We must eliminate “qualified immunity,” and hold police accountable for their conduct.
Excerpts from the Article:
James King was a college student walking to work in 2014 when two officers in street clothes stopped him and asked his name. King answered them, but one tore the wallet from his pocket anyway. Thinking he was being mugged, King ran.
The officers tackled him and beat him badly – so badly that bystanders called 911. One officer later said he beat King in the head and face “as hard as I could, as fast as I could.” It quickly became clear law enforcement had the wrong man, but prosecutors put King on trial for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.
King was acquitted, but when he tried to sue the officers for violating his civil rights, the Supreme Court ruled they were protected against legal action.
Evading consequences for injustice
King’s case is one in a lengthy list of incidents where law enforcement officers violate the rights of citizens and hardly ever face consequences. It’s probably one reason polls show faith in state and local governments falling.
The lack of accountability is due in part to a policy crafted largely by court decisions over the past 50 years that protect government employees from lawsuits. Almost no legislature voted to create “qualified immunity,” but it protects police and other officials from civil suits anyway. You can sue a doctor or lawyer if their recklessness causes egregious harm, or even death. But you typically can’t sue an official who happens to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Internal Revenue Service.
Sadly, there are countless stories like King’s.
Dave Myers: I’ve seen enough police abuse in my career to know qualified immunity harms good cops
In January 2017, Muhammad Muhaymin walked into a public community center in Phoenix to use the restroom. A member of the staff tried to prevent him from bringing his service dog, a chihuahua, and eventually called the police. When officers responded, they found that Muhaymin was not behaving violently or aggressively but had an outstanding warrant for possession of a marijuana pipe. They attempted to arrest him, but Muhaymin protested, seeking assurances about what would happen to his dog. At least six officers got on top of Muhaymin to hold him down, with some putting their knees on his neck and head over a period of nearly eight minutes.
Muhaymin, a 43-year-old experiencing homelessness and mental health issues, repeatedly pleaded for help and said he could not breathe.
This was how Muhaymin died. The video, like so many others, is excruciating to watch.
A police investigation determined the officers’ actions were “in policy,” and county prosecutors found no behavior that warranted criminal prosecution – though advocates, including Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia, have made calls to reopen the investigation. That left his family with only one option to seek justice: civil court.
Muhaymin’s sister filed a wrongful death suit, and the city approved a $5 million settlement in November. A judge even ruled that the individual officers involved aren’t entitled to qualified immunity for their conduct. But that is a rare outcome, and the officers still managed to avoid criminal accountability and continue in their jobs.
Unfortunately, there are many stories like Muhaymin’s, but because of the doctrine of qualified immunity, few families get their day in court, often in spite of egregious misconduct by government officials.
Aloe Blacc is a Grammy nominated, American singer-songwriter and philanthropist.
The point is not whether officials acted unforgivably, but whether a victim’s loved ones have an opportunity to plead their case in an impartial venue. Officers should have to answer to more than just their own department and the prosecutors who count on them. No one in America should be above the law.
Time for change
In an era when many believe big government is stripping away our civil rights, qualified immunity tramples our most basic right to a fair trial against government officials.
Qualified immunity isn’t in the Constitution. Instead, it was crafted by court decisions over the past five decades, starting in 1967 with Pierson v. Ray, that have mostly continued to expand this policy of shielding government employees from civil lawsuits.
Fatal police holds across the U.S.: George Floyd is not alone. ‘I can’t breathe’ uttered by dozens in fatal police holds across U.S.
There’s no reason it needs to be this way. Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress and in the states over the years to reform qualified immunity. Congress and state legislatures can act at any time to revise those rules. That action is way overdue. We need reform that gives everyone an equal chance to make their case.
Police and other government officials have a lot of responsibility, and like everyone else, they make mistakes. But creating a cultural and legal practice where their errors are buried also means they rarely have the opportunity to prove they acted with good intentions. This hurts everyone. And until it changes, we shouldn’t be surprised if faith in government continues to decline.
This is a pretty good article explaining the change in clearance rates for murders. In the early 1980s, police cleared about 70% of all homicides; now it is only about 50%.
Excerpts from the Article:
For homicide detectives, 2020 brought good news and bad news. On the one hand, police across the nation solved more murders — in absolute numbers — than in any year since 1997, according to data reported to the FBI. On the other hand, because new homicides increased sharply, the reported rate at which killings were solved, known as the “clearance rate,” declined to a little below 50%.The lower clearance rate in 2020 was an extension of a long, steady drop since the early 1980s, when police cleared about 70% of all homicides, and a decline that experts say was exacerbated by the pandemic. (The FBI won’t release 2021 numbers until later this year.)In most cases, clearing a crime means at least one suspect was arrested and charged with the crime. However, individual agencies have different ways of calculating clearance, with some clearing a case once police identify a suspect, and others if an arrest is made. At the national level, the FBI uses blunt math to calculate a clearance rate, dividing the number of crimes that were cleared — no matter which year the crime occurred — by the number of new crimes in the calendar year. By clearing old and new cases, a department’s rate in any given year could exceed 100%. This leaves the numbers prone to statistical “noise,” but they can be useful for examining trends over the long term.
National Homicide Clearance Rate Dropped to Historic Low
From 2019 to 2020, police across the country solved 1,200 more murders, a 14% increase. But murders rose twice as quickly — by 30%. As a result, the homicide clearance rate — the percentage of crimes cleared — dropped to a historic low. About 1 of every 2 murders was solved.
Murder Clearance Rate
Source: Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program data, processed by Jacob Kaplan of Princeton University.
Clearance has long been the primary metric that law enforcement agencies use to assess their effectiveness at solving crime. Low or declining clearance rates often lead to increased political pressure on police leadership, and calls for more hiring or funding. For police to “clear” a crime, they usually need to identify and arrest the suspect. But according to more granular data collected by the FBI but reported by fewer agencies, at least 400 murders cleared in 2020 were solved by “exceptional means.” That means police believed they had enough evidence, but were unable to make an arrest. This occurs when the suspect has died, can’t be extradited or if prosecutors refuse to press charges. Critics say police use clearance by exceptional means — sometimes colloquially described as putting “bodies on bodies” — to artificially inflate clearance numbers.
National Clearance Rate, by Crime Type
Across the country, murders and manslaughters are cleared at the highest rates, at 50% and 69% respectively. Other crimes, especially property crimes without physical injuries, were solved at much lower rates.
Violent Crime Clearance Rate
Property Crime Clearance Rate
Moter Vehicle Theft
Source: Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program data, processed by Jacob Kaplan of Princeton University.
Why are police only solving 1 in 2 murders? Many scholars and police department officials say murders are becoming more difficult to investigate, while some victims’ families say police spend too much energy on things other than solving crimes. Philip Cook, a public policy researcher at the University of Chicago Urban Labs, has been studying clearance rates since the 1970s. He cautioned that fewer clearances than in the 1960s and ‘70s may not necessarily be a bad thing. “It also could be that the standards for making an arrest have gone up and some of the tricks they were using in 1965 are no longer available,” Cook said of law enforcement. Every story about a person convicted of murder on shoddy evidence and later exonerated was once counted as a “successful” homicide clearance. Cook, and other experts, mostly pin the long, steady decline in clearance rates onto the kinds of homicides police are being asked to solve. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that over time, a growing proportion of killings are being committed by strangers and unknown assailants, as opposed to people the victim knew. The data also shows that unknown assailants are increasingly using firearms rather than knives, fists or other close-quarter weapons. As the social and physical distance between killers and victims increases, detectives say they have fewer leads to follow. But the changes in the nature of homicides — which some criminologists call case mix — are not destiny. Some cities routinely solve two or three times more homicides than others, even after accounting for case mix. Within departments, some detectives solve many more homicides than others. “That variation tells us something important,” said Charles Wellford, emeritus professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland-College Park. “It says that it’s not inevitable that there will be low clearance rates.”
Meanwhile, in communities where trust in law enforcement is low — often communities of color — homicide detectives have a hard time getting witnesses to talk to them, said Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If people criticize the police constantly, it is natural that people would be less willing to talk to police,” Moskos said. Without useful leads, police solve fewer murders, and the perception that they are ineffective leaves witnesses and victims skeptical that talking to the police will do any good. In other words, Moskos said, it’s a vicious cycle. There are many reasons people avoid speaking to the police, from the lack of confidence Moskos raised, to a fear of violent reprisals. According to Melina Abdullah, co-director for the national community organizing group Black Lives Matter Grassroots, another important reason is that police often criminalize crime victims — specifically in Black communities — treating them as suspects rather than survivors. A police and prison abolitionist, Abdullah said that clearance rates are not useful measures for addressing violence in communities. “Clearance rates, especially when we talk about acts of community violence, might give some kind of temporary sense of relief. But it’s not justice,” Abdullah said. “I don’t know anybody who’s felt like, ‘OK, now I can rest because this murder has been cleared by the police.’ ”Clearances don’t necessarily lead to criminal penalties like incarceration. In the nation’s 70 largest counties, nearly one-third of people accused of murder were acquitted or had their charges dismissed, according to a 2009 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s the most recent year with local prosecution and conviction data available on the national level. Shari O’Loughlin, chief executive officer at The Compassionate Friends, a national organization of support groups for families that have lost a child, says that an arrest or conviction “closes the information gap.” “For most parents, siblings and grandparents who experience the loss, it’s critical for them to know what had happened,” O’Loughlin said. “But it’s not as if [an arrest] makes the loss, or the pain, better because nothing makes up for the loss of a child.” And not knowing who killed their loved ones often means the family continues living in fear, said Jessica Pizzano, the director of victim services at Survivors of Homicide, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides service to families of homicide victims in Connecticut. “Is the murderer in my neighborhood? Will I run into them at the grocery store? Or when I’m pumping gas?” Pizzano said. “These are real fears that families live through.”Pizzano said families want accountability. “They just want that person to never, ever do that to another family again,” Pizzano said.
Homicide Clearance Rate, by Law Enforcement Agency
Look up the homicide clearance rate that hundreds of police departments reported to the FBI in 2020, the most recent data available, and how much it changed from the three-year average from 2017 to 2019.
Search an agency
Minneapolis Police Department
-12 pct. point
Fresno Police Department
-47 pct. point
Prince George’s County Police Department
-10 pct. point
Tulsa Police Department
+14 pct. point
Orange County Sheriff’s Office
-7 pct. point
Shreveport Police Department
-17 pct. point
This list excludes agencies with fewer than five homicides because small numbers cause the rate to fluctuate in ways that may not be meaningful and are dependent on the facts of specific cases. Some of the nation’s largest police departments, including the Chicago Police Department, did not report clearance data to the FBI and are also excluded. Criminologists and the FBI caution not to directly compare different departments’ clearance rates because agencies may report and define their numbers differently. Data that law enforcement agencies report to the FBI may differ from what they cite elsewhere.
All who abuse children must be held accountable!
Excerpts from the Article:
Pope Benedict XVI knew about priests who abused children but failed to act when he was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, an inquest found Thursday, rejecting Benedict’s long-standing denials in a damning judgment.
“He was informed about the facts,” lawyer Martin Pusch said, as the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm announced the findings of an investigation into historic sexual abuse at the Munich Archdiocese over several decades. The report was commissioned by the church itself.
Benedict responded to the report later on Thursday, expressing his “pain and shame” for abuse in the church. Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict’s private secretary, told Vatican News: “Until this afternoon, Benedict XVI did not have the report from the legal firm … which is more than 1,000 pages. In the next few days, he will examine the text with due attention.”
The secretary added that the former Pope “expresses his pain and shame for the abuses of minors committed by priests [and] manifests his personal closeness and his prayers for all the victims, some of whom he met with during his apostolic trips.”
Benedict has previously repeatedly rejected claims that he knowingly covered up abuse, including in 2013 when he wrote: “I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things.”
However, the findings presented Thursday represent a remarkable rebuke of the former Pope, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which follows years of speculation about how much he knew.
“During his time in office there were abuse cases happening,” Pusch said, referring to Benedict. “In those cases those priests continued their work without sanctions. The church did not do anything. “He claims that he didn’t know about certain facts, although we believe that this is not so, according to what we know,” Pusch said.
The full report was due to be published on Thursday, after its authors had outlined the key findings.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop, was criticized by the panel for declining an invitation to attend the news conference.
Marx offered to resign last year over the legacy of sexual abuse at his archdiocese, but Pope Francis rejected that offer. Marx said he was “shocked and ashamed” by the report’s findings on Thursday.
In a statement, the Vatican said it would await that publication before commenting further. “The Holy See considers that appropriate attention should be paid to the document, whose contents are presently unknown. In coming days … the Holy See will be able to give it a careful and detailed examination,” it said.
Benedict, now 94, became the first Pope in centuries to resign when he stepped down in 2013. His tenure was overshadowed by a global sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and the investigators’ findings — which now directly implicate him in a failure to prevent and punish abuse — threaten to wreck the reputation of the former pontiff.
Lawyer Ulrich Wastl presented a copy of the minutes of a meeting of Munich church leaders on January 15, 1980, when a decision was made to take on an abuser the report refers to as “Priest X.”
Wastl said he was “surprised” that Benedict denied he was at the meeting, despite the minutes showing that he was. “This is something that is written down,” said Wastl, later rejecting Benedict’s denial as “hardly credible.”
Wastl said Benedict had submitted a statement to the investigation, but gave it little credence, summarizing Benedict’s position as: “You have the proof that a certain document was submitted, but you don’t have the proof that I have read it.”
In 2010, the Munich archdiocese said Benedict had no knowledge that a priest working in the archdiocese had committed sexual abuse.
And in 2019 the ex-Pope wrote a controversial essay on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, claiming that it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teaching. “I would like to ask for forgiveness in the name of the archdiocese for the suffering of the last decades. Abuse has not been taken seriously,” said Marx, the current archbishop of Munich.
“Those responsible have turned a blind eye — and we have known that for years,” Marx said in the brief appearance. He did not take questions but said he would hold a press conference next week.
A German survivor of abuse by Catholic clergy hailed the investigators’ criticism of the former Pope on Thursday.
“The building of lies to protect Pope Benedict has just collapsed with a crash. Benedict was complicit in the abuse of numerous victims after 1980, victims of Priest X,” said Matthias Katsch, who runs the organization “Eckiger Tisch” which seeks justice for abuse victims.
Katsch says he was 13 years old when a priest at his Jesuit school in Berlin first molested him. In 2010, Katsch went public with his story, triggering an outpouring of testimony from dozens, then hundreds of other survivors
Katsch, who told his story to CNN in 2018, was present at the press conference announcing the investigation findings on Thursday.
The Political Life of Dr. Oz His campaign to be the next Republican senator from Pennsylvania is facing one major problem: Republicans in Pennsylvania.
I leave the entire article intact, without editing, but I highlight the part where you can see the real Dr. and Mrs. Oz, with all the vulgarity and disdain for the press.
Excerpts from the Article:
Dr. Oz for Senate is headquartered in a patch of strip mall next to a Mexican restaurant in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where the candidate’s father-in-law, Dr. Gerald Lemole, maintains a medical office down the road from the Lemole family farm, three acres overlooking the Philmont Country Club that the candidate, who seems to live in New Jersey, has claimed as his official place of residence. Five days into the race, there was no discernible election-related activity of any kind. No staff. No yard signs. No signs of life at all.
Except for John Palma.
“Are you looking for Mehmet?” he asked.
I said that I was.
The owner of John Sebastian Painting and Renovating (slogan: YOUR WORLD IN COLOR, WHEN QUALITY AND NEATNESS COUNT), Palma is a tattooed 47-year-old Italian American father of three from the area. He is friendly but uninterested in bullshit, the kind of guy more inclined to talk to a stranger with ease about matters of philosophy than of meteorology. As I approached the building, he was crouched on the pavement, applying coats of white paint to the concrete markers of the parking spaces that spanned the lot. He’d meant to complete the project during the workweek, but it was just as well that he could do it now when nobody was likely to bother him. Or that had been the idea, anyway, before he noticed the car with D.C. plates roll up. He assumed I worked for the candidate.
“Do you have an appointment?” he asked. I said that I didn’t. “Is he expecting you?” I said that he wasn’t. I explained who I was and that I was trying to speak to someone — anyone — from the campaign, which had so far proved elusive.
Representatives for The Dr. Oz Show, on which he could still be seen in some markets for a prime daytime hour (the program has since been canceled by Sony Pictures Television) and from which he still posted clips to his social-media accounts (including segments on sleep apnea, weight loss, and Martha Stewart’s advice for a “stress-free holiday”), directed political inquiries to the personal email address of Casey Contres, a 32-year-old operative who had managed a losing U.S. Senate campaign in Colorado before spending a year on the Hill as chief of staff for a Texas congressman. Now he was Dr. Oz’s campaign manager, and part of managing the campaign seemed to mean ignoring questions about the campaign.
Dr. Oz had announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for the open Pennsylvania seat with a glossy commercial produced by Jamestown Associates, once the ad-maker for once-president Donald Trump. He then appeared for lighthearted chats with Sean Hannity of Fox News, whom he had befriended at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when the men bonded over the discovery that they kept similar insomniac schedules and began talking often on the phone around 3 or 4 a.m., and with Greg Kelly of Newsmax, son of former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, also a personal friend. Those outside Dr. Oz’s social circle were not invited to observe the candidate. He had thus far staged no rally, held no press conference, planned no public events, and offered no public schedule.
Outside headquarters, Palma said that I might be in luck. As it happened, he was a friend of the family, and he had an idea. He could place a call to someone and ask them to contact Dr. Lemole — whom he called “Uncle Jerry” — since maybe he would know the whereabouts of his candidate son-in-law.
Palma left a message for Uncle Jerry. I waited for a while, talking about this and that, then I waited for a while longer, and then I figured I should let Palma get back to painting. But before I left town for the day, I decided to try reaching the Ozes directly, since my efforts to contact the candidate via what you might call the formal process were not working. There was no answer at a number listed for their home in New Jersey. And no answer at the 212 number listed for Dr. Oz himself. Then I tried Lisa Oz, the self-help author and self-described certified Reiki expert who has been married to the candidate for 36 years. To my surprise, she picked up — for about a second. Just as quickly as it started, the call was over. I had barely said hello. Unsure if we’d been disconnected or she’d hung up on me, I tried her back. The tone of her voice suggested it had definitely been the latter.
“How did you get my number?” she asked sharply. I told her that her number was listed in public records, and this annoyed her too. “Oh,” she said, “I should have gotten rid of that.” I was about to explain that public records don’t work that way, but she cut in. “Have a nice day,” she said, but it sounded like a cross between the way women of the South say “Bless your heart” and men of Brooklyn call some asshole “pal” after being cut off in traffic. Then she hung up.
Or she thought she did.
“It’s Olivia from The New Yorker, the woman who talked to Michelle,” she said.
I was confused. First of all, I work for New York.
“Excuse me?” I said. “… Uh, hello?”
Another voice answered. It was Dr. Oz.
“Michelle should never have spoken to her,” he said. “That’s who’s down at the office now.”
Dr. and Mrs. Oz did not or could not hear me, and they did not realize that, rather than end the phone call, Lisa Oz had mistakenly connected her device to what sounded like the sound system of a vehicle, meaning that as they engaged in paranoid conversation and argument for more than four minutes, I remained on the line, hearing every word of it.
“Who’s down at the office?” Mrs. Oz asked.
“She’s down at the office,” Dr. Oz said. “Your father called and said there’s a reporter from The New Yorker waiting for me down there who said she had an appointment … We?! We had an appointment to meet today!” He said this last thing with acid sarcasm.
“You think she made it up?” Mrs. Oz asked.
“I think she made it up completely!” Dr. Oz said. He sounded angry. “Y–y–you know what it’s — it’s — it’s called, it’s called lying also. It’s called being a liar.”
“This fucking girl reporter,” Mrs. Oz said. “This is the girl reporter who broke into some guy’s house and stole all his photo albums.” She was referring to an accusation made up by disgraced ex-Trump aide Corey Lewandowski in retaliation after I had reported details of his Single White Male obsession with a White House official. Lewandowski has faced accusations of assault and one charge of battery (which he denied; it was later dropped) from multiple women, including my best friend, and according to his most recent accuser, he intimidated her by claiming he had committed two murders as he stalked, harassed, and touched her without her consent. On the other hand, in 2019, I killed a spider that was on my windshield, something I cried about again two weeks ago.
Dr. Oz paused. “Did someone lock the door?”
“No,” Mrs. Oz said.
“We’ve got to do it,” Dr. Oz said.
Dr. and Mrs. Oz talked over each other.
“That’s what Casey — ” Mrs. Oz began to say, referring to the campaign manager. “When Michelle told me she spoke to her — ” she continued, referring to Michelle Bouchard, a longtime friend of the couple whom I had interviewed a few days earlier. We’d hit it off during a long conversation that I found helpful for understanding Dr. and Mrs. Oz, and she had volunteered to forward my request to the couple and encourage them to speak with me too. Then she clammed up. If she was going to talk with me again, she said, she would have to get approval from the Ozes before doing so. Another friend of the couple, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, said that Lisa Oz was not happy to hear that associates were freely commenting about her husband to a reporter and that she had been calling around, complaining that “some fucking girl” was “doing a hit piece” and that the policy going forward should be “Don’t fucking talk to her.” It was only day two of my assignment, when my questions were devastating suggestions of character assassination like “What is Dr. Oz like?” and “What do you think of his decision to run for office?”
This was a small inconvenience but one I was sure I could overcome. Fucking girl reporter though I may be, I wasn’t doing a hit piece, which in media jargon means a story that is conceived in bad faith to destroy its subject, and I have found that most people who are fearful of the press but require attention for one reason or another tend to conclude that the value of an opportunity to be understood outweighs the risk of being misconstrued.
Dr. Oz interrupted Mrs. Oz. “Michelle said stuff she shouldn’t have said.”
Mrs. Oz became defensive. “Uh, no, not a lot — ” she said.
Dr. Oz became sharp. “She said things she shouldn’t have fucking said,” he said, his voice rising. “She shouldn’t have fucking said — ”
Mrs. Oz interrupted Dr. Oz. “She didn’t say — ”
Dr. Oz interrupted Mrs. Oz. “She said shit she shouldn’t have said! That I was going to be the next leader of the Republican Party — ”
“No, she didn’t say that,” Mrs. Oz said.
“You were the one who told me that!” Dr. Oz said. “You told me that’s what she said!”
“No — I — ” Mrs. Oz said.
“That Michelle told her I’m going to be the next leader of the Republican Party, shit like that, that’s what you told me she said!” Dr. Oz said.
Michelle Bouchard had, in fact, said that. “I think the old guard of the Republican Party was just that, the old guard. I think the new Republican Party is emerging, and the new Republican Party is going to be great,” she told me. Dr. Oz, she said, was part of the new guard, a group that includes Glenn Youngkin, who defeated the Democratic Establishment to get elected governor of Virginia in November. “They should be very grateful that someone that intelligent and that objective, someone of his caliber who is able to reach across aisles, is actually running. He’s the greatest healer I’ve ever known,” she said.
At the time, the remarks didn’t strike me as significant. Bouchard was a friend of the candidate, and she was doing her best to sell me on the idea that he was a force for good. If anything, I was inclined to agree with the premise that Dr. Oz’s braininess was an improvement for the Republican Party; a two-party system like ours suffers when the most prominent representatives are proudly anti-intellectual, as Republicans have been for most of my lifetime, from George W. Bush to Sarah Palin to Trump. Besides, other friends, citing their disappointment that Dr. Oz would align himself with a Republican Party defined by the January 6 siege on the United States Capitol, had told me things that presented more obvious reasons for the candidate to panic.
“I love Mehmet, but I’m really pissed,” one of them said. “I would have loved to see normal Republicans, but there’s no way you can be normal now. This would end his career in a second because Republicans would hate it, but it’s Lisa who is pro-life. Mehmet once told me, ‘I’m pro-life, but I’m not against a woman’s right to choose.’ He said, ‘As a physician, there are times when it has to happen, unfortunately.’ He’s a smart guy. He’s pragmatic. And that just doesn’t work in the Republican Party. Wait until they find out that he’s a Muslim! Or that he served in the Turkish army!”
Had I not been listening to Dr. Oz freak out about it, and had I not heard Lisa Oz misrepresent what had happened, I probably would have forgotten about what Bouchard had said. Now I had to wonder why a candidate running for a high-profile position of power in the Republican Party wouldn’t want to be seen as a leader of that party. “I think it’s going to be the party of the people. That may sound ironic because Democrats have always said they’re the party of the people, but I feel that the party that’s going to emerge in the next five years from the Republican Party is going to be a rainbow of all religions and races and types of people,” Bouchard told me. “I know Mehmet agrees with me.”
“I did not say anything about that,” Mrs. Oz said to Dr. Oz.
“She shouldn’t have fucking said that,” Dr. Oz said. “We’ve got to go lock our door because — ”
“We should maybe call and keep an eye out,” Mrs. Oz said. “Here, I’ll drive.”
Doors slammed. Dr. and Mrs. Oz seemed to exit the car and enter a space where they greeted others with whom they engaged for a few seconds in animated conversation about what sounded like a million random things at once, from Mrs. Oz bringing someone something to eat to, out of nowhere, the subject of NFTs. The call ended.
I stared at my phone, upset by what I had heard and not sure what to do. Before I could figure it out, the phone rang. It was Lisa Oz. I picked it up and said hello. She paused, then she hung up on me. This time she was successful.
Dr. Oz with Nate Berkus, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, and Suze Orman in 2010. Photo: Amanda Schwab/Starpix/Shutterstock/Amanda Schwab/Starpix/Shuttersto
Probably it had to do with the collapse of institutions at the most macro level. With the sins of the Catholic Church. With the decades of traumas and scandals in Washington. With the disintegration of the community that accompanied the rush to the suburbs. All I know for sure is that my mother met Oprah Winfrey before I met my mother, and for the duration of her brief life, no deity or dignitary inspired in her such sustained faithfulness. I could — and did — get sent home from Sunday school for almost any type of rebellion and receive no punishment. Yet I would never have dared to disrespect the service hour observed by sofa on weekday afternoons between 4 and 5 p.m.
The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted in 1986, one year after my parents married and two before they had my brother. By the time I was born, in 1993, the show was firmly No. 1 in daytime talk, averaging some 10 million viewers a day thanks to fans like my mother, home with two small children and primed to welcome the invitation to escape the isolation of the living room through the lambent portal. Celebrities now talk (and talk) about their self-care journeys; Oprah asked you to take her hand and journey with her.
For my mother, it was devotion, but it wasn’t exactly blind. When Oprah recommended a book, my mother read it. When Oprah tried a diet, my mother adopted it. When Oprah swore by a shirt or a shoe or a beauty product, my mother wanted it, even if increasingly what Oprah swore by was not attainable for members of the working class. When I look back on Oprah’s promotion of consumerism in the decadent post-9/11 period and feel the queasy temptation to trace a line to the frauds committed against Americans sold subprime-mortgage loans before the Great Recession, it remains true and worth something to me that I was less lonely during that hour of the day. I think my mom must have been too.
It was with her total trust, then, that Oprah brought other advisers into our lives, the most successful of whom were two male doctors, one of the head and one of the heart. Dr. Phil McGraw, a clinical psychologist whose programming about abusive marriages and traumatic divorce I consumed in the same gripped, horrified way that I watched hours of Law & Order: SVU, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a successful cardiac surgeon with a beautiful family, beautiful hair, and the ability to chat about the grossest and most intimate stuff imaginable while maintaining the megawatt charm of a movie star. My mother and millions of other women swooned.
Dr. Oz made viewers feel safe and in control of their bodies and, by extension, their destinies. What’s more: He had tips for losing weight, catnip for housewives and for Oprah viewers deeply invested in the host’s endless war against her own uncooperative corporeal form. My mother leapt at Dr. Oz’s suggestions to consume strange oils from fish and flaxseed. To collect “superfoods” as if the food pyramid were a game of Pac-Man and quinoa and açai were extra lives. To revere the humble blueberry as a sacred orb.
As the obesity crisis swelled in America, the advice of experts such as Dr. Oz seemed urgent. But no other television doctor had the same appetite or constitution for stardom as the high-school football player raised by Turkish immigrants in Wilmington, Delaware, who studied biology at Harvard and earned dual degrees from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School before following his father, a thoracic surgeon, into the family trade. By the mid-1990s, Dr. Oz was a celebrated surgeon at Columbia-Presbyterian, and in 1996, after taking part in a high-profile heart transplant performed on Yankees manager Joe Torre’s brother, Frank, he found that he loved being the public face of medical advancement.
As both Dr. and Mrs. Oz have told the story, it was Lisa who managed her husband’s career from the operating room to the greenroom. She had studied to be an actress and had some connections to the entertainment industry, and she conceived of her husband’s TV career long before it was a reality. “I feel like I haven’t had a career at all. I’m a professional dilettante,” she once said. “My favorite thing to do is hang out with my husband … but I couldn’t do surgery with him, and what he loves to do is work. So we devised a way to work together.” In 2003, she executive-produced a 13-episode series for the Discovery Health Channel called Second Opinion With Dr. Oz. Oprah was the first guest.
When she discovered the unusually telegenic surgeon, Oprah solicited the opinion of another daytime-TV personality. “She asked me what I thought,” this person told me. This person thought the potential was obvious: “He was really smart. A great-looking guy who has that ‘It’ factor.”
Dr. Oz became an Oprah regular, and when The Dr. Oz Show premiered, it took off. He fit in easily among the celebrities in his new social stratum and now counts among his friends everyone from hedge-fund billionaire Ray Dalio (who did not wish to discuss their relationship with me) to Brooke Shields (who did not respond to a text seeking comment) and Martha Stewart (who said she couldn’t talk owing to her “busy year-end schedule”). And then Dr. Oz seemed to change.
“He’s one of those public figures who really haunt me,” Frank Bruni of the New York Times said. Bruni met Dr. Oz when he wrote about him in 2010 for The New York Times Magazine. Bruni spent weeks observing his subject, work that required him to experience for himself the incongruity of Dr. Oz’s dual existence. One day, he was in an operating room, peering into the open chest cavity of a patient as Dr. Oz stitched around her heart. The next, he was hanging out at a studio as Dr. Oz and his producers discussed a plan to create prop body parts to hand out to the audience at a taping of The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Oz is dangerous because he believes he’s got some divine power.
During the process, Bruni said, “two things came into equally vivid relief: This is a man who is or was a serious doctor. Seriously trained. Seriously talented. Gifted. And with a record of performance in which he contributed an enormous amount to humanity. But at the same time, I’m sitting in on these story meetings where they’re talking about ‘Does cotton or Silly Putty or something else better stand in for testicles?’ I mean, how do you go from A to B? Why does he seem more excited about the fake testicles than the open-heart surgery? The answer is because the latter was the route to fame and riches — and that’s the Faustian bargain.” That observation was not just some convenient mythic device, Bruni said, but his honest conclusion about a subject he’d thought hard about for more than a decade. “I’ve met and profiled very few if any people who so embody the wages of ambition.” In this allegory, the Devil gave the doctor wealth and fame in exchange for his reputation.
“Somewhere, I’m not sure how, he started to sell out — it happens to a lot of people when they get money and success; they want more money and more success. He went from doctor to entertainer to scam artist,” a veteran daytime producer said. “Dr. Oz is dangerous because he believes he’s got some divine power.”
Despite his critics, Dr. Oz remained in syndication until he decided to walk away for his next act, something that, in Trumpian fashion, he has spun as a sacrifice that demonstrates his commitment to his country. Yet Dr. Oz leaves his show with one year left on his contract with Sony Pictures Television, and those with knowledge of the deal told me it would have been a struggle to get it renewed again. “The ratings of The Dr. Oz Show had been going way down for years and years,” a former producer on the program said. (The Oz campaign denies the show was in decline.) By this time, Dr. Oz had received so much criticism for promoting pseudo-science that the show hummed with a kind of anxiety, everyone — including the host — fearful of using the wrong word to hype a segment and getting ensnared, once again, in a PR crisis. “You could not use the word miracle,” for instance, the former producer said. “I had friends who would say, ‘Ugh! I can’t believe you’re working for Dr. Oz!’ And the way I’d defend it was to say that it was a difficult place to work because the content was complicated; you had to find a way to take a complex medical issue and make it easy to understand and entertaining. I know there were controversies, but I had never seen anything in daytime TV vetted so closely in my life.”
After a while, though, Dr. Oz seemed to relax his concerns about running afoul of good advice or taste in pursuit of better numbers. When the host made plans to incorporate regular segments about true crime into the program, “I was like, ‘What?! How the fuck are we going to do true crime on The Dr. Oz Show?’ ” the former producer said. “And then it was twice a week, sometimes three times a week during ratings week. It was a stretch. The only way that you could tie it to something medically was to talk about some DNA evidence. It was a sign to me that this guy is willing to do whatever it takes for money. So it wasn’t a shock or a surprise for me when I saw that he was running for office, because he just wants to fucking win.”
With guest Michelle Obama on The Dr. Oz Show in 2012. Photo: ©Sony Pictures Television / Everett Collection
An elite, pro-choice, anti-gun, transgender-child-supporting, Michelle Obama–hugging Muslim carpet-bagger and Turkish-army veteran who once announced on national television that his testicles descend in such a way that his penis curves to the left. That is a sample of the data conservative Republicans cite as proof that Dr. Oz is a threat to their plans to win the Senate in 2022. And that’s just what they’ve identified in the vast public record available courtesy of Dr. Oz himself. The oppo researchers have barely started.
When Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, announced in October 2020 that he would not seek reelection, he created a new opportunity for political drama and uncertainty in the commonwealth that Trump won in 2016 by less than one percentage point and that Joe Biden won back by fractionally more in 2020. In the macho, self-assured terminology of election punditry, Pennsylvania is a battleground where the rare excitement of a toss-up is the result of a decades of gerrymandering and deliberate negative partisanship urging the population’s small number of voters into polarized and predictable enemy camps. With most races in the 2022 midterms on the edge of meaninglessness, Pennsylvania’s upcoming Senate contest is the closest thing to this cycle’s main event. And so before Dr. Oz can woo into voters the suburban women who have made up his fan base for 20 years in November’s general election, he will have to prove to the cliquish and squeamish grassroots gatekeepers and machine kingmakers of the Pennsylvania Republican Party that he can be trusted not to fuck up their plans to win the majority. Or at least trusted more than his competition.
Getting the nomination of either party for a race this high profile is bound to be a fraught endeavor, and nobody is likely to emerge with both their dignity and their sanity intact. When GOP leaders statewide sought to censure Toomey for voting to convict President Trump of inciting the January 6 insurrection during his second impeachment trial, the expectations for candidates in the primary crystallized. “Any candidate who wants to win in Pennsylvania in 2022 must be full-Trump MAGA,” Steve Bannon said at the time.
For a while, that candidate appeared to be Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger who had received the Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan. Parnell lost his bid for the House in 2020, but he made a good impression on the party’s right wing, and in September, Trump announced he’d earned the MAGA seal of approval. “Sean Parnell will always put America First,” he said. “He has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
But there were already signs that Parnell, his personal life falling apart amid accusations of child and spousal abuse from his ex-wife, wouldn’t last through the May primary, and opportunists readied themselves to act on his reversal of luck. For Dr. Oz, the plan was simple enough: When Parnell dropped out, he would swoop in to save the day, inheriting Parnell’s supporters. He would then bring in new ones on the strength of his celebrity and accomplishments, which would appeal to moderates with college degrees, and his good relationship with the former president, which would appeal to the extremists and conspiracists.
He’d always thought he would run for office. In recent years, his angling in that direction had become more and more obvious. He’d even done Trump the favor of welcoming him onto The Dr. Oz Show in 2016 to discuss the results of a physical exam that claimed he had clocked in at an improbable-seeming weight placing him just outside the body mass index’s categorization for obesity. “We were watching during the taping, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, is anyone going to challenge him?’ ” the former producer said. “A lot of people were really upset. People were saying, ‘Oh God. Oz likes him.’ ”
Plus Dr. Oz had been hated by some of the very people who went on to make up the #resistance to the Trump presidency ever since he was dragged before Congress in 2014 and yelled at by Claire McCaskill for promoting diet pills and other quacky quick fixes on his program. In the years thereafter, Dr. Oz seemed to radicalize against what we now refer to as “cancel culture.”
He aired hours of conversation with Canadian intellectual and conservative social-media megastar Jordan Peterson in which they discussed the range of his oeuvre, the breakdown of society, the importance of traditional marriage, of meaningful relationships, of purpose, as well as the psychology of murderers and the all-meat (plus salt) diet Peterson had adopted and claimed had transformed his body and his mind. Dr. Oz, who has cautioned against diets that ban any food groups and who had never been shy about condemning dietary habits he believes to be harmful, offered no criticism. He spoke at length to Ryan Holiday, the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, about the “fake news” epidemic, of which Dr. Oz said he considered himself a victim. When Peter Thiel engineered the end of Gawker, Dr. Oz said he found himself “cheering.” The corrupt press had made him “the poster child for fake advertising,” he said, “and we have large media companies making a fortune … on my name, Oprah’s name, many other people’s names.”
As far back as 2009, Dr. Oz had publicly signaled his conservatism, once telling New York that the native of the city he most admired was Teddy Roosevelt because of his libertarian values. He was involved, somewhat, in Republican politics in New Jersey and had openly supported John McCain. In recent years, if you were watching the show or listening to the podcast, his lurch away from the center was apparent.
Nobody on the right appears to care. “He’s really stumbled out of the gate,” one conservative operative said.
Parnell made his exit official on November 22, and eight days later Dr. Oz was in the race, advertising himself with a combination of MAGA slogans, medical puns, and references to his own brand. “Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first,” he said. Why was he running? Well, he wouldn’t put it that way. In his words, he was “stepping forward to help cure our country’s ills” because “America’s heartbeat is in a code red in need of a defibrillator to shock it back to life.” What was his vision for the state? “It all starts with YOU!” he said, a nod to his successful YOU book series — YOU: The Owner’s Manual; YOU: Being Beautiful; YOU: Losing Weight; and so on.
But even at his most right-wing sounding over the last few years, he still mostly came across as nuanced — not a positive in this primary race. “The best thing he has going for him is his relationship with Hannity,” the conservative operative said. During their late night pandemic chats, Dr. Oz would relate to Hannity the latest information he was hearing from his friends in the medical community about coronavirus treatments, which Hannity would then share with his audience. Dr. Oz promoted chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in his own Fox News appearances at the start of the outbreak, though he eventually cooled on the recommendation, advising viewers that more studies were required. At the time, he advocated for masks and vaccines and did not vilify Anthony Fauci. As a candidate, he is now calling for Fauci to be fired and emphasizing not his belief in the science of vaccines but his opposition to mandates. It’s a contortionist act, and so far, the crowd is booing. “The influencer types are not fans of him,” the conservative operative said. “Dude is getting blown up. They are on a jihad against this guy. So it’s a matter of ‘How much does that permeate into the grass roots?’”
That work with the grass roots happens at the levels below Hannity and often out of sight of television cameras. It means identifying the influencers and then identifying who is influencing the influencers and then doing your best to influence them. “If I was him, I’d be going to The Daily Caller and Breitbart and The Federalist and doing off-the-records, getting to know these people,” the conservative operative said. Trump relied on consultants, wacky and anti-professional, who at least knew that much.
Faced with accusations of phoniness or ideological impurity, Trump knew how to respond. “He’d say, Yeah, I bought and sold Hillary. That’s how I know all these politicians are for sale,” the conservative operative said. “Trump was able to deal with those questions. I don’t know that Oz is.”
On Fox News recently, Dr. Oz was asked the kind of obvious-to-arise question consultants are paid to coach a candidate to answer. He smirked and nodded as the host wound up: “What is your position as both a doctor and a senatorial candidate on when life begins? When should we draw the line when abortion is legal?”
Dr. Oz seemed prepared, and he rattled off his answer quickly. “As a doctor, I appreciate the sanctity of life, and for that reason I’m strongly pro-life with the three exceptions I’ve mentioned. That’s how I would vote,” he said. (The exceptions are cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. Many pro-life conservatives reject these exceptions.) “And when does that life begin?” the Fox News host asked. Dr. Oz made a smacking sound with his lips. “Again, if I’m pro-life, then that’s a decision that com–comes back to the fss-sanctity of when you think life does begin — ” He spoke in a sputtering way, moving his head and raising his shoulders and releasing them in a subtle defensive manner, as if to convey that the correctness of his views was obvious and further questions were not needed. “And I believe that it begins when you’re in the mother’s womb.”
The Fox News host was not pleased by this answer. His expression turned sour and judgmental. “When you’re in the mother’s womb? That carries you all the way up to nine months’ pregnancy,” he said. Dr. Oz did his best to recover. “No, of course not. Life’s already started when you’re in your mother’s womb,” he said. He tried to pivot the discussion away from the technicalities on which he was being quizzed. “But it’s a rathole to get trapped in the different ways of talking about it,” he said.
All the expensive strategists and consultants Dr. Oz has hired from the Republican Establishment and the “Never Trump” movement did not foresee, or did not appropriately assess, the threat of a challenger emerging to snap up the MAGA supporters Dr. Oz assumed would be rightfully his. That candidate, David McCormick, is expected to formally enter the race “imminently,” according to his advisers. A Washington, Pennsylvania, native raised in Bloomsburg, McCormick graduated from West Point, fought in the Gulf War, then served in George W. Bush’s White House. Although he worked and lived in Pittsburgh for a time, like Dr. Oz he has spent recent years elsewhere, and in the 2020 election, he was registered to vote in Connecticut. Alongside Dr. Oz’s friend Ray Dalio, he runs Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. In 2019, McCormick married Dina Powell, the Goldman Sachs girlboss who briefly served in the Trump White House, where she befriended key Trump advisers.
On paper, there’s at least as much of a Trumpist case against a globalist money guy as there is against a celebrity who took part in the Obama White House’s anti-obesity campaign, yet it’s McCormick who seems primed to collect the support of everyone from Bannon to the vest-wearing Republicans who threw their weight behind the recent victor in Virginia. Trump White House veterans Hope Hicks and Cliff Sims are expected to take formal roles in the campaign, and others from the administration have encouraged him to enter the race.
In Trumpworld, McCormick is widely seen as a man with an inconvenient background who might pan out anyway. “I hate to say this, but if you’re not willing to go full retard in a Republican primary right now, it’s hard. The expectations are what they are,” said a MAGA operative involved in the Pennsylvania race. “He’s got an uphill battle as a hedge-fund CEO, but he’s done a good job so far.”
Dr. Oz, of course, will be fighting the same battle for conservative credibility — and the McCormick team will be looking to seed doubts. “The best-case scenario for Oz is the media attacks him, like, ‘Look at this quack saying crazy stuff on vaccines or the election integrity’ or whatever, so he can say, ‘Oh, look at the media attacking me!’ That would help him,” the MAGA operative said. “But he had an 8-year-old on his show talking about being trans, and he said that was okay. He said a ton of pro-choice things over the years. We’ve never elected a Muslim to the U.S. Senate, and here we have a Turkish-citizen Muslim who served in the Turkish army.” One Trump turned McCormick adviser told me, “We’re getting reports every day from people he’s meeting with — he’s doing these private meet-and-greet type of things — that he’s incoherent when it comes to the issues.”
You’re telling me there’s no room in the modern Republican Party for a celebrity with a long public record of expressing opinions at odds with the values of the conservative base? That being friends with famous Democrats is a nonstarter in a Republican primary? Since when are Republican candidates not allowed to change their positions on abortion or just about anything else, for that matter? The answer for Oz-skeptical Trumpists, it seems, is that Dr. Oz just isn’t the guy, so he doesn’t get to play by the non-rules. Sorry, but nobody said politics was fair. “Dr. Oz is nowhere near as national a celebrity as Donald Trump was,” the former Trump adviser continued. “Donald Trump was larger than life. Dr. Oz sells diet pills on daytime TV. Oz and his team are making a major miscalculation if they think they can run him like he’s Donald Trump.”
Still, laughing off the TV doc feels a bit like laughing off the TV dealmaker, and if The Apprentice created a fantasy persona for its star that appealed mostly to young men who wanted to be rich, The Dr. Oz Show and its Oprah-endorsed star are best understood as wellness fantasy for women. As we navigate the future of American politics after Trump, we have to know: Did he change everything? Or did everything change for him?
“I’ve heard a lot of Democrats say that it would be great if Dr. Oz wins this primary because he will be so far to the right by that time, with everything he will have to say in order to win, that it will help us in the general, and I see a lot of red flags,” said Carly Cooperman, a Democratic pollster who has been looking closely at the dynamics in Pennsylvania. “He has a lot of money to blanket the airwaves. He’s a celebrity. He was in our houses growing up. Assuming that sentiments continue to be negative next year toward the Democrats,” she trailed off. “I’m worried.”
With Lisa Oz in their New Jersey home in 2017. Photo: Bryan Anselm/Redux/Bryan Anselm/Redux
Though the candidate has lived in New Jersey for most of this century, primarily and most recently at a Cliffside Park compound on several acres along the Hudson River, and though it was from there that Dr. and Mrs. Oz voted absentee in the 2020 election, and though the second home the Oz family maintains is a historic $18 million oceanfront estate in Palm Beach, a short drive from Mar-a-Lago, he’s running where there’s room to run and where, as luck would have it, his in-laws maintain the lush estate the campaign claims he is now renting.
Earlier on Sunday, December 5, I was exploring the surrounding town of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and feeling pretty good. For three days, I had consumed at regular intervals exclusively blueberries; raw massaged kale; raw unsalted almonds, Brazil nuts, or walnuts; steamed tofu; steamed brown rice; poached salmon; baked sweet potatoes; and unfiltered flaxseed oil. I had exercised consistently. I had fallen asleep easily, then risen alongside the sun without struggle or even, on that morning, so much as an alarm.
My new habits were not in pursuit of self-improvement but of public service, in accordance with the general dietary and lifestyle advice dispensed by Dr. Oz. The idea was to live as he said I ought to live while I reported on his political ambitions as a means of better understanding his contributions to American popular culture. But consistency is the thief of content, and new information about Dr. Oz’s diet and lifestyle is what the Oz brand requires in infinite quantities in order to make and market and sell the dozens of books and magazines and hours and hours on his podcast and radio program and The Dr. Oz Show. In practice, this means that sorting out how Dr. Oz lives is surprisingly difficult.
For instance, Dr. Oz assembled a list of his 25 greatest health tips for Men’s Health in 2013. Among them: “Don’t Skip Breakfast.” His breakfast, he wrote, consists of steel-cut oatmeal, walnuts, raisins, and flaxseed oil. In 2020, however, he announced that we should “cancel” breakfast” and, amid a strange feud with breakfast evangelist Mark Wahlberg, disclosed that he does not eat breakfast and instead waits until midmorning to break his 16-hour intermittent fast by eating a handful of nuts before lunch, his largest meal of the day.
The plan I hatched, then, was to devote the duration of my reporting — a three-week period — to experimenting with all the variations of the Dr. Oz Way of Life. That Sunday, in the interest of time, I would be taking on dual assignments: eating small amounts of raw nuts and berries every hour on the hour, the diet Dr. Oz claimed to maintain circa 2010, while consuming a beverage made from raw green coffee beans and taking supplements made, allegedly, of saffron extract, two substances Dr. Oz has promoted as “miracle” fat burners and appetite suppressants.
By the time I made my way to the Lower Moreland area to meet with Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat who until redistricting would have represented Dr. Oz’s in-laws, my hands were shaking. Boyle ordered a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a coffee roughly the size of Senator Rand Paul (also a doctor). I mentioned that Dr. Oz would not approve of his choice. In fact, the other daytime-TV personality even told me that whenever they talk to Dr. Oz, he tells them to stop eating bagels. Like the TV personality, the congressman was not deterred by the doctor’s advice. Boyle went ahead and ate the bagel.
Although Boyle has lived in the area for about 15 years and has been an elected official here for 13 of them, he had never heard even a rumor about Dr. Oz visiting the area, never mind living in it. “Literally, I learned this for the first time two days ago reading the local paper.” Not only that, but the farm Dr. Oz now claims as his home is less than ten minutes from Boyle’s house. “I laughed out loud and then I texted my wife and said, ‘You will not believe where Dr. Oz says he lives!’ ”
Boyle is quick to admit that, for members of his party, there’s a lot to worry about in this race. “Eleven months from now, if we’re looking at the race and it’s much more than 51 to 49 one way or the other, I would be shocked,” he said. “A 50-50 state, open seat, in a midterm that, historically, should favor Republicans over Democrats.” Boyle said he hoped voters would see through Dr. Oz’s act. “Being rich and bored is not a good reason to run for office,” he said. “It is a great annoyance to me, these celebrity candidates, or people who are now in politics, like the Lauren Boeberts and the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, who are just there for clicks and attention. Unfortunately, we are increasingly getting and electing these people who aren’t in it for public-policy reasons.”
Where the mogul responsible for creating this candidate’s celebrity stands on the contest is unclear. At a meeting in Pittsburgh with Republican officials and activists, one source said, Dr. Oz told the room that he believed he could count on Oprah to back him in the general election, when he would need to recalibrate his messaging for moderates after pitching himself to right-wing voters in the primary. According to this account of his remarks, he said that he has spoken to her about his campaign and “she’s supportive,” both because of their friendship and because it would be in her “strategic” interests to offer a public endorsement. Elsewhere, Dr. Oz has promoted a story about protecting Oprah by begging her not to involve herself in the messy business of the Pennsylvania Senate race. As her friend, the story goes, he prioritized their relationship over her potentially valuable endorsement. The former producer thought this sounded unlikely: “There is no way that Oprah is going to help turn Pennsylvania red. Oprah is not gonna do that.”
I reached out to Oprah to request an interview. “Ms. Winfrey is not doing interviews at this time,” Nicole Nichols, her spokeswoman, replied 14 days later. A few days later, Nichols wrote again: “I have one statement for you from Ms. Winfrey. No other comments: ‘One of the great things about our democracy is that every citizen can decide to run for public office. Mehmet Oz has made that decision. And now it’s up to the residents of Pennsylvania to decide who will represent them.’ —Oprah Winfrey.”
After my strange phone call with Dr. and Mrs. Oz, I made my way through New Jersey to New York, wired from the green coffee beans and saffron extract. The appetite suppressants worked too well, and I hadn’t been able to eat a walnut in hours. Bored but unable to sleep, I read Lisa Oz’s self-help book, Us, which explained, somewhat, why her husband was seeking elected office. There had been a moment in his medical career, she wrote, when “I got the sense that he was stagnating, and for Mehmet that was tantamount to death.” They talked about the problem. “It became evident that he wanted a steeper learning curve, more variety in his routine, and the chance to have a bigger impact in the world.” The solution then was a television show. Now, it seems, the solution may be politics.
Those who know him say Dr. Oz was always likely to run for office and always likely to do so as a conservative. He was a networker and backslapper by nature, exactly the kind of person cut out for this work. “He told me once he had plans to go with Dick Armey and a couple people hunting, and I said to him, ‘Since when do you fucking hunt?’ ” one friend said. It’s the way he’s running, the appeals he’s making, that have come as a shock. “I’m sick over what he’s doing,” the friend said. It seemed that their relationship would not survive his candidacy because there are some things you just can’t abide no matter how much you love a person, and Dr. Oz had made his priorities clear. “Look, Mehmet always wanted to be president,” this person added. “I don’t know if he thinks this is the way to do that.” Reached for comment, the Oz campaign denied this was true: “Dr. Oz has never said that.” Which is exactly what a senator would say.
My friend and great lawyer, Steve Hampton, sent me this Article, and added, quite correctly: “CO’s in Kansas with license to kill the mentally ill. Especially if they are a minority. In all the descriptions of this incident I see nothing about the CO’s asking for help from mental health. Their policy, like Delaware DOC’s policy, is use force to solve every problem.”
Excerpts from the Article:
A Kansas district attorney announced he will be filing no charges in connection with the death of Cedric Lofton, a Black teenager who died in law enforcement custody, citing the state’s robust “stand your ground” law.
Lofton, 17, died in September after being handcuffed and restrained in the prone position, meaning lying face-down, during a struggle with staff and corrections employees at a juvenile facility.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said at a Tuesday news conference that the employees involved acted in self-defense under the “stand your ground” law because the teen resisted and struggled with corrections staff and they, therefore, are immune from prosecution.
Lofton family lawyers disagreed, saying officers “took his breath away” by putting Lofton in the prone position. And they said Bennett’s decision is another instance of no accountability for the death of an unarmed Black teen.
An autopsy report found in December that Lofton’s cause of death was “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position.” The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
“The cause of death was brought about by the position in which Cedric was held as well as the ongoing struggle which lasted for over thirty minutes largely unabated,” said a report released by Bennett. “The long-lasting struggle while in the face-down position impeded his breathing, which caused the supply of oxygen to his heart to be compromised to the point that his heart stopped.”
Bennett’s report includes a timeline of events leading up to the teenager’s death, analyses of both the law and the forensic evidence and his conclusion. The video from what happened inside the juvenile facility has not been released by officials.
The prosecutor said Tuesday that while there was a “lot of opportunity” in that night for things to have gone differently, the employees involved acted in self-defense when they continued to restrain the teen because he continued to resist. The video, the interviews of all the employees and the coroner’s findings regarding the effect of a prolonged struggle, support the conclusion that Cedric continued to offer resistance to the physical restraints being applied to his hands and legs. That he continued to resist for some thirty minutes meant the staff could continue to lawfully apply restraint,” the report said.
Generally, “stand your ground” laws across the US allow people to respond to threats of force, without the fear of being criminally prosecuted, in any place where a person has the right to be, including his home or business. Under Kansas law, a person is justified in using force if they are acting in defense of themselves in those circumstances or to protect another party.
“You cannot be arrested, you cannot be charged, you cannot be prosecuted, if you’re acting in self-defense in Kansas under the ‘stand your ground’ law,” Bennett said, adding that Kansas has “one of the most robust ‘stand your ground’ laws in the United States.”
His report added that the district attorney’s conclusion “is not a reflection of this office’s approval of what happened to Cedric Lofton, adding, “This should never have happened.” The county previously said the employees involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave pending results of the district attorney’s investigation. A county spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday the corrections employees remain on administrative leave and officials will review their status in the next several days and “will make a determination on a timeline for returning to work.”
Glenda Martens, director of the county’s department of corrections, said at a separate news conference that the “employees acted well within the policy and the requirements of that policy.” “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t review it and look for better recommendations,” she added.
In a statement on behalf of the teen’s family, who had previously called for criminal charges, civil rights attorneys Andrew M. Stroth and Steven Hart said they were “extremely troubled” by Bennett’s decision not to prosecute. “This is yet another instance of an unarmed Black teenager killed by law enforcement with impunity,” and without “threat of reprisal or even an ounce of accountability,” the statement said. “Similar to the George Floyd case, Cedric’s death was caused by authorities obligated to protect him. In this case, they restrained Cedric in the prone position and took his breath away.”
Martens announced Tuesday that the county would “immediately'” recruit community leaders to spearhead a task force that would examine the facility’s procedures and what happened that night and make recommendations about any needed changes.
Among other things, the county will consider will be whether to add audio to the cameras at the juvenile facility where the incident took place, Martens said. Bennett said in his news conference that having audio in the case “would have been very helpful.” The report also notes in one instance that without audio of the incident, there is no evidence to dispute the staff’s claim that they did not hear Lofton ask for help or complain he could not breathe while he was on the floor.
Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds said the county will release the juvenile facility footage — which does not include audio — to the public in the “very near future.”
Late Tuesday, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple released the body camera footage from all of the police officers involved in the incident.
Lofton, who was in foster care, returned to his home in the early morning hours of September 24, 2021. His father, who later told investigators the teen had recently began acting “paranoid,” called 911 at the directive of the foster care agency. After attempting to talk the teen into coming with them to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, Wichita police officers tried to take him to the patrol car and a struggle ensued. Lofton is heard yelling “help” multiple times, according to the footage.
Police placed the teen in leg shackles and in a “WRAP” restraint system, which according to the report is a “canvass-type, movable plastic material used to wrap around the legs and arms/ lower torso of a person while in a seated position.”
Lofton was taken to the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) to be “processed for multiple counts of battery of a law enforcement officer,” after “striking and kicking” officers who went to his home that night, the report said. Officers removed the restraint system and left Lofton in a holding room at the JIAC, where a staff member came by to explain the assessment process and let him into the open foyer, the report said.
Video from what happened inside the JIAC facility has not been released. Body camera video from officers stops when police left the teen at the juvenile facility and picks back up when they were called back later that night and the teen was no longer conscious.
According to the report, after Lofton was let out of the holding room, he approached the intake counter and grabbed the computer monitor. The JIAC employee told Lofton to step back, according to the district attorney’s report.
The JIAC staff member and a Juvenile Detention Center (JDF) employee struggled to get Lofton back into a holding room and he struck one while trying to get away, the report said. “The men then acted in self-defense and continued to forcibly move Cedric toward the holding room.” According to the report, employees told investigators that during the struggle, Lofton was “‘mumbling’ at times, repeated that he was ‘Jesus,’ said that staff should kill themselves and that he would ‘hex’ them.”
After two corrections supervisors arrived, the group put leg shackles on Lofton and move him from a seated position to “face down to better control the situation and possibly place handcuffs on Cedric,” the report said. The group was also physically holding the teen down, according to the report. One staff member told investigators that Lofton, who was still face down on the floor, “continued to argue and resist” and they could not put handcuffs on him as they waited for police to arrive after one employee called 911. After more than 30 minutes on the floor, handcuffs were placed on Lofton, the report said.
Bennett, in his analysis of the JIAC facility video, said it did not appear that any of the workers put their full weight on the teen’s back or torso, and the staffers were following their training to protect themselves and get Lofton to follow orders. Two corrections members noticed some blood, the report said, adding the teen was later seen with a bloody nose. An officer who later arrived also noted the teen had a bloody nose, according to body camera footage.
Around the time handcuffs were applied, a little after 5 a.m., employees said Lofton “finally relaxed” and they heard the teen “snore,” according to the report. About four minutes later, a JIAC employee said he could not hear the teen breathing and could not find a pulse, the report said. Lofton was rolled onto his back but was not responsive after staff performed a sternum rub, which is used to try and assess if a person is conscious. Body camera footage shows workers attempting to revive Lofton.
The teen was taken to a hospital a little before 6 a.m. on September 24. Early on September 26, he was pronounced dead, the report said. Whipple, the mayor, said the city will work together with the county to “take unprecedented action on how we handle crisis intervention in our community.”
“As Mayor, I’m committed to changing the status quo in how we respond to those in crisis. The time for action is now,” Whipple said.
I wish I had $1 for each valid instance of prison abuse – by DOC staff or medial staff – filed in America just last year – … I’d be a millionaire.
Excerpts from the Article:
A group of men detained at Washington County Detention Center in Arkansas say that the jail’s medical staff gave them the anti-parasite drug ivermectin last year, without their consent, to treat COVID-19, while telling them the pills were “vitamins.” On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the inmates, filed a federal lawsuit against the jail and its doctor.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly warned against the use of ivermectin for COVID. The FDA has only approved the medication for humans to treat river blindness, intestinal strongyloidiasis (an illness caused by roundworms), head lice and rosacea.
The lawsuit claims that medical staff at the jail gave the men ivermectin as early as November 2020, and that the men did not become aware of what the pill was until well after they received it. At a local finance and budget committee meeting last August, county sheriff Tim Helder confirmed that the facility’s doctor Dr. Robert Karas prescribed ivermectin.
Floreal-Wooten says he was given ivermectin without his consent while detained at Washington County Jail in Arkansas.
According to the lawsuit, as well as CBS News’ previous interview with one of the inmates and plaintiffs, 30-year-old Edrick Floreal-Wooten, the jail’s medical staff told inmates the ivermectin pills were “vitamins,” “antibiotics,” and/or “steroids.”“The truth, however, was that without knowing and voluntary consent, Plaintiffs ingested incredibly high doses of a drug that credible medical professionals, the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all agree is not an effective treatment against COVID-19,” the lawsuit says.
The inmates are asking that they receive a medical evaluation by an independent provider and be “awarded their costs, fees, and any other appropriate relief to which they are entitled.”
Gary Sullivan, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, issued a statement saying that “no one — including incarcerated individuals — should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation.”
“Sheriff Helder has a responsibility to provide food, shelter, and safe, appropriate care to incarcerated individuals,” Sullivan said. “…The detention center failed to use safe and appropriate treatments for COVID-19, even in the midst of a pandemic, and they must be held accountable.”
In August 2021, the lawsuit says that Floreal-Wooten and the other plaintiffs all tested positive for COVID-19. The jail, they said, relocated them to barracks “specifically designated” for quarantine, where it is believed that 22 people were housed. It was there, the lawsuit says, that they were given a “cocktail” of between two and 10 pills twice a day by Karas’ team.
CBS News spoke with Floreal-Wooten, over a video call from the detention center in September, where he is still being held. He said he and other inmates were not aware the jail nurses were giving them ivermectin until about five days after they first started receiving the pills.
“They said they were vitamins, steroids and antibiotics,” he told CBS News. “We were running fevers, throwing up, diarrhea … and so we figured that they were here to help us. … We never knew that they were running experiments on us, giving us ivermectin. We never knew that.”
The inmates were not able to discern what the pills are, he said, because they were pulled out of a drawer that has dozens of bottles. It was only after news reports emerged of the situation that medical staff started to ask for consent about the ivermectin, Floreal-Wooten said.
Once they asked permission, he added, he and roughly 20 other people turned them down.
“It was not consensual. They used us as an experiment — like we’re livestock,” he said. “Just because we wear stripes and we make a few mistakes in life, doesn’t make us less of a human. We got families, we got loved ones out there that love us.”
The lawsuit says the combination of pills the men were given included “high doses” of vitamins, as well as ivermectin. “‘High doses’ is no hyperbole,” the lawsuit says.
Based on Floreal-Wooten’s height and weight, according to the lawsuit, he should have only received up to 0.2 mg/kg in a single dose, roughly 14 mg. “Mr. Wooten, however, received 48 mg over a period of four days,” the lawsuit says, “3.4 times the approved dosage.”
Dayman Blackburn says he faced a similar situation. His medical records, according to the lawsuit, show that he received nearly 6.3 times the approved dosage of ivermectin based on his height and weight.
People who take “inappropriately high doses” of the medication, according to the CDC, “may experience toxic effects,” including nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, seizures, coma and death. Floreal-Wooten told CBS News he suffered from diarrhea and upper abdominal pain in the weeks after he was given the medication.
“I’m scared,” he had told CBS News. “…I can’t trust any of the medical staff.”
Pharmacy records included with the lawsuit show that Karas’ team dispensed at least 200 ivermectin pills in November 2020 alone.
Documents show that in November 2020, Dr. Robert Karas’ team distributed at least 200 pills of ivermectin to detainees at Washington County Detention Center in Arkansas. Karas also touted ivermectin to treat COVID-19 through his health care facilities, the lawsuit says.
“Guess we made the news again this week,” Karas Health Care said in a Facebook post on January 15. “Still with the best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols. Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suing their facilities requesting the same treatment we’re using at WCDC – including the Ivermectin.”
A week earlier, Karas said “there’s a lot of COVID out there” and recommended that adults load up on Vitamin D, Vitamin C, zinc and “a little salt water gargle twice a day” for the next month.
Karas has said that he started prescribing ivermectin to patients more regularly, and took it himself, after reading information from Frontline Covid Critical Care Alliance — a controversial group that originated at the beginning of the pandemic and has become known as a source of COVID-19 disinformation.
Despite the FDA, CDC, World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health all saying ivermectin should not be used for COVID treatment or prevention, FLCC says on its website it is a “core medication.” Karas has said the website is “very thorough and professional.”
Even now, Sarah Moore of the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said that it’s unclear if COVID protocols have changed at the detention center. When CBS News spoke with Floreal-Wooten, he was in the quarantine barracks. He and other detainees did not have face masks, just black bandanas, he showed us over video.
“Only when we talk to individuals and can see the pods do we see what’s happening,” she told CBS News. “Where people are housed in this area…most of the time, no one is wearing a mask. They are heavily overcrowded at this point.”
Two-thirds of the people being held at Washington County Detention Center, Moore said, have not been convicted of their accused crime — they’re still awaiting trial.
“Right now, our population is 750. About two-thirds of those are pre-trial. Many of those, about 80 of those folks, are trapped in these bonds that are very high because they’ve missed a court appointment,” she said. “…These are our community members, our moms and dads and cousins and sisters and brothers. And just like you or me, they could easily, we could easily, be accused of something, but they are not convicted.”
While ivermectin can be used to treat conditions such as head lice and rosacea, Moore said “it’s highly unusual” for it to be distributed in detention facilities.
“We hear quite the opposite,” she said. “It’s actually very hard to get any kind of medications in an incarcerated setting, be it the Department of Corrections, in a prison setting, or in a local county jail. … So it seems quite unusual that vitamins would be offered, or some kind of preemptive type of solution would be offered because oftentimes, the medical care within a congregate setting like this is oftentimes quite expensive for the individual.”
She said it can cost $10 for Tylenol or ibuprofen, causing people who are detained to “weigh whether or not their ache or pain or their symptoms are valid enough…to get that type of charge.”
“It just goes back to consent. I mean, we should have choice over our own person,” Moore said. “…I think it’s a really sad thing to think that we would start to dehumanize people in this way.”
Any lawyer with a brain could have predicted this!
Trump continues to waste YOUR money clogging the courts with absurd arguments.
Excerpts from the Article:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to use executive privilege to block a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection from accessing a trove of records created by Trump’s White House.
The move opens up a trove of documents to Jan. 6 investigators who have sought them to determine Trump’s actions and mindset in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, as well as what he did as his supporters were rioting at the Capitol.
The only member of the high court who signaled he would have granted Trump’s request for emergency relief was Justice Clarence Thomas.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER CONFESSION Texas Ranger James Holland became famous for cajoling killers into confessing to their crimes. But did some of his methods — from lying to suspects to having witnesses hypnotized — ensnare innocent people, too?
We hear “Texas Ranger” and we think “the ultimate lawman”. I remember posting an article several years ago suggesting that Texas Ranger James Holland was amassing many false confessions, using questionable tactics in his interviews with suspects. Here, The Marshall Project revisits the issue. I leave most of this Article in tact, not edited. Read it for yourself and you tell me: is Texas Ranger James Holland framing people, or solving crimes?
Excerpts from the Article:
CHAPTER 1: THE UNWITTING SUSPECT
Roughly 24 hours before Larry Driskill confessed to a murder he claimed he couldn’t remember, a stranger in sharply creased cowboy clothes approached him at the barn where he was working. The metal star above the man’s left shirt pocket indicated he was a Texas Ranger.
“Am I in trouble or what?” Driskill asked.
“No, we think you might be able to help us,” Ranger James Holland replied, inviting Driskill to chat at the sheriff’s office in Parker County, Texas. As they cruised the rural back roads west of Fort Worth on that afternoon in January 2015, Holland made small talk, drawing out that Driskill, a 52-year-old grandfather with a salt-and-pepper mustache and good-ol-boy twang, had served in the Air Force. Now, he oversaw county maintenance work performed by jail trustees. His worst brush with the law, he said, was a DWI in his 20s.
This article was published in partnership with Dallas Morning News.
Holland, who was secretly (and legally) recording this exchange, occasionally teased at his intentions: He said he was part of a small crew of Rangers who focused on unsolved murders. “They put us together…and tell us that we can do whatever we want, as long as we solve cases,” he says to Driskill on the recording, which I obtained through a records request to the Parker County district attorney.
Once they arrived at the sheriff’s office, Holland offered Driskill coffee and reiterated that he wasn’t under arrest. The Ranger pulled out an image of a petite woman with dirty blonde hair.
“She don’t look familiar to me, period,” Driskill said. “I ain’t never seen her.”
The woman was Bobbie Sue Hill. Nearly a decade before this conversation, kids had stumbled upon her body in a creek bed under a bridge, less than a mile from Driskill’s home. Investigators pieced together that she was a 29-year-old mother of five whose husband had died in a car accident. She had been struggling with drug addiction and subsisting in a series of squalid motels near downtown Fort Worth. Hill’s boyfriend told investigators that he had seen a man drive off with her in a white van.
Jenkins Road, where Bobbie Sue Hill…s body was found, pictured on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Aledo, Texas.
Jenkins Road, where Bobbie Sue Hill…s body was found, pictured on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Aledo, Texas.
Bobbie Sue Hill’s body was found off Jenkins Road, in the riverbed on the east side of a bridge, in Aledo, Texas. ELIAS VALVERDE II/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
In their reports, the police signalled this could be the work of a serial killer. Fort Worth officers were already looking into the death of another sex worker, who entered a white van seven months prior and was also found in a creek bed. A third woman had accepted a ride from a man in a white van, and narrowly escaped after he fondled her at knifepoint. But despite these promising parallels, the leads dried up. “The lack of physical evidence in this case is frustrating,” one investigator wrote in a 2006 report.
In the small, fluorescent-lit room, Holland told Driskill that police had recorded his license plate near where Hill was taken and put his name on a list of men who “troll prostitutes.” But perhaps Driskill was just a good Samaritan who had given Hill a ride the night she was killed.
“I don’t ever remember giving someone a ride,” Driskill replied, “but that don’t mean I didn’t give someone a ride, either.”
Holland was lying about the license plate and the police list. This was perfectly legal — and effective, since Driskill rummaged through his memories and recalled driving through the area to visit his father, make car payments, and — perhaps — to bid on some home renovation work. He also remembered giving a woman he didn’t know a ride once, but not to Fort Worth. Eventually, he produced a hazy recollection of dropping someone off at a dollar store about a mile from where Hill was abducted.
In a recent interview at a prison in east Texas, Driskill told me that he didn’t believe he had witnessed a crime, but kept talking to the Ranger because he wanted to be helpful. Given his own work with jail detainees, he saw Holland as a fellow lawman.
But Holland interpreted the trickle of memories as a sign that Driskill was withholding information. In his genial drawl, the Ranger pointed out Driskill’s tendency to say, “Not that I know” and “Not that I can remember,” rather than just, “No.” He pulled out a picture of Hill’s corpse. “I think you’re afraid that you’re gonna get caught up in this deal,” he said, adding that if the DNA results he was awaiting matched Driskill, he’d be in trouble. “I don’t want you to be afraid,” the Ranger continued. “I want you to help me get the son of a bitch that did this.” But, he also said, “You’ve got to be honest with us, ‘cause if you’re not, then all of a sudden, I start looking at you as maybe the person who did this crime.”
That night, over barbecue, Driskill told his wife he was just a potential witness and had nothing to worry about. The next morning, he took a polygraph test. Many courts have deemed such tests unreliable, but police still use them in interrogations. His results indicated “deception,” and Holland dropped the previous day’s pretenses. “We already know it’s you,” he said.
Holland offered Driskill possible explanations: Perhaps he strangled Hill accidentally during sex. Or, had Hill and her boyfriend tried to rob the Air Force veteran, sending him into violent “military mode”? “You’re on the edge of the Grand Canyon,” Holland continued. “I’m asking you to take a jump off the edge. … I’m going to hand you a parachute.” Then he asked Driskill to utter two words: “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry if I took somebody’s life, but I don’t think I did,” Driskill said as he began to cry.
But slowly, Driskill accepted Holland’s theories, confessing even as he repeated that he couldn’t remember any of it. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him at his home that evening.
In jail, having traded in his denim work clothes for black and white stripes, Driskill came to believe that his admissions made little sense. Still, fearing a skeptical jury, he pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to 15 years at a state prison, where he soon made contact with lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas. Holland, for his part, would go on to become one of America’s most celebrated homicide detectives.
When officers pull off jaw-dropping successes in cold cases, their tactics are seldom questioned. But over the next year, as lawyers go to court on Driskill’s behalf, Holland’s work will likely face more public scrutiny than ever before.
Over the last year, I identified a dozen of Holland’s best-known cases. I used public record requests to gather more than 30 hours of audio and thousands of pages of reports and court testimony, and I shared excerpts with detectives, psychologists and other scholars. I sent findings and scholarly analysis by email and certified mail to both Holland and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which declined to authorize an on-the-record interview, as did the Parker County Sheriff’s Office. As I finished reporting, a state spokesperson said that Holland, who is in his early 50s, retired from the agency at the end of last year. I sent him a final request in late December to interview him post-retirement, and he did not agree to an on-record interview.
Larry Driskill, pictured here while incarcerated in Woodville, Texas, was convicted for the 2005 murder of Bobbie Sue Hill. He claims Texas Ranger James Holland manipulated him into a false confession.
Larry Driskill, pictured here while incarcerated in Woodville, Texas, was convicted for the 2005 murder of Bobbie Sue Hill. He claims Texas Ranger James Holland manipulated him into a false confession. ELI DURST FOR THE MARSHALL PROJECT
One of Holland’s key tactics — lying to suspects — remains common and protected by the courts. But in the search for Bobbie Sue Hill’s killer, the Ranger also used more contested methods, including hypnosis and hypothetical narrations of the crime. Altogether, his tactics demonstrate how far a detective can go without breaking the law, and how easy it is for the legal system to rely on a questionable confession. Even after years of high-profile exonerations, academic research on why innocent people are convicted, and attempts by judges and lawmakers to fix the problems, detectives continue to use techniques that are known to produce false confessions.
Across the country, fewer murders are getting solved year by year, and a growing backlog of cold cases — especially those without strong physical evidence like the Hill case — may incentivize detectives to take similar risks.
CHAPTER 2: THE “SERIAL KILLER WHISPERER”
An elite class of state officers, the Texas Rangers are probably best known for inspiring a long-running TV series and the name of a professional baseball team. But they have been on the frontlines in the battle to resolve cold murder cases, working more than 160 of them since 2015, and closing more than 30. The Rangers — 166 strong as of last year — also police the Texas/Mexico border, uncover public corruption, and investigate deaths involving local law enforcement.
The Rangers’ two-century history is marred by episodes of hunting Black people who escaped slavery, massacring Tejano villagers, and harassing civil rights leaders. When the Rangers have faced scandal more recently, it’s usually about their homicide investigations. In the 1980s, they fed a man named Henry Lee Lucas details that allowed him to claim killings he could not have committed. Rangers also played roles in the wrongful convictions of two Black men, Clarence Brandley and Anthony Graves, who were exonerated from death row in 1990 and 2010, respectively.
Their current image blends ruggedness and sophistication. Doug Swanson, author of “Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers,” described it to me as “Scotland Yard in cowboy hats.”
In recent years, James Holland has come to embody this mystique. He rose to prominence in 2019 after obtaining 93 murder confessions from a California prisoner named Samuel Little. Over 700 hours, the pair shared grits and milkshakes while addressing each other as “Jimmy” and “Sammy.” The Los Angeles Times christened Holland “a serial killer whisperer of sorts,” while “60 Minutes” observed a “swagger that would make John Wayne envious.”
Texas Ranger James Holland is famous for his expertise in obtaining confessions. He filled his office walls in Decatur, Texas, with drawings by serial killer Samuel Little, who claimed to recall the faces of his victims. Holland worked with other law enforcement agencies to identify them.
Texas Ranger James Holland is famous for his expertise in obtaining confessions. He filled his office walls in Decatur, Texas, with drawings by serial killer Samuel Little, who claimed to recall the faces of his victims. Holland worked with other law enforcement agencies to identify them. LOUIS DELUCA
His journey from state highway patrol to pursuing serial killers is documented in a personnel file full of words like “flawless” and “gifted.” He grew up in suburban Chicago, according to the Los Angeles Times, and ended up in Texas for graduate school in criminal justice. He made his mark using traffic stops to search for drugs and guns. “As a trooper, I was extremely successful in criminal interdiction,” he once testified. “I found behaviors and language that indicated that someone was lying.”
Holland became a Ranger in 2008 and began working out of Decatur, a small town north of Fort Worth. According to department records, he has been involved in more than 200 investigations, showing a rare gift for talking to murder suspects. “This is kind of my calling, dealing with these really strange cases, the serial killers, the ritualistic killings,” he told “48 Hours” last year.
One of his first murder cases involved Jose Sarmiento, a suspect in a 2005 killing who moved to Mexico before police could arrest him. Holland got his phone number from his sister and persuaded him to fly back to Texas and confess. Sarmiento later claimed that the Ranger threatened to “put up some money to drug dealers” who would target his family. But in court Holland denied threatening Sarmiento: “Did I appeal to him emotionally, mentally? Absolutely. Was that coercive? No.”
Murder victims’ families have praised Holland for the way he seems personally moved by their pain. Gay Smither, whose daughter Laura was murdered by a serial killer named William Lewis Reece told me, “Jimmy Holland is my hero.” After speaking with Holland, Reece agreed to help investigators find the remains of his victims.
“I’ve worked hundreds of murders, put people on death row, done all kinds of things. I have seen people get probation, seen people get a couple years. And I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum,” Holland told Larry Driskill at one point. “People always ask me, ‘How do you sleep at night, knowing what you do?’ I always tell them this: I go to bed with a clear conscience … I give people the opportunity to tell the truth and to help themselves out … I’m not just throwing people in jail for the hell of it.”
Some of Holland’s biggest successes involved convincing serial killers already behind bars to give up their secrets. But when a suspect is free, Holland has used a different set of skills. Sometimes, he begins with a lie.
CHAPTER 3: THE WEAPON OF DECEPTION
The Supreme Court paved the way for lying to suspects in a 1969 decision, but researchers are increasingly concerned about the practice. The National Registry of Exonerations has recorded more than 350 false confession cases since 1989, finding that police were accused of deception in a quarter of them. “The suspect comes to question their own sense of reality,” said Saul Kassin, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice psychologist who has studied confessions for decades. “This isn’t about being a bleeding heart. Usually, the real perp got away and killed others. That’s on your shoulders if you obtained a false confession.”
Last year, lawmakers in Illinois and Oregon banned the deception of juvenile suspects, based on the idea that they are especially vulnerable. The Innocence Project (which is not related to the group representing Driskill) said lawmakers in a half dozen other states have expressed interest in pursuing similar bans, and some may cover adult suspects.
Lying is one of several tactics that Holland’s approach shares with the Reid Technique, an interrogation method that has dominated the field since it emerged 70 years ago, replacing beatings and torture. The technique is so influential it has shaped a generation of television and movies — think claustrophobic rooms and smooth-talking detectives. But even without violence, researchers believe that it’s still too easy to manipulate an innocent person into confessing.
John E. Reid and Associates, the company that pioneered the technique, insists that false confessions arise when detectives violate their training. Lying “should probably be a last resort,” the company’s president, Joseph Buckley, told me in a recent interview. Still, he says it would be wrong to ban the practice entirely, arguing that false confessions usually involve additional coercive tactics. Of the 12 cases I reviewed with the help of forensic experts, Holland has attempted to deceive at least seven suspects.
Back in 2005, investigators combed the area around Bobbie Sue Hill’s body and collected four fresh cigarette butts. One of them carried human DNA, and eight years later, a crime lab matched it to a Dallas woman. She denied knowing about the murder, but described a man she dated in 2005 who had choked her during sex. The Parker County Sheriff’s Office enlisted Holland to interview this man, who flatly denied any knowledge of the crime. (Given their limited role in the case, we have chosen not to name the woman and man. The man did not respond to a letter sent to prison, where he is serving time for drug possession.)
Now that Holland was involved, he decided to interview Timothy Dawson, an organic chemist who became a suspect in 2005, after reporting his mother’s white van stolen. He had a record of violent crime and had spent time with people on the margins, including sex workers. According to prosecutors’ records, Dawson’s wife told a detective he’d been “extremely paranoid” around the time of Hill’s death.
Holland showed Dawson a picture of Hill, and he admitted she looked familiar. Then the Ranger said the victim’s brand of hair dye was found in his van. There is no indication in Holland’s report that this was true.
In a recent phone interview, Dawson unequivocally denied involvement and said he was put off by Holland’s swagger. “He came in big doggin’ it. I had the aha reaction. … He wasn’t trying to solve this crime. He was trying to hang me!” He remembers telling the Ranger, “If you want to solve the case so bad, you take the fucking charge.”
According to Holland’s later court testimony, the Parker County Sheriff’s Office thought Dawson was a “very good suspect,” but the Ranger said they had the wrong man. Holland had already begun searching for a new suspect, by less common means.
CHAPTER 4: TWO SKETCHES, A HYPNOTIST, AND A DISAPPEARING MUSTACHE
In October 2014, James Holland tracked down the only person who reported seeing the man who drove off with Bobbie Sue Hill: her boyfriend, Michael Harden. Tall and languorous, he was known to meander with a cane down the streets of Fort Worth’s skid row. Holland found him at the city’s downtown jail, where he was facing drug charges.
Harden had met Hill roughly a year before her death. They lived in motels, supporting their drug habits through her sex work and his odd maintenance jobs. One night, they stood outside a gas station, pretending to use a pay phone so she could advertise to johns. Harden saw a white van drive up and down the street numerous times. He felt suspicious, and when the van finally pulled up, he told Hill not to go.
“That’s OK,” he recalled her saying. “I’ve got it.”
In 2014, Michael Harden met with Texas Rangers James Holland and Victor Patton and underwent hypnosis while trying to recall the face of the man who abducted his girlfriend Bobbie Sue Hill nine years earlier. PARKER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
Harden told Hill to bring the man to a side street. When he walked over to check on them, Harden saw through a foggy window that the man had removed his shirt. “His eyes got big,” Harden told me during an interview. “He put his glasses on, he realized it was me, and then he threw that fucker into gear.” After Hill’s body was found, Harden blamed himself for letting her go. He also wondered if it was a hate crime, since she was a White woman and Harden was a Black man.
The police produced a sketch of the driver based on Harden’s description, which showed a wide, boxy face, prominent eyebrows and a thin mustache. Records do not indicate that it led to any suspects.
Sketch produced by Texas Department of Public Safety artist Shirley Timmons based on 2005 Michael Harden interview.
Sketch produced by Texas Department of Public Safety artist Shirley Timmons based on 2005 Michael Harden interview. PARKER COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Nine years later, Holland asked Harden to try again, with some “weird” memory exercises. Holland turned off the lights, and asked Harden to close his eyes, picture details like the victim’s hair, and summon the sounds of their friends’ voices. He then directed him to replay his memories in reverse chronology, and to imagine himself at the top of a telephone pole, looking down at the van.
“Did you see a mustache?” Holland asked about the driver.
“No, he didn’t have a mustache,” Harden said.
Holland was using elements of the “cognitive interview,” which was developed several decades ago by American psychologists who wanted to help police get more useful information from crime witnesses and victims. (One of these psychologists, Ronald Fisher, read Holland and Harden’s exchange and said the Ranger did a generally good job.) When detectives use this method — which has not faced the same criticisms as the Reid Technique — they ask witnesses to revisit the entire context of the events, including smells and sounds.
When Harden opened his eyes, another investigator showed him photographs of faces. Harden pointed to one and said he was 70% certain it was the driver. The Ranger then showed him pictures of vans. Harden’s description of the vehicle changed as well, from a minivan with side windows to a windowless work van.
Between 2005 and 2015, Michael Harden’s description of the van involved in the abduction of his girlfriend Bobbie Sue Hill changed from a minivan to a large, windowless work van. ANIMATION BY BO-WON KEUM/THE MARSHALL PROJECT
It is impossible to know precisely why Harden’s memories changed, although Christian Meissner, who studies cognitive interviewing, said it was possible Holland had contaminated his memory by showing him pictures of faces and vans.
Cognitive interviewing emerged at a time when judges and scientists were increasingly skeptical of another new and popular police technique: forensic hypnosis. Detectives argued that hypnosis improved recall, but psychologists were concerned it could make a witness overly confident about a mistaken memory. Throughout the 1980s, many courts banned testimony from witnesses who had been hypnotized, meaning police could no longer use it in numerous states.
But Texas remained a hub for forensic hypnosis. In 2020, The Dallas Morning News found that the Texas Rangers were among the last detectives nationwide to regularly use the method. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a bill to ban testimony following hypnosis, even as the Texas Department of Public Safety formally ended its hypnosis program. The department did not, however, express doubt about previous cases solved with the practice.
And the program was still in full swing in 2014, when Harden agreed to be hypnotized. A week later, he had a session at the jail with another Ranger, Victor Patton, who told Harden to count backwards from 100, imagine grains of sand on top of his head, and describe the abductor’s face.
In a recent interview, Patton told me hypnosis was usually a last resort, and only useful if new claims could be corroborated. “It’s almost permission for people to tell you something they suppressed, or don’t want to talk about,” he said.
After the session, a forensic artist interviewed Harden and produced a strikingly different sketch, featuring wire-rimmed glasses, a flat-top haircut with shaved sides, and a darkened area above the lip that could suggest a faint mustache.
Sketch produced by Texas Department of Public Safety artist Jorge Molina based on 2014 Michael Harden interview.
Sketch produced by Texas Department of Public Safety artist Jorge Molina based on 2014 Michael Harden interview. PARKER COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Then, to account for the passage of time, the sketch artist produced an “aged” version, with a few more wrinkles and more pronounced jowls and smile lines.
“Aged” version of 2014 sketch.
“Aged” version of 2014 sketch. PARKER COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
When I found Harden at a motel in Fort Worth this past April, he did not clearly remember the hypnosis session. But he was skeptical. “Whatever the fuck I saw when I wasn’t hypnotized is going to be what the fuck I saw when I [was] hypnotized,” he said. When I showed him the two sketches — produced in 2005 and 2014 by two different artists — he said the latter more closely reflected his memory.
And yet now — seven years after the hypnosis session, and 16 years after he actually saw the face — Harden told me he did remember a mustache, after all.
I described the disappearance and reappearance of the mustache to Gary Wells, an Iowa State University psychologist who has studied composite sketches since the 1980s. Although sketches have helped solve numerous crimes, Wells said that even in ideal conditions, it’s difficult for people to accurately describe faces because we remember them holistically and not feature-by-feature. And “memory doesn’t get better with time,” Wells said of the nine-year period between Harden’s sketches. He also noted that the witness’s recall could have been contaminated by the thousands of faces he’d seen since the crime. “Any change is a big flag.”
The Innocence Project has found that nearly 70% of people freed through DNA testing were convicted, in part, due to an eyewitness misidentifying them. In a quarter of these cases, a composite sketch was involved. Errors grow more likely when the witness and perpetrator are of different races, as they were in Harden’s case.
Two months after Harden was hypnotized, the sheriff’s office put out a press release showing a full-size, windowless white van, the “age-progressed” sketch, and James Holland’s phone number. Within days, the Ranger received a call from a local pawn shop owner who was sure the image depicted his longtime customer Larry Driskill.
CHAPTER 5: HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING
Among the people who thought the sketch did not particularly resemble Larry Driskill was Larry Driskill. “I thought, Does that really look like me?” he told me.
During the second day of questioning, Holland shifted into a tactic less routine than lying: the hypothetical.
He told Driskill (truthfully) that Michael Harden, the victim’s boyfriend, had undergone hypnosis, but then said (falsely) that Harden admitted to trying to rob him. Based on this lie, Holland asked Driskill to describe the attempt without committing to it.
“Start with that… Just say, ‘Hypothetically, I was down there, and they were trying to rob me,’” Holland said.
“That’s admitting to something that I don’t even know happened,” Driskill replied.
“No it’s not,” Holland said. “When you say ‘hypothetically,’ it’s not locking you into anything.”
Holland offered Driskill chewing tobacco, and as they spat into cups, the suspect dropped his resistance. His hypothetical statements slowly became an admission.
“I was giving her a ride to the house and there was a confrontation in the vehicle,” Driskill said. “I think she was trying to take my billfold from me, and I went to defend myself, to try to push her out of the car, and my hands went from her chest to her neck. And I guess I choked her down.”
“You guess or you did?” Holland asked.
“I did. I did choke her down then. …I guess my military [training] kicked in when she tried to assault me.”
In a later version, Driskill said that he and Hill were having sex when she reached for his wallet. But he also continued to say he couldn’t remember any of it and broke down in tears a second time.
Writing to me from prison last summer, Driskill summoned a seemingly unrelated memory. While he was in the U.S. Air Force, a jet exploded at a training base, and he was ordered to handle soldiers’ remains. “It made me sick when [Holland] showed me pictures of the dead girl, and my mind took me back to that day tagging body parts,” he wrote. He believes post-traumatic stress disorder made him receptive to Holland’s argument that he snapped into “military mode” and blacked out.
After Driskill said he killed Hill, he and Holland discussed how he might have disposed of her. At the Ranger’s urging, he drew several pictures of her corpse folded into trash bags, depicting how he taped them shut. Driskill told me these drawings were guesses based on crime scene photos that Holland showed to him earlier. But Holland told him he was corroborating information only the killer would know.
Later on, Driskill contradicted some known facts, saying the victim asked him for a ride outside a 7-Eleven almost a mile from where she was taken. Holland asked if he was certain. He said he wasn’t, and then mentioned a cross street even further away from the abduction site.
Michael Harden said his girlfriend Bobbie Sue Hill was first picked up by the man who abducted her at a gas station (A). When Larry Driskill confessed to killing Hill, he said he had met her at a 7-Eleven (B) almost a mile west of the original gas station, and when pressed, he recalled a third meeting site (C) even further away. ANIMATION BY BO-WON KEUM/THE MARSHALL PROJECT
Without more evidence, it is impossible to know whether Driskill gave a false confession, lied to Holland about his inability to remember, or lied to me about his innocence. But several researchers who examined excerpts from Driskill’s interrogation transcript identified red flags.
It’s well known that false confessions can arise from stress. “I was hungry, tired, scared, nervous, and just wanted to do whatever it took so I could go home,” Driskill wrote in a July letter. “I was pretty desperate to get out of that room, but the Ranger was always between me and the door.”
But Driskill also describes a momentary belief in his guilt. “I’m sitting there thinking, Could I really do this?,” he told me. “Subconsciously, he had me thinking that I did it.”
His temporary belief in his guilt also squares with academic findings on just how easy it can be to implant memories, especially when hypotheticals are involved. In a 2015 study, Canadian researchers used suggestive memory exercises to convince college students that they had committed fictional thefts and assaults. The researchers concluded, “What something could have been like can turn into elements of what it would have been like, which can become elements of what it was like.”
When Larry Driskill confessed to the murder of Bobbie Sue Hill, he described having met her at two different locations, neither of which were the spot where an eyewitness said she had been taken. ANIMATION BY BO-WON KEUM/THE MARSHALL PROJECT
After reading interrogation excerpts, University of San Francisco law professor Richard Leo noted the moments when Holland pushed Driskill to claim self defense. Some scholars call this “minimization,” while some detectives call it finding “the out.” The problem, experts say, is that minimization can skirt dangerously close to a promise of a lighter sentence, which can further convince innocent people that confessing is their only way out.
In a recent email, Parker County district attorney Jeffrey Swain said Driskill’s confession was credible, despite the factual errors. He was struck by how Driskill correctly described how the victim’s body was found, even when the Ranger pressed him with alternative possibilities. The prosecutor praised Holland’s patience and skill, but acknowledged that prosecutors faced an uphill battle without physical evidence. “While we are confident that Mr. Driskill murdered Bobbie Sue Hill,” he wrote, “that doesn’t mean that the case was an ideal or easy one for a jury.”
CHAPTER 6: THE POWER OF FATIGUE
Two weeks after Driskill’s arrest, Holland traveled north to Gainesville, a town of 16,000 where deputies had reopened the unsolved 1997 murder of Shebaniah Sarah Dougherty. The 20-year-old had disappeared after working her shift at a video store, and people found her body while walking in a wooded area. A key suspect had died in a car accident before detectives could find enough evidence to arrest him.
Shebaniah Sarah Dougherty, 20, disappeared after working a shift at a video rental store in Gainesville, Texas, in 1997. Texas Ranger James Holland pursued a confession from her friend Christopher Ax, who regularly visited her during work shifts.
Shebaniah Sarah Dougherty, 20, disappeared after working a shift at a video rental store in Gainesville, Texas, in 1997. Texas Ranger James Holland pursued a confession from her friend Christopher Ax, who regularly visited her during work shifts. COOKE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
In April 2015, Holland drove to the workplace of Dougherty’s friend Christopher Ax. The Ranger learned that their families were close, that they had once gone on a date, and that he regularly visited her at the video store. Ax explained that he’d left town after a police officer suggested that he could be a suspect.
The Ranger called Ax numerous times over five weeks and told him — falsely — that his DNA had been on Dougherty’s socks and shoes. Over the course of these conversations, Ax recalled seeing the previous suspect at the video store and said the man had hit on his friend. He also remembered eating pizza with Dougherty at her job then going to his house to hang out, but 18 years later he couldn’t remember if this happened the day she was killed.
Using elements of the cognitive interview, Holland told Ax to close his eyes and focus on the flavor of the pizza they’d shared. Eventually, Ax said that the night she died, Dougherty was at his house watching TV as he rubbed her feet.
“Almost every fiber of me was saying, Stay the hell away from this guy,” Ax told me recently. “But my family was saying, ‘You need to go help him,’ and I kind of took her death personally. I really wanted to help get closure for [her] family.” Ax also admired Holland’s job title; as a teenager he had aspired to be a Ranger himself.
Against the advice of a lawyer, Ax agreed to take a polygraph. He failed, and Holland began to alternate between accusations (“You were there when it happened.”) and offers to help (“I want to prove definitively that you didn’t do this.”)
Ax failed the test around 9 p.m. Around 2 a.m. in response to Holland’s questions about how, hypothetically, he would have killed the victim, Ax described accidentally choking Dougherty, but added that he didn’t know if this was a memory or the “vivid imagination of a tired mind.” Holland secured an arrest warrant a few days later. At the jail, Ax repeatedly said he had no memory of killing anyone, but Holland encouraged him to believe he had done so in self defense.
The recording of their exchange, obtained from the Cooke County district attorney’s office, is more than eight hours long. Ax told me he remembers little beyond exhaustion and disorientation. At times, he believed he killed his friend: “He’s a Ranger — if he says it’s true, I guess it’s true,” Ax said. But at other moments, he was certain of his innocence and seemed to feel hopeless about his ability to prove it. At one point, Ax asked Holland to shoot him.
Early in the evening, Ax suggested they visit the area where Dougherty’s body was found. When they entered the barn near the site, Ax said he remembered the walls. A story emerged, with the Ranger and the suspect each supplying connective tissue: Dougherty made a sexual advance in the car, Ax rejected her, and she hanged herself. “I remember the arms were down.” Ax told Holland. “I think I took her down.”
Like Driskill, Ax had served in the military, and was traumatized by a fellow soldier’s death — a suicide by hanging. He too wondered if the police interrogation revived this stress, contributing to the blur between memory and invention.
Back at the sheriff’s office, they ate pizza, which Holland suggested might jog Ax’s memory. As they began discussing a green rope found around Dougherty’s neck, Ax threw up. Holland hinted this was a sign of guilt. (Ax says now he was just sick.) They talked through a scene of Dougherty attacking him with the rope. “If she comes at you with that thing and starts trying to wrap it around your neck and you’re pushing it off and it ends up around hers…” Holland said in the recording.
Later, Ax said, “I don’t remember every detail of it, but I can see it…I wish like hell I couldn’t.”
After 20 months in jail, Ax was released on bond. As the case crept towards trial, Cooke County prosecutors sent the victim’s clothing out for DNA testing, which had improved in the years since the crime. The results indicated a high probability that the DNA belonged to the original suspect, not Ax. In September 2018, the district attorney dropped charges, stating in a press release, “We cannot blindly seek convictions or close our eyes to evidence that points in a different direction than we are heading.”
Christopher Ax spent 20 months in jail after he was accused in the 1997 murder of Shebaniah Sarah Dougherty. The charges were dropped in 2018. ELIAS VALVERDE II/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Eric Erlandson, a prosecutor who worked on the case, was more cautious. “I listened to every second of audio on that case and I was convinced he did it,” he told me. The DNA sample was small and left room for error.
Ax maintains his innocence and told me many people in his town are still convinced of his guilt, which makes it difficult to make friends, date, or find steady work. He said several loved ones died while he was in jail. Mostly, he blames Holland.“I don’t hate many people in this world, but he is one of them,” Ax said. He predicted that Holland “is going to do this to another innocent person.”
CHAPTER 7: THE JAILHOUSE INFORMANT AND THE GUILTY PLEA
No DNA results came back to aid Larry Driskill’s defense. From 2015 to 2017, Parker County law enforcement worked to build a case around his confession. A few days after his arrest, the sheriff’s office discovered that in 2005 he had worked for a casino party company, and sometimes drove a white cargo van. They seized the van. Inside they found black duct tape, which they believed matched the kind of tape found with the victim’s body 10 years earlier.
While Driskill awaited trial, a fellow detainee named Jesse Carrington came forward, claiming Driskill had confessed to him on the recreation yard. Driskill denies the encounter. Carrington, like many jailhouse informants, was not a disinterested party: In his case file I found an email from a prosecutor, who promised to reduce his sentence for theft, in exchange for testimony against Driskill. When I reached Carrington via Facebook Messenger, he stood by his story but told me he wouldn’t have testified to it in court because he “didn’t know enough about his situation.” Driskill didn’t know about the informant’s hesitation. As far as he was concerned, the jury would hear that he had admitted to murder not once, but twice.
Driskill and his family hired a lawyer who tried to get his confession to Holland barred from trial because he had not known he was a suspect. The lawyer also noted gaps in the interrogation recordings, caused by equipment malfunctions. But before a judge could rule, Driskill pleaded no contest to the murder charge. He is due to be released in 2030, although he will be eligible for parole this summer. “I feel like I lost everything,” he told me. He and his wife are divorcing. His adult children don’t visit him. His mother used to make the four-hour drive to his prison, but eventually he told her not to bother.
The Gib Lewis Unit prison in East Texas, where Larry Driskill was incarcerated from 2017 to 2021. ELI DURST FOR THE MARSHALL PROJECT
When I asked him about James Holland, Driskill addressed him directly. “You’ve ruined my life. Should you be able to walk around free, screwing other peoples’ lives up?” At other moments, he was more forgiving: “I don’t hate him. I’m upset with him — but I’m not mad at him. I don’t want revenge. That’s in God’s hands.”
Lawyers from the Innocence Project of Texas, who declined to discuss the case, are still investigating. Swain, the prosecutor, said he agreed to let them send items to a lab for DNA testing. “In our view, none of these items are the type of things that would change how a jury would have viewed the case,” he told me, expressing frustration that Driskill waited until after he “received the benefit of a plea agreement” to declare his innocence.
At the same time, the Rangers have not technically closed Driskill’s case. They are still trying to solve the murder of Trina Nash, a sex worker last seen entering a white van in Fort Worth, seven months before Hill’s death. When I requested records, I learned that the Rangers consolidated the two cases under a single “report number,” suggesting they may pursue Driskill for Nash’s death as well.
CHAPTER 8: BOBBIE SUE HILL
When Driskill received his prison sentence, Bobbie Sue Hill’s family gathered in the courtroom to watch. “My mom’s short life enriched the lives of so many people,” Hill’s oldest daughter, Ashley Lor, said in an official victim impact statement. “She’ll be loved and missed forever.”
They had spent 12 years waiting for this moment, but the heartbreak had begun well before her death. They remembered a rambunctious child, who had a loving relationship with her brother and a contentious one with their single mother. She dropped out of high school and married her boyfriend. By the time she was 27, they had five children. “Her kids were her life,” said her cousin Cindy Elmquist during a recent phone interview. (Her children, as well as a sibling, did not respond to requests for interviews.)
In October 2003, Hill’s husband died in a car accident. His family took in the kids, and she began disappearing for days at a time. Elmquist would drive over to East Lancaster to look for her. “I saw her sitting on a curb and I barely recognized her. Her face looked so weathered,” she said. “We would say, ‘Girl you need to get home, get off them streets. Something is going to happen to you.’”
Hill’s aunt Judy Tatum told me she would help Hill pay for places to stay and deliver food when she’d complain of hunger. “She saw her flaws and didn’t want to pass it on to her kids,” another cousin, Billy Day Jr., wrote to me. He remembered her crying as they used drugs together. “She didn’t believe she could be what her kids deserved. So she stayed away, seeking any means to numb her senses, memories, and dreams.”
Several weeks before Hill disappeared, she indicated to her oldest daughter that she was ready to return home. Then her mugshot flashed across the local news. “Everyone thought it was never going to get solved, and that nobody cared,” Elmquist said. When the Texas Ranger came along, they were thrilled. Still, they were bothered that Hill’s public image would be defined by her worst moments. They wanted the world to know there was so much more to her.
If Larry Driskill’s team does convince a court to free him, it may tarnish the reputation of Holland, and present a public relations problem for the Texas Rangers. But it will be Hill’s family that has to return to not knowing the identity of the person who killed her, or whether that person is still out there.
CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj, and all others like him, should be prosecuted criminally; nobody should get away with ripping off folks because of their fear.
Excerpts from the Article:
First, there were bootleg hand sanitizer, counterfeit KN95 masks and vaccine cards. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the scam variant of concern involves testing.
Attorneys general in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Oregon have issued consumer alert warnings in recent days about questionable coronavirus tests and pop-up sites. Complaints include markups on at-home test kits and sites in New York that wrongfully billed patients for tests that are free; fake at-home tests being sold in Michigan; and testing centers in Illinois that return dubious results — or none at all.
The surging demand for tests recalls the shortages seen in the summer of 2020 and is a stark reminder that the United States continues to struggle with its coronavirus testing strategy. Even before the omicron variant surfaced, tests were in high demand as students returned to classrooms, workers to offices and many to leisure activities like concerts and cruises requiring proof of a negative test.
Now the current omicron spike has pushed the rate of new infections in the United States to record numbers: On Friday, the seven-day average for new cases was 794,202, close to triple the previous peak from a year ago. Several large school districts are requiring a negative test to return to class. Long lines have formed outside testing sites. And health experts are pushing Americans to test whenever faced with a potentially risky situation.
Americans will be able to order free rapid coronavirus tests Wednesday on new federal website.
As officials struggle to meet demand at government-run sites, many are turning to privately run pop-up sites. Consumer advocates are warning the public to be cautious about these sites operating in mobile units, shipping containers and sometimes outdoors in tents.
Consumers confuse such pop-up sites for health-care clinics, said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “They don’t realize they’re just a business that’s unlicensed and unregulated,” he told The Washington Post on Friday.
Authorities probing testing sites say one of the companies they’ve received several complaints about is the Center for Covid Control (CCC), an Illinois-based company that runs more than 300 pop-up testing locations nationwide.
The company has not been charged, but customers have complained of dubious testing protocols, paying for expedited test results that never arrive and being asked for personal identifying information, according to complaints filed with Better Business Bureau locations and attorney general offices in Illinois and Oregon.
This week, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s (D) office issued a blanket warning about pop-up testing sites; by Thursday, the office confirmed to The Post that it had opened a probe into the CCC after receiving at least 10 complaints.
“As a result of complaints from residents as well as reported problems at pop-up testing locations connected to the Center for COVID Control, we have opened an investigation,” spokesperson Annie Thompson said in an email.
Kristina Edmunson, a spokesperson for Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum, said the office this week opened a civil investigation into the CCCfor possible violations of Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act, which helps consumers hold businesses accountable for deceptive business practices.
According to two complaints shared by Rosenblum’s office, one customer at a Portland-based site reported receiving a rapid test that had already expired, according to the packaging. Another customer at a Portland site went to a CCC drive-through and never received her test results — but was asked to upload a picture of her driver’s license and provide her insurance information.
On Thursday, the CCC announced that it was suspending operations for a week. The Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based company bills itself as the nation’s largest coronavirus testing operator that promises no-appointment rapid tests to those with and without insurance.
In a statement, CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj blamed rapid company growth and the surge in testing demand as the reason “we haven’t been able to meet all our commitments.” Siyaj said many of the testing sites in the network saw a tenfold increase in patients with sites across the country cumulatively collecting as many as 80,000 tests a day.
In addition to the investigation by the Illinois attorney general’s office, the CCC is also being probed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Low ratings and complaints have flooded BBB chapters in other states; the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois said it is “actively looking into this company as they have recently received numerous complaints both locally and from across the country,” adding that the CCC has been “unresponsive” to complaints.
The problems with pop-up sites point to the need for better regulation, Bernas said. The biggest concern that has emerged from consumers is that dubious pop-up operations — or bad actors who infiltrate them — are after personal information for potential insurance fraud and identity theft purposes. Anecdotally, Bernas said, there are concerns individuals are joining long, chaotic lines and posing as clinic employees to extract personal info from waiting customers.
“And when people think they’re dealing with health-care providers, they don’t think twice about the info being asked of them,” Bernas said.
Lee Fleisher, the chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the federal agency was aware of several allegations against the CCC.
“To be clear – the Center for COVID Control is not a federal agency,” he said. “CMS is actively investigating numerous complaints about multiple laboratories and testing sites associated with this private company.”
Health and law enforcement officials said that testing sites run by major hospital systems or state and local health departments are the most reliable, and that consumers should ask questions when visiting unaffiliated pop-up sites.
Illinois Attorney General Raoul’s office recommends asking what kind of tests are being administered — like molecular PCR or rapid antigen versus serology tests, which are not diagnostic — what lab processes the results and double-checking if the lab is properly accredited.
“In today’s numbers, the chances of someone has coronavirus are pretty significant,” said Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, an assistant professor of medicine studying infectious diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Ideally, every time you have a gathering, you take a test — at least until cases drop.”
A bogus test, he said, means someone trying to be cautious gets false assurance that they can go to the office or gather with grandparents and unwittingly spread the virus.
“That’s why right now, accurate testing is so important,” he said.
Rapid coronavirus tests are hard to find — unless you work for Google or play in the NBA
A 74-year-old woman spent 27 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. This week she was exonerated
The worst example of how messed up the system is is the conviction of INNOCENT people. Nobody knows for sure, but depending which study you read, there are between 10,000 and 100,000 innocent people in America’s prisons!
Excerpts from the Article:
A Tennessee woman who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her great-niece and spent 27 years in prison, was exonerated this week.
On June 26, 1987, Joyce Watkins, now 74, and her boyfriend at the time, Charlie Dunn, went to pick up Watkins four-year-old great-niece, Brandi, in Kentucky, according to a report filed with the Davidson County Criminal Court. The next morning Brandi was unresponsive, so Watkins took her to Nashville Memorial Hospital.
Brandi suffered from severe vaginal injury and head trauma. She was pronounced dead the following day, the report stated. The two were with Brandi for only nine hours, but the medical examiner, Dr. Gretel Harlan, concluded the injuries were sustained during that time.
A year later, in August 1988, Watkins and Dunn were convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape. The two spent 27 years behind bars before they were both granted parole in 2015. Before his release, Dunn, unfortunately, passed away in jail.
Prior to Brandi being picked up by the couple, she was living at the home of Rose Williams, Brandi’s great-aunt. Brandi’s mother was in Georgia at the time. Throughout that period, a Kentucky Department of Social Services worker visited the home after receiving a report Brandi had been abused. Williams explained Brandi’s injuries were due to a playground mishap, and the investigation was closed.
Now 35 years later, Watkins has been exonerated after she made it a point to clear her name. Dunn was also cleared of the crime and posthumously exonerated.
His daughter, Jackie Dunn, was at the hearing on Wednesday. “I wish my daddy was here to witness this day,” she said. “He knew he was innocent, he knew he did not commit those crimes,” Dunn said to CNN affiliate WTVF.
Watkins got help from the Tennessee Innocence Project and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office. “We got this case because she (Joyce) came to us,” Jason Gichner, senior legal counsel with the Tennessee Innocence Project told CNN. “She just showed up at the office and said, ‘Let me tell you my story. I need your help.’ “
The report was filed on November 10, 2021, asking that the pair’s convictions be vacated. Joyce Watkins spent 27 years in jail and was released on parole in 2015.
The filing clarified Watkins noticed blood in Brandi’s underwear when they arrived home, only an hour and a half after the couple picked her up, with at least an hour of that time spent driving back to Nashville.
A report from Dr. Shipla Reddy was also included in the filing, who said Dr. Harlan’s “methodology for dating the head injury based upon a lack of histiocytic response in the brain tissue is not a legitimate method for dating pediatric head trauma.”
He was wrongly convicted of murder as a teen. After fighting for 26 years, his name has finally been cleared
The ruling noted Harlan conceded the error in her methodology years after the trial.
“Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn are innocent,” District Attorney Glenn Funk told CNN, “We cannot give Ms. Watkins or Mr. Dunn their lost years but we can restore their dignity; we can restore their names. Their innocence demands it.”
According to Sunny Eaton with the District Attorney’s Office, Watkins is the first black woman to ever be exonerated in the state and only the third woman in Tennessee history.
“Miss Watkins, this charge against you is dismissed,” Davidson County Criminal Court Judge, Angelita Blackshear Dalton, said Wednesday morning, according to WTVF.
As far as Watkins or Dunn’s family getting compensated for their wasted time spent in jail, Gichner said he is unsure of what will happen down the road.
In a comment to the media and CNN affiliate WZTV Watkins said, “I thank all the people for their prayers and helping me get out of this mess which has cost me half of my life for nothing, But I’ll get over it.”