Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crime of the Century (A Tale of One Nutty Chair Divison)

PROCTOR, Minn. - One day about a year and a half ago, a man named Dennis LeRoy Anderson, of Proctor, demonstrated that he is wildly creative, exceptionally mechanically gifted, and possessed of a perhaps overenthusiastic and potentially detrimental passion for beer. 
  Mr. Anderson, who runs a professional auto shop at his home, designed and outfitted a recliner - the type of comfy chair you see in front of televisions in better homes and trailers - with a converted lawnmower motor, headlights, a steering wheel, a stereo, cup holders and a National Hot Road Association sticker on its headrest. The chair could travel as fast as twenty miles per hour. 
  That accounts for Mr. Anderson's creative and mechanical gifts. His love of beer manifested, or perhaps over-manifested, on the day and evening of August. 31, 2008. 
  After enjoying a number of beers at home - the exact tally is left unstated in an October 30, 2009 Minneapolis Star-Tribune report - Mr. Anderson drove his chair to a bar called the Keyboard Lounge, located at 224 North 3rd Avenue, in Proctor. (View the bar's exterior here.)  
  There he consumed more beer. His total, he later told police, was "eight or nine" that day. His blood alcohol content, police would learn, after administering a field sobriety test, was .29. That's more than three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota. 
  Mr. Anderson was blissfully unaware of this fact - or, evidently, of any others - when, presently, he left the Keyboard Lounge and settled into his motorized chair. Presumably, the goal of puttering home somewhere floated in his be-fogged noggin. 
  Alas, things don't always turn out as we might hope. Mr. Anderson promptly crashed the chair into a Dodge Intrepid parked nearby. 
   When police arrived, Mr. Anderson was treated for minor injuries and given the sobriety test, during which, Deputy Police Chief Troy Foucault told the Star-Trib, he "failed everything." To add insult to intoxication, it turned out that Mr. Anderson's driver's license had already been revoked for a prior drunk-driving conviction. 
  Police took Mr. Anderson, who is sixty-one, to the station and threw him in the pokey. At trial he was sentenced to one hundred and eighty days in jail and fined $2,000. The jail time and half the fine were stayed contingent on his serving a two-year probation with various conditions.
  Here now we leave the tale of Mr. Anderson in order to follow the captivatingly byzantine one of the chair. Proctor police impounded it when they arrested Mr. Anderson. It was then to be sold at a police auction, the proceeds from which would benefit the department.
  Foucault, the deputy police chief, characterized the chair to the Star-Tribune as being "quite decked out," and said "quite a few people" had called about it. He joked that he even might bid on it, except for the fact that "I have kids who would take it out and drive it on the street." 
  This seems just the kind of things kids should be encouraged to do, providing that the cups in the chair's holders contain, say, Coca-Cola or, at the extreme, Red Bull rather than beer, because beer can so fully harsh a magic mushroom high. 
  It is not tangential to point out that, in its lede, the Star-Trib called the chair a La-Z-Boy. This is important because, as the paper reported in a November 3, 2009 followup, a five-day eBay auction, undertaken by the Proctor police force, pushed the asking price of the chair, listed as a La-Z-Boy, to roughly $40,000, and drew national media attention.
  A mere eleven hours before the auction's deadline, the La-Z-Boy company faxed a complaint to the Proctor police chief, a man charmingly named Walter Wobig. The company, citing copyright concerns, protested the use of the its name in the eBay listing, inasmuch as the chair that Mr. Anderson had modified was not, in fact, a La-Z-Boy recliner. 
  Chief Wobig is to be forgiven for having listed the motorized chair as a La-Z-Boy. The brand is so well known that it has come to stand for all recliners, much as "Xerox" has for copiers and "Kleenex" for tissues. 
  In addition, the chief had been unduly influenced by the incorrect use of that brand name in the rash of media reports on the auction. This shows that the only people less adept at fact checking than police chiefs are reporters, an observation that does nothing to inspire a great deal of confidence in the condition of the ailing Fourth Estate. 
  In time, Chief Wobig had a cordial telephone conversation with a La-Z-Boy representative. That person asked the chief to ensure that the eventual buyer refrain from referring to the chair as a La-Z-Boy, and then wished him luck with the sale. 
  By that time, however, the listing had mysteriously disappeared from eBay. Did La-Z-Boy contact the online auction house and threaten it with legal action, such as, for example, sentencing eBay CEO John Donahoe to a forty-day La-Z-Boy recliner confinement and a force-feeding on Pabst Blue Ribbon, Cheetos and "Dog the Bounty Hunter?" Alas, we shall never know.
  Chief Wobig, unsuccessful in contacting eBay about the missing listing, re-listed the chair, once again setting the low bid at $500. The second auction also fell through. (Press reports are sketchy as to why.)
  All of which brings us to this month. An April 21 Associated Press story reported that a Duluth, Minn. resident - one of fifteen people competing for the chair in a auction ending April 18 - placed a winning bid of $3,700, an amount markedly lower than the $40,000 being batted about during the first eBay sale. 
  It is conceivable that the price suffered such a monumental drop because the chair is not a La-Z-Boy. It is more likely, however, that the feverish national attention of a year or so ago had so almost wholly waned that no one wanted to buy the goddamned thing. The public is a fickle mistress.
  There are lessons to be learned from this twisted tale, and they are as follows: 
  1. Corporations are psychotically protective of their brands, and woe betide he or she who uses one without permission. 
  2. Kids would not even entertain the idea of driving motorized chairs on the streets if there were a video game - one they could play in the comfort of their rumpus room - that featured such a chair, a totally awesome idea that First of All is, right this minute, in the process of copyrighting.
  3. If you are going get trashed and crash a motorized recliner, at least consider shaving so that you look nice in your mug shot. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crime of the Century (Errant Peeing Division)

SUFFOLK, Virginia - Sean P. Almond, of Windsor, VA., appears to be the sort of man who just doesn't have a lick of sense, if one is inclined to believe a clipping from the weekly publication The Virginian-Pilot (The "No. 1 source of news, information and advertising" for Southeastern Virginia and Northeast North Carolina).
  At about eleven o'clock p.m. on April 22, Mr. Almond, forty-three, is alleged to have entered the Kangaroo Express convenience store at 1125 Wilroy Rd., in Suffolk (pop.: roughly 83,000), and threatened the clerk, thrown her to the ground and robbed the store. 
  The Virginian-Pilot story admirably sticks to the facts, but, alas, it skimps on color. So it is unclear in just what way Mr. Almond menaced the clerk. Did he say he might shoot her? Did he make ribald jokes about her family, including its matriarch? Or did he simply ridicule her hairstyle? It seems sad that we shall never know.
  Whatever he did, he did it quickly and then took off. The clerk quite sensibly called the police. When they arrived, she pointed them toward the back of the building, the last known destination of the fleeing Mr. Almond.   
  When police rounded the corner, there he was - urinating against the wall. 
  Seen in one light, this shows extraordinary levelheadedness on the part of Mr. Almond. After all, as the saying has it, when one has to go, one has to go - even if, it might be added, it is done directly after one has held up a store. Seen in another light, however, it is an act of such monumental folly that it boggles what is left of the mind.
  Police discovered that Mr. Almond (who is not the man shown in the photograph above) was in possession of the store's cash. 
  He was booked on one count of armed robbery. Charges of assault and urinating in public were pending, police told the newspaper, as should have been a single charge of Mr. Almond's being rather a dolt, if one with a notably overexcitable bladder. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crime of the Century (Outstanding Warrant Division)

ONTARIO and SAN DIEGO, the Northern Hemisphere - It is best to remember that policeman, as a whole, are determined to fulfill their job requirements. This includes making arrests for outstanding warrants, and if those named on the warrants are, well, idiots, it makes things that much easier for the cops. 
  So learned two men recently, one in Ontario, Canada, the other near San Diego. 
  According to an April 25 Canadian Press report, a man named Stephane Reid called police to report the theft of $1,000 worth of tools from a storage locker. 
   Police discovered that Mr. Reid had outstanding warrants for shoplifting charges, and unceremoniously arrested him. 
   Mr. Reid has been charged with theft under $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime and failing to attend court. The items he is alleged to have stolen have yet to be recovered. 
   The case of Mr. Reid confirms two well-worn pieces of folk wisdom: there is no honor among thieves, and what goes around comes around, although some or all items may never find their way back to their rightful owners.
   In Carlsbad, near San Diego, a man named Theodore "Ted" Felicetti was arrested on an outstanding warrant for drunk driving after performing with the Beatles tribute band Help! on a San Diego morning television show, the San Diego Union Tribune reported on April 23.
  Carlsbad police lieutenant Marc Reno told the newspaper that police had been trying to serve Mr. Felicetti with the warrant since December of 2008. A search of various residences proved futile. Then police received a tip that Mr. Felicetti was a member of Help!, playing the part of of Paul McCartney. 
   The Union-Trib neglected to include a photo of Mr. Felicetti, who is fifty-four. Therefore, alas, we shall never know whether he resembles the Paul McCartney of the "Cute Beatle" era or, more likely, the Paul McCartney who has lived past the "When I'm Sixty-Four" era. 
   As it happened, police went to the Help! Facebook page, learned of the then-upcoming television appearance, and showed up to arrest Paul McCartney, er, Mr. Felicetti. (They were kind enough not to interrupt the performance to enact their duty.)
   Lt. Reno told the Union-Trib that the band's having a Facebook page allowed police to locate the faux-Paul bassist "with the click of a mouse."
   This suggests that criminals really ought to think twice about putting their mugs on social networking sites, and also that Beatles cover bands, by virtue of being unnervingly creepy, are karmically doomed.

The Joys of Holy Matrimony (Lesbian Boobies Division)

SWANSEA, Wales - A Swansea woman named Sharon Hancox, forty, spent her first night of wedded bliss in the slammer, but not for marrying her lesbian partner, Nicola Hutin, also forty. 
  Indeed, Swansea apparently is so sophisticated that a lesbian wedding occasions the batting of nary a local eye. 
 What troubled authorities, according to a March 23 report in Metro, a free United Kingdom weekly, forwarded to us by an Oxford, UK spy, is that immediately after the happy nuptials Ms. Hancox took it upon herself to drink eight pints of lager at the reception, held at a bar called Champers. Thereafter, she and her betrothed displayed a disquieting sort of aggression, or, in lay terms, acted like drunken idiots. 
  (In the United Kingdom, "champers" is short for champagne, although plainly Ms. Hancox is more of a lager kind of gal.)
  First, Ms. Hutin exchanged punches with an inebriated woman. 
  (Metro repoter Joel Taylor writes that Ms. Hutin was in "a fight." Perhaps, then, we are embellishing slightly. It is an unfair generalization that fighting lesbians ipso facto throw punches, although it does create a pleasing mental image.) 
  A bar security man named David Jenkins broke up the fight, and asked the entire wedding party to leave the bar. 
  At that point, Ms. Hancox confronted Mr. Jenkins. Apparently a Champers regular, she accused Mr. Jenkins of having "attacked" her in the past. 
  "You assaulted me, you pulled my tits out two years ago," is the elegant way Ms. Hancox is reported to have put it. 
  She then allegedly pulled down her red dress top, exposing her mammaries. This could be considered a  service to boob-hounds the world over, but apparently is not the sort of thing that flies in Swansea. 
  As it happens, things didn't end there. Ms. Hutin lunged at Mr. Jenkins at about the same moment that Ms. Hancox swung her stiletto heel at him. Whatever else may be said about them, it seems safe to say that Ms. Hancox and Ms. Hutin sure know how to party. 
  Referring to the stiletto incident when speaking later to Swansea magistrates, and using the affectless language typical of verbal and written communication in the legal system, a prosecutor named Julie Sullivan said, "The heel made contact with his [Jenkins'] forehead and he felt blood running down his face." 
  Ms. Hancox admitted common assault and received a yearlong community-service order. She is also required to pay a costs totaling two hundred and fifty British pounds.
  Two things need to be noted. 
  First, Mr. Taylor's Metro report is admirably urbane: never once does he raise an eyebrow at the notion of a lesbian wedding. And the story's copyeditor must be applauded for creating this alluringly alliterative headline: "Bride bares breasts and bashes bouncer."
   Second, the holy institution of matrimony has expanded, at least in Swansea, to include so-called alternative couples. Ms. Hancox and Ms. Hutin are to be commended for showing that gays and lesbians are just like heterosexuals, at least when it comes to getting trashed at wedding receptions, attacking bouncers, and winding up in the can. 
  Gays and lesbians keen to marry need pay close attention. 

  On a side note, the name Swansea is unbearably charming. It conjures images of swans, the sea, and swans at sea, although were it the case that swans went to sea it is possible that seagulls ("gulls at sea"), furiously jealous of the beautiful airborne interlopers, would peck them to death.
  This would be a gruesome sight, but it might make a droll YouTube video. 
   Imagine our disenchantment, then, when we consulted Wikipedia - the lazy man's research resource -  and discovered that the town's name is pronounced SWON-zee, a sound closer to that of a sneeze than of a hissing sea and screaming mutilated swans. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Days in the Justice System (Tin-Hat Division)

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca. - We have recently seen that some judges, although no doubt well-meaning believers in the letter of the law, occasionally take that letter and trample it underfoot by engaging in droll courtroom antics.
   First came the Baltimore judge who married a man, accused of domestic abuse, to the man's victim. Now comes a Trinity County (California) judge rebuked by the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance for allowing a man to wear a tin-foil hat during court proceedings, according to an April 13 dispatch from the San Francisco Daily Journal.
   (The story was sent to us by the same Los Angeles lawyer who alerted us to the case of the Baltimore judge. It is reassuring to know that some lawyers are spending time doing what lawyers should be spending time doing: scouring the press for examples of courtroom monkeyshines the existence of which suggest to the layperson that the legal system is rife with human fallibility, a cheering thought for humanists but a no doubt terrifying one for, say, those on trial for murder.)
    The 2000 U.S. Census reported that Trinity County, in northwestern California, had a population of 13,022. There are no doubt more folks there today, but they are spread out over two million acres. The area has no incorporated cities, but does have charmingly-named towns such as Hayfork, Lewiston, and Weaverville (below). 
   May we assume, then, that in such an area everyone pretty much knows everyone else, and that a small-town sense of humor - in-jokes, comfortable hokiness, a genial disdain for tendentiousness - pertains?
   We can infer as much from the Daily Journal piece, which reports that Trinity County Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Edwards, who is one of but two judges in the heavily wooded area (see?), not only knew the man who wore the tinfoil hat, but knew that the man had joked months earlier about wearing such headgear to avoid jury duty.
   This proved to be simply too much for the Commission, which in its April 12 report wrote that "it reflects a lack of decorum for Judge Edwards to have allowed the potential juror, who he knew was joking, to leave the tinfoil hat on his head during court proceedings."
   Judge Edwards does seem to show what, in some eyes, could be seen as an alarming laxness regarding his office. In other eyes, however, it could be seen as an admirable informality, the hallmark of small-town life. 
   On one occasion, having recused himself from presiding over the case of a woman named Corrie Floris, who was accused of stabbing her boyfriend (they party hard in Trinity County), Edwards nonetheless presided over her arraignment, after which gathering he hugged her in full view of the courtroom. 
   Edwards and his wife, Cynthia, a lawyer, were friends with Ms. Floris; in court, Cynthia Edwards "stood up" for the woman and advised the judge - her husband - to appoint a public defender.
   On other occasions, according to the Commission report, the judge dismissed cases without legal authority, showed bias, and one time sauntered into court two hours late after taking court staff for a ride in his airplane and out to lunch.
   This last seems entirely excusable and understandable. Is there really anything so important on the Trinity County legal docket that it should interrupt a pleasant repast and a refreshing airplane ride? 
   Edwards' attorney, Joseph P. McMonigle, told the Daily Journal that Judge Edwards "respectively disagrees" with the Commission's report. Actually, it is unclear whether or not Mr. McMonigle said this. The correct phrase is "respectfully disagrees." Either Mr. McMonigle misspoke, or Daily Journal reporter Amy Yarbrough mis-heard him, or Ms. Yarbrough heard him correctly and mis-typed his words. Alas, we shall never know.
   It is plain, however, that Ms. Yarbrough wrote a surrealistic and incomprehensible lede: "Wearing a tinfoil hat may not get you kicked off a jury in Trinity County, but it will get you a rebuke from the Commission on Judicial Performance - if you're the judge who allowed it." For this, Ms. Yarbrough should be sentenced to thirty days of hard labor - say, parsing the "writings" of Sarah Palin, whose relationship with the English language is as informal as is Judge Edwards' with those who appear in his courtroom.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Great Days in the Criminal Justice System (The Marrying Kind Division)

BALTIMORE, Maryland - Becoming a judge, it would seem, cannot be easy. There are the years spent toiling away in law school, law firms, prosecutors' offices; there is the politicking and the glad-handing; there is the prospect of winding up on the night court bench; there is Sarah Palin. 
   Actually, Sarah Palin has nothing to do with judgeships, at least not until she's elected president in, we hope, two-thousand-and-never. We merely mention her because, well... she's just so weird, isn't she? 
   Anyway, with all the challenge and hassle of becoming a judge, you'd think that those attaining such a lofty perch would be clear-minded enough not to, for example, declare a hiatus in the trial of a man accused of domestic battery and then officiate a courtroom marriage of the man to his alleged victim, which, by law, excuses  her from testifying against him. 
   Yet this is exactly what happened recently in Baltimore, according to a March 17 piece in the ABA Journal ("Law News Now") sent to us by a Los Angeles lawyer with a keen eye for these kinds of shenanigans. 
   The Baltimore County District judge, a man named Darrell Russell, Jr., has been taken off the bench and remanded, as it were, to his chambers. There, the ABA Journal reports (quoting ABC News; the media plot thickens), he will review motions and civil cases. 
   It is possible that Judge Russell will also, in chambers, weep uncontrollably and drink himself stupid. This is not meant libelously; we do not know Judge Russell personally, and presume him to be a man of impeccable credentials, his penchant for sabotaging domestic violence trials notwithstanding. It's just that most anyone in his position would be forgiven for crying and drinking in chambers; what else are you going to do there, watch "Law and Order" and gnash your teeth? 
   We do know this about Judge Russell: he has a lovable sense of humor. An audio recording of court proceedings in the momentarily suspended trial captured the judge telling the defendant, Frederick Wood, twenty-nine, that because he found Wood not guilty, he could not sentence him to any crime. 
   "But," Judge Russell added, speaking to Wood and referring to Wood's blushing bride, "earlier today I sentenced you to life - married to her." 
   (A legal note: the ABA Journal reports that in courts of law, spousal privilege "can be asserted to prevent husband and wife from testifying against each other." Gays and lesbians eager to enter the holy state of matrimony ought take note.) 

Crime of the Century (Changing the Look Division)

MEDFORD, Ore. - "Two men accused of trying to rob someone at knifepoint were arrested when they returned to get their car while officers were interviewing witnesses."
   That is the verbatim lede of an April 1 Associated Press story, and it describes men so dumb it's really not worth writing about them a'tall.
   The men went unnamed in the piece. Their ages are nineteen and twenty; no pictures accompanied the AP report, so we'll never know, alas, if the young men were handsome enough to excuse, or at least make palatable, their alarming injudiciousness.
   The AP report does note that when the men returned to collect the car, they wore different clothes than those they'd worn when pulling a knife on a man leaving a convenience store. This suggests either that the men are dimwitted enough to believe that changing clothes constitutes adopting a disguise, or that they are fashion-conscious enough to feel the need to wear at least two distinct ensembles in a day.
   If the latter, this should be considered a mitigating circumstance. Perhaps the men's lawyer could appeal to the judge for leniency on the grounds that a requirement to wear prison orange is simply an insult to young men who care so much about dressing stylishly.  

Crime of the Century (Wrong Address Division)

PORT CLINTON, Ohio - It is likely that we here in the United States of America will soon see the suspension of Saturday mail delivery by the U.S. Post Office. Indeed, in the not-too-distant future we may see the suspension of all mail service, because with the advance of global warming there may soon be no "snow nor rain" to challenge these couriers in effecting "swift completion of their rounds," so, really, what's the point? 
   Until that moment, the Post Office remains stickler-ish about details such as Zip codes, and well it should be; there are a lot of items to shove around the country, and Post Office employees have their hands full with all that on-the-job sorting, shelving and sleeping.
   This fact was learned the hard way by a man named Donald Dudrow III, of Toledo, Ohio. That Mr. Dudrow is a "III" suggests that Toledo quite possibly has been chock-a-block with Donald Dudrows for generations, an exceedingly pleasant thought. 
   This particular Donald Dudrow is a guest of the state of Ohio; he has taken up residence at the jail in Port Clinton (a town that, as of July, 2008, boasted 6,135 persons, presumably none of them Dudrows, "III" or otherwise). He is there on a probation violation, according to an Associated Press report published April 2. (Yes, April 2. Today is April 18. First of All is terribly, terribly behind in its reporting, for which it is terribly, terribly sorry). 
   Mr. Dudrow III had the not altogether bright idea to write a letter to his mother offering her meticulous instructions for how to sneak drugs to him in jail. 
   Alas, in addressing the envelope Mr. Dudrow included an incorrect Zip code. The detail-stickler-ish U. S. Post Office returned the letter to the jail, where corrections officers read it, as they do all incoming mail. 
   Mr. Dudrow III has been indicted on charges of attempted drug trafficking and trying to bring drugs into a correctional facility, according to the AP. 
   There is a moral to this story, and it is this: if you go to a U.S. Post Office branch, chances are there will be a sixty-person line and only one of the nine customer service windows open. This is enough to make anyone want to numb themselves with drugs, in or out of jail, correct Zip code or no.