The Story Of The Mystery Plane, The Drugs, The Cash And Maybe The CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane that has confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

 

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

 

 

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do I Feel Sorry For The Australian Woman In A Colombian Jail?

I’ve thought long and hard about this. What I am about to say will seem harsh. Maybe even a bit cruel. Certainly it’s heartless. But I have absolutely no sympathy, whatsoever, for the plight of a young Australian woman, languishing in a Colombian jail, facing drug trafficking charges. Sorry. None.

For those who might not know about this, let me tell a little of the back story as I know it to be.

Twenty-two-year-old Adelaide woman Cassandra Sainsbury was arrested, while trying to board a flight for London, at Bogata airport in Colombia. Five point eight kilos of cocaine was later discovered, concealed inside headphones carried in her suitcase.

As you might expect, Sainsbury denied any knowledge of the drugs and claims the headphones were presents for family and friends. According to the Sainsbury version of events, she allegedly bought the headphones, for a ‘cheap’ price, from a man called Angelo or Tom. The problem for Sainsbury, one among many, is that no one has been able to identify or find this man.

According to her Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herran, Angelo or Tom is a ‘ghost’. The lawyer certainly got that right. A ghost as in Angelo or Tom doesn’t exist and never did. In fact Herran went on to say: “ there’s no evidence of his true identity.”

Herran says while he believes his client’s version of events (of course he has to say that being her lawyer) “ it is here that we have a very grave problem. …at this point we do not have any proof that she really was tricked or that this other person that she refers to exists or is guilty.”

Since her arrest, Sainsbury’s Colombian lawyer says the Australian does a lot of crying and is not coping very well with her surroundings. That is perfectly understandable. Colombian prisons are by definition hell-holes. They’re overcrowded, filthy, lacking even the basics of life. Corruption is said to be widespread in the prison system. If she is convicted, Sainsbury faces the possibility of up to 20 years imprisonment.

So is she innocent as she claims? Or is she knowingly guilty? Unfortunately, everything points to the latter. And this is where the story gets very murky. It has now been revealed that Sainsbury’s arrest resulted from a tip off to Colombian authorities by the American Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA. What alerted the DEA was the last minute purchase of a plane ticket on Sainsbury’s behalf in Hong Kong with the destination Colombia via London. An unknown person, bought the ticket to travel to South America. Sainsbury was travelling alone and for a short period of time. In the drug enforcement business, that is known as a red flag for a potential drug mule. In other words, a person prepared to act as a drug courier. Then there were other potential clues like the cryptic social media comments she posted in the days and weeks and months leading up to her trip. In the posts she appeared to be counting down the days to a life-changing event. The now deleted January 10 post read: “ 50 days until I make the biggest move I’ve yet to do…….50 days until everything changes.”

She added the following hashtags: #newbeginnings #newyearnewme #2k17#dreamjob #bondiliving #life #change #love #50daysleft #goodthingsarecoming.

On April 8, she posted a photograph from Bogota along with the comment: “Can’t complain about an all expenses paid work trip, in which (sic) is mainly holiday very little work. It’s the simple things that are the true beauty in the world. Mother Nature has been putting on quite the show for me over here.”

It would appear Cassandra Sainsbury anticipated a windfall of sorts.

Sainsbury’s family claim she was on a working holiday to promote her personal training business — a claim which appears to be supported by Sainsbury’s Instagram posts which are riddled with fitness-related hashtags.

But her fiance Scotty Broadbridge tells a completely different story, claiming she hasn’t done any personal training work for months and her most recent job involved “helping to manage” a cleaning company.

“Although Cassie is a PT, she is not currently personal training and hasn’t been for six months. I don’t know why that was mentioned at all,”  Broadbridge says.

Her fiance might not know but I am perfectly happy to speculate on why her personal training work was mentioned. It might have something to do with concocting a cover story to disguise the real reason for travelling to Colombia.

Broadbridge went on to say: “She helped manage a commercial cleaning business that had both national and international clients. Unfortunately it’s very easy for tourists to get targeted, especially in Colombia.”

So why would Sainsbury be so insanely stupid as to act as a drug mule? The answer is money. It usually is the answer, in these cases. In Adelaide, at one time, Cassandra Sainsbury ran her own gym but it collapsed with Sainsbury allegedly owing tens of thousands of dollars. In 2015, she opened Yorke’s Fitness charging an $800 a year membership but it went broke within six months. When the gym closed, Sainsbury disappeared.

“When she left town, there was rent owing on the premises,” Yorke florist Lyn Gates told a local television station. “It was a shock to me, plus the community … All of a sudden, she just took off and not paid – nicked – the rent and the equipment just disappeared.”

There does not appear to be much public sympathy for Casandra Sainsbury. Her family launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay her legal costs. But it was shut down well short of its funding target because it was attracting a lot of negative comments.

Cassandra Sainsbury finds herself in an awful predicament whatever way you look at it. If she decides to fight the charges it will be two months for her case to be heard. It’s also unlikely she’d be given bail. If she decides to plead guilty, as her lawyer has already recommended, her potential prison sentence could be reduced substantially but it will still be many years inside a Colombian jail.

Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herrán says Sainsbury’s best chance of a reduced sentence is for her to negotiate with Colombian prosecutors in the two-month window before the start of her trial, but his immediate priority is to find a way to get her out of prison.

“She’s young and it is important that she gets out as soon as possible,” the lawyer says. “There are many examples of Colombians and foreigners who have been able to reach an agreement with prosecutors.

“If we can show she hasn’t had problems with police in Australia and no history of contact with drug traffickers, we can make a deal.”

But the Colombian authorities will be pressing Sainsbury to name names before they agree to any plea deal. And that potentially opens her up to even more danger in a prison system that doesn’t like snitches.

While I have no sympathy for her position, I take no comfort at all in seeing her suffering. But at the end of the day Cassandra Sainsbury only has herself to blame for her situation. And whatever lesson she learns from this  it is going to be very, very hard and very, very long.

Everyone Is Crazy Afraid

It’s amazing what fear can do.

It’s amazing what people will do when they are fearful. They go crazy. Man, do they go crazy.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this: A nutcase with a gun goes into an elementary school in the United States and kills teachers and little children. Normally you might expect a thunderous crescendo of noise calling for a ban on the proliferation of guns.

But exactly the opposite happened. People went out and bought more guns. There was a significant spike in the sale of guns after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Crazy.

But you need not be a rocket scientist to come up with the reason. People are afraid. Americans went out and bought more guns through fear. Yes fear. And fear becomes self-perpetuating. If more people have guns, it makes massacres of innocent people more likely, not less. In other words fear breeds more fear and stupidity. But I don’t want to talk about guns. I want to talk about fear. The more fearful we become, the greater the ignorance, the irrationality and stupidity of our actions.

Here’s another example: Brexit. I used to think the Poms were a bit measured and considered and less hair brained than their American cousins. But their decision to leave Europe was completely insane. Seriously, what were you thinking, English people? Has anyone in the UK looked at an Atlas lately? Geographically, you are part of Europe. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

But I know why you did it. You were afraid. You were afraid of all those Syrian refugees somehow finding their way to the UK. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones fleeing war and oppression and ignorance and bigotry and zealotry. The ones who need someone to show them a bit of compassion. And if you stayed as a part of Europe, you were going to have to accept your share and do your bit. Anti immigration is fear. Xenophobia is fear. You don’t need to be afraid.

Fear has become our mantra especially when we are confronted with lone wolf terrorist attacks that inflict mass casualties. What happened in France, Germany and Turkey is appalling, unacceptable and outrageous. And when Governments are powerless to protect their citizens from these attacks, as they seemingly are, everyone becomes fearful and irrational. If Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States, God forbid, it will be because Americans are afraid. They want a leader who they think will protect them. Who will talk and act tough and build walls to keep people out and ban people on the basis of their race or religion.

Little do they realize this only makes a bad situation much worse. Banning all Muslims or attacking all Muslims or excluding all Muslims because we are afraid of them only creates more fear. It makes Muslims fearful of us and the whole cycle self perpetuates. We need to break the cycle. Instead of fear, we need to show love and compassion and understanding and tolerance and be inclusive. As people, we are all in this together, irrespective of whether we are Muslim or Christian or any other religion you care to name. What happened in Nice and elsewhere was an attack on humanity. And as human beings we need to stand together and embrace one another. We need to reassure Muslims we don’t fear them nor should they fear us. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to kill us nor do we want to kill them. There will always be individuals who are fanatics. Muslim and Christian alike.But these fanatics don’t speak for anyone except themselves. And when these fanatics attack some of us randomly, they are attacking all of us.

They are attacking humanity and it is humanity as a whole that needs to respond. Let me say it again. That means all of us in this together. Xenophobia was never a chapter in the guide book for being human.

We have to stop being afraid and start being inclusive.

America. You are in big trouble

America, you are in trouble. Big, big, trouble. You just don’t know it yet. Or maybe you do and you just don’t want to admit it.

No. It’s not your politics. This time.

No, I am not talking about Trump and Clinton. I could.

If anyone ran a poll for the worst Presidential candidates in history, those two would win in a landslide. I do feel for you, having to choose between such a pair of losers.

And it is too trite, too simple, too easy to say that firearm ownership is at the heart of all your troubles. No doubt it’s playing a part. You guys have crazy, crazy, crazy gun laws. When you give mad people guns, innocent people get killed. Everyone knows this except you.

Sadly, the kind of trouble I’m talking about this time is much, much worse. Part of you is a stinking, wretched, seething, cauldron of institutionalised hate. How big a part of you? Big enough to truly shock and amaze the rest of the world. And, yes hate. The worst kind of hatred there is.

Race hate.

It’s hard to imagine there could be a worse kind. But what could be worse than law enforcement driven hate? Your police force hates black people.

How can you possibly draw any other conclusion? In the words of your own black President, Blacks and Hispanics are 30 percent more likely to be pulled over by police, three times more likely to be searched and twice as likely to be shot by police as white people. These are not statistics to be proud of. The color of your skin can get you killed, mighty fast in the good old U.S.A. Of course, not every serving police officer in America hates black people. But enough rotten cops do and it’s happening enough times across America to now say it has to stop.

What happened in the past 48 hours, is quite unbelievable.

In the remaining few seconds of his life, Alton Sterling a 37-year-old Louisiana black man seemed completely immobile. How do we know this? The entire incident, happened to be recorded on a phone-video-camera, by a random bystander.

You see on the video, two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers pinning Alton to the ground. You see clearly on the video, he is unable to move. One of the police officers then yells: “He’s got a gun” Within seconds, another police officer shoots Alton Sterling in the chest, at point blank range, not once but multiple times confirmed later by the post mortem examination. So how did this all come to pass? It seems cops were called to a convenience store after receiving an anonymous tip that a Black man, in a red shirt, was selling CD’s and waving a gun around. They got part of it right. Alton Sterling was a black man, matching the description. He was selling CDs and wearing a red shirt. Both police officers involved in this tragedy are now on ‘administrative leave’ and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is leading the investigation.

If that police shooting wasn’t bad enough?

Try this for size.

Twenty-four hours later. Another police shooting of a black man. This time it happened many, many kilometres away in Minnesota. Thirty-two-year old Philander Castile is driving a car with a broken taillight. He’s stopped by police. He tells police he is legally carrying a firearm. Not a good idea. He reaches into his pants pocket for his driver’s license. Police interpret this as him reaching for his firearm. They shoot and Philander slumps back in his seat while his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, videos the entire incident and streams it live to Facebook. The police officer, still pointing his gun yells at her “keep your hands where they are.” Reynolds doesn’t scream. Doesn’t cry. Remains polite at all times. In the car, as Castile moans dying beside her, Reynolds keeps talking, repeating similar phrases:

“Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone.”

“Please don’t tell me he’s gone.”

“Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him.”

Later, at a press conference, the Minnesota Governor said what everyone already knew. “Would this have happened if the driver and the passenger were white? I don’t think it would have.

“This kind of racism exists and it’s incumbent on all of us to vow and ensure that it doesn’t continue to happen.”

Time to draw a line in the sand. We need to call it for what it is. These are hate crimes. In my honest opinion, there is no other way to describe them. Institutionalised hate crimes perpetrated by police because they don’t like the colour of a person’s skin. Worse still. It could insight a race war. What happened in Dallas in the last couple of hours is very worrying. Very troubling. America.you are in trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unarmed 12-year-0ld Child Shot Dead By Police. You Call That Justice?

We’re about to herald in a new year. 2016. But clearly someone forgot to tell the good old US of A.

I say that because, this week, America stepped back in time.

By more than 150 years to be precise.

Stepped back to a time when black people were not considered good enough to be called second-class citizens. Not even ranked high enough in the food chain to be called second-class, nor were they citizens. They were slaves. At the whim of white people who could, and did ,literally decide if they should live or die.

Now, of course, slavery has been abolished but attitudes have not. White people are still deciding, very arbitrarily it seems, if Black Americans should live or die. Certainly as far as law enforcement is concerned.

Sounds a bit harsh? Well a Grand Jury has just decided that two cops who shot a 12-year-old black child dead should not have to face criminal charges.

Tamir Rice, was playing in a park with an imitation pistol in Cleveland, Ohio. But in the United States, in the 21st Century, that can get you killed. It certainly got Tamir killed. This incident would be laughably absurd if it wasn’t so tragic. It shows many things about American society and sadly none of them good.

Let’s just step through the events as they happened. A panicked citizen makes a 911 call about Tamir who was pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people. You have to remember that this is a gun happy, no make that trigger-happy society. That call was the start of many, many mistakes. If the people involved had been level headed and shown more common sense this tragedy might have been avoided.

The audio of that 911 call was publicly released. On the tape you hear the caller say very clearly, in reference to the gun Tamir had, “ it’s probably a fake but it’s scaring the shit out of people.”

The 911 phone operator, then asks the caller, not once but twice, whether Tamir was black or white as if that is somehow relevant or makes a difference. Who am I kidding? Of course it made a difference. By how much, you are about to find out.

The caller tells the operator that the perpetrator is a child and finishes the conversation by restating that he does not know if the gun is real or a fake. However, NONE of this information is passed on to the police patrol car that responds to this situation. I use the term ‘respond’ very loosely. The patrol car has a rookie cop on board and his field-training officer. They arrive at the park to discover Tamir playing on a swing and in the space of just TWO seconds, that rookie cop Timothy Loehmann shoots Tamir Rice dead. That is how it happened.

A Grand Jury was given the responsibility of finding if the two police officers involved in this should be criminally prosecuted. Cuyahoga County Justice Centre Prosecutor, Tim McGinty, announced that rookie cop Loehmann and his field training officer, Frank Garmback, would not be indicted because of “indisputable” evidence that the officers believed Rice was reaching for a real gun. “Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications, by all involved, that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police,” McGinty said. “The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it.”

McGinty went on to say that Tamir Rice was trying to show the police the gun wasn’t real but the officers had no way of knowing that was what the young boy was trying to do. It was not until after the shooting, with the gun on the ground, that police learned the boy was playing with a replica firearm that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets.

Ok. Let’s take a moment to deconstruct this. The outcome of this seems to have been a foregone conclusion the minute the 911 dispatcher told the patrol car they were about to deal with a black kid armed with a gun in a park.

I was under the mistaken impression that Police in the United States, also carried nonlethal force in the form of pepper spray and Tasers. Both of which, and I’m sure Tamir Rice’s family would agree with me, should have been used instead of lethal force. But no consideration was given to either of those options.

Secondly, why was a rookie cop allowed to take control rather than his more experienced partner? I would think given the rookie’s level of experience, it was the kind of situation he was not qualified to deal with.

Thirdly, I thought Police were supposed to be measured, calm and take time to assess the situation. I can appreciate that sometimes this is simply not possible because of the fast moving nature of an incident.

But in this case it was the Police and not Tamir Rice who were moving at the speed of light. They arrive at the scene and in the space of just TWO seconds, a 12-year-old child is shot dead. That is not responsible policing. That is trigger happy, rogue cop behavior in my opinion.

In a statement, Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said she was “devastated” by the decision and she urged federal officials to pursue civil rights charges.

“I don’t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored,” Samaria Rice said. “As the video shows, Officer Loehmann shot my son in less than a second. All I wanted was someone to be held accountable. “We mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice. In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal-justice system.”

Yep.

We Are All Paris

The world is a different place today. France is a different place. Paris is a place I barely recognise and I don’t know what will become of it.

The Paris I know is a city of romance. A city of light. A city of cafes and restaurants and history. Of baguettes and croissants and cars with yellow headlights and fantastic public transport. Of iconic monuments and buildings which made it so easily recognisable. A city of art, culture and life. Wonderful life. Now it’s a city splashed with the blood of hundreds of its innocent citizens. Slaughtered randomly, brutally by a small group of depraved fanatics.

Paris will never be the same. It can never be the same. Its citizens aren’t safe. Unfortunately making them safe means making big life changes. It may mean they must live in a constant state of martial law. Police and the army, heavily armed, patrolling the streets, to deter and intimidate. In all likelihood, a permanent presence. It is a tragedy. Absolutely contrary to a country built on liberty, equality and fraternity. France fought a revolution for freedom and democratic principles. And now its citizens, in its capital, can no longer trust anyone or anything. They will always be looking over their shoulders. Looking at each other with fear and doubt. They won’t be able to travel freely and easily. Everywhere they gather in numbers must now involve being searched and delays and difficulties and inconvenience. It’s the price they will have to pay to feel and be safe. It is sad and horrible. Many tears have been shed and will be shed over the coming days, weeks and months. Not just tears for the dead, or the injured or for the survivors. The traumatized survivors who will be forever haunted by what they saw and heard. They will never forget. They can’t forget. There will be tears for what Paris has now become. For the world we now live in.

And not just what Paris has become. This kind of attack can happen anywhere, anytime. In any capital city in any country that dares to take on IS. And it probably will. That is the frightening reality all of us must now face.

As long as the Islamic State exists, nowhere and nobody is safe. Governments have a responsibility to keep their citizens safe. And that will mean all of us making sacrifices, giving up hard won freedoms. It is the price we must pay.

And what will become of the people fleeing oppression who have landed in the thousands in Europe and elsewhere hoping for a new life? We have only just learned that one of the terrorists responsible for the Paris massacres gained entry to France by arriving in Greece pretending to be a Syrian refugee. Countries will begin to close their borders. These poor people will no longer be welcome, permanently displaced. They have run away from oppression only to suffer a form of oppression in some ways much worse than what they have left. It is so unfair and wrong.

There will be change. There has to be change. No doubt the events in Paris has awoken the sleeping giant. Retribution will be swift and, as the French President has already pointed out, merciless. This has galvanized the world and so it should. It will be the coalition of the willing and the unwilling all united with one stated purpose: the annihilation of the so-called caliphate.

The people responsible for the Paris massacres are cowards and bullies. They will pay a terrible price for what they have done. Already there is speculation of a political settlement in Syria, which would clear the decks for a united military approach to IS. A worldwide declaration of War already made in part by the French President.

All of us mourn with the people of Paris. We stand united with them. We share their grief but it must somehow ( and I don’t know how) result in a better world, a safer and kinder world. If it doesn’t, then what has happened will truly be for nothing. And that doesn’t bear thinking about.

A Letter To America

Dear United States Of America,

I am a huge fan. I really am. You have much that I admire. You value democracy and the right of the individual. You try and help as best you can although sometimes I do question your priorities.

You have a bit of a curiosity, a kind of an understanding about the rest of the world even though sometimes I have to mark you down on your knowledge of geography.

You embrace freedom but I have to say lately you’ve been embracing it a little too enthusiastically for my liking. I mean what’s with your freedom to bear arms? From where I sit, it looks like a freedom to kill each other. And you’ve been doing that with monotonous regularity. May I remind you, 13 killed and many more wounded in your latest shooting massacre. What’s more you have a propensity to choose schools, elementary and high, to demonstrate this freedom.

Can’t quite get my head around that one. These are just innocent children.

Your President is pretty mad with you. I just saw him on TV looking and sounding grim. He called these massacres ‘routine’ and demanded that your Congress pass stricter gun laws. Then he made a really good point. He said the United States was the only advanced country on the planet that sees these mass shootings every few months. Wow.

But there was also a note of resignation in his voice. Almost like deep down he knows stricter gun laws are never going to happen. Congress won’t do anything and innocent people will keep getting killed.

He said why can’t you be like Australia which got me pretty excited and surprised. He said Australia had a simple solution to gun deaths after they experienced similar massacres. Reduce access to guns. And guess what? It actually worked.

But every time somebody suggests tougher gun laws in the United States your gun lobby comes out and blames everyone including the victims. Everyone, apart from the person, who actually pulled the trigger. They were crazy but hey everyone still has the right to own a gun. Right? Sorry but you are on your own with that one.

I think you need to understand that any freedom must be accompanied by social responsibility. That’s why we have speed limits and make car passengers wear seat belts and have laws banning smoking in public places. Those kinds of laws should also apply to the right to bear arms.

I know I’m probably wasting my time telling you this. You’ve never taken any notice in the past. But seriously this has to stop.

You Americans, on the whole, are an easy going, friendly bunch. I want as many of you to live long and happy lives especially your children who have a whole life ahead of them.

But you are being stupid and pig headed and just plain wrong when it comes to guns.

Sometimes it takes your friends to pull you up. But believe me, I am doing it with the best of intentions. If you’ll pardon the pun you need to bite the bullet on gun reform.

Yours sincerely,

The Rest Of The World.

The Woman Who Managed to Kill Her Attacker May Have Just Ended The Career Of A Serial Killer

Some time ago I wrote about a pretty nondescript town in the Midwest of the United States rapidly gaining notoriety because, in all likelihood, it was being stalked by a serial killer.

The town I was talking about is called Chillicothe. Located in an area that’s been dubbed the Rust Belt. It is a very unflattering term given to a region in America, which has experienced devastating economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the collapse of its once powerful industrial sector. It is by no means an exception that Chillicothe would be afflicted by the usual problems of drugs, poverty and unemployment. A lot of towns in this part of the world carry that stigma. But Chillicothe could be said to have fallen a long way further than the rest. Two hundred years ago it was Ohio’s first capital. It’s a boast the locals still include on the city sign. This is a place rarely mentioned in a headline of any kind unless some Presidential or Congressional candidate blows in promising to do this, that and the other to make life better for the town’s 21 thousand citizens, only to completely forget once election day came and went.

But lately Chillicothe was in the news for an entirely different reason. It is dark, sinister and extremely evil. It seems Chillicothe is also home to a serial killer who keeps murdering young women. In just over a year, at least six women have disappeared from the town. Four of their bodies were later discovered dumped in creeks or streams that flow out of the city. In every way it is a tragically, familiar story. Most of these women addicted to drugs or moonlighting as prostitutes to feed and fund their habit so local police say. Some of the missing women even knew each other. Understandably, the similarities between all of the victims, and the crime scenes, had the residents of Chillicothe terrified. It is a murder mystery that local police, several county sheriff’s offices and State investigators were doing their best to try to solve. Even the FBI’s crime profilers are helping with the investigation trying to build a picture of who might be responsible.

But, I am pleased to say, there could well have been a major development in this story thanks to a courageous and articulate young women with very pink hair who might have encountered the Chillicothe serial killer and lived to tell the tale. This is how the story unfolded. It is a remarkable story of survival. The woman, who has not been identified and wants to remain anonymous, was working as an escort in Charleston West Virginia and placed an advertisement on a website called Backpage.com. This is a website that enables men to make contact with prostitutes. And a man named Neal Falls,aged 45, turned up at her door. When she opened it he held a gun to her stomach and said just three words: Live or die. Then he began strangling her, However, I will let the woman concerned take up the story. “ I knew he was there to kill me,” she said. “I could tell that he had already done something because he said that he was going to prison for a long time. And that’s when I knew he was gonna kill me. “When he strangled me he just wouldn’t let me get any air,” she said. ” I grabbed my rake and when he laid the gun down to get the rake out of my hands, I shot him. I just grabbed the gun and shot behind me.”

After the shooting, the woman stood in an alley while a neighbor called police. In a recording of that phone call played by local television station KPTV, the woman’s panicked voice is heard in the background. “There’s a lady in the alley here saying that some guy tried to rape her and she had to defend herself and she shot him and he’s in the kitchen,” the neighbor tells the dispatcher. “He pulled a gun on her, she’s got cuts and stuff all over her.” Do you know who the guy is?” the dispatcher asked. “No. I opened the door and he said, ‘Live or die,’ ” the woman tells the dispatcher, crying all the time. When police attended and searched the dead man’s car they found items that would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The items included a machete, a shovel, axes, knives, a bulletproof vest, numerous sets of handcuffs, trash bags, sledgehammers and a large bottle of bleach that police assume was to be used or has been used to destroy evidence.. But most importantly they found a list of names of future potential victims, all of them sex workers who advertised on Backpage dot com.

Investigators are now concentrating their efforts on discovering if there is a link between Falls and a string of murders targeting sex workers in Ohio and Nevada. According to Steve Cooper of the Charleston Police Department “ the stuff (police found) is so alarming that we want law enforcement across the country to be aware of it.”

Falls apparently worked as a security guard in Oregon. He did not have a criminal record apart from some minor traffic infringements. Detective Cooper said DNA will now be the key to linking him to other crimes. “We are entering his DNA profile into CODIS, which is a national crime DNA database, to see if it matches any previous submissions from anywhere in the United States,” he said. “If his DNA has been located in any other crimes and his profile was entered into CODIS, there will be a match.”

Whether Falls is ultimately found to be a serial killer his intentions were very clear on this occasion in West Virginia.

“He made a deal with the victim to exchange money for her services as an escort,” Detective Cooper said. “He brought no money with him. What he brought with him was a firearm, four sets of handcuffs, and all of the items we found in the trunk of his car. So … clearly his intentions were dark.”

The good news is that this extraordinarily brave woman who shot dead her attacker will not face any charges. It has been ruled as a justifiable homicide.

In fact justifiable is a very good word. Many, many young women may very well owe her a debt of gratitude that can’t be quantified: their lives.

The Tiny Town Being Stalked By A Serial Killer

This is a story about a little town called Chillicothe in the Midwest of the United States. They call this area the Rust Belt. It is a very unflattering term given to a region in America, which has experienced devastating economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the collapse of its once powerful industrial sector. It is by no means an exception that Chillicothe would be afflicted by the usual problems of drugs, poverty and unemployment. A lot of towns in this part of the world carry that stigma. But Chillicothe could be said to have fallen a long way further than the rest. Two hundred years ago it was Ohio’s first capital. It’s a boast they still include on the city sign. This is a place rarely mentioned in a headline of any kind unless some Presidential or Congressional candidate blows in promising to do this, that and the other to make life better for the town’s 21 thousand citizens, only to completely forget once election day came and went.

But lately Chillicothe is in the news for an entirely different reason. It is dark, sinister and extremely evil. It seems Chillicothe is also home to a serial killer who keeps murdering young women. In just over a year, at least six women have disappeared from the town. Four of their bodies were later discovered dumped in creeks or streams that flow out of the city. In every way it is a tragically, familiar story. Most of these women addicted to drugs or moonlighting as prostitutes to feed and fund their habit so local police say. Some of the missing women even knew each other. Understandably, the similarities between all of the victims, and the crime scenes has the residents of Chillicothe terrified. It is a murder mystery that local police, several county sheriff’s offices and State investigators are doing their best to try to solve. Even the FBI’s crime profilers are helping with the investigation trying to build a picture of who might be responsible.

“I don’t want to come out and say ‘yes, we have a serial killer’ but it’s a small community that we live in . . . and the number of females who have come up missing, and then the bodies that we’ve found, that’s quite a bit for our community,” Staff Lieutenant Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department told The Washington Post. “The community is starting to get concerned. Everyone just wants answers.”

In the absence of answers – and arrests – the citizens of Chillicothe are getting scared. Of course the most obvious conclusion is that a serial killer is stalking prostitutes and that fear is swirling around the town like the winds off the Great Lakes. Jessica Sayre’s older sister, Tiffany, is the latest victim. Her body was found in a drainage pipe on Saturday after she had been missing for more than a month. Obviously there has to be something going on, Sayre says. “Apparently my sister was the next target.”

Women began disappearing a year ago from Chillicothe, about an hour south of Columbus. “We are battling a problem with heroin in our community,” says Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department.

And of course that means prostitution is on the rise as well.

Charlotte Trego was the first woman to vanish. She was in her late 20s with wavy brown hair and glasses, a mother of two who had fallen on hard times. “She started taking pain pills and graduated to heroin,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. In the spring of 2014, Trego told her mother that she was ready to get herself drug free. Her Mother found a rehab centre. But then Trego was evicted by her roommate and was last seen on May 3, 2014. As one scribe put it, her disappearance was as if Chillicothe’s increasingly dangerous streets simply swallowed her whole. Police are certain she is dead but her body has not been found. That same day, a friend of Trego’s, Tameka Lynch, also vanished. Like Trego, Lynch had drug problems. “She used and she kind of was struggling, especially after she was diagnosed with lupus,”

Lynch’s cousin, Chasity Lett, told the Huffington Post. “Once that happened and she lost her place, it kind of triggered the whole drug thing.” Lynch, a 30-year-old mother of three, financed her deepening addiction by selling her body. Lynch was the first of Chillicothe’s missing women to be found. On May 24, three weeks after her disappearance, a kayaker spotted Lynch’s body on a sandbar in Paint Creek outside of town. The Ross County coroner’s office determined she died of a multiple-drug overdose. But Lynch was afraid of the water, her mother Angela Robinson told the Dispatch. “Somebody needs to pay for this,” Robinson said, speculating her daughter was murdered. “She was already dead when she was put in the water.”

In the year since, four more women vanished. On November 3, 2014, six months after Trego and Lynch disappeared another woman would go missing. She was Wanda Lemons a 37-year-old mother of five. “She just disappeared out of thin air,” her daughter, Megan Hodges, told the Huffington Post. “I just want them to find out what happened to her.”

Two months later, Shasta Himelrick was found dead, floating in the Scioto River outside of Chillicothe. In December, she had told friends she was “eating for two.” But on Christmas Day, the pregnant 20-year-old blond received a text message while visiting her grandmother. Himelrick left, promising to return, but never did. A Chillicothe gas station recorded her on CCTV. Hours later, her abandoned car was found on a bridge south of town. The doors were open, the tank empty, and the battery dead. Himelrick’s body was retrieved from the water eight days later. The coroner ruled her death was a suicide but Himelrick’s friends are convinced it was murder.

Tiffany Sayre went missing under similar circumstances. It was around midnight on May 11 and Sayre and friend Jessie Sanford were working as prostitutes at a local motel. “She was doing business at the Chillicothe Inn,” Sanford said. . “She left to run to her grandmother’s house and was going to go back to the hotel to meet the same people so she could make some more money. I don’t know what happened. I think somebody took her.”

Kenneth Buell, who was Sayre’s ex-boyfriend and the father of their two children, told The Washington Post that the couple took heroin and crack cocaine together. “For a couple of years we were both on drugs,” he said. Buell said he got clean a year ago, but Sayre couldn’t and the couple broke up. “She couldn’t kick it,” he said. “It just had a hold of her.”

Jessica Sayre said her sister met another man and tried to go straight. But when her new boyfriend died in April rom a blood clot, Tiffany returned to drugs. “It hit my sister really hard. She really loved him,” Jessica Sayre said. “They had planned on moving, going to this other place, actually getting married and having a life together. I think she did the drugs a little more to help with the pain. She didn’t want to be in her right mind because she didn’t feel like it was the right thing. “The night she apparently went missing, she talked about how she wanted to get her life straight and go clean,” Sayre said. “My sister did these things that we did not approve of to get money for drugs, because we didn’t want to be the source of money for those types of things. She did what she had to do.” Sayre’s family put out missing person flyers and held candlelight vigils, but heard nothing. While they were waiting, another woman, Timberly Clayton, was found dead: shot in the head three times and left in a ditch near another creek. Authorities have named a prime suspect in the killing but have not yet charged him with the crime.

Finally, last Saturday, Sayre became the last victim in the string of disappearances. A couple out for a Saturday evening walk through a nature preserve south of Chillicothe, spotted something white at the edge of a drainage pipe running underneath the road. Sayre’s naked body had been wrapped in a bed sheet and hidden inside the culvert with duct tape wrapped around her strawberry blond hair. “She’s wrapped up in a blanket and you can see her breasts, her stomach, duct tape, a white blanket,” the female passerby told a 911 dispatcher. “We were hoping that she was still alive,” Jessica Sayre said. “You’re wishing and hoping and then all of a sudden you get a phone call saying that your loved one has been found, but not the way you wanted to find her.” ” She got murdered,” Buell said. “Somebody took her away and it was intentional.”

Authorities ruled Sayre’s death a homicide. The grisly discovery helped launch the task force, which now includes more than a dozen members, including FBI analysts. The task force decided to investigate the cases of all six missing women, even those formerly considered suicides. And the investigation could expand to at least three other women who went missing from nearby Portsmouth and Columbus. Police admit a serial killer is a possibility with the apparent pattern of dumping the bodies along waterways outside the city.

“This wasn’t just a simple overdose,” Jessica Sayre said of her sister’s death. “They could have called the police. We didn’t have to find her like this.”

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is analysing the forensics found at the scene and the task force received more than 100 tips in just a few days, but is still searching for a witness. But as authorities investigate the growing number of deaths and disappearances, some locals say the police are part of the problem. “The day I reported her missing was very upsetting to me,” Trego’s mother, Yvonne Boggs, told the Huffington Post. “The cop said, ‘Women like your daughter take off because they don’t want to be bothered.’ It was like they looked into it up to a certain point and then quit looking.”

“The police didn’t take it serious and just blew me off,” Lynch’s mother, Angela Robinson, told the same Web site. Sayre’s family said they had also been kept in the dark. Kenneth Buell even blames the authorities. Both he and Jessica Sayre said police and authorities abandoned Chillicothe a long time ago. “It’s not safe,” he said. “The last five, six seven years it’s gone to hell. You can’t walk around by yourself, especially females.”

“I feel like Chillicothe has turned for the worst,” Jessica Sayre said. “Now they are going to start picking up the pieces, but this town has really gone down with drugs. It’s got pretty bad.” She says that despite the discovery of her sister’s body, her family will continue to hold vigils for Trego and Lemons, the two other women who disappeared but haven’t been found. “It’s been a nightmare for us,” she said of Tiffany’s death. “Nothing is going to bring her back, but we are going to get justice. And we are going to pray for these other women who missing in Chillicothe.”

What It’s Like To Be Black In The Land Of The Free

Something happened the other day, that for me, has become a metaphor for what it’s like to be born black and to live in the USA.

It isn’t pretty, or tolerant, or just, or even human.

In fact it’s about as unjust as injustice could possibly be.

It concerns the case of 22-year-old, Kalief Browder, who last week took his own life aged 22. When a human being decides their life is not worth living, at such a young age, it is always a tragedy. Often the reasons are far from clear-cut. Reasons, that are understandable only to them and a complete mystery to everyone else.

But Kalief Browder’s decision to end his life was perfectly understandable. But trust me, knowing why he did it doesn’t help. If anything, it only makes his death even more tragic, if that is possible.

As a teenager, Browder spent three years in New York’s notorious Rikers’ Island prison, two of them in solitary confinement, for a crime he didn’t do. He was, and is, completely innocent. He was never convicted. Never even tried. In fact all charges against him were ultimately dismissed.

No I am not joking.

It is no understatement to describe Rikers as one of America’s hardest prisons. Think the New York version of San Francisco’s Alcatraz. The inmates who end up in Rikers, are the worst of the worst. Many of them gang members. But if the video, smuggled out showing some of Kalief Browder’s incarceration is any guide, it’s a line ball in deciding who was the more brutal, the inmates or the some of the enforcers masquerading as prison guards. He was beaten by prison guards and, on at least one occasion, came face-to-face with gang members who punched and kicked him while he was defenseless on the floor.

To understand how this could occur in a country supposedly built on the inalienable rights of its citizens we need to travel back in time. The year is 2010. Kalief Browder’s life is about to be turned upside down during a routine walk home from a friend’s house in the Belmont section of the Bronx, the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. Browder, is approached by police, not far from Little Italy, a popular strip of cafes and bakeries, where business boomed during the day but was all but dead at night. He is accused of robbery, searched and, despite possessing nothing out of the ordinary, is arrested and later charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault.

In 2013, Browder recounted that night to US media.

“This guy comes out of nowhere and says I robbed him. And the next thing I know they are putting cuffs on me. I don’t know this dude.”

Despite this travesty, Browder doesn’t just end up in custody. For some inexplicable reason he is sent to Rikers. It would be hell on earth for anyone let alone an innocent man.

In an interview last July, Browder told ABC News that he was held at Rikers for three years because his mother could not afford to pay his bail, set at $3,500, and his trial kept getting delayed. “Only thing on my mind was that I gotta go home, I didn’t do this,” said Browder, who was 16 when he was first incarcerated at Rikers. “Now, I’m in jail around these grown men and they’re, you know, they’re fighting each other. I don’t know. It was like hell on Earth.”

In the first incident of violence captured on video, a guard escorts Browder from his cell before throwing him face first into the concrete floor. In the second incident,again captured on video, Browder, is spat on by a gang leader. He defends himself and throws a punch in retaliation before being set upon by more than 10 inmates, all of whom kick and punch him while guards try in vain to regain control.

At other times, Browder is left alone with his thoughts. Unfortunately, left alone in solitary confinement — two of his three years at Rikers Island were spent in a section of the prison known as “the Bing.”

Through it all, he quite rightly maintained his innocence but it had a physical and mental effect on him. On more than one occasion, Browder contemplated suicide. “It was all just in my head to the point where I had to just grab my head,” he told American television in 2013. “I can’t take it.” After 634 days in custody, Browder tore up his bed sheet, tied it together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture and tried to hang himself. Later that year, his High School classmates graduated without him. In 2013, he was released without a trial, a verdict or an apology.

Just let go.

But of course he wasn’t free. Outside prison, he attempted suicide again. On that occasion, in November of 2013, Browder tried to hang himself from a banister. He was taken to a psychiatric ward and later released. One of his supporters who interviewed him and was instrumental in having footage of his time in prison made public, said he went down hill after that.

“He was gaunt, restless and deeply paranoid,” she would write. Finally, in 2015, Kalief Browder succeeded where he had twice failed. He took his own life at his mother’s home by hanging himself with an electrical cord.

His lawyer said he had no doubt Kalief Browder killed himself because of “his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell.

“I think it was too much for him,” he said.

The New York authorities including the Mayor have publicly said they are “saddened” by Kalief Browder’s death.

But perhaps his lawyer should have the final say: “I’m cynical because it was the system that essentially killed him and the fact that so many young men have gone through this already. We’ll pick up the pieces, we’ll go forward and fight for justice because we don’t have a choice. That’s what Kalief would have wanted. Kalief wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re optimistic that ultimately, there’ll be a silver lining for his family, his city and this country.”

The reality is Kalief Browder is owed a debt that can never be repaid. Shame on all of them.