 14 other students. After two months in a local jail, the U.S. military transported him to an Army prison in Afghanistan for interrogation. The Army wanted to know if Hassan had any connection to Al-Qaeda. Thinking his safest bet was to remain as honest as possible, Hassad confirmed that he did. He waited for follow-up questions, but the authorities had gotten all they wanted, and they took him back to his cell. Shortly after, U.S. officials blindfolded him, put him in a diaper, and transferred him to Guantanamo Bay.
The problem: Hassan's interrogator questioned him in English, and an interpreter repeated the questions in broken Arabic. When they asked about his connections to Al-Qaeda, Hassan thought they were asking about the small town of Al-Qa'idah, near where he grew up.
We're not counterterrorism experts or anything, but being able to speak the language seems like it should be a prerequisite.
Further interrogations at Gitmo brought to light the misunderstanding, but authorities didn't believe him. Finally, in 2009, President Obama assigned a task force to review the possible innocence of certain Gitmo inmates. They found Hassan innocent and scheduled him for release. But before that could happen, a Yemeni terrorist attempted to blow up a plane in Detroit, causing Obama to lay a blanket ban on releasing Yemenis from the facility. Hassan was proven innocent, but remained incarcerated for the next five years in the prison even Harold and Kumar couldn't make funny.
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