Guests: Marlon Defillo, Eddie Jordan, Joe Tacopina, Victoria Havassy, Matt Behl, Linda Sharp, Jay Sekulow, Elliot Mincberg, Russell Van Camp
DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC HOST: Coming up, three New Orleans police officers charged with battery after they are caught on tape.
The officers take down the suspect. His alleged crime? Public intoxication. While another goes after a TV producer at the scene. Six weeks after Katrina, are New Orleans police cracking?
And in the battle over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, one evangelical Christian leader says the White House adviser Karl Rove provided information that made him comfortable with Miers‘ nomination. Don‘t the rest of us have a right to know that information, as well?
Plus, Virginia police still gathering evidence in the case of 17-year-old Taylor Behl‘s murder. Her body found last week. The college freshman‘s father joins us.
The program about justice starts now.
Hi, everyone. First up on the docket tonight, New Orleans police under fire again. This time it looks like the beating of a 64-year-old man caught on tape Saturday night on Bourbon Street. Let me warn you. The images are graphic. We will ask, are the police there losing it? First NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla has the story.
CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESOPONDENT (voice-over): It was around 9:00 p.m. when three New Orleans police officers pinned Robert Davis against the wall, punching him in the head.
Sixty-four years old, he was charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest. Police are facing more rowdy behavior as New Orleans night life makes a comeback, but officials said the force used in this arrest was not appropriate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no excuse for officers not maintaining the high standards of this agency and serving this public.
QUINTANILLA: New Orleans police have already lost their superintendent, been accused of looting and have seen two colleagues take their own lives during Katrina, stress that surfaced when this officer grabbed a producer from Associated Press television who caught the arrest on tape.
Some say they now fear a racial backlash because Davis, the suspect, was black, and the officers appear white. Mistrust that may threaten the fragile recovery in a town that has already been through enough.
ABRAMS: That‘s Carl Quintanilla. The three police officers in those pictures, Lance Shilling and Robert Evangelist, who subdued Davis and S.E. Smith who grabbed the AP producer were in municipal court today and they pled not guilty to simple battery charges, which is a misdemeanor. Trial set for January 11.
The officers are out on bond. Before we talk to the New Orleans police, let me say we are getting late breaking word for the attorney for the man on the tape now saying his client was not even drinking that night.
Captain Marlon Defillo, spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department and joins me now by phone. Captain, I‘m sorry we have to keep talk under these kinds of circumstances. Let me ask you first specifically about the tape. You have seen the tape. It looks horrible. What do you make of it?
MARLON DEFILLO, NOPD (on phone): Well, the tape is troubling. When this was brought to our attention yesterday morning, the superintendent who was out of town assembled senior managers including myself, we had gone to see the tape and of course the tape was troubling to the point we believed the officers involved (inaudible) used more force than was necessary. Clearly, we believe Mr. Davis was resisting, however, we believe that the force used by the officers was not acceptable based on department policy as well as training that we give police officers.
ABRAMS: I should say are you on a cell phone, we‘re having a little trouble. If we continue to have this we‘ll have you call back. Captain, is it fair to ask the question, are some on the police department kind of losing it? I mean, even when I was down there, I saw the kinds of hours that people were working, et cetera. And I know the goal was to give a lot of people some time off right after this happened in order to allow them to get their wits back, to be able to relax a little bit. You look at this guy punching the one guy, grabbing the AP producer. These three give you the sense that some on the force are kind of losing it.
DEFILLO: Well, I clearly don‘t want to make an excuse for the officers involved but the police officers have been working for the last six weeks under some very challenging times. But let me tell you, we have more than 9,000 employees on the police department. Certainly the incident that occurred on Saturday night does not reflect the vast majority of the men and women working in this department.
ABRAMS: Just so we are clear, you are not defending the actions of those police officers, correct?
DEFILLO: No, I‘m not, we have them suspended and charged them with battery. So clearly, the police department, when initially brought to our attention, the decisive action was taken. And I think that‘s important for the public looking at this newscast, that the important thing is what once these issues are brought to the attention of the administration, what is the administration going to do? We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior. And when something like this occurs we‘ll take appropriate action. And it‘s going to be swift and decisive.
ABRAMS: Captain, final question, the attorney for that man says he wasn‘t even drinking that night. You know anything about that?
DEFILLO: No, that‘s the first I have heard of that. Everyone will have their day in court. The officers are going to have their day in court. Mr. Davis will have his day in court. Going on to say, how serious this department is about discipline, the Associated Press producer did not want to press charges. We decided, the police department decided that we‘re going to pursue charges on behalf of him. (inaudible) So that‘s how serious we are about making sure our officers do the right thing. Let me also add that they are the best police department in America. That doesn‘t have problems. The question is again, once you know you have problems, what do you do with it? You deal with it. We dealt with the issues.
ABRAMS: It‘s good to see that we are not hearing what we sometimes hear in these kinds of cases, which is, well, you know, you have to under the circumstances. The tape doesn‘t show everything. Basically, you‘re saying look, we took action, it was unacceptable. Captain Defillo, thanks a lot for coming on the program.
DEFILLO: You‘re welcome. Thank you.
ABRAMS: Eddie Jordan, Jr. is the New Orleans district attorney. Victory Havassy is a psychologist who has been counseling law enforcement for the past 20 years and Joe Tacopina is the famed criminal defense attorney who has represented police officers in brutality cases. District Attorney Jordan let me start with you. Is your office also investigating this?
EDDIE JORDAN, JR., N.O. D.A.: Indeed my office is investigating this matter. We just opened our investigation today when we learned about this very unfortunate incident.
ABRAMS: And how does it work? They have been charged in municipal court. You basically - you guys are effectively the big guys compared go municipal court. Is it possible you would take over saying this is too serious, it is too important, my office is going to handle it?
JORDAN: That is a possibility. We will conduct our own investigation. If we determine that state charges are more appropriate, we‘ll ask the city attorney to defense to the district attorney‘s office.
ABRAMS: You think it‘s fair, don‘t you, to look at this tape and be horrified?
JORDAN: I don‘t think there is any question about this. This footage that we have seen is unconscionable. And it certainly demands some explanation.
ABRAMS: Let me read this quote as I go to Victoria Havassy. This is from Dr. Howard Osofsky from LSU Medical School.
“There is no disaster that has had the amount of trauma for a department that this has, where so many police officers have lost homes, been separated from their families, had loved ones living in other places with no idea when they will return.”
Actually, first, let me go to Joe Tacopina on that. Joe, that is a legal defense? Could these guys come into court and say we were so traumatized by everything that happened that it eventually led to this?
JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, it is. It would be an unusual one in a police sort of defense when you are defending cops. Of course, normally their mental health is not in question. But in this instance it could be a defense.
And more importantly as a trial lawyer what it would be called is jury nullification. This is a black eye. There is really no excuse for it. It was unjustified by any training manual across the country. What I just heard from the doctor and the fact of the matter is these cops were working 24 hour shifts, some of them sleeping in their cars, being displaced, three quarters of them lost their homes, half don‘t know where their families are.
That guy who approached the A.P. newsman had lost it. You heard it. He wasn‘t even, he was saying, I‘m trying to keep alive. Go home. He had clearly at that point lost it. These are cops who literally slept in their cars for 24 hours straight. These guys stayed.
ABRAMS: Here‘s some of what we have seen since Hurricane Katrina. Two officers committed suicide. Two hundred forty nine investigated for leaving their posts without permission, 12 officers investigated for looting or condoning looting and you have this.
TACOPINA: And also some dead, Dan. There are uncounted officers that are. They are missing, about 300 from last count.
ABRAMS: That was the 249 investigated for leaving their posts.
JORDAN: Let me say, Dan .
ABRAMS: Go ahead, Mr. Jordan.
JORDAN: Let me just say from the standpoint of a prosecutor, I respectfully disagree with that position. I think neither frustration nor fatigue would justify this kind of misconduct. The citizens of New Orleans are not going to tolerate police officers engaging in brutality because of the extraordinary circumstances that we have going on today.
ABRAMS: Victoria Havassy, if you were asked to testify in some sort of proceeding, be it a pre-trial hearing, be it a trial to provide general thoughts on the psychological condition of some of these officers, knowing what knew about what happened in New Orleans, is it fair for some of them to say, everything that happened, the amount of hours we were working, the fact we have been away from our family, etc, from a psychological point of view, does that explain what we see on the videotape?
VICTORIA HAVASSY, PSYCHOLOGIST AND COUNSELS POLICE OFFICERS: I can‘t justify what is on the videotape. It does explain the human reaction to such an excessive event and remembering these officers were not only keeping the peace, so to speak, and responding but they were also victims.
ABRAMS: Would you, this is number two, if you can pull this up, this is from Dr. Osofsky again, LSU Medical school.
“Following 9/11, there was a known enemy and know situation and even though the two buildings were destroyed and lives lost the people who survived could go to their homes. The city of New York was not destroyed. The country around it was not destroyed.”
Is that relevant, do you think in terms of a psychological comparison?
HAVASSY: I don‘t know if I believe there is a psychological comparison. In my mind I compare it to some of the federal agents who were injured or involved in Hurricane Andrew a few years ago. All they wanted to do was get home to their families. Yet their job is to be there for the public. They haven‘t talked to their families. It‘s a superhuman request that we make of them.
ABRAMS: Here‘s Lieutenant Dave Benelli, president of the police association in New Orleans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. DAVE BENELLI, N.O. POLICE ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: Everybody is yonder a lot of stress. But the men and women on the police department are coping as best they can. I‘m not ready to say at this time until we talk to the officers in depth about the actions that stress had anything to do with this situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And Joe, to clarify what you were saying before, you are not actually saying it‘s a winnable defense, you think it‘s something that should be evaluated as a defense attorney, right?
TACOPINA: Exactly right. It doesn‘t justify what happened but you need to sit down with the client. And look. Another important factor, hopefully the district attorney will look at this, who are these cops? When I‘m representing a cop, the first thing I do, Dan, is get the personnel file. Is this someone with a history? Is this someone who has a propensity of being involved in high, physical contact type deals? Are these great cops who have not had a blemish on their record? And if so, should they be cut a break here?
ABRAMS: Very quickly, D.A. Jordan, does that matter?
JORDAN: I think the focus will be on their conduct in this particularly situation and whether it was justified or not. I can‘t imagine why they would punch someone in the back of the head in connection with subduing that person.
ABRAMS: District Attorney Eddie Jordan, thank you for coming back on the program. Victoria Havassy, Joe Tacopina, nice to see you, thanks a lot.
Last week when police found the body of Virginia college student Taylor Behl. Still no charges have been filed against a key suspect whose father joins next. And Richmond police also looking for another teenage girl. Monica Sharp went out walking with her dog weeks ago. Her dog came home. She did not.
Plus the battle over Harriet Miers Supreme Court Nomination, evangelical Christian leader James Dobson says Bush advisor Karl Rove told him something that makes him comfortable with Miers. Don‘t the rest of us deserve to know what he knows?
Your email, email@example.com. Please include your name, where you‘re writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: The only suspect in the Taylor Behl murder case behind bars but yet to be charged with any crime in this case. Taylor last seen leaving her dorm room at Virginia Commonwealth University the night of September 5. He remains were found last Thursday in Matthews County, Virginia about 70 miles from Richmond. The police ended up there after the ex-girlfriend of the chief suspect identified the area from a photograph.
The suspect, 38-year-old Benjamin Fawley. He admits to having a sexual relationship with Taylor. Saying he last saw her at 9:30 the night she disappeared. He also says he was kidnapped the same night she went missing.
Joining me now is Matt Behl, Taylor‘s father. Thank you for coming on this program. I know this has to be a difficult time and week for you. And so we appreciate you taking time.
MATT BEHL, TAYLOR BELL‘S FATHER: Thank you for inviting me.
ABRAMS: How are you holding up?
BEHL: Good sometimes, bad, you know. It comes and goes. A lot of different things remind me of Taylor and can choke me up a little bit.
ABRAMS: What do you make of this Fawley guy? Had you ever heard of him before this all started?
BEHL: I had met Ben Fawley in February of this year when I took Taylor down to look at VCU as a possible school she might want to attend.
ABRAMS: What happened at that meeting?
BEHL: Well, I was dropping Taylor off. She was actually staying in that townhouse with a friend that she knew from Madison High School where she graduated from. Him and his girlfriend lived there and Ben Fawley was their roommate. Frankly, I didn‘t get a sense of urgency at that point because I had no idea of his age and thought he was just a student at the school.
ABRAMS: So, it was a very brief meeting?
BEHL: About 10 or 15 minutes.
ABRAMS: All right. Now that you know so much more, have you heard anything from the authorities about if and when they are going to charge him in connection with this case?
BEHL: No. It‘s my information that they are still processing evidence from the crime scene as well as evidence from Taylor‘s body.
ABRAMS: From the beginning it seems to me this guy had to be the chief suspect. This silliness about he was kidnapped on the same night she went missing, etc. Have you gotten the impression from the beginning he was the one they were looking at?
BEHL: Well, I don‘t know if he‘s the only one they are looking at or if there is other people that they are looking at other people. Certainly, my presumption is he would be considered a primary suspect.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what the police chief said about it on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE BETWESON, TAYLOR BEHL‘S MOTHER‘S ATTORNEY: A dog tracked a scent from her car to a gentleman named Jesse Schultz. It seems very suspicious to me. I think the authorities are looking into any connection there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That wasn‘t the piece of sound I was looking for. George Peterson is the attorney for Taylor‘s mother. He is speaking there. What he said was we certainly believe it was the strongest suspect they already have. He was talking about someone else who has apparently been cleared as a suspect in this case.
Tell me about the rest of the family. Is there some level of—I hate the word closure. It makes it seem like it‘s over and I know it‘s not and the pain continues. But was there a sense of relief, closure, I don‘t know what the word is to use, when you heard that finally they had found Taylor?
BEHL: For me there was. It was, you know, rather than sitting around waiting for a phone call or wondering why she hadn‘t called her mother or I, it was—it was closing that at least we knew where she was and a what had happened to her to some extent. There was a reason for her not calling us.
ABRAMS: Matt Behl, thank you very much for taking the time and again, in these kinds of stories, it‘s odd because myself and my staff feel like we get to know some of the people involved in these cases, even though we don‘t truly know them. But thank you very much for taking the time as much as we can, our hearts do go out to you and we have been thinking about you and Taylor for the last few weeks.
BEHL: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Now to another case, another missing Richmond, Virginia, girl, Monica Sharp last seen leaving her house on September 18th. Her mother filed a missing person‘s report later that day. Monica‘s family and the police believe she which is 57-year-old Jeffrey Nichols but left with him voluntarily after meeting him on the internet. She appears to have last logged on to her personal Web page two days after she went missing. Joining me now is Linda Sharp, Monica‘s mother.
Ms. Sharp, I say the same thing to you. I know this is a very tough time for you. I thank you for taking the time. Tell us what you know about this gentleman who you think your daughter is with.
LINDA SHARP, MONICA SHARP‘S MOTHER (on phone): Really, we don‘t really know anything about him. We just know he‘s 57, apparently he had an Illinois driver‘s license but does not necessarily reside there. We just, we don‘t know anything about him.
ABRAMS: Why are the authorities do you think so confident that she is with him?
SHARP: I think that they were seen together in Richmond. Either Monday or Tuesday. She was missing on a Sunday and I think Monday or Tuesday she was seen in Richmond with him. And the person who observed them called the police and it was a tip to the police.
ABRAMS: And is the belief that they met online somehow and set up a meeting?
SHARP: Yes. Well, yes. I think the belief is they met online and we
they have taken all that information off our computer. And we have seen small portions of the conversations that they had together. Some of which indicate that they were planning to meet. But there was no indication that they were planning to meet that Sunday morning.
So, in other words, when she woke up, went out and walked her dog, she didn‘t take anything with her, like keys or purse or money or clothing or anything like that. So, you know, we do realize that there are these transcripts of conversations that they had but apparently nothing that indicated that this morning they were planning to meet.
ABRAMS: Any of Monica‘s friends able to provide any other information?
SHARP: No. We have talked to everyone. And they are stunned because you know, she saw them every day, talked to them, but she didn‘t say anything about this.
ABRAMS: All right. Look, this is one of these cases we don‘t have to just look back, we can actually look forward and hope that someone has seen her and can call the authorities. That‘s why Linda has taken the time to come on the program. 804-647-6764. That‘s the number if you have seen her. We showed you the picture of the man that she is suspected of being with, Jeffrey Nichols. Thank you very much, Ms. Sharp, and good luck to you.
SHARP: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, some senators want to know what White House advisor, Karl Rove, told this man to make him so comfortable with Harriet Miers, even though many of his allies are not.
And they were allegedly murdered by convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan, now the families are suing a Minnesota County where he was charged with a different crime. Unfortunately I think they‘ll have an uphill battle. We‘ll talk about it.
And our continuing series, manhunt. Sex offenders on the loose. Our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike again. Our search this week in California, Terry Bowen, 44, 5‘9, 175, hasn‘t registered with the authorities. He is convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
If you‘ve got any information regarding Bowen, please contact the California Department of Justice. 916-227-4974. Back in a minute.
ABRAMS: Coming up. The battle or Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, did the White House provide assurances to some conservatives about her beliefs on hot button topics like abortion? Should those people have to testify in the confirmation hearings so everyone will know?
First the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.
QUESTION: In your friendship with her?
BUSH: Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her. What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: With so many unanswered questions circulating about the supreme court nominee Harriet Miers position on some of the most controversial issues, one person believes he has the answers. James Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family said last week on his radio show that he has some inside info.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: When you—and you have to trust me on this one—when you know some of the things I know that I probably shouldn‘t know, that take me in this direction, you will understand why I have said with fear and trepidation, why I have said that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice. John, if I have made a mistake here, I will never forget it. The blood of those babies that will die will be on my hands to some degree.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Dobson admitted during the same broadcast last week he had numerous conversations with Karl Rove with the Miers nomination. Democrats and Republicans are calling on Dobson to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee and reveal what he was told.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ® PA: If there are back room assurances and deals and something which bears upon a precondition as to how a nominee is going to vote, I think that‘s a matter that ought to be known by the Judiciary Committee and the American people. If Dr. Dobson knows something he shouldn‘t know or something I ought to know, I‘m going to find out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Arlen Specter of course is a pro choice Republican. Should Dobson be forced to tell the senate what he knows about Miers? If he refuses, should he be subpoenaed? Joining us now to answer some of those questions, Jay Sekulow, of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice and Elliot Mincberg, legal director for the liberal People for the American Way.
All right, gentlemen, thanks very much for coming on. Jay, do you have any problem with forcing Dobson to come in and say what did Rove say to you?
JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Well look, the Congress has—the Senate has subpoena power. They could ask him to come in voluntarily or they can ask him to come in through a subpoena. They can also, as will probably happen, through the investigative process that is probably underway as we speak that may be going on to find out what he means.
Let me tell you something and as someone who has been very involved in this process of judicial selection and someone who has worked with the White House I had no assurances given and I can‘t imagine Jim Dobson did either. I think some of the things he‘s talking about and I think this will come out in due course, are the statements that were made by Nathan Hecht, her friend who is of course a justice on the Texas Supreme Court who was on the news immediately after the nominations, there is no great surprise there. I can‘t imagine anyone else at the White House gave information .
ABRAMS: Which was what?
SEKULOW: That she attended a church it was her faith-based commitments, that‘s what Nathan Hecht talked about and talked about she‘s a conservative. But no one knows how she will vote on a particular case. I do agree with the president that she has a conservative judicial philosophy. The president, after all, has given the authority to nominate. But if Jim Dobson knew something he wasn‘t supposed to , it will come out.
I suspect that‘s not the case at all.
ABRAMS: This is what Chuck Schumer said on “Face the Nation” about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NY: I believe that we ought to call James Dobson as a witness at the senate judiciary hearings and find out what kind of assurances he‘s received. If those assurances are good enough for James Dobson then all of America ought to hear them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Elliot Mincberg, what do you make of that?
ELLIOT MINCBERG, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: I think Senator Schumer and Senator Specter are absolutely right. The concerns raised about Harriet Miers include will she be an independent voice on the Supreme Court, not just doing George W. Bush‘s wishes and does she have a basic commitment to constitutional values. I suspect what Dobson found out leads him to believe she will vote the way he wants her to to overturn Roe v. Wade. And .
ABRAMS: Isn‘t it possible—wait, all they said to Dobson behind closed doors is she is as very religious woman. She takes her faith very seriously. It‘s dominant part of her life and keep that in mind, my friend, something like that was said. Let‘s assume that was what was said.
MINCBERG: And that‘s quite possible. If that‘s all that was said you would have thought he would have said that by now. But the fact is not only should he be asked but Karl Rove should be asked what information he gave to people like Dobson. And frankly, one of the key things is this is an advisor, a person would who‘s known the president for more than a decade. And he made the decision based on what he knows about her. That means even more important than Dobson or Rove testifying is her testifying.
ABRAMS: That‘s not going to happen.
MINCBERG: Republicans and Democrats want to know.
ABRAMS: That‘s a nice theory but I promise you she will not answer the questions you want answered. I won‘t happen.
MINCBERG: If you are right about that .
ABRAMS: I know I‘m right.
MINCBERG: I wouldn‘t be surprised to see Republicans and Democratic senators saying we need to know more about her.
ABRAMS: That may happen but anyone claiming they expect to get the answers from Miers in the confirmation hearing that that is going to somehow assure them one way or another are just grandstanding. You know you are not getting the answers.
MINCBERG: Nobody is talking about ..
ABRAMS: The fact is—go ahead, Jay.
SEKULOW: She can‘t say how she‘s going to vote in a particular case.
And whether she can or can‘t, she‘s not going to. The president makes the nomination.
MINCBERG: That‘s not what we‘re talking about .
SEKULOW: What we‘re talking about is whether information was given.
ABRAMS: One at a time. Jay, go ahead. Jay Sekulow, go ahead.
SEKULOW: Here‘s what we‘ve got. The question today is, were there assurances given to some on the conservative side with regard to Harriet Miers‘ views. The answer to that is going to be exactly what you just said, Dan. What is going to come out and it will probably not take a Senate hearing to do this is they talked about she is a woman of sincere faith.
ABRAMS: I would like to know that. I think that‘s what we‘re going to hear. Whether that was actually said or not said. Because Dobson sure made it sound like he has more than that.
MINCBERG: But that‘s exactly right. He did. That‘s why we should find that out.
SEKULOW: I know Jim Dobson and I know one thing. Jim Dobson is going to tell the truth.
ABRAMS: I‘m not questioning that. I didn‘t mean to suggest he is going to tell the truth. I‘m saying that‘s what we‘ll get on the investigation.
Jay Sekulow and Elliot Mincberg, thanks a lot, appreciate it.
Coming up the families of three people murdered by a sex offender will sue the county for letting him out on bail. As sad as it is, as a legal matter, I‘m not sure they have a case.
ABRAMS: Coming up the families of three victims who allegedly died at the hand of Joseph Duncan are suing another county for letting him out on bail. Details after the break.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Remember the horrible story of Joseph Duncan charged with bludgeoning Brenda Groene, her 13 year old son Slade and boyfriend Mark McKenzie to death?
And then accused also of kidnapping Shasta and Dylan and molesting them repeatedly over almost seven weeks. Shasta eventually found in the middle of the night in a diner with her alleged captor and just days later Dylan‘s remains discovered in the Montana woods. Now Brenda Groene and Mark Mackenzie‘s families are preparing a lawsuit claiming the judge and prosecutors and law enforcement authorities in Becker County, Minnesota, are responsible for letting him out on bail when they should have known he was a violent sex offender and should have known he would likely offend again.
I fear they don‘t have a legal leg to stand on. Here‘s what we know.
March of this year Duncan is charged with molesting two boys in Minnesota. He was a registered sex offender after serving two decades for the violent rape of 14 year old boy in Washington State. April 5th, voluntarily goes to court after receiving a summons. He‘s released on $15,000 bail.
One condition, he had to have weekly contact with probation. April 18, last time probation hears from Duncan. May 3, probation tells the county attorney he‘s disappeared and May 19th Brenda and Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie were murdered in Idaho.
My take. My regular viewers know how angry this case made me in addition to my fury at Duncan, I became furious at all the finger pointing in Minnesota. The bottom line is the law in Minnesota allowed for bail. He paid cash. If the bail had been higher, he could have put part of the money down and been released. It wouldn‘t have changed anything. The law in Minnesota needs to be changed. But I‘m afraid this lawsuit will get thrown out. Joining me is the attorney representing the families of Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie. Russell Van Camp. Mr. Van Camp, thank you very much for taking the time. What am I getting wrong here as a legal matter?
RUSSELL VAN CAMP, REPRESENTS GROENE AND MCKENZIE FAMILES: In our system of justice in the United States, things can be changed. It takes these people that have suffered this horrendous situation, this is the kind of case that can change the law or change how sex offenders treated in the United States. We have got to do something and the time is now.
ABRAMS: Look, I agree with you. As you know twice a show we put out pictures of wanted sex offenders who have not reported to authorities hoping we can help in that effort. But as a legal matter, you would concede, would you not, that typically this type of lawsuit would typically be thrown out?
VAN CAMP: I don‘t concede anything, number one. And this is not a typical lawsuit so you can‘t say typically this kind of lawsuit would be thrown out.
ABRAMS: Let me rephrase. Typically a lawsuit against a county for not doing something, for not doing more when the result was horrible, generally would be thrown out?
VAN CAMP: Absolutely not. Not generally. When you have such a horrific situation as this, the law takes a closer look at it. In fact, there could be federal laws violated here. I feel that they need to take care of it in Minnesota. They need to take care of it now.
ABRAMS: How is a lawsuit viewed differently as a legal battle based on how horrific the crime was?
VAN CAMP: Remember, this is not a lawsuit yet, it‘s a tort claim. But when it shocks the conscience of the average person and any normal human being would be shocked by what happened here, and how easy it would have been for the responsible authorities to look back at a 25-year history of this devil incarnate and not let him loose and this situation would not have happened. The family wants to stop this for the future. That‘s what they want to do.
ABRAMS: There is a danger if lawsuits like this succeed that basically any time a public official does something, facts that a particular way or doesn‘t act, that if something horrible happens, later that person will be held civilly responsible?
VAN CAMP: In this type of case, back in the old days the king could do no wrong. In this case the king did wrong. And through their negligence we lost human lives and then horrendous things happened to little kids. And this is the kind of case that is an exception to that kind of generalization that you‘re talking about.
ABRAMS: You think it‘s fair to say you blame the Minnesota authorities for everything that happened here?
VAN CAMP: I blame the responsible, hired employees of this county to do their job credibility and do it right and not go through every day on a rote-type situation. This is not that type situation. There has got to be some accountability and there‘s got to be accountability for the future.
ABRAMS: When you say accountability—We all would blame Duncan but are you also saying the county in Minnesota is responsible for these deaths?
VAN CAMP: In a legal sense, they‘re responsible. They let him out. This guy should have never been let out and never given a bond. Had they done their job right back there, and had investigated it properly in this information age that we have, it is my opinion and the family‘s opinion this would not have happened. We want to stop this from happening in the future.
ABRAMS: I think we all do. I don‘t fault you for giving it a try. I think you have a difficult legal challenge ahead of you. But I think you are doing it for the right reasons.
Russell Van Camp, thank you for taking the time.
VAN CAMP: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, don‘t let those on the far right tell you they don‘t have a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees. Take one look how they are reacting to Harriet Miers and you‘ll see what it is. Either you agree with them or you‘re out. And keep in mind, when it came to Roberts some on the left did the same thing. I‘m tired of it.
And our continuing series, manhunt, sex offenders on the loose. Helping to find missing sex offenders before they strike. This week we‘re focusing on California. Authorities need your help finding Clifford Willard, convicted of lewd acts with a child under the age of 14. He is 52, 5‘8, 150, has not registered with the authorities.
If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please call the California Department of Justice - 916-227-4974. Back in a moment.
ABRAMS: “Closing Argument.”
It‘s time to blow through the smoke screens about the many opposed to Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court. It‘s actually quite easy to do. The far right is afraid she‘s not far enough to the right, and they want proof, period. Don‘t believe those who say there is no litmus test. Of course there is.
If you don‘t want to overturn Roe versus Wade, if you don‘t want to disallow the rights of gays, if you don‘t want to allow more religion in public buildings and schools then they don‘t want you on the court, period. Your “qualifications,” quote unquote, meaningless.
Apart from the handful of law professors and legal scholars, almost all of those who, at this time are claiming she‘s not qualified are just looking for an excuse. I assure you the vast majority of them would we welcome a poorly qualified but guaranteed hardcore conservative.
The far right is only resorting to talk about her judicial experience and qualifications because they want someone with experience who proves she‘ll vote their way, not because they‘re truly concerned about her ability to evaluate constitutional issues. It‘s almost humorous to hear some of the same people who regularly mock the so-called elite point out that their law school is not among the nation‘s most respected.
Now, some on the left engaged in a similar type of dishonest attack. During John Roberts‘ process they couldn‘t hide behind the cloak of inadequate qualifications. After all, the Harvard Law grad had worked for the Justice Department, repeatedly argued in front of the Supreme Court and had served as a federal appeals judge.
So instead the 22 senators who opposed Roberts claimed they couldn‘t vote for him because they didn‘t know enough about him or he didn‘t answer about him. The reality, they couldn‘t be sure they would not vote with conservative justices on many of the same constitutional issues, in particular Roe v. Wade.
Since when are senators entitled to guarantees about how a Supreme Court justice will rule? The Senate‘s constitutional role of advise and consent is disintegrating to the role of advocate and confront. I‘ll say it again. We cannot let the sides hijack the Supreme Court process.
It‘s even more insulting and dangerous when this aren‘t straight with us about what they‘re saying and why they‘re saying it.
Coming up, the terror alert in New York City now over. Some of you come to the defense of New York officials, criticize for going public about questionable threats. Your emails next.
ABRAMS: I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for your rebuttal. Many of you writing in about the terror threats on the New York City subway system, and the fact that New York was taking it more seriously than the feds.
Bill and Susan Kisler: “Let me get this straight. Homeland Security, i.e., FEMA, condemned the mayor of New Orleans because he did not react enough and now Homeland Security is condemning the mayor of New York for overreacting.”
Jeff Morris in Saugerties, New York. “The source for this latest warning is saying jihadists from Iraq are coming to NYC for an attack on the subway system. If this is true, doesn‘t this contract that we are now safer for invading Iraq rhetoric the White House has been saying for a long time now.”
Tabs Rush. “All I have heard is skepticism about the threat. If it happens then you want to blame Bush for not acting. If he does, he is trying to walk the dog.”
I believe the term is wag the dog, but I get your point.
P.J. Williamson from Tennessee. “After the way Homeland Security and FEMA performed during Katrina, do we really trust their opinion? I trust the local officials much more than the Washington jokers.”
Finally, Sherry Sharos from Belleville, Illinois. “Call me a cynic, but every time the Bush administration and Republicans get into trouble, we get a terror alert. Coincidence? I don‘t think so.”
Your emails, abramsreport, one word, @msnbc.com. We get through them at the end of the show.
We‘ve got an update on our first ever ABRAMS REPORT auction. My press passes to the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials brought in a total of $4,138. As soon as we arrange the payment we will tell you who the winner is.
That does it for tonight. Coming up next, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS. Have a good night.
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