Saturday, July 6th, 2013 — Good Morning, Stay Safe
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Confines of the 112 Precinct
(FF From Engine Co. 15 [Firehouse Next to 7 Pct. S.H.] )
Firefighter arrested for attacking cop outside Queens T.G.I. Friday's
Lower East Side firefighter Angel Valerio and two pals mugged the off-duty copy and tried to swipe his gun at the Forest Hills eatery. Valerio faces seven years in prison if convicted. The other two men were still at large on Friday night.
By Kerry Burke AND Thomas Tracy — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The New York Daily News’
This member of New York’s Bravest had his Finest moment — but not in a good way.
Detectives busted Lower East Side firefighter Angel Valerio after he mugged an off-duty cop in Queens — and tried to run off with his gun, law enforcement sources said Friday.
The five-year FDNY veteran and three friends jumped the cop Sunday after a night of drinking at a Forest Hills T.G.I. Friday's on Austin St. near 70th Road.
Incredibly, Valerio’s victim ID’d himself as a police officer and walked away — giving his assailants a free pass, the sources said. But the wolf pack instead followed the cop down the street, pummeled him and tried to run off with a backpack full of personal items, as well as the cop’s revolver, sources allege.
The boozy brawl began about 11:45 p.m. when Valerio and his friends stumbled out of the restaurant and clashed with the unnamed member of New York’s Finest on his way home from work.
Within moments, one of Valerio’s crew punched the cop, a complete stranger, sources said.
“The whole thing started off as a fight,” according to one source.
No NYPD equipment was in the backpack, sources said.
The cop managed to break free and run off, sources said. He was taken to a nearby hospital with bruises and scratches.
Sources said detectives connected the thieving crew to the T.G.I. Friday's and finally to Valerio, who was charged at his arraignment with attempted robbery, assault and attempted criminal possession of a weapon for trying to grab hold of the cop’s weapon.
Valerio’s accomplices remained at large Friday night.
The firefighter was set free just before midnight after paying $1,000 in bail Friday night and is due back in court on July 29, according to a spokeswoman from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office.
If convicted, he faces seven years in prison.
His family didn’t know what to make of the arrest.
“We don’t know the full story yet,” Angel Valerio Sr. said from the family’s Bushwick home before hurriedly hanging up the phone.
Valerio, who makes roughly $45,000 a year, is assigned to Engine Company 15 on Pitt St. in Manhattan.
An FDNY source said Valerio’s expected to be suspended now that he’s been arraigned.
With Joseph Stepansky and Joe Kemp
Brooklyn North [75th Precinct] Impact Unit P.P.O. Jamil Sarwar
Police Officer Hit by Gunfire Is Released From Hospital
Two Are Questioned in July Fourth Shooting
By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI, ALISON FOX and DANNY GOLD — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The Wall Street Journal’ / New York, NY
New York City Police were questioning two people Friday in connection with a Fourth of July shooting at a Brooklyn housing project that left a police officer with a bullet wound to the leg.
Police Officer Jamil Sarwar was struck—possibly by a shooter on a rooftop—while responding to a call of gunshots fired at the Cypress Hills Houses around 10:45 p.m. Thursday.
The names of the two men being questioned weren't released, and it was unclear how they were related to the shooting that resulted in Officer Sarwar, 30 years old, suffering a gunshot wound to the right thigh.
With his family at his side, the officer was wheeled out of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center on Friday afternoon, greeted by about a dozen of colleagues from the 75th Precinct who applauded his release.
"I'm feeling good," Officer Sarwar said, adding he was "thankful for my life."
Investigators were looking into the possibility that the gunshot came from the rooftop of a building at the Cypress Hills Houses in East New York, where Officer Sarwar was on routine patrol as part of NYPD Operation Impact unit, a program designed to flood high-crime areas with additional officers.
"It's undetermined at this time whether the officer was targeted or hit as a result of random gunfire," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
Four shell casings were recovered from a rooftop, but it wasn't clear whether the casings were related to the shooting, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said after meeting with the officer Thursday night.
Along with fireworks, it isn't uncommon for revelers to celebrate the Fourth of July with gunfire, Mr. Kelly said, adding that this day is a "time of concern" for police officers on duty.
"This is a night where you have celebration, if you will. Sometimes there are fireworks. We have also had experience with celebratory gunfire. Officers have to think about that as well," Mr. Kelly said.
Residents described a tense night. "Between the shots and the fireworks, you couldn't compare," said LaStarr Smith, 33, who lives in a building across the street from where the shooting occurred.
"He ran and collapsed outside the building," Ms. Smith said of the officer. "There were a lot of kids playing. Next thing you know boom boom boom, but you can't call it."
Elizabeth Rios, 53, who has lived in the Cypress Hill Houses for 25 years, said young men occasionally shoot bullets off the roof. "The kids go up to test their guns and stuff all the time," she said. "I think it's getting worse out here."
Crime in East New York, as in the rest of the city, has fallen dramatically in the past 20 years and is down this year from the same period in 2012, but the neighborhood still remains one of the highest crime neighborhoods in the city.
Officer Sarwar became the sixth officer to suffer a gunshot wound in the line of duty this year. Twelve officers were shot last year. Peter Figoski, the last officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty, also worked in the 75th Precinct.
"Any time one of our police officers is shot, it is a painful reminder that our success in fighting crime is fragile," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Kelly called Officer Sarwar "very, very lucky."
"He could have been struck anywhere in his body and the other officer with him also could have been struck," Mr. Kelly said.
Officer Sarwar was patrolling the Cypress Hills Houses with his partner Thursday night when the two responded to a radio call that a person was firing shots at someone in front of 1200 Sutter Ave. around 10:45 p.m., Mr. Kelly said. The officers didn't appear to be the target of that shooting.
The officers who relayed the radio call chased the suspect to 1260 Sutter Ave. before losing sight of the person as they entered the building, police said.
While en route, Officer Sarwar and his partner heard what police said were a second set of gunshots and took cover inside another building complex, police said.
Once inside, Officer Sarwar realized he had been shot in the right thigh, police said.
A native of Bangladesh, Officer Sarwar has been a police officer since January 2012. Before that, he was a traffic enforcement agent. He has been with the NYPD since 2007.
"We were scared for him," said Arpan Das, a friend, as he recounted the frantic phone calls he made last night inquiring about the officer's well being.
"He said he is feeling good now," Mr. Das added. "Definitely, we are very concerned that he's going home, we are happy for that."
NYPD cop shot on Fourth of July is released from hospital
Officer Jamil Sarwar was on patrol at the Cypress Hills Houses in Brooklyn when gunfire erupted, wounding his right leg.
By Casey Tolan AND Joe Kemp — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The New York Daily News’
The rookie cop wounded on the Fourth of July by a shooter firing from a Brooklyn housing project was released from the hospital this afternoon.
Officer Jamil Sarwar was surrounded by his fellow Finest who applauded as he left Jamaica Hospital after suffering a bullet wound to his leg.
"I’m feeling good. I'm thankful I'm alive,” Sarwar, 30, said.
His aunt, Mita Islam, said, “Thank God he’s fine.”
Sarwar was followed out by his family, friends and other officers. Despite leaving in a wheelchair, he is expected to make a full recovery.
Sarwar, 30, and his partner, Officer Javier Solos, were on patrol in the Cypress Hills Houses in East New York when the shots rang out.
They took cover in a nearby Fountain Ave. building, where they realized Sarwar was bleeding from his right leg, cops said.
“We had a police officer almost give his life in service of the city. But when we see them walking out of the hospital like this surrounded by their family and their police family, it's actually a good day,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch.
Meanwhile, detectives are grilling two “persons of interest,” sources said.
The two people — a 17-year-old boy and a 26-year-old man — were taken into custody, sources said.
The younger of the two has a slew of prior arrests that include busts for robbery, assault, guns and grand larceny.
Investigators were still trying to determine whether the two cops were targeted.
Cops found .40-caliber shell casings at the scene, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they were from the gun that shot Sarwar.
Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly visited the Impact officer at his bedside.
“When a young police officer is shot while on routine patrol on the Fourth of July, there is no clearer message that we need to continue to do everything we can to keep guns off our streets,” Bloomberg said.
Sarwar’s Queens neighbor described the cop, a Bengladesh native who lives with his uncle, as genuine.
“He’s a good guy, a very nice guy,” said the neighbor, Fazle Rabbi, 59.
NYPD: Cop shot in leg, injury not life-threatening
By COLLEEN LONG (The Associated Press) — Friday, July 5th, 2013; 4:59 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — A rookie police officer responding to reports of a shootout was shot once in the leg, and authorities were investigating Friday whether he was wounded by a gunman firing off a rooftop.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Officer Jamil Sarwar was in the East New York section shortly of Brooklyn before 11 p.m. Thursday when he responded to reports of a shooting. He and his partner followed one of the suspects into the Cypress Hills housing development, where Sarwar realized he'd been wounded.
Kelly said police believe the round of gunfire that felled Sarwar was unrelated to the originally reported shootout. Detectives found shell casings on the roof of one of the buildings of the housing development. Kelly said it's not clear whether the officer was targeted or if the shot was random. Police were questioning two people but no arrests had been made.
The officer was released from the hospital on Friday and is expected to recover.
"He's in reasonable spirits, he's conscious, he's alert his family is with him," Kelly said.
Sarwar is originally from Bangladesh and has been on the job about 1 and ½ years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the officer at the hospital Friday.
"Anytime one of our police officers is shot, it is a painful reminder that our success in fighting crime is fragile," he said.
Sarwar is the sixth officer shot this year. There were 12 struck by gunfire last year, but no fatal shootings since the 2011 death of Det. Peter Figoski killed in a botched robbery in December 2011 in the same neighborhood.
"But we cannot accept shootings as inevitable," Bloomberg said. "We must do everything we can to stop them. When a young police officer is shot while on routine patrol on the Fourth of July, there is no clearer message that we need to continue to do everything we can to keep guns off our streets."
The citizens group COP SHOT offered a $10,000 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect. Anyone with information can call (800) 267-7468.
Cop shot by sniper leaves hospital
By LARRY CELONA, GEORGETT ROBERTS and ERIN CALABRESE — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The New York Post’
An NYPD rookie who took a bullet in a leg was released from the hospital yesterday as three young men were questioned in the shooting, police sources said.
“I’m thankful for my life,” said Officer Jamil Sarwar, 30, as he left Jamaica Hospital to the cheers of family and fellow cops.
Three males in their late teens to early 20s were being questioned at the 75th Precinct station house in Brooklyn yesterday, The Post has learned.
Police also rounded up a handful of people from the area with outstanding warrants and were pressing them for information, sources said.
Sarwar and his partner, Officer Javier Solis, had been on foot patrol Thursday in the Cypress Hill Houses, monitoring two warring gangs that have been shooting at each other, law-enforcement sources said.
The two cops were in pursuit of a shirtless shooter who was running toward 345 Fountain Ave. when Sarwar was shot from the roof of nearby 1210 Sutter Ave., the sources said.
“There were two to three guys on the roof,” one witness said. “Then I heard ‘Boom! Boom!’ . . . [And] everybody started running.”
Police found shell casings on the roof of one of the buildings, sources said.
“Every holiday, they come out with their guns,” said resident Ophelia Champion, 81. “They were letting off firecrackers, but I also heard the gunshots. That’s what they do here.”
Question and Frisk Search
NYPD race oversight measure sees push back
By Colleen Long and Jennifer Peltz (The Associated Press) — Saturday, July 6th, 2013; 7:30 a.m. EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s police commissioner on June 27 called the City Council’s move to impose new oversight on the department misguided. The mayor joined in, vowing to fight the council measure.
Lawmakers voted earlier June 27 to create an outside watchdog and make it easier to bring racial profiling claims against the nation’s largest police force. Both passed with enough votes to override expected vetoes, marking an inflection point in the public debate and power dynamics that have set the balance between prioritizing safety and protecting civil liberties here.
But the mayor, police commissioner and other critics have said measures would impinge on techniques that have wrestled crime down dramatically and would leave the NYPD hampered. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference June 27 that he “will not give up for one minute” on trying to defeat the measures. He told New Yorkers it’s “a fight to defend your life and your kids’ lives.”
Kelly said he didn’t question the motives of the city council members but thought they hadn’t thought through the problem.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Kelly said. “Certainly has a potential for increasing crime and making police officers’ jobs much more difficult.”
Proponents see the legislation as a check on a police department that has come under scrutiny for its heavy use of a tactic known as stop and frisk and its extensive surveillance of Muslims, as disclosed in a series of stories by The Associated Press.
“New Yorkers know that we can keep our city safe from crime and terrorism without profiling our neighbors,” Councilman Brad Lander, who spearheaded the measures with fellow Democratic Councilman Jumaane Williams, said at a packed and emotional meeting that began shortly before midnight and stretched into the early morning.
Lawmakers delved into their own experiences with the street stops, drew on the city’s past in episodes ranging from the high crime of the 1990s to the 1969 Stonewall riots that crystallized the gay rights movement, and traded accusations of paternalism and politicizing. In a sign of the national profile the issue has gained, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous was in the audience, while hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons tweeted to urge the measures’ passage.
But while it’s too soon to settle how the initiatives may play out in practice if they survive the expected veto, they already have shaped politics and perception.
The measures follow decades of efforts to empower outside input on the NYPD. Efforts to establish an independent civilian complaint board in the 1960s spurred a bitter clash with a police union, which mobilized a referendum on it. Voters defeated it.
More than two decades later, private citizens were appointed to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles mainly misconduct claims against individual officers. A 1990s police corruption scandal spurred a recommendation for an independent board to investigate corruption; a Commission to Combat Police Corruption was established in 1995, but it lacks subpoena power.
Courts also have exercised some oversight, including through a 1985 federal court settlement that set guidelines for the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering. And the City Council has weighed in before, including with a 2004 law that barred racial or religious profiling as “the determinative factor” in police actions, a measure Bloomberg signed.
The new measures are further-reaching than any of that, proponents and critics agree.
One would establish an inspector general with subpoena power to explore and recommend, but not force, changes to the NYPD’s policies and practices. Various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, have inspector generals.
The other would give people more latitude if they believe they were stopped because of bias based on race, sexual orientation or certain other factors.
Plaintiffs wouldn’t necessarily have to prove that a police officer intended to discriminate. Instead, they could offer evidence that a practice such as stop and frisk affects some groups disproportionately, though police could counter that the disparity was justified to accomplish a substantial law enforcement end. The suits couldn’t seek money, just court orders to change police practices.
The proposals were impelled partly by concern about the roughly 5 million stop and frisks the NYPD has conducted in the last decade, with more than 80 percent of those stopped being black or Hispanic, and arrests resulting less than 15 percent of the time. But proponents also point to the department’s spying on Muslims, which has included infiltrating Muslim student groups and putting informants in mosques, as the AP series showed.
The poor, mostly Muslim members of a South Asian advocacy group called Desis Rising Up and Moving “feel the impact of both issues — surveillance, as Muslims — and stop and frisk,” which is prevalent in a Queens neighborhood where many members live, said Fahd Ahmed, the group’s legal director.
Stop and frisk is already the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by four men who claim they were stopped solely because of their race, along with hundreds of thousands of others stopped in the last decade. A judge is considering whether to order reforms to the policy and establish the court’s own monitoring. City attorneys argued the stops were lawful and not based on race alone.
The NYPD has defended the surveillance and stop and frisks as legal, and critics of the new legislation point to another set of statistics: Killings and other serious offenses have fallen 34 percent since 2001, while the number of city residents in jails and prisons has fallen 31 percent.
Bloomberg has said that they could tie the department up in lawsuits and complaints, inject courts and an inspector general into tactical decisions and make “proactive policing by police officers extinct in our city.”
Several council members agreed with him.
“The unintended consequences, potentially, of these bills is when a human, a man or woman, who has (a) badge will pull their punch and not aggressively pursue a potential perpetrator, and then he or she goes out and commits a crime. That’s the fear,” Republican Councilman Vincent Ignizio told his colleagues June 27.
If the measures ultimately survive, Bloomberg won’t be in City Hall to see much of the outcome. The term-limited mayor leaves office this year.
Democratic mayoral candidates have generally said the practice needs changing. Some Republicans, meanwhile, have embraced the NYPD’s view.
NYPD's Close Relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency
Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The New York Times’ Editorial:
The C.I.A. and the N.Y.P.D.
A newly disclosed report by the C.I.A. inspector general about the agency’s relationship with the New York Police Department after Sept. 11, 2001, deepens concerns about the dangers to civil liberties posed by domestic spying. The inspector general concludes that the agency did not break a federal law barring it from domestic spying. The report also shows, however, that agency officers who were embedded in the Police Department after Sept. 11 were poorly supervised, suggesting that no one at the agency knew fully what they were doing.
The inquiry began in August 2011, after an Associated Press account of the C.I.A.’s relationship with the Police Department’s intelligence division was published as part of a series on New York City’s surveillance of Muslims.
Last week, the inspector general, David Buckley, released an executive summary in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group. He concludes that the agency did not break federal law barring domestic spying. But he also reveals a troubling lack of oversight of the embedded agents. Mr. Buckley found that the enterprise had been fraught with “irregular personnel practices” and had lacked “formal documentation in some important instances.”
The first of four embedded officers began advising the Police Department in 2002 and took unpaid leave from 2004 to 2009 to participate in and manage “N.Y.P.D. investigations, operations, and surveillance activities directed at U.S. persons and non-U.S.” Conveniently, agency lawyers argued that officers who were on unpaid leave “acting in a personal capacity and not subject to C.I.A. direction” were not bound by a law forbidding the agency from participating in domestic security operations.
The inspector general worries that the “perception” that the agency exceeded its authority might diminish trust in the C.I.A. itself. The greater risk is that poor oversight could lead the agency to overstep its bounds in more serious ways.
Ret. Brooklyn North Homicide Detective Louis Scarcella
Judge to Hear Accusations Against Police by an Inmate
By FRANCES ROBLES — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The New York Times’
A Brooklyn man who has been in prison for 25 years for two murders he says he did not commit has been granted a hearing by a judge to review new evidence and to determine whether a detective had manufactured a confession.
Shabaka Shakur, 48, is serving two consecutive 20-years-to-life sentences for the January 1988 killings of two men with whom he had argued over car payments. Among the evidence used against him was an incriminating statement he was said to have given to a former Brooklyn North homicide detective, Louis Scarcella. Mr. Shakur has always denied making any such statement.
Mr. Shakur was featured in an article in The New York Times in May that documented troubling patterns in Mr. Scarcella’s work.
In his ruling, Justice Desmond Green of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn cited the article, noting that Mr. Shakur was quoted as saying that the detective had fabricated his confession and “ignored the evidence that shows I wasn’t the guy.”
Justice Green, who issued his ruling in June, expanded the scope of the hearing to include not just new witnesses, but also broader claims against Mr. Scarcella, a move Mr. Shakur’s defense lawyer called “extraordinary.” The judge will allow Mr. Shakur to readdress the issue of the confession he said was fabricated.
“You don’t get many of these,” the lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, said. “Usually, standard practice is for the prosecutors to oppose the hearing and for judges to rubber-stamp that on technical grounds.”
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, ordered a review of convictions that resulted from Mr. Scarcella’s work after The Times revealed that the now-retired detective used the same crack-addicted prostitute as a witness in several murder cases.
Mr. Scarcella has denied the allegations and has said that anyone accusing him of misconduct “has no honor.”
A 12-member panel that includes several of Mr. Hynes’s friends will make recommendations on whether his office should seek to dismiss any convictions.
Mr. Shakur’s hearing is significant because it will force Mr. Hynes to conduct a public review of a conviction that the district attorney’s office has defended for more than 20 years, but which is now under review by the agency’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Hearings to determine whether an inmate should get a new trial generally include testimony by the investigating detective, something prosecutors would probably try to avoid now that Mr. Scarcella’s record has been called into question.
Mr. Kuby said he requested a hearing for September, which would give prosecutors two months to either move to dismiss Mr. Shakur’s conviction or face him in court. Mr. Kuby plans to introduce one witness who has said that Mr. Shakur was not the gunman in the killings.
The prosecutor’s office, which had consented to a hearing to explore whether a new witness could prove Mr. Shakur innocent, played down the significance of the judge’s decision. “We consented to the hearing and will continue our ongoing investigation into the matter,” Amy Feinstein, a chief assistant to Mr. Hynes, said in a statement.
The Times’s review of Mr. Scarcella’s cases began in March, after prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss charges against David Ranta, who had spent 23 years in prison for killing a rabbi in a botched robbery.
In that case, investigators found that Mr. Scarcella told a witness whom to select in a lineup and allowed jailhouse informers to go out on field trips to smoke crack and visit their girlfriends. As in Mr. Shakur’s case, the detective had no notes to back up the confession that Mr. Scarcella said Mr. Ranta had provided and that he submitted to the court.
In a telephone interview from the Auburn Correctional Facility, Mr. Shakur said he would prefer that a judge examine his case, rather than leaving it in the hands of prosecutors.
“They should put Scarcella on the stand; he’s going to have to answer a lot of questions,” Mr. Shakur said. “I want a hearing, so everyone can come and see how long it takes to be heard.”
Mr. Shakur said he had filed at least a dozen appeals, many of which made the same accusations that will now be taken up.
93 foreign-born sex offenders arrested in NY
By Unnamed Author(s) (The Associated Press) — Friday, July 5th, 2013; 4:20 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — Immigration authorities say they have arrested 93 foreign-born sex offenders in New York through a targeted enforcement initiative.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say that of the 93 people arrested, 67 were child predators convicted of sex offenses involving minors. The remaining offenders were convicted of victimizing adults.
With the exception of one woman from Ecuador convicted of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl, all of those arrested were men. They were from more than 20 countries including Afghanistan, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
They were picked up between June 17 and June 28.
ICE says its enforcement efforts give top priority to cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety. Those include sex offenders and members of transnational street gangs.
F.D.N.Y. (Deceased Ladder Co. 9 Firefighter Jeffrey Walz)
Remains of NYC firefighter killed in 9/11 attacks identified
By Unnamed Author(s) (The Associated Press) — Friday, July 5th, 2013; 7:56 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK – Firefighter Jeffrey Walz phoned his wife and his parents on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, telling them he was being called into action, his brother recalls. His relatives would never see him again or even have any of his remains to bury, until now.
The city medical examiner's office said Friday that it had identified some of Walz' remains, making him the 1,637th person identified among the thousands of remains found in and near the rubble of the World Trade Center after the terror attacks. Authorities have painstakingly tested and retested the material as technology became more refined.
The news loosed complex feelings for Walz's family: a resurgence of difficult memories, coupled with a new gratitude.
"We're just very relieved, in some respects, to be finally bringing him home to where he grew up and to put him to rest there," said his brother, Raymond Walz. "That's some peace."
"We kind of knew this day would come. I guess when it does come, though, it kind of sucks the wind out of your sails," he said by phone. "You have to absorb something new, and old feelings resurface."
After growing up on Staten Island, Jeffrey Walz got an electrical engineering degree and worked at the Navy's air engineering station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
But he'd been enthralled as a child by his father's stories about working as a firefighter, his brother said, and he decided to follow his father's example.
Walz joined the Fire Department of New York in 1992, though the naval station persuaded him to keep working there on some of his days off, former deputy public works officer Charlie Mink told the Asbury Park Press in 2006, when a road at the base was named in Walz's honor.
Walz was assigned to Ladder Co. 9 in downtown Manhattan, where he was dispatched one day when someone called the fire department about a crowded Halloween party. One of the guests got in touch with him afterward and ultimately became his wife, Rani. They settled in suburban Tuckahoe and had a son, Bradley, now 15.
"There was nothing ostentatious about him. He just was a good, clean-living person," a quiet guy who let his smile speak for him, his mother, Jennie Walz, said by phone.
Jeffrey Walz, who was promoted to lieutenant after his death at age 37, died in the trade center's north tower. His remains were collected during the initial recovery effort in 2001 and 2002, but they were retested and identified just recently, medical examiner's office spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
Altogether, 2,753 people perished in the attacks at the trade center, and 343 firefighters were among the victims.
New identifications are made periodically. Most recently, the medical examiner's office said two weeks ago it had identified a 43-year-old woman, whose family didn't want her name released.
Walz's family decided to let his identification be made public.
"Maybe it'll give other families hope," his mother said.
Cop-abuse complaints raise call for scrutiny in Paterson
BY MATTHEW MCGRATH AND JOE MALINCONICO — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘The Bergen Record’ / Hackensack, N.J.
A lawsuit by two men who say police officers badly beat them while they were handcuffed, a charge they back up with a startling surveillance video, is just the latest in a series of complaints that cite Paterson cops for alleged abuse and excessive deadly force.
The city in the past year has paid nearly $700,000 to settle abuse complaints, including a lawsuit by a woman who said a cop slammed her, while handcuffed, to the floor of a holding cell, an incident also captured in video images.
Two lawsuits contend that police officers’ actions led to the deaths of civilians, including the shooting death of a mentally ill man last fall, and a city family is considering suing after another man was shot and killed by a cop.
The complaints raise questions about the culture of the Police Department, said a law enforcement expert. Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said the cases suggest a “pattern and practice” of abuse that could point to deeper issues about how the department is run.
Shane, a former Newark police commander, said high-profile instances of alleged police abuse — like the beatings caught on video — might not reflect the true number of “contacts” police have with the city’s population.
He said the culture of a police department ultimately dictates what will, and will not, be tolerated. City leaders in interviews this week proposed no new initiatives for investigating possible causes of abuse by city cops.
Mayor Jeffery Jones did not respond to several calls seeking comment. In reaction to the police beating lawsuit this week, Council President Andre Sayegh said he wanted police training in the city to incorporate the concepts of courtesy, professionalism and respect, the motto on New York City police cruisers.
“Listen, I want an aggressive police force,” Sayegh said. “But I don’t want an abusive police force.” Councilman William McKoy, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said, however, that the state-mandated training the officers receive is adequate and they don’t need anymore.
Public Safety Director Glenn Brown, who oversees both police and fire operations in Paterson, said that officers are trained annually according to the state Attorney General’s guidelines for the use of force.
As to what he could do with his department to help his officers understand the state’s guidelines, he said, “First of all, I’m not the training officer, but we are examining all of our policies and procedures at this time so that we can upgrade and reinforce training.”
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Miguel Rivera of Prospect Park and Alexis Aponte of Paterson allege that city police officers kicked and beat them while they were handcuffed during their arrest on charges stemming from an altercation at a bar.
A lawyer for the men says a surveillance video supports their claim. The suit names nine officers who are all still employed by the department or recently retired, and 10 others who have not been named.
Among the lawsuits settled in the past year: Linette Vasquez alleged that an off-duty police officer in March 2011 slammed her to the floor of a police department holding cell while she was handcuffed, an incident captured on surveillance video.
The city paid her $200,000 to settle her lawsuit and charges against her were dropped. A grand jury did not indict the officer, Michael Avila. He served a 90-day suspension on unspecified departmental charges and remains employed as a Paterson police officer.
Samuel Pough and John Aiken alleged they were beaten by a group of police officers over a firefighters’ lost cellphone. Each man was paid $200,000 to settle lawsuits against the city.
Criminal charges against the two men were dropped. Dennis Luccia, a city man who alleged that police responding to a domestic abuse call, threw him against a radiator, breaking his leg, was paid $85,000 by the city in a settlement.
The city also faces lawsuits in cases in which someone died in a confrontation with police: Randolph Waddy IV, a Garfield man, was killed last year when his motorcycle crashed as he was being pursued by volunteer auxiliary police officers.
A lawsuit filed by his family seeks $30 million and other monetary awards for civil rights violations. A grand jury this year indicted the two officers, Juan Martinez and Jonathan Lopez, charging them with official misconduct and leaving the scene of an accident. Salvador Del Rosario, a mentally ill Paterson man, was shot to death by Paterson police when they confronted him as he wielded a hammer in a room at his home.
His family notified the city that it intends to seek $130 million in damages in a lawsuit. The question of whether the officers acted properly is before a grand jury.
Jacobe Hyatt, a city man, was shot to death by a police officer during a scuffle on New Year’s Eve 2012. A grand jury decided last fall not to indict the officer, who alleged that Hyatt, 38, had a gun when he fired at him.
Police at the scene found a handgun beneath Hyatt’s body, prosecutors said, but tests showed there were no fingerprints on the weapon. His family has hired a lawyer to prepare a lawsuit against Paterson.
Shane, the John Jay professor, said a police officer’s job is demanding and the expectation is that they be at their best at all times. “We ask them to defend themselves, defend others and at a moment’s notice give the constitutional protections that people are afforded,” Shane said.
In cases when abuse occurs, Shane said, “Their emotions take over when these guys need to be thinking most rationally.”
Matthew McGrath is a staff writer for The Record. Joe Malinconico is a staff writer for The Paterson Press.
Crime makes halting comeback as a political issue
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI (The Associated Press) — Saturday, July 6th, 2013; 9:20 a.m. EDT
DENVER (AP) — The ad seems like an artifact from an earlier political era — a grainy mug shot of a convicted murderer, flashing police lights, a recording of a panicked 911 call and then a question about Colorado's Democratic governor, up for re-election next year: "How can we protect our families when Gov. Hickenlooper allows a cold-blooded killer to escape justice?"
The online spot from the Colorado Republican Party appeared only hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper in May indefinitely suspended the death sentence of Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people in 1993 and was scheduled to be executed in August. The governor cited problems with the concept and application of the death penalty.
Eclipsed by economic issues and other social concerns, crime is slowly re-emerging as a campaign issue.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Republicans hammered Democrats on crime for focusing too much on rehabilitation and not enough on punishment and imprisonment. That changed as crime rates plunged in the 1990s and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton inoculated Democrats by being an avid death penalty supporter, interrupting his 1992 presidential campaign to preside over an execution.
Now increasing numbers of states are turning away from mandatory prison sentences and embracing rehabilitation programs to thin out inmate populations and save taxpayer money. The shift has been particularly pronounced in conservative, Republican-dominated states like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina.
That growing consensus is facing its first test in two political bellwether states where demographics have pushed Republicans into a political corner.
In Colorado, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held his seat last year partly by attacking his challenger for failing to support a proposed state law to take DNA samples from people arrested on suspicion of committing felonies, and the GOP is hoping crime issues will help them unseat Hickenlooper and win back control of the state legislature in 2014. They have attacked Democrats for rejecting legislation to impose mandatory sentences of 25 years to life on sex offenders and for passing a law limiting prosecutors' ability to charge juveniles as adults. GOP leaders are trying to persuade the district attorney whose office prosecuted Dunlap to run for governor.
Republicans say they have no shortage of issues to run on in Colorado. But one, they say, stands out for its potency.
"Crime, justice, law and order, public safety resonate in a more personal way than a chart and graph of GDP growth," said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.
In California, which has conducted the most ambitious criminal justice overhaul in the nation, Republicans are targeting Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the state's policy that sends lower-level offenders to local jails rather than state prisons. The law went into full effect in late 2011, but already there have been several highly publicized cases of convicts released from prison committing crimes like rape and murder. The most prominent Republican to emerge as a possible challenger to Brown, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, in May launched a ballot campaign to reverse the prison overhaul.
Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who has written widely on crime and politics, noted that crime rates appear to have leveled out after a two-decade decline. He called the recent GOP efforts "the test run as to whether there could be a resurgence in hard-right, punitive" crime politics.
In California, the Republican Party has no statewide office-holders and less than one-third of the seats in the state legislature. In those circumstances, Zimring said, "you consult your greatest hits playbook from previous eras."
It's unclear if those attacks will resonate in an era that still features historically low crime rates and one in which voters have shown a willingness to reconsider tough crime laws. In California, for example, a ballot measure to roll back part of the state's controversial 1994 three-strikes law — it requires 25 years to life in prison for people convicted of a third felony — passed with 70 percent support in November.
"There certainly are signs that politicians are trying to use it as a wedge issue," said Marc Levin of Right on Crime, a Texas-based group that pushes flexible sentences and rehabilitation programs from a conservative perspective. "But I'm struggling to see a legislator who got voted out of office in the last several years for supporting criminal justice reform."
The change in crime policy dates back to 2007, when Texas legislators balked at building three new prisons. They instead passed laws giving judges greater flexibility to send offenders to local facilities or probation. As tax revenues cratered during the recession, other states scrambled to cut incarceration costs.
"It used to be 'how do we demonstrate that we're tough on crime?'" said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "Now it's 'how do we get taxpayers better returns on their criminal justice dollars?'"
In California, legislative Republicans opposed Brown's prisons plan, but that did not matter because Democrats have such overwhelming numbers in the statehouse. The plan was the governor's response to a federal court order that required the state to reduce its overcrowded prison population. Since Brown's plan became law the population has dropped nearly 10 percent, but federal judges last month ordered the release of 9,600 more inmates to comply with previous rulings. Brown has refused to release more prisoners and said that he will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court first. His office declined to comment for this story.
Amid that backdrop, several crimes have been blamed on the early releases.
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said the controversy reminds him of California's perennial back-and-forth on crime. In the 1960s, state prison populations began to shrink, with the greatest reduction coming during the first term of Gov. Ronald Reagan. But by the end of that decade the numbers were on the rise again.
"We've seen this before," said Rushford. "The policy swings one way and it goes too far. People get unhappy about it, it swings another way. Now people feel guilty, it swings again."
Rushford's group released a study this month that found preliminary FBI crime statistics indicate an abrupt rise in crime in California last year. But skeptics say the early numbers are not reliable and more time is needed to get a sense of the impact of the prison shift.
Politically, Democrats are preparing for a fight. They have not had to worry much in recent years, as the state has become a stronghold for their party.
Permits Soar to Allow More Concealed Guns
Proponents Say Practice Cuts Crime; Police Raise Concern
By JACK NICAS and ASHBY JONES — Friday, July 5th, 2013 ‘The Wall Street Journal’ / New York, NY
A growing number of Americans are getting permission to carry firearms in public—and under their clothes—a development that has sparked concern among some law-enforcement authorities.
Applications for "concealed-carry" permits are soaring in many states, some of which recently eased permit requirements. The numbers are driven in part by concern that renewed gun-control efforts soon could constrain access to weapons, along with heightened interest in self-defense in the wake of mass killings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
Since July 1 of last year, Florida has granted more than 173,000 new concealed-carry permits, up 17% from the year before and twice as many as five years ago, for a total of about 1.09 million permits in the state.
Ohio, meanwhile, is on pace to nearly double last year's total of 65,000 new permits, which would be nearly three times as many as in 2007. And Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wyoming and Nebraska all have nearly matched or surpassed last year's totals with half of 2013 still to go.
A dozen states surveyed for this article, including Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, issued 537,000 permits last year, an 18% increase compared with a year prior and more than double the number issued in 2007. Early figures for 2013 show many states are on pace for their biggest year ever.
About eight million Americans had concealed-carry permits as of last year, the Government Accountability Office said in what it called a conservative estimate.
"I suppose it's the same reason people are reporting gun sales are up and ammunition sales are up," said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, referring to concern among gun owners about the recent push for gun control. "It's nothing unique in Ohio.…It seems to be a consistent trend across the board."
States across the U.S. have loosened restrictions amid a spate of mass shootings in public spaces, making it easier to get concealed-carry permits and allowing concealed weapons in more places, including schools, churches and bars.
Some leaders in law enforcement call the increasing requests for concealed-carry permits unwelcome, citing safety concerns. Thomas Dart, sheriff of Illinois's Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, said that although the effect on crime is disputed, more people carrying guns "makes our job more difficult."
"Without the gun, it's a fistfight. With the gun, it's a shooting," he said.
Craig Steckler, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said he could remember only "one instance in which someone effectively defended himself" with a firearm during his 21 years as police chief in Fremont, Calif. Otherwise, "it's a whole lot of cases of guns being used not in ways they're designed: kids shooting themselves, gun-cleaning accidents, crimes of passion, that sort of thing."
Research is split on whether more armed citizens deter or exacerbate gun violence. Economist John Lott, a conservative commentator and author of "More Guns, Less Crime," said data show concealed-carry laws reduce violent crime.
But the National Research Council, part of the congressionally chartered National Academies, has disputed links between concealed-carry laws and drops in crime. And the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for gun control, said that since 2007, concealed-carry permit holders have fatally shot about 500 people, that 128 of them have been convicted of manslaughter or homicide, and 36 have committed murder-suicides.
In 2008 and 2010 rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment to the Constitution grants broad license to keep and bear arms in the home. But the court left unclear whether and to what degree the right to carry a weapon extends outside the home, leaving states largely free to set up their own rules.
In 2002, seven states banned concealed-carry, according to the GAO. By later this year, every state will allow it.
Ten states require applicants to show "good cause" to get a permit. But 39 states—10 more than in 2002—grant permits to anyone who meets a few basic requirements, such as a clean criminal record and proof of residency.
Residents of Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont don't need permits to carry a concealed weapon. In 2002, that was the case only in Vermont.
The surge in applications in recent months is linked at least in part to the Newtown tragedy, which rekindled a national gun-control debate at state and federal levels. Many permit holders say they feel safer carrying a gun, or knowing they could bring one into a potentially dangerous situation.
"Everyone has the right to be responsible for his or her own personal safety," said Bob McGinty, a small-business owner in Golden Valley, Minn., who obtained a concealed-carry permit earlier this year, after Minnesota made them cheaper and easier to get.
While Connecticut, Colorado, California, New York, Delaware and Maryland have tightened gun restrictions this year, at least 20 states have loosened laws on concealed-carry, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks and advocates for gun-control laws. States have streamlined the permit process, made concealed-carry records confidential or lifted bans on carrying concealed firearms in many public places.
Texas stopped requiring concealed-carry permit holders to undergo training to renew their licenses, West Virginia stopped requiring background checks for permit renewals, and Louisiana introduced lifetime permits.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said: "Crime can happen anywhere, and it's reasonable for people to have an effective means of defending themselves and their loved ones."
FBI Hasn't Responded to Sen. Rand Paul's Request for 'Prompt' Answers on Domestic Drones
By Steven Nelson — Friday, July 5th, 2013 ‘U.S. News & World Report’
More than two weeks have passed since Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., requested "prompt" answers to questions about the FBI's use of drones within the United States, but he is still waiting for a response.
It's unclear why the FBI did not immediately provide answers to Paul's 11 questions, but the delay could conceivably morph into an unwelcome spectacle for the Obama administration.
Paul inquired about the domestic use of drones in a June 20 letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, after the director told the Senate Intelligence Committee his agency was using the unmanned devices without clear guidelines.
Paul asked Mueller to explain how long the FBI has been using drones, how many drones the FBI has, whether or not FBI drones would ever be armed, why they are used, what policies guide their use and what has been done with the information they collect.
Moira Bagley, Paul's communications director, told U.S. News Friday that the FBI has not provided answers to the questions. She declined to speculate if Paul would filibuster the confirmation hearing of James Comey to replace Mueller as FBI director in response to the delay.
Comey, a Republican, was nominated by President Barack Obama in June and is widely expected to be easily confirmed.
In June Bagley said it was "too early to tell" if Paul would filibuster Comey's nomination. Now, Bagley says, she would need to confer with other Paul staffers to learn what steps might be taken to wring out answers.
In March Paul stood on the Senate floor for 13 hours to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA after Attorney General Eric Holder failed to definitively rule out using drones to kill people within the U.S.
"I am disturbed by the revelation that the FBI has unilaterally decided to begin using drone surveillance technology without a governance policy, and thus without the requisite assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are being protected," Paul said in his letter to Mueller. "As such, I am requesting your prompt answers."
Mueller's disclosure about domestic drone use by the FBI alarmed even the administration's most stalwart supporters, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, who called drones "the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans."
A spokesperson for the FBI director could not be reached by U.S. News for comment. "This is a weekday, a regular work day," an FBI phone operator said. "I don't have any idea why they wouldn't be here."
The FBI is "still in the process of responding" to Paul’s letter, spokesman Paul Bresson tells U.S. News.
New Orleans, Louisiana
NOPD consent decree monitor chosen: Sheppard Mullin gets contract
By Ramon Antonio Vargas — Saturday, July 6th, 2013 ‘NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’ / New Orleans, LA
The NOPD consent decree implementation will be overseen by a group led by the former deputy monitor of Washington D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department, a federal judge decided Friday. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan selected a team from Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton law firm, headed by managing partner Jonathan Aronie, to monitor the compliance of court-mandated reforms at a police force with a history of civil rights abuses such as excessive use of force and alleged racial profiling.
The U.S. Department of Justice had recommended Sheppard Mullin. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration preferred the other finalist, Hillard Heintze of Chicago.
In a seven-page ruling, Morgan said that Sheppard Mullin's lawyers are more adequately trained to evaluate NOPD's compliance with the consent decree, a 492-point plan to overhaul the troubled police force. That kind of task requires the "collection, review and synthesis of large amounts of information," which attorneys at firms such as Sheppard Mullin routinely perform, the judge said.
Morgan also singled out Aronie's experience as monitor of a memorandum of agreement, similar to a consent decree, between the federal government and Washington D.C.'s police department. The judge conceded that members of Hillard Heintze's team had monitoring experience, but she said the group's leader, retired Chicago Police Department Superintendent Terry Hillard, did not.
Morgan's decision also noted "the public's comments, taken as a whole, favor Sheppard Mullin." The judge ordered the Landrieu administration to negotiate a professional services contract with Sheppard Mullin "in good faith" and to discuss costs and a cap on costs with the law firm. She tentatively set a July 19 status conference.
Sheppard Mullin's bid was estimated to be worth about $7.9 million for four years with a cap of $8.9 million. Hillard Heintze's bid was about $7.2 million.
In a written statement issued Friday evening, City Attorney Sharonda Williams remarked, "We're hopeful Sheppard Mullin will study the reforms the city has put in place over the last three years and adjust their fees since they were the higher-priced proposal. Our intent is to continue to develop a fair and cost-effective deal for the taxpayers."
Aronie couldn't be reached for comment Friday. He has previously said he thinks his group's proposed rates are "very fair."
Morgan's selection Friday came after much debate about which group should be awarded the contract. In fact, Morgan had to pick the monitor because the city and the Department of Justice failed to agree on which firm should get the job, despite months of talks.
Most of the public discussion about the finalists focused on Hillard Heintze. Hillard was accused of failing to investigate credible allegations that Chicago police officers had tortured numerous African-American criminal suspects before he became the city's police chief.
Hillard, in his official capacity as superintendent, was named as a defendant in five federal cases involving police torture and wrongful convictions, and three of those cases were settled for about $17 million total, according to a letter from prominent Chicago civil rights lawyer G. Flint Taylor Jr.
Local civil rights attorney Mary Howell filed that letter into the NOPD consent decree court record, along with her own missive outlining "serious concerns" with Hillard and his firm.
In response, Hillard Heintze flooded the court record with letters that vouched for Hillard's professionalism and competence. Among those who wrote letters in support of Hillard were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who used to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff; Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; and Arnette Heintze, CEO and co-founder of Hillard Heintze as well as a retired special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service's field office in Chicago.
Sheppard Mullin did not seek such endorsement letters. Aronie has previously told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune in written remarks, "I think our team's credentials speak for themselves. If we are not selected because we did not solicit references, I will rest comfortably knowing that we competed on the merits of our team and our approach, nothing less."
Those who criticized Sheppard Mullin pointed to the fact that the firm did not identify any local partners as it vied for the monitor contract. About that, Aronie has said, in part, "We believe that the selection of local teammates must be made carefully, divorced from politics, and only after meaningful input from the parties and the community at large.
"Any other approach creates the risk that the monitor could be viewed as beholden to one group or another. The independence of the monitor is too important to take that risk."
Hillard Heintze drew the ire of citizens who followed the selection process when it indicated it intended to partner with two men accused of being too closely aligned with the mayor: Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf and the Rev. Charles Southall. Southall and Scharf denied any bias in favor of Landrieu.
NSA leaks raise concerns on background checks
By STEPHEN BRAUN (The Associated Press) — Saturday, July 6th, 2013; 8:58 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Before Edward Snowden began leaking national security secrets, he twice cleared the hurdle of the federal government's background check system - first at the CIA, then as a systems analyst at the National Security Agency.
Snowden's path into secretive national security jobs has raised concerns about the system that outsources many of the government's most sensitive background checks to an army of private investigators and pays hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts to companies that employ them.
"You can't outsource national security," said Robert Baer, a former CIA veteran who worked in a succession of agency stations in the Mideast. "As long as we depend on the intel-industrial complex for vetting, we're going to get more Snowdens."
The company with the biggest share of contracts is under a federal investigation into possible criminal violations involving its oversight of background checks, officials familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Even with fresh congressional scrutiny, the federal government appears wedded to the incumbent screening system. Nearly three-quarters of the government's background checks are done by private companies, and of those, more than 45 percent are handled by the U.S. Investigations Services, or USIS, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the agency overseeing most of the government's background checks.
USIS, which started out with 700 former government employees in 1996 and is now run by a private equity fund, dominates the background check industry, taking in $195 million in government payments last year and more than $215 million already this year.
The OPM turned to private security screeners in the late 1990s because of growing backlogs that were snarling the government's hiring process. A force of 2,500 OPM investigators and more than 6,700 private contract screeners has sliced into those backlogs, reducing the time it takes on average for background screening by 9 percent in 2010.
As of 2012, more than 4.9 million government workers held security clearances. Senior federal appointments are still carefully investigated by FBI agents, and the FBI and the CIA still maintain strong in-house screening staffs to vet their own sensitive positions.
But privatization efforts started during the Clinton administration keep farming out work to contractors. The Defense Department turned over its screening work to OPM in 2004 and even intelligence agencies that conduct their own investigations relegate some checks to private companies.
The OPM's success has come with mounting government expenditures. The average cost of a background investigation rose from $581 in 2005 to $882 in 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office. At the same time, a $1 billion "revolving fund" paid by federal agencies for most background checks has remained off-limits to outside audits. The White House pledged only recently to provide money for an inspector general's office audit of the fund in the 2014 budget.
The inspector general appointed to watch over the OPM, Patrick McFarland, said at a Senate hearing last month that there were problems with Snowden's most recent screening before he was hired to work for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. as an NSA computer systems analyst. McFarland did not specify the problems, but he said Snowden was screened and approved last year by USIS.
McFarland's office, aided by the Justice Department, is investigating whether USIS exaggerated the extent of its internal reviews of background checks, said two government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the two-year inquiry.
Ray Howell, a spokesman for USIS, declined to confirm or discuss the investigation. The company recently said in a statement that it was "not aware of any open criminal case against USIS." Howell did say the company "is cooperating and will work closely with the government to resolve the matter."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., cited the "criminal investigation" of USIS during a June 21 hearing by a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee. Drew Pusateri, a staff spokesman, said McCaskill "stands by her characterization to the subcommittee that we were informed the company is the target of criminal investigation." McCaskill and other senators are pressing for more answers on Snowden's screenings and USIS' performance.
The Washington Post reported that the investigation is focused on whether USIS skipped mandatory internal reviews for at least half its cases between 2008 and 2012 and did not notify the OPM. USIS said it performed nearly 2 million background checks for the government in 2011 alone. The Post also reported, citing anonymous sources, that McFarland's office is considering advising the OPM to sever its massive government contract with USIS.
USIS is one of three top security companies - the others are KeyPoint Government Solutions Inc. and CACI Premier Technology Inc. - working under a five-year contract with the OPM worth a total of $2.4 billion.
The inquiry into USIS' conduct is unusual in its focus on an entire company, but law enforcement authorities repeatedly have zeroed in on individual background check investigators in recent years for falsifying reports. At least seven private contract and 11 government investigators have been convicted since 2005, authorities said. Currently, authorities are probing nearly 50 separate cases of alleged falsification by screeners.
The prosecutions have included a young CIA background investigator sentenced to two months in jail in 2010 for fabrications in 80 different reports, and two USIS screeners convicted separately in January and in April for making false statements in background check reports. One convicted USIS screener, Bryan Marchand, had not conducted the interview or obtained the record in more than four dozen reports he submitted to federal agencies, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington.
But even as Congress raises alarms about background check problems, it still pushes for speedier screenings. The OPM said the only realistic response is using more workers from private companies.
"Our contractor workforce permits us to expand and contract operations as the workload and locations dictate," said Merton Miller, OPM's associate director of investigations, during a congressional hearing last month.
A series of spot checks on the OPM's screening system in 2009 and 2010 by McFarland's office hinted at lapses by USIS and other private companies. The inspector general warned the OPM that USIS did not flag misconduct issues to OPM within the required time frame.
When OPM was warned that contractors weren't double-checking that documents were valid, the agency responded by modifying its requirement to eliminate the record-check requirement.
A spokeswoman for OPM, Lindsey S. O'Keefe, said the agency adopted 12 of 14 recommendations for improvements.
Baer, who underwent numerous screenings as a CIA operative and whose wife once worked as a background investigator, said that private contract screeners are often paid low wages and pressured by their bosses to meet crushing deadlines - working conditions that could lead to sloppy investigations and cover-ups. Several former background investigators have sued government contractors in recent years for lost overtime and other wages.
GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/588947.pdf
Senate hearing: http://tinyurl.com/k7mydq7