Serving on a jury involves beating the odds. The odds are against you being picked to be on call for jury duty, they are often against you actually being called in to serve, they are often against you being chosen from the jury pool for voir dire (questioning by the judge and attorneys), and they are nearly against you when it comes to preemptory challenges from the attorneys.
I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury and somehow I managed to not only be one of sixty people or so people called in today in the City of Richmond, but also one of 13 to be sat for the voir dire, and one of seven to be chosen for the jury in a criminal trial. And, it was an amazing experience.
In the early the morning of Thursday, June 26, 2009, an off-duty Richmond police officer named Donnell Patterson, 29, was working security at Club 354 near Virginia Commonwealth University. The club let out at 2 a.m. and around 400 young (and perhaps tipsy) people poured onto the sidewalk of Harrison Street between Broad and Grace streets.
Officer Patterson, who was allowed to be in uniform and armed during this second job, worked with a number of other on-and-off-duty police officers from Richmond and VCU to herd the crowd toward their cars and to prevent fights. Apparently they have to do this sort of crowd control every week.
An 18-year-old named Sadaris Fitzgerald was crossing Harrison Street walking toward the China Panda restaurant at the corner of Harrison and Grace streets. Fitzgerald had not actually been inside Club 354. He had waited outside for a girl he knew who was inside the club, talked with her briefly outside the club, and then started walking away.
Officer Patterson claims Fitzgerald was walking away too slowly on the crosswalk and that Fitzgerald kept looking back over his shoulder as he walked (perhaps calling out to the girl he knew or looking back at her). Officer Patterson says he kept telling Fitzgerald to stop looking back and to keep moving forward. Officer Patterson also says he was pushing Fitzgerald’s lower back to help move Fitzgerald along.
This is where the story becomes muddled.
Fitzgerald claims that Officer Patterson said, “Don’t make me make an example out of you,” grabbed him in a painful choke hold, fell with him to the sidewalk in front of China Panda, and landed on top of him. Fitzgerald has photos that appear to show marks on his neck, bleeding on one of his hands, a bruise on his head, and a bruise near an eye.
On the other hand, Officer Patterson claims Fitzgerald spun around, grabbed his police vest, and pulled both of them to the sidewalk. He claims to have had scrapes to his own elbows and knees, though did not offer proof of them.
Now, the story becomes somewhat less muddled (at least based on what the jury was allowed to hear).
Officer Patterson and Fitzgerald were helped up from the fall by a Richmond Police Detective named Charles Battle. Detective Battle was also off-duty and was also working crowd control for Club 354. Officer Patterson then went back to crowd control on Detective Battle’s order without talking to Fitzgerald at all. Detective Battle apparently also did not question Fitzgerald about the fall. He offered Fitzgerald medical attention, which Fitzgerald refused, and Fitzgerald later left the scene.
I was on the jury for Officer Patterson’s trial today and it was utterly fascinating. Either Officer Patterson made the “example” statement to Fitzgerald or he didn’t. Either Officer Patterson grabbed first or Fitzgerald grabbed first. Either Officer Patterson grabbed Fitzgerald’s throat or he didn’t. The truth may be out there somewhere. But, I’ll be damned if I could find it.
The whole thing degenerated into a game of he-said / he-said. No one who testified actually saw what happened except for the two main players.
I kept wondering why Detective Battle wasn’t testifying since he saw at least some of the action. Of course, no one told the jury that Detective Battle had also been indicted or that his indictment was overturned on June 7th for reasons unknown. (Richmond Times Dispatch, WRIC, NBC12, Richmond Times Dispatch) As a Law & Order viewer, you get all the info. As a juror, you’re more in the dark.
An emergency room doctor who examined Fitzgerald a year ago after the incident doesn’t actually remember Fitzgerald and based his testimony entirely off notes. And, those notes contain nothing about an injury to Fitzgerald’s neck.
We heard conflicting testimony about whether the throat injury photo was taken by RIchmond Police Internal Affairs or Fitzgerald’s mother. But, the officer from Internal Affairs seemed to think Officer Patterson was guilty of assault.
The pavement outside China Panda is uneven. Could that have caused the fall? Shots were heard in the area earlier in the day. Did that create a tense environment that helped lead to the incident?
The idea was also floated by the defense that Fitzgerald’s family had embellished on actual events to try and get money in a civil suit.
In case you are wondering if race was a factor in the incident, Fitzgerald, Officer Patterson and Detective Battle are all African-American. So were two of the seven jurors.
The jury met after hearing the opening arguments, testimony, and closing arguments. We reviewed all the exhibits. And, our foreman asked for a show of hands of those jurors who thought Officer Patterson was guilty. Six people’s hands stayed down. One person’s hand went up. That hand was mine.
I have to say, the other jurors were very nice to me. No one rolled their eyes or jumped down my throat. They listened to my points and we had some spirited debate.
I had a hard time believing that Fitzgerald (who doesn’t seem to have been drinking or using drugs at all) would grab a uniformed, gun-toting police officer who was larger than he was. So, that made me question Officer Patterson’s story. I also felt that someone seemed to have injured Fitzgerald’s neck at some point. And, the fact that Officer Patterson and Detective Battle didn’t question Fitzgerald at all about the fall seemed fishy to me.
In the end, our foreman made an argument that swayed me. It’s essentially the Fog of War argument. It was 2 a.m., 400 people were milling around, the pavement outside China Panda is uneven, and we had been told there had been shots fired in the area earlier in the day. So, can we really know who did what, when they did it, and why they did it in that situation?
I still have my doubts, but I had to decide if I felt strongly enough about them to hang a jury. Ultimately, I erred on the side of reasonable doubt and a presumption of innocence. I dearly hope I was right, but I’ll never really know.
I have been eligible for jury duty for 18 years. Despite being on-call three times in the past, I’ve never been actually called in until today. I’m excited about it. I hope I actually get to serve on a jury and that the case is interesting.
The John Marshall Courts Building in the City of Richmond doesn’t allow electronic devices of any kind to be taken inside. That has served to underscore how dependent I am on my iPhone and Kindle. I actually had to go to Barnes & Noble last night to buy printed reading material specifically for the courthouse waiting room.
There are increasing calls for President Obama to put BP’s U.S. subsidiary into federal receivership or to take other actions that would give the federal government more direct control over efforts to stop the continuing release of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. While I may be in the minority here, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.
I’m not here to defend BP, Transocean, Cameron International or Halliburton Energy Services. It sounds like greed and mismanagement on the part of multiple players got us into this mess and those players more than deserve the expenses, investigations, lawsuits and condemnation that are coming their way.
However, we need to ask ourselves what BP receivership or some form of greater federal control would achieve, besides making us feel that President Obama has taken bold action.
I want the leaks stopped as much as anyone. But, do we think the federal government knows more than BP about how to cap undersea oil leaks? Do we think the federal government would be better motivated or faster than BP to get the leaks capped? I haven’t seen convincing arguments for either of those ideas, though I’m prepared to listen to anyone who can make them.
BP has lost around $73 billion in market capitalization since the leaks started. It’s on the hook for billions more in cleanup costs and lawsuits. Its public reputation is in tatters. And, the cleanup costs, lawsuits, and PR damage will only get worse as the leaks continue. BP is highly motivated to get the leaks stopped. Its very survival may depend on it. And, I suspect BP is far more experienced than the federal government in capping undersea oil leaks.
I don’t see what taking control from a highly motivated and experienced BP and giving it to the federal government achieves. I’m also worried that it will let BP off the hook to a degree.
Right now this entire mess is clearly BP’s responsibility. The oil rig was being operated on BP’s behalf by BP’s contractors. BP has led the effort to cap the oil leaks. BP is financially responsible for the clean up and clearly a target for lawsuits. But, once the government starts calling the shots, BP starts getting an out.
A BP that was in receivership can later claim it wanted to do X to stop the oil leaks but the government wouldn’t let it. It can later claim it didn’t want to do Y to stop the leaks, but the government made it. It can later claim the government slowed it down with bureaucratic red tape. It wasn’t BP’s fault the oil kept leaking, it was the government’s. That’s a perfect excuse for reducing BP’s clean up and lawsuit liability. We shouldn’t serve it up on a silver platter.
BP needs to use its expertise to stop oil leaks that it is responsible for creating. It also needs to fully fund the cleanup, to deal with the lawsuits, and ensure that it picks up the overall tab here rather than taxpayers.
As I wrote yesterday, one of our neighbors, Bill, fell to his death from our shared roof under mysterious circumstances. But, this bizarre story has an even more bizarre twist.
I have now learned that a prior occupant of the same apartment fell to his death from the same roof in the same backyard a few years before we moved into our house. History is repeating itself next door.
I am told Bill was aware that a prior occupant of his apartment had died by falling from the roof into the backyard. He had even read some letters that were left behind in the apartment by the deceased man. And, we saw police photograph a notebook from Bill’s apartment and collect it for evidence.
This whole thing is so very, very tragic.
(Note: Since making my earlier post, I’ve been ashamed to learn that my neighbor was called Bill rather than Will. Apparently, I wasn’t the only neighbor to not know that. Even someone living in his building had thought he went by Will. It’s another sad example of how none of us tried to connect with him. I’ve updated my original post to reflect his correct name.)
We got back from New York City last night after an lovely weekend there. While walking across our deck to the back door, we though we smelled something rotten. But, we didn’t investigate since we were a bit tired. I assumed a bird or a squirrel had died somewhere nearby.
Today, as we were walking out of our back door to go to lunch, the rotten smell on the deck seemed much stronger. So, I looked over the fence that separates our deck from the next yard. And, that’s when I saw the dead, decomposing body of our neighbor, Bill.
Bill lived on the third floor of a house attached to ours that has been cut up into apartments. He was around 44 and a former lawyer from what I’ve heard. I didn’t know him well. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit I deliberately tried not to know him well. He had a history of alcoholism and DUIs, problems with depression, self-injury, and even suicide attempts. The police and EMS have been to his home numerous times in recent years to deal with his issues and he has been institutionalized for brief periods.
Selfishly, I didn’t want to get involved with Bill. I’ve helped troubled people as a volunteer for the Red Cross numerous times. But, that was always for just a few hours at a home fire scene. They didn’t live next door and they didn’t know where I lived. I didn’t want trouble coming to my front door. But, it came in the end anyway, just to the back door.
I’ve never seen a dead body before that wasn’t in a coffin and beautified by a mortuary. I’m not sure I can ever forget what Bill looked like. It appears that he fell from the second-story roof that our two houses share. I found him lying in his backyard with his neck and head leaning against the back wall of the house at an unnatural angle. I think his neck was broken in the fall. I hope so, as that would mean he didn’t suffer.
It appears Bill’s body had been lying in the yard for days without being discovered. The first floor apartment was empty. The second floor apartment doesn’t have access to the backyard. The backyard is overgrown with vegetation, which somewhat hid the body. And, lots of us on the block were away for Memorial Day vacations.
Bill didn’t really have a face when I found him. Where his face once was there remained only a black shrunken mass. His eyes were gone, eaten by I don’t know what. Dozens of flies covered his pale body and buzzed incessantly. The stench was nauseating. I can’t stop replaying it all in my head.
The police are trying to figure out if this was suicide or an accident. It appears some electrical wires were ripped off the exterior wall, which may indicate Bill fell accidentally and was trying to save himself. I hope that’s true.
The logical, rational part of me says that Bill was deeply troubled, that I could not have really helped him, and that he was ultimately not my responsibility. The emotional part of me wonders whether some outreach from me and others on the block could have prevented this. Probably not, but I’ll never know since I didn’t try.
(Note: Since first posting this, I have been ashamed to learn that my neighbor preferred to be called Bill rather than Will. Apparently, I wasn’t the only neighbor to not know that. Even someone living in his building had thought he went by Will. It’s another sad example of how none of us tried connect with him. I’ve updated this post to reflect his correct name. )