Christie: Was brutal arrest of felon Byron Harris by Boynton Beach cops justified?

Byron L. Harris

By now, everyone has an opinion about the alleged over-use of force in the 2014 arrest of Byron L. Harris, a then-26-year-old felon with a lengthy record, after a high-speed chase by Boynton Beach police.

Was the beating by several police officers when they finally caught up to Harris and passengers Jeffrey Braswell and Ashley Hill, a violation of their civil rights? Or was it just an adrenaline rush gone horribly wrong?

A letter writer in Monday’s Palm Beach Post views it as more the latter. Terry Aperavich, of Boynton Beach, begins his letter:

I proudly support the Boynton Beach Police because they are all that stand between me and the bad guys that are turning our once civilized society into a dangerous battleground. Did the police get it wrong in the case of Byron Harris? Perhaps.

Aperavich goes on to say, however, that he is “tired of turning the streets over to the bad guys and then for them to be treated with kid gloves when they are finally apprehended.”

To be sure, he’s not the only one that feels that way. These high-speed chases — happening in other parts of the country, as well — put not only the life of the suspect and police at risk, but more importantly the general public.

But as the Post Editorial Board pointed out in a June 21 editorial, federal prosecutors are taking seriously the evidence that the Boynton officers not only violated Harris’ civil rights, but tried to cover it up.

A frame of the video that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter captured of Boynton Beach police officers who punched, kicked and used a Taser on three people in 2014. It shows the Aug. 20 police chase and arrest of Byron Harris, and two passengers.

The June 8 federal civil rights complaint alleges that a sergeant allowed officers to rewrite their police reports to justify their use of force after learning that a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter camera had captured them punching, kicking and Tasering the driver and two passengers of a car they’d halted after the Aug. 20, 2014 high-speed chase.

VIDEO: Watch the sheriff’s office helicopter video of the incident

Yes, there must have been a lot of adrenaline pumping in that situation — on both sides. But is that an excuse for law-enforcement pummeling someone they’ve been chasing?

If we’re going to use that reasoning, should a stressed-out teacher be allowed to smack a serially unruly child that has pushed the teacher’s buttons way too often on a given day?

Point is, there are a lot of stressful jobs that come with an adrenaline rush. Law enforcement is surely among the worst, as most of us can’t even imagine what they have to put up with day-in and day-out on our streets.

But cops know that going in, right? So shouldn’t we expect more from our police than a half-dozen or more of them beating someone down just because they’re angry they made them chase them through said streets?

Or does a suspect, who seems to care for no one but himself during a 100-mph car chase, deserve to reap what they sow?

Take our poll:

Goodman: Delray Beach: All American City and ‘relapse capital’ all at the same time

Suzanne Spencer, former executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Taskforce, and Delray Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman speak at a 2015 press conference about heroin overdoses and deaths in the city. (Photo by Hannah Winston)

Delray Beach this week became the first city in the state to win the All America City Award for a third time.

This same week, the city also gained national attention for being “the biggest relapse capital.”

In a lengthy front-page article on Wednesday, the New York Times documented the town’s unwanted status as one of the worst-hit centers of the opioid epidemic.

“Here, heroin overdoses long ago elbowed out car crashes and routine health issues as the most common medical emergencies,” writes reporter Lizette Alvarez. “Last year, Delray paramedics responded to 748 overdose calls; 65 ended in fatalities. In all, Palm Beach County dealt with 5,000 overdose calls.”

The story rightly emphasizes that, unlike other places reeling from rampant opioid addiction, “most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here.” They come from the Northeast and Midwest in search of drug treatment “in a town that has long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abusers.”

But as the Palm Beach Post has exhaustively reported, that treatment industry has been corrupted by bad actors who use insurance fraud to reap huge illicit profits and cynically thrust recovering addicts deeper into addiction.

“We have these people sending us their children to get healthy,” Dave Aronberg, the county’s state attorney, says in the Times, “and they are leaving in ambulances and body bags.”

Delray won the All American City Award for its efforts to advance early literacy. The honor is bestowed by the National Civic League, founded in 1894 by urban reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Law Olmstead and Louis Brandeis.

The city founded a board that worked with schools, parents and city leaders combat the summer slide, boost school attendance and prepare beginning students for school. The result, officials said: a 25 percent bump in grade-level reading from kindergarten through third grade in Delray schools.

Delray previously was named an All American City in 1993 and 2001.

No doubt, Delray leaders would rather their city be best known for its literacy-boosting virtues. But the Times story on the seaside town’s dangerous drug reality deserves a wide audience, especially up North. Maybe it will be read as a warning to people struggling with substance abuse: Think twice before coming down here for the help you might never receive.

Goodman: Alexandria shooting shows ‘there’s too much hate’ in our politics, GOP congressman says

We don’t yet know the motives of the gunman who opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers who were practicing at a peaceful park in Alexandria, Va., for a charity baseball game.

But the vitriol in Washington, D.C., is so intense over our politics, the divisions in America so bitter, that it is easy to jump to the same conclusion as Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was at the practice and survived the barrage of gunfire that severely wounded a colleague, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and wounded three others.

“This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences, it’s got to stop,” Davis told CNN. This is his “breaking point,” he said. The political rhetoric of hate and division, including on social media and the 24-hour news cycle, has to end.

“I think Republicans and Democrats need to use this today, today, to stand together and say, ‘Stop! Let’s work together. Let’s get things done. We can have our differences but let’s not let it lead to such hate.'”

Even if it turns out that the shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., had no political motive, it speaks volumes that the nation’s current animosities leap to mind when processing such unprovoked violence.

Can America ratchet down the animosities? Is this a warning of what may happen if we do not?

UPDATE 12:16 p.m.

Washington Post reports:

The man suspected of firing dozens of rounds into an Alexandria baseball field Wednesday morning has been identified by federal law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill.

A Facebook page belonging to a person with the same name includes pictures of Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and rhetoric against President Trump, including a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Hodgkinson was among those taken to a hospital Wednesday, and President Trump announced that he had died from “his injuries.”

Charles Orear, 50, a restaurant manager from St. Louis, said in an interview Wednesday that he became friendly with Hodgkinson during their work together in Iowa on Sanders’s presidential campaign. Orear said Hodgkinson was a passionate progressive and showed no signs of violence or malice toward others.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Orear said when told by phone about the shooting.

Orear described Hodgkinson as a “quiet guy” who was “very mellow, very reserved” when they stayed overnight at the home of a Sanders’s supporter in Rock Island, Ill., after canvassing for the Vermont senator.

“He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics,” he said. “He was more on the really progressive side of things.”

When informed that the suspect’s Facebook page prominently features Sanders’s image, the senator’s spokesman Michael Briggs said:

“Our prayers go out for a full recovery of Rep. Scalise, the congressional aides and police officers who were injured. We’ve got to stop the violence.”

Christie: Does it really matter if Walmart sells ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts?

In this October 2015 photo, a man wears a hoodie which reads, "Black Lives Matter" as stands on the lawn of the Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington during a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this October 2015 photo, a man wears a hoodie which reads, “Black Lives Matter” as stands on the lawn of the Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington during a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Blacks Lives Matter, the movement born out of the fatal shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, is a lightning rod for controversy.

That’s because no matter the explanation about why it exists, largely as a statement against the questionable shooting of unarmed black men by law enforcement officers, folks tend to come down on one side or the other.

The whole Black Lives Matter-vs-Blue Lives Matter issue blew up again last month when retail giant Walmart agreed to stop selling t-shorts and hooded sweatshirts online that read “Bulletproof. Black Lives Matter” on them.

The move came after the Fraternal Order of Police wrote Walmart asking it to pull the shirts, which are actually sold via a third-party vendor — Connecticut-based Old Glory Merchandise — not by Walmart itself.

“Commercializing our differences will not help our local police and communities to build greater respect for one another. Turning a buck on strained relationships will not contribute to the healing process,” FOP president Chuck Canterbury wrote.

Regardless, before the FOP request, Walmart had come under fire from right-wing website Breitbart for continuing to sell the items while caving the previous year to left-wing groups by dropping items that displayed the Confederate flag.

The Post’s Dec. 21 story, Walmart no longer selling ‘Black Lives Matter‘ shirts following police complaints” also prompted reader response. Many didn’t even know Walmart offered Black Lives Matter — and yes, Blue Lives Matter — apparel on its website.

Post letter writer Reginald Osbourne of Delray Beach took issue with Walmart’s decision as an affront to African-Americans:

As a black man and a law-abiding taxpayer who loves God and our great country, the removal of the Black Lives Matter t-shirts is not only offensive to me but also an outright disrespect to my family and the millions of black people who shop at these stores every day.
Black Lives Matter is not against our police or any other race of people. They are against the injustices and discrimination that’s taking place against a large segment of people of color.
If Walmart had shirts in their stores that said “Jewish Lives Matter” and a complaint was made by some customers that said that these shirts were offensive to them, would Walmart have these shirts removed? America is sensitive to the suffering of six million Jews and so are we, along with millions of black Americans who feel the pain concerning this Holocaust to our Jewish family.
However, it seems to me that a lot of people are less sensitive to the millions of our black ancestors who were brought over to America in slave ships and helped to build this great country, who have fought in every war, bled and died in these wars.

Walmart said in a statement, “Like other online retailers, we have a marketplace with millions of items offered by third parties that includes Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter merchandise. After hearing concerns from customers, we are removing the specific item with the ‘bulletproof’ reference.”

Again, Walmart only removed the shirts with the words “Bulletproof: Black Lives Matter” on its website.
By the way, the FOP sent a similar letter to Amazon, which has not responded.
Tell us what you think about this controversy in the comments.

Christie: Pushing ‘stop-and-frisk’ wrong answer to Riviera Beach gun violence

Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters speaks during a press conference at City Hall in Riviera Beach, FL on Tuesday. "If I had it my way I'd stop everything moving," he said in a news conference Monday. He warned youth, in particular, "You never know when you might be stopped and searched." (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters speaks during a press conference at City Hall in Riviera Beach, FL on Tuesday. “If I had it my way I’d stop everything moving,” he said in a news conference Monday. He warned youth, in particular, “You never know when you might be stopped and searched.” (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Desperate times?

That has to be what Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters is thinking as he rolls out proposals this week to curb gun violence in his city by the sea.

How else to explain proposing potentially violating someone’s civil rights to solve a long-running problem.

“If I had it my way, I’d stop everything moving,” he said in a news conference Monday. He warned youth, in particular, “You never know when you might be stopped and searched.”

Stop right there… it sounds like the mayor didn’t quite think things through. Because that sounds disturbingly like he’s advocating a “stop and frisk” policy, which would be a violation of Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You know, the one that protects citizens against illegal search and seizure.

Taking Masters at his word, a “suspicious-looking” young man or woman walking down the street can be arbitrarily stopped by a law enforcement officer and searched. This is the same type of police action that civil rights advocates (like Masters?) have been fighting and railing against for decades when it comes to young black men.

At some point, this became apparent to Masters, as this morning he backpedaled on the proposed measure in the last five minutes of an an 18-minute Facebook Live event.

“I don’t want you to think there will be any stopping and frisking, that’s strictly unconstitutional, he said. “The rights of our young people must be protected; must be respected.”

Indeed. But the mayor’s frustration was still as palpable as it was at a Tuesday morning news conference calling for an “assault on gun violence.” For example, he still didn’t back off the idea of checkpoints for vehicles being driven into the city “for safety reasons.”

The mayor’s frustration is understandable — and shared by many Riviera Beach residents.

Masters, now serving his fifth term as mayor, has presided over a seemingly intractable problem with regard to gun-related homicides. Again, understandably frustrating.

And particularly frustrating has been the amount of gun violence involving young people in his city.

Riviera Beach, to be sure, is not the only city in Palm Beach County facing this issue. West Palm Beach, with which it shares a northern border, suffered through horrible rash of youth gun violence in the summer of 2015. And Boynton Beach has had similar issues.

But none has gone as far as Masters went this week when he proposed ramping up a slew of measures — checkpoints, curfew enforcement and a gun buyback program — at Tuesday’s news conference.

He was reacting to a recent spate of shootings that left a number of young people injured and dead. Last night came word from the Riviera Beach Police Department that the teenage victim of a Friday shooting died Tuesday evening, while the second victim was released.

The news was followed this morning by Masters’ Facebook Live to thank folks in the community who are working to solve this problem, and announce a “prayer chain” to ask people to pray at the top of the hour seven times a day beginning at 6 a.m.

Prayer is good. But we can all agree that at this point it’s going to take a lot more than prayer. As City Councilwoman Dawn Pardo said at Tuesday’s news conference: “The city of Riviera Beach is under siege.”

It’s good that the mayor came around and realized that violating someone’s constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure is not the answer.

Do you agree?

Sniper fire in Dallas leaves 5 police officers dead, darkens our democracy

 

 

A police officer looks up while standing behind a vehicle, as police responded to shots being fired during a protest over recent fatal shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers during protests; several officers were killed, police said. (Maria R. Olivas/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
A police officer looks up while standing behind a vehicle, as police responded to shots being fired during a protest over recent fatal shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Dallas. (Maria R. Olivas/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

At the very least, the terrible events of the last few days tell us that there is way too much violence in America.

On this grim morning, we are reeling at the deaths of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of seven more, targeted simply for doing their jobs: protecting the peace. In this case, protecting the protest of some 800 people gathered in fury and grief over the killing of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota at the hands of police, a scenario that seems never to end and that tells us that something is deeply wrong in our country.

It was a peaceful protest. Just like the protests that arose yesterday in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Chicago, New York and a hundred other places. It was peaceful until an unknown number of snipers with rapid-fire rifles, all too easily obtained in this land of the free, opened fire.

Those snipers — one of whom was killed by police, but not before saying that he was “upset over Black Lives Matter,” “upset about the recent police shootings” and that he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” according to the Dallas police chief — attacked not just a police department that was taking strides to improve its relations with its community, they attacked our democracy.

They completely undermined and destroyed the message of those protesters. They injured two of them, reports indicate.

They attacked all of us who hoped that the nation could work toward improving the fraught relations between our police forces and black America in a thoughtful way. Now any dialogue becomes infinitely harder. So does any soul-searching.

President Obama, whose ascension to office was widely misunderstood to mean that we had arrived at a so-called end to racial issues in America, rightly called the Dallas ambush a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.” And though the reasons for these police murders can be understood, there can be “no possible justification” for them.

An eye for an eye, as a wise man said, leaves everyone blind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter: PBSO’s ‘(Sheriff Ric Bradshaw) has to go, and go now’

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in February 2015.(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in February 2015.(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Seth Adams was murdered on his own property by an undercover deputy four years ago (“PBSO agrees to pay $15,000 for not providing data in Seth Adams case,” May 19). This was tragic. The withholding and destruction of evidence is nothing new under Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. I feel for the Adams family and the Corey Jones family and the many other families whose lives have been so damaged because of questionable deputy shootings.

I am a retired Palm Beach County firefighter/medic, and I have worked with many great deputies. But, seeing how Bradshaw runs the show disgusts me. He has to go, and go now.

JOE AVERSANO, WELLINGTON

Letter: Why not use heroin for lethal injections?

Heroin (1)
Via Creative Commons

The Saturday front page article, “Task force to fight heroin epidemic,” and the article on Page A3, “Pfizer blocks the uses of its drugs in executions,” are very interesting. The lethal results of heroin causes so many deaths. Perhaps that should be the execution drug. Most law-enforcement departments have easy access to heroin. Should be no problem, and the price is right.

I am not for executions since too many have been released due to DNA evidence (proving their innocence). One wrong execution is one too many. People seem to think this provides closure. When a family member is lost, there is never closure, only acceptance.

Our death-sentence process takes so long that it only delays this acceptance, and it becomes more an issue of revenge.

SANDRA STERNFELD, WEST PALM BEACH

Readers React: Bradshaw bucking the county on pot ordinance

Drugs at SunFest in West Palm Beach, Fl on April 28, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
A concerntgoer at SunFest smkoing marijuana. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

PBSO Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told The Post’s Editorial Board he’s told his officers to follow Florida state law that still makes marijuana possession a misdemeanor criminal offense instead of following a December Palm Beach County ordinance that makes it a civil offense, and Post readers have reacted on social media.

But first, what’s the difference between an ordinance and a law?

An ordinance is a statute passed by a local municipality that covers things like sidewalk vending, parking zones, building regulations and even public nuisance violations. Typically, these ordinances only cover misdemeanors when it comes to criminal law. In this case, Palm Beach County’s commissioners decided in a 4-1 vote to make possessing a small amount of marijuana — 20 grams or less — a civil nuisance, allowing police officers to issue a ticket for small amount possession. This means someone caught with or using a small amount marijuana could be fined either $100 or complete 10 hours community service. Either way, the offense isn’t criminal and wouldn’t lead to jail time or a criminal record.

Bradshaw is opting to follow state law, however, which still makes marijuana possession a criminal offense, even for a small amount like 20 grams. At that amount or less, it becomes a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. And it will appear on your criminal record. This law has been passed by the state legislature and is enforceable anywhere in the state.

So why is Bradshaw opting for the harsher path? He says the reason is two-fold: it “gets people off drugs,” and allows officers to search suspects who are caught with marijuana, which the civil ordinance wouldn’t allow.

Bradshaw has the prerogative to follow whichever path he chooses; he isn’t required under state law to abide by county ordinances and can instead opt to follow state law, as he is doing here.

Bradshaw says for first-time offenders in possession of a small amount of marijuana, his officers will issue a Notice to Appear, and pre-trial intervention will typically allow the person to choose either drug counseling or community service. But that’s only for first-time offenders only Get caught again by a sheriff’s deputy and you’re no longer a first-time offender with those options.

Readers reacted on Facebook overwhelmingly opposed to Bradshaw’s directives:

Tell us what you think. Take the poll and jump in on the conversation on Facebook or below.

Letter: Increased Delray Police presence might have saved Jordan Parsons

delray
Delray’s Atlantic Avenue is south country’s prime strolling spot. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

That was an interesting Point of View: “Bolster police presence to keep Delray Beach fun for all” (Tuesday).

I often wonder where the police are in Delray Beach. Automobiles constantly are traveling well over the speed limit on U.S. 1, making illegal U-turns on State Road A1A, and not stopping for pedestrians trying to cross in crosswalk zones.

It begs the question: How could Dennis Wright (allegedly) be traveling over 100 mph on U.S. 1 without a policeman seeing him? It makes you wonder…

RICK PROUT, DELRAY BEACH

Editor’s note: Dennis Wright is suspected of killing a pedestrian, Jordan Parsons, on South Federal Highway.