Felony Charges Dropped Against Young Undocumented Student at Heart of Immigration Debate

A nearly three-year legal battle has come to an end for a young undocumented immigrant whose 2010 arrest sparked a national debate over U.S. immigration policy, particularly the right of undocumented immigrants to attend public universities.

Thursday, a Cobb County, Georgia, judge dismissed a false-swearing charge against the now 23-year-old Jessica Colotl stemming from her arrest on March 29, 2010. A Kennesaw State University (KSU) police officer stopped Colotl, a KSU student, for a traffic infraction on campus. She was arrested the following day after failing to produce for authorities a valid driver’s license.

Colotl’s case has been widely publicized nationally, drawing renewed attention to the use of 287(g) programs, which allow local police agencies to enforce immigration law and detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

She remained in an immigration detention center for 37 days before she was granted a deportation deferment to finish her college coursework.

Last year, JJIE, partnering with Cartoon Movement, published a piece of comics journalism detailing Colotl’s story and titled “Jessica Colotl: In the Eye of the Storm,”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Colotl, who graduated from KSU in 2011, is working as a legal assistant.

Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) has published numerous studies analyzing firearms-related deaths and injuries data, but over the last 16 years, the NCIPC hasn’t conducted a single study exploring why such acts of violence take place.

The reason, several former CDC directors say, is because pro-gun lobbyists made the topic of gun violence research forbidden through several measures adopted in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, several legislators co-sponsored an amendment that would cut the CDC’s budget, with a House Appropriations Committee adopting an additional amendment that prohibited CDC funding “to advocate or promote gun control.” Eventually, $2.6 million was removed from the CDC’s budget -- the exact amount that the NCIPC spent on firearms injuries studies a year prior.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has long been critical of the CDC, with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre recently telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) that he believed the agency was promoting a political agenda through the NCIPC in 1995.

Other gun proponents agreed. Former Georgian congressman Bob Barr -- a member of the NRA board -- said that firearms violence is “nothing CDC should be involved in.”

“It has nothing to do with health,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I don’t think when the CDC was created there would by any contemplation that they would be studying firearms as a health issue.”

Several ex-CDC directors, however, claim that gun lobbyists have effectively eliminated any possibility of meaningful firearms research studies being conducted today, with former director of NCIPC Mark Rosenberg going as far as to say that “the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA.

Dr. David Satcher, a CDC director when the budget cuts and amendments were passed, said that the restriction of research serves as a threat to both public health and democracy.

“It is sad when you really think about it,” he is quoted by the AJC. “We are in an environment when children are dying and we are playing political games.”

Today, researchers financed by the CDC are required to contact the agency when planning to publish firearms-related research. The CDC then forwards the information to the NRA “as a courtesy.”

RAND Corp.’s Arthur Kellermann said that now, the number of gun violence studies being published is just a fraction compared to the research released prior to the mid-1990s CDC budget cuts and amendments.

“It is almost impossible today to get federal funding for firearm injury prevention research,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I have to acknowledge that the (NRA) strategy of shutting down the pipeline of science was effective.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Saechang via Flickr.

Choosing to Stay and Fight For Kids in Trouble

"What happened in your life that made you a passionate advocate for kids?"

When Jane Hansen, Information Officer for the Georgia Supreme Court, asked me this question last week during an interview, I thought, "Whoa -- the question assumed something happened to me."

Now I am paranoid -- what does she know that I don't? I have known Jane going way back to my days as a parole officer when she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution -- she has a keen sense of things.

This "happening" resides in the recesses of my mind, something that rises to the surface from time to time when triggered by an event, song, or a question.

My Dad's work transferred us to a small town in Kansas between my third and fourth grade years. It was the first day of school -- I was nervous more than most on the first day -- I didn’t know anyone.

We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. I noticed a boy sitting toward the front who remained seated during the pledge. He didn’t utter a word. The teacher to my amazement didn't admonish him to stand and take part.

As it goes with kids, I had bigger worries on my first day and soon forgot about this act of defiance -- until the next day. Again the boy didn't stand. Now I was getting curiously frustrated in that 10-year-old way. Why does he get to stay seated while the rest of us have to stand? That's not fair I thought to myself. I was getting angry.

Consider what we were going through in those years of the Cold War. It was circa 1966. During school, we would sometimes be paraded out of class and into the hallways when the "attack" bell sounded. Then we would stand face forward to the wall with our hands behind our heads. All this was in hopes of surviving the impact and aftermath of the impact of a nuclear missile bearing the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

In my world at age 10, this boy was a communist sympathizer!

It turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought this.

When school let out that day, I ran into what I thought at first glance was a schoolyard fight. But no, it was three boys beating and kicking the communist sympathizing "he deserves to get his butt kicked" Pledge-of-Allegiance-refusing student.

In my state of confusion, I didn’t know whether to stand there or run away? I certainly wasn't thinking about helping a communist!

In my moment of indecision I hesitated just long enough to look down and see this boy's face, and than his eyes made contact with mine. In what seemed like minutes, he reached out his hand to me with tears flowing from his eyes and said with a screeching cry, "Help me."

I ran!

I kept running until I reached that one safe place -- my bedroom.

My Mom noticed at dinner that I was quiet and asked me if I was OK. I told her I was fine, but I couldn’t get the boy's plea for help out of my head. I finally spoke up and told her about the boy and how he refused to stand and pledge the flag. I asked her if he was a communist.

"No," she replied. "He is a Jehovah Witness."

Mom explained that the boy wasn't disrespectful, but that his Christian beliefs forbid saluting.

"Jehovah Witnesses are very respectful of government," she explained. "They pay taxes and obey the laws," but what Mom said next pierced my heart.

"In his world of thinking he is placing the flag above God. No person should be forced to suffer that trauma."

I went to bed that night mulling over my Mom's words. The more I looked at it through the boy's eyes, the more I felt guilty and ashamed. Guilty for assuming he was bad, ashamed for running.

He was beaten to a pulp because he was different and it didn't matter even if he was a commie. He didn't deserve to be beaten.

I cried that night and Mom heard it. She came in and I told her the rest of the story of my shame and guilt. She held me in her arms and said she was proud that I felt ashamed and counseled me to do something about it.

I promised myself that night -- alone and crying in the bedroom – that I would never run again. And so, I made friends with that boy.

It was difficult to re-live that moment with Jane -- my voice breaking, cracking, and my fingers pressing against my watery eyes to hold back a complete break-down. But I've always known that it defined my existence to be an advocate.

I chose my path of advocacy at age 15. I knew then I would go to law school. I have traveled a road that has taken me to a place that many think unlikely for an advocate -- the judicial bench. After all, judges wear robes and sit on a bench, hear evidence, respond to objections, decide cases, research the law, and draft orders -- what more is there to judging?

The answer, I think, depends on what that judge decides to do when he or she takes off the robe. The key question is, "What can I do off the bench to become more effective on the bench?" After all, the Judicial Canons encourage us to "engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice."

I don’t have to leave my Georgia backyard to find judicial advocates working to improve juvenile justice in their communities through collaboration and innovative programming. But only so much can be done without the resources needed to make a difference in the lives of kids with childhood trauma leading to delinquent behaviors.

Gov. Nathan Deal is cognizant of these limitations and wants change that will tear down the walls that keep us moving forward.  So, he created a reform council and gave them the tools to delve keenly into what works and what doesn't -- analysts from the Pew Trust Center and Annie E. Casey Foundation.

No matter how it turns out, I am thankful for my governor's leadership to seek reform, my colleagues on the council for their dedication, and my fellow Georgia judges for their "off the bench" advocacy.

At least I know we are not running from kids in trouble. We are staying to fight!

Mom of Teen Beaten to Death Calls for Change in Juvenile Justice System

The mother of 18-year-old Bobby Tillman, who was beaten to death after a house party early Sunday morning, is lobbying for tougher juvenile laws.

Monique Rivarde tells WXIA she will campaign for a new law named after her son requiring mandatory counseling for teen offenders with tougher punishment for kids who keep getting in trouble.

As for the four teens charged with murdering her son, she feels that it’s too late for them.

In the wake of Tillman’s murder, more than 600 people attended a teen summit Thursday night in Douglassville to discuss ways to stop senseless violence in the community. The crowd included high school and college age kids along with school and law enforcement officials, according to the AJC.

Continue reading Mom of Teen Beaten to Death Calls for Change in Juvenile Justice System

Four Teens Charged with Murder in Beating Death

An 18-year-old boy was killed at a house party in Douglasville, Ga Saturday night, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Four other teenagers, ages 18-19, were arrested for the death of Bobby Tillman. They have been charged with murder.

More than 70 kids turned up at what was supposed to be a small house party. After parents ended the party a fight broke out outside the home between two girls.

According an account from the Douglas County Sherriff, one of the girls hit a boy. The boy allegedly said he wouldn’t hit a girl but would hit the next guy that walked by. Five-foot-6-inch, 124-pount Tillman turned out to be the next boy to walk by. He was stomped and beaten and died of blunt force trauma to the head and chest.

The NAACP launched an investigation into how the sheriff’s department questioned party-goers. Fifty-seven kids were rounded up and taken to the sheriff’s department on a bus. Some of them were actually questioned on the bus. Some kids complained they weren’t allowed to call their parents. The sheriff’s department maintains they handled everything correctly.

Forsyth County Most Aggressive in Fighting Teen Sexting

There have been at least 10 sexting cases in the Forsyth County school system over the past four years. This is what drives sheriff’s investigator Jeff Roe in his campaign against sexting and Internet based sex crime among teens, according to the AJC.

He visits schools with a blunt message: kids have committed suicide after being exposed on the Internet and in picture text messages. He urges students to take the problem seriously by not participating in any form of sexting, explicit text messaging or sharing of lewd images online.

Is the reach out to the community working? It’s hard to tell. Prosecutors have been reluctant to go after teens involved in sexting because the punishment is so severe: felony child pornography charges could result in 20 years in prison.

Other metro Atlanta school systems are offering Internet sex crime seminars, but Forsyth is the most aggressive. Fulton County schools only offer occasional “Lunch and Learn” sessions for parents and Cobb’s Prevention and Intervention Department provides Internet safety tips on the county website. Gwinnett County is just getting started by offering information at PTA meetings, on the system’s website and in the student handbook.

For the AJC’s full story, click here.

Congress to Grill Craigslist on Sex Ads – GA Advocates Applaud

Advocates fighting the child prostitution problem in Atlanta are cautiously optimistic about Wednesday’s congressional hearing targeting Craigslist. The world’s largest online ad service is sending William Clint Powell, the director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist, to answer questions from the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee about adult ads and the role that online services play in child prostitution.

“[Craigslist is] definitely the market leader in [prostitution] and as they go, others may go,” said Kaffie McCullough, campaign director of Atlanta’s A Future Not a Past. The group is fighting the child prostitution problem in Georgia with research, intervention, and education while pushing for prosecution of pimps and johns.

Under growing pressure from attorneys general across the country, Craigslist deactivated its adult services section in the U.S. on September 3, but the section remains open in other countries. Nevertheless, McCullough is pleased because the move has “already disrupted the usual patterns” of prostitution in the U.S.

Some feel that censoring Craigslist is the wrong move. A researcher for Microsoft told the Washington Post that Craigslist’s adult services section could provide more clues for law enforcement to help fight prostitution.

“We’re not under any illusions that prostitution will stop now that these ads are gone. This is about making it harder for it to continue,” said McCullough.

Deborah Richardson, Chief Program Director of the Women’s Funding Network, will be speaking at Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of her national group and Georgia’s A Future Not A Past campaign.

In terms of the hope that Craigslist will permanently remove its Adult Services section:

“I’m just fearful that they’ll do some sort of fancy dance because of profit motive. They make a lot of profit from this section. I just hope they’ll do the right thing.”

Craigslist’s adult services section accounts for about 30 percent of its overall revenue. This year, the site has made about $122 million and $36.6 million of that came from the adult services section, according to the AJC.

As reported in June Craigslist tried to stifle criticism from A Future Not a Past, who revealed in a study that it was” by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females.”  The campaign teamed up with the Women’s Funding Network to publicize the problem, but was hit with a Cease and Desist letter from Craigslist.

More about the Craigslist sex ads controversy:

Child Prostitution Ads Censored on Craigslist

17 States Fight Craigslist Adult Services

Craigslist Sex Ad Investigation

Craigslist Stuns Child Advocates

Teen’s Emotions End in Triple Murder

Adults often wonder what kids are thinking when they do horrible things. The story of 17-year-old Anthony Tyrone Terrell, convicted of killing his own family, reveals a tragic thought process that came out in open court last Friday.

Terrell had an argument with his mother about a girl. Rather than ending with a slammed door, Terrell killed his mother and two younger sisters. The AJC published his statement about what went on in his head:

“I never planned what happened that day,” Terrell told Superior Court Judge Debra Turner. After shooting his mother, he shot his 11 year-old half sister, who witnessed the shooting. He then went upstairs and shot his 4-year-old half sister. He told investigators that he killed her because he didn’t want her to have to grow up without a mother. He then planned to commit suicide, but could not go through with it.

Terrell will have a lot of time to think about this while serving two life sentences in prison. Defense attorney Lyle Porter believes Terrell lost control of his emotions and that his actions after shooting his mother came from a feeling of hopelessness.

DeKalb DA Resigns to Work for Feds

The DeKalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming resigned Wednesday. President Obama has appointed her to the post of the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

As District Attorney, Fleming managed 13,000 cases a year and oversaw 165 employees. She will now oversee eight states, including Georgia, and six tribal nations, according to the AJC.

It’s up to Governor Purdue to appoint a replacement.

School Sued for Handcuffing Child

A first grader in New Orleans is the new poster child for excessive school discipline.  The boy, identified as J.W., was arrested, handcuffed and allegedly shackled to a desk by school police after arguing with another child over a seat in the lunchroom.   The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit Thursday in Federal Court, claiming the arrest for a minor violation of school rules is unlawful and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.   Read the complaint here.

The complaint names the elementary school principal, school superintendent and security director, and was filed on behalf of all children in the school.  SPLC Attorney Thena Robinson says, "We’re hopeful this [lawsuit] will send a powerful message. We have to treat kids with dignity.  There are ways to keep kids safe and treat them with dignity."

The boy’s father, Sebastian Weston, says his son was treated like an animal is now terrified of school.   Watch his statement in this video from WWL-TV

A spokesman for the Recovery School District confirms the incident happened May 6, and two security officers were fired, but would not comment further. The suit alleges the officers were not properly trained “about developmentally appropriate responses to elementary school children who fail to follow school rules.”

Attorneys also contend that under state law, a 6-year old child cannot be arrested, though the school principal had a policy of handcuffing children who violated rules.  When the officers chained him to the furniture “they subjected him to an unreasonable and excessively intrusive seizure that was calculated solely to punish, humiliate and intimidate. “

“We cannot wrap our heads around why the principal thought it would be okay to shackle a child to a desk,” Robinson says. “So many things could have been done, even if he was getting out of control. Six-year olds throw temper tantrums.  It’s up to adults to redirect them.”

The Louisiana lawsuit was filed on the same day Georgia’s State Board of Education voted to ban the practice of putting children in seclusion rooms, and limit the use of restraints in public schools.  Schools may only use handcuffs and other forms of physical restraint  in situations where students are an immediate danger to themselves or others, or when calming techniques don’t work.

Parents of 13-year old Jonathon King of Gainesville pushed for changes after their son hanged himself in a seclusion room in 2004.

The new disciplinary rules get praise from Randee Waldman, director of the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory Law School. ”Georgia is trying to address this. Georgia is one step ahead,” She adds, “Handcuffs shouldn’t be used to punish a child,”

But educators and child advocates admit they’re not sure exactly how often children are handcuffed and arrested in Georgia schools. Data from the Education Department indicates approximately 1,900 children statewide were referred to juvenile court during the 2008-2009 school year. However, numbers from Atlanta are missing from the count, and some experts believe the total may be significantly higher.

“We’re having a hard time figuring out how many kids are referred to Juvenile Court much less handcuffed,” says Waldman. “Schools are not required to maintain data on how many times children are handcuffed. “

That may soon change. Brad Bryant, the new state schools superintendent, tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he expects a data collection system to be put in place. And for the first time, parents must be notified when their children have been restrained by a school administrator or teacher.