Archive for September 2nd, 2006

Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court gave its state’s version of CI-97 – the “Stop Overspending” initiative (tho’ I prefer “Screw Our State”) — the boot. Why? The signature-gathering methods were questionable.

The order indicated the justices agreed with a referee’s report that tens of thousands of signatures were gathered illegally by out-of-state circulators.”An official opinion will follow specifically addressing the issues of signers’ numerical insufficiency and of illegal activities of out-of-state circulators,” Watt wrote.


He said National Voter Outreach imported many “professional” circulators for the petition drive. “There is significant evidence to show that NVO knowingly sent crews of out-of-state circulators to Oklahoma to collect signatures in violation of Oklahoma law,” [Watt] wrote in his report to the court.

You can bet 4&20 blackbirds will bring you the upcoming “official position” to see if there are similarities in complaints between Oklahoma’s and Montana’s lawsuits. I suspect there will be one major difference: Oklahoma signature-gatherers are required to be in-state residents. Montana’s are not.

After weeks of delay, Missoula Sheriff McMeekin canned Detention Center whistleblower, Mike Burch.

You remember the incident: a mentally disabled woman was pepper-balled then confined in restraints for over forty minutes before being decontaminated. Burch thought her civil rights had been violated and went public in violation of county rules. The FBI looked into the case, but found no civil rights violation.

You may also remember what I said about the case, that I cited a 2005 report on the systemic problems at the Missoula Country Detention Center, and I concluded:

Let me get one thing clear. I am not indicting the whole staff at the jail. Like most organizations, I assume that the bulk of the staff are good, competent officers trying their d*mndest to do the job right. The high rate of anonymous complaints, resignations accompanied by whistle-blowing (like in Mike Burch’s case), the apparent infighting within the organization attests to the concern the majority of the staff feels for the deteriorated environment at the jail.


The problems at the jail boil down to one thing: discipline.

You can’t allow a few bad officers to keep perpetrating abuses and act unethically. They need to be disciplined swiftly and severely. Otherwise disorder will follow. To me, this is an institutional problem, and ultimately I agree with Tyer’s conclusion in the 2005 piece: McMeekin is the problem.

How ironic is it, then, that we read McMeekin’s explanation for terminating Burch:

“I terminated him last Thursday afternoon,” McMeekin said. “(Burch) managed to ignore orders and create an atmosphere in which he would never again be able to command the trust of his co-workers or his supervisors.”

This is not necessarily a sad story for Burch. When I spoke to him earlier, he seemed resigned to his fate and ready to move on to a post-detention-center world. The case is also not dead. A Montana civil rights group is representing the woman involved in the incident and still considering a lawsuit:

That investigation is being headed by Alexandra Volkerts, an attorney for the Montana Advocacy Program, a private nonprofit law firm that promotes the rights of people with disabilities and investigates allegations of abuse or neglect.Depending on the outcome of the investigation, which Volkerts called expansive, the group will either file a lawsuit against the Missoula jail or make public its findings in a published report.

“There are still a lot of people to talk with and a lot more questions to ask,” Volkerts said. “Based on what we have found, though, I’m very surprised by the outcome of the FBI investigation.”

It is, however, a sad story for Missoula county. A chaotic environment at the detention center benefits no one, not the inmates, not the guards, not the city government or the taxpayers who will need to pay for the lawsuits. Instead of making whistleblower Burch the center of the incident, the city and country should take this as a warning signal and right the ship.

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