06-22-2018  3:16 pm      •     
The Skanner Report
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NEWS BRIEFS

AG Rosenblum Seeks Info from Oregonians

Oregon Attorney General seeks information on children separated from families at border ...

Community Forum: How Does Law Enforcement Interact With Vulnerable Populations?

Forum will focus on public safety and examine mental health and addiction issues ...

King County Council Recognizes Juneteenth

The Metropolitan King County Council recognizes a true 'freedom day' in the United States ...

Unite Oregon Hosts ‘Mourn Pray Love, and Take Action’ June 20

Community is invited to gather at Terry Schrunk Plaza at 6 p.m. on World Refugee Day ...

MRG Foundation Announces Spring 2018 Grantees

Recipients include Oregon DACA Coalition, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, Komemma Cultural Protection Association ...

Lawsuit seeks lawyer access to immigrants in prison

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A rights group filed an emergency lawsuit in federal court Friday against top officials of U.S. immigration and homeland security departments, alleging they have unconstitutionally denied lawyers' access to immigrants in a prison in Oregon.Immigration and Customs...

Oregon woman accused of mistreating 3 children

HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) — Police arrested an Oregon woman accused of criminally mistreating three children in her care.Lt. Henry Reimann of the Hillsboro Police Department says Merlinda Avalos limited the kids to two peanut sandwiches a day, prevented them from using the bathroom at night and...

Man charged in 1986 killing of 12-year-old Tacoma girl

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A Lakewood man suspected of killing a 12-year-old girl in Tacoma over three decades ago has been charged with murder and rape.The News Tribune reports Pierce County prosecutors charged 66-year-old Gary Hartman Friday in connection with Michella Welch's death in 1986. She...

Federal agency approves Idaho field burning rules

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal officials have approved Idaho's request to loosen field burning rules.Backers say the move offers more flexibility to keep smoke away from people but health advocates counter that it will lead to breathing problems for some residents.The U.S. Environmental...

OPINION

How Washington’s 'School Achievement Index' Became School Spending Index

New assessment categorizes schools not by quality of education, but level of funding officials believe they should receive ...

Black Mamas Are Dying. We Can Stop It.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly plans to improve access to culturally-competent care with the MOMMA Act ...

Hey, Elected Officials: No More Chicken Dinners...We Need Policy

Jeffrey Boney says many elected officials who visit the Black community only during the election season get a pass for doing nothing ...

Juneteenth: Freedom's Promise Still Denied

Juneteenth is a celebration of the de facto end of slavery, but the proliferation of incarceration keeps liberation unfulfilled ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

The Latest: Serbia angry VAR wasn't consulted vs Switzerland

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Friday at the World Cup (all times local):1:07 a.m.Serbian football association Vice President Savo Milosevic is angry after his team's 2-1 World Cup defeat by Switzerland that the video assistant referee was not consulted on a second-half penalty appeal by...

Trial set in long-delayed post-Katrina racial shooting case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A trial date has been set for a white man accused of shooting at three black men in what federal prosecutors said was a racially motivated attack following Hurricane Katrina.The case of Roland Bourgeois Jr. has dragged on for years. He was indicted five years after the...

Xhaka and Shaqiri score for Swiss, make Albanian symbol

KALININGRAD, Russia (AP) — Albania's national flag was at the center of Switzerland's 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday at the World Cup.Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage.Both players put their open hands...

ENTERTAINMENT

Actress Betty Buckley wants to 'make America happy again'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — There's busy. And then there's Betty Buckley busy.The veteran singer and actress began the month with four nights of concerts in New York celebrating the release of her new live album, "Hope."Buckley appeared earlier this week on the season finale of The CW's "Supergirl,"...

So much TV, so little summer: Amy Adams, Kevin Hart, Dr. Pol

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The fall television season is months away but that's no reason to stare moodily at a blank screen. In this era of peak TV, there are so many outlets and shows clamoring for your summertime attention that it can be as daunting as choosing between a mojito and a frozen...

Honduran girl in symbolic photo not separated from mother

NEW YORK (AP) — A crying Honduran girl depicted in a widely-seen photograph that became a symbol for many of President Donald Trump's immigration policies was not actually separated from her mother, U.S. government officials said on Friday.Time magazine used an image of the girl, by Getty...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

Police shooting of boy spurs more protests, appeals

Protesters demonstrated Friday for a third day over the fatal police shooting in Pennsylvania of an unarmed black...

Ex-New England Mafia boss 'Cadillac Frank' guilty in slaying

BOSTON (AP) — Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme was convicted Friday of killing a nightclub owner to keep...

Inmate charged with capital murder in Kansas deputy deaths

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 30-year-old inmate was charged Friday with capital murder in the shooting deaths...

UK split by Brexit divide 2 years after vote to leave EU

LONDON (AP) — It's been two years since the shoppers and traders of London's Romford market voted by a wide...

Italy vows to expel far more migrants, but it won't be easy

ROME (AP) — Barely a week in office, Italy's populist interior minister lost no time in bringing home his...

Rival Koreas agree to August reunions of war-split families

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold temporary reunions of families...

David Merkatz
Davd Merkatz

The American justice system is based on the ideal of “innocent until proven guilty,” but it doesn’t always play out that way.

Often, the innocent go to prison, sometimes to serve long sentences. Since 1989, for example, at least 1,555 innocent people in the United States have been exonerated of crimes after previously being convicted, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School.

David Merkatz knows what it’s like to be wrongly charged and face the possibility of prison time.

Merkatz, a locksmith, was arrested in South Florida after he hit upon a business strategy of creating a series of locksmith company names that were similar to names of existing companies. He says his method of siphoning off his competitors’ business “might not have been nice,” but his attorney assured him it was legal.

After all, the service he was offering was not a scam. Customers who called would get a real locksmith to their house who would do the work and charge a fair price, he says.

The worst that could happen, Merkatz figured, was that his competitors might file civil claims against him over trademark infringement. Criminal complaints shouldn’t have been a possibility.

But one of the “victims” had ties to local government. Merkatz says that’s how he and two other locksmiths ended up in jail, charged with a host of crimes ranging from money laundering to petty theft. Eventually, the charges were dropped, but Merkatz says he was damaged in many ways by the ordeal.

“You are really guilty until proven innocent in this country,” says Merkatz, who wrote a book about his experience titled “Wrongly Charged: A Look at the Legal System” (www.wronglycharged.com), with 10 percent of the profits going into a fund to help others who are wrongly charged.

 “Even if you are found not guilty of a crime, your reputation is tarnished.”

Merkatz says his run-in with the legal system taught him a few lessons.

•  Seek legal advice. Merkatz says his knowledge of the justice system comes from experience and talking with attorneys, but those who feel their constitutional or legal rights are being violated should seek assistance from a professional. Not only do you need an attorney, but it should be an attorney from your state because laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, he says.

•  Understand the importance of plea deals. Prosecutors often offer plea deals to defendants and it’s not surprising when guilty people, especially first-time offenders, accept the offer, Merkatz says. “You can bargain with the state to let you plea to a lesser charge, and if you are a non-violent offender, chances are you’ll be given a pretty good deal,” he says. Sadly, though, even innocent people have to consider plea deals, Merkatz says, because otherwise they place themselves in the hands of a judge or jury and could end up with a stiff prison sentence.

•  Always carry a bail bondsman’s card. Merkatz admits that many people “look at me like I’m nuts” when he suggests this, but he believes it’s important. Most law-abiding citizens can’t imagine a scenario when they would need to contact a bail bondsman to help get them out of jail, but it can easily happen. Merkatz, for example, says a friend was once pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The officer ended up pulling out his gun and arresting the man on an outstanding warrant. As it turned out, the warrant was for someone else with the same name and a similar birthday, but law enforcement did not figure that out until Merkatz’s friend spent several hours in custody.

Although Merkatz and the other two locksmiths in his case were not convicted, Merkatz says the law enforcement investigation took a toll in financial resources and in the stress of not knowing whether they would go to prison.

“I believe that until the laws of this country are changed to level the playing field for defendants there will always be innocent people sitting in jail or executed,” Merkatz says. “Others will lose their jobs, their friends and their reputations because of false accusations.”

He says one solution would be to handle criminal cases like civil cases. If someone files a lawsuit against you and loses the case, the court usually will order the person to pay your court costs and legal fees.

“That protects people, to some degree, from frivolous lawsuits,” Merkatz says. “You will not be out the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to defend yourself. If criminal cases were handled this way, I’m betting the state would not be so quick to file charges.”

About David Merkatz

David Merkatz was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, where at age 16 he decided he didn’t like school and wanted to learn a trade. That led him into the locksmith trade and in 1978 he opened his first locksmith business in Brooklyn. Merkatz moved to south Florida in 1983, where he continued working as a locksmith, eventually establishing a mobile locksmith business with a friend. After a truck accident killed his friend and injured him, Merkatz decided to begin hiring independent contractors to do the service calls while he handled dispatching duties. His life changed on Aug. 13, 2013, when he was arrested after there were complaints he used company names similar to existing locksmith companies in an effort to get their business. His experience with the legal system inspired him to write a book titled “Wrongly Charged: A Look at the Legal System.” (www.wronglycharged.com)

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