We all want a justice system that is even handed and treats suspected criminals the same, regardless of who they are and who their intended victims might be. Well perhaps only some of us want that. Apparently, some federal and state prosecutors have differing views on what constitutes a serious criminal offense requiring an indictment. For your edification and discussion, compare and contrast the following incidents.
First Case: In Denver, Colorado, during the Democratic National Convention, (as you may have heard) three men with suspected ties to a white supremacist organization were arrested when they were found carrying “two rifles, ammunition, bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies, wigs and fake identifications” in their car. Further searches of their hotel room and vehicles turned up “meth[amphetamine], needles, laptops, cell phones, a black mask, books indicating check fraud and forgery, bags of new clothes, tactical pants and bar coupons.” These men, one of whom had seven outstanding arrest warrants, had openly discussed a plot to kill Senator Brack Obama, the then presumptive Democratic nominee:
[KUSA’s] 9wants to know [ed. note: a Denver television station investigative news team] has learned three men in Denver discussed assassinating U.S. Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention in Denver by sneaking into one of his events and shooting him with a gun hidden inside of a camera.
Nathan Johnson’s girlfriend, whom 9NEWS is not naming because she’s a juvenile, said “it would have to be a suicide mission,” according to federal court records. […]
Johnson, Shawn Adolf and Tharin Gartrell all thought that Obama had a suite in the third floor of the Hyatt hotel, where they were staying. In fact, Obama was staying in another Denver hotel. […]
The underage woman told law enforcement that Adolf also talked about using “a high-powered rifle 22-250 from a high vantage point” to shoot Obama during his acceptance speech at INVESCO Field at Mile High.
One of the other women in the room, Kay Neb, told police she believes Adolf is affiliated with the Sons of Silence white supremacist group. Neb also told police that Adolf, Johnson and Gartrell are all racists because they made racially disparaging comments about Obama.
An FBI Special Agent, Robert Sawyer “believed there was sufficient evidence to charge the men with a criminal conspiracy to kill Obama.” Yet, for some reason, the US Attorney in Denver, Troy Eid, disagreed with the FBI’s recommendations and refused to charge the men with conspiracy to commit the murder of the Democratic nominee for President.
Eid claimed that the actions they had taken, such as the acquisition of weapons, their presence in Denver in the same time as Obama, and the statements made to the various witnesses revealed a plot that was merely “aspirational” and thus didn’t warrant criminal charges of conspiracy, despite th fact that the Justice department in the case of the “Liberty Seven” had charged seven black men living in South Florida with charges involving an alleged terrorist plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago even though their plans were clearly “more aspirational than operational” (in their case, the alleged plotters had acquired no weapons, no explosives and the entire case against them involved conversations with a government informant). Attorney Eid himself had recently indicted a black prison inmate who sent a threatening letter to John McCain which included baby powder in it with “knowingly threatening to harm or kill through the U.S. mail” a federal felony offense that carries up to a five year prison sentence.
Purely for your information, US Attorney Eid, as David Neiwert at Orcinus has pointed out, is a former protege of Karl Rove who received his appointment as a US attorney despite an FBI background check which uncovered some “questionable lobbying activities.” In other words, a man with a somewhat questionable past.
Second Case: In Minneapolis/St. Paul last week eight people, alleged to be members of the group known as the “RNC Welcoming Committee” were charged for the first time by the Ramsey County, Minnesota Prosecuting Attorney, under a 2002 Minnesota law with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” The affidavits which show probable cause the arrest warrants of these 8 individuals were all supplied by . . .
. . .paid, confidential informants who infiltrated the [RNC Welcoming Committee] on behalf of law enforcement. They allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul.
So, what evidence did the police raids, conducted under the auspices of search warrants supported by affidavits provided by these “paid informants,” turn up which supports the charges that the RNC Welcoming Committee “sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports”? Not very damn much:
Although claiming probable cause to believe that gunpowder, acids, and assembled incendiary devices would be found, no such items were seized by police. As a result, police sought to claim that the seizure of common household items such as glass bottles, charcoal lighter, nails, a rusty machete, and two hatchets, supported the allegations of the confidential informants.
In other words, to support these charges of a “conspiracy to riot in support of terrorism” the police and the prosecutors are relying “a single plastic shield, a rusty machete, and two hatchets used in Minnesota to split wood” to prove that these eight self described “anarchists” intended to commit terrorist acts, including throwing incendiary bombs at police and kidnapping delegates to the RNC, etc. To be frank, this is a rather tenuous assemblage of physical evidence to support the conspiracy charges. Unlike in Denver, there was no evidence of any guns, ammunition or explosive materials confiscated by police, and no independent witnesses to the statements in the affidavits from the paid police informants that terrorist acts were being planned. Yet, the criminal complaints filed against the “RNC 8” do not even allege that “any of the defendants personally … engaged in any act of violence or damage to property.” Indeed, they are being held responsible for “acts committed by others.” Unlike the arrested defendants in Denver, none of the RNC 8 individuals has any prior history of crimes involving violence.
Yet one group of individuals is being charged with a serious crime of conspiracy to riot in support of terrorism. The other group, who were arrested with weaponry which clearly could have been used in an attempt to assassinate Barack Obama, and who took steps in furtherance of an attempt on Obama’s life, are only being charged by local officials with lesser offenses regarding “weapons and/or drug charges.”
This is what is known in the legal vernacular, boys and girls, as prosecutorial discretion:
The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations. Or the prosecutor may choose a more subtle course and simply have a citizen’s friends interviewed. The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial. He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard. Or he may go on with a public trial. If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole. While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.
I leave it to you, dear readers, to decide which of these prosecutors exercised their powers to charge individuals with crimes wisely and in the public interest, or if either of them did so. I think you can guess how I come down on that question.