Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Remembering Ruggles

It was an operation against the North Vietnamese Army near the demilitarized zone when I was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. We’d humped to a clearing near a large clump of trees and the lieutenant sent out two patrols to check for gooks.

Our squad approached the trees and I was at point.

Now I smelled it, and motioned everybody down. “I smell pot,” I whispered to the squad leader.

“Pot?” he answered incredulously, motioning us forward.

We pushed on and hell erupted.

They fired from behind trees and instantly Ruggles flopped backwards on the ground, his jaw ripped off by an AK-47 round he had sucked right into his mouth.

My right calf suddenly burned, and I opened up my freshly oiled M-16 on the NVA who killed Ruggles. Charging at me from behind a tree, my furious quiver of fire caught him dead in the chest and guts. He reeled back, dropping.

Rounds whizzed by like I was in an Audie Murphy movie and Marines were now laying down enough fire to take Iwo Jima all over again. Smoke was thick, and all I could hear was popping AK’s and zinging Sixteens.

From behind the same tree another NVA charged at me, jumping over his comrade’s body and firing, wildly. I pumped my clip into him and he fell awkwardly forward, like he tripped. As I slapped in a new cartridge clip he sprang and rushed me. I hit him with three rounds, pointblank. The wicked fusillade mangled his young face. He fell, his head thumped on my boot.

Hearing the crack of branches above me, I shot my head up. Flailing his arms like disjointed windmills a gook was falling towards me. I rolled into a crouch and shot. He hit the ground, stumbling, and leapt at me with a machete. He swung it viciously, missing my cheek by centimeters, and I smelled the harsh odor of opium on his breath.

I violently pushed him away, and now my hands felt wet with blood. I realized I had shot him in the chest. I smashed my empty M-16 against his face, and he tripped backwards, dropping the knife. But the precious rifle slipped and flew from my grasp like a broken baseball bat. He wobbled to his feet, as I grabbed my e-tool, a small pick for foxhole digging. Raising it like a scimitar, I crashed it as hard as I could into his skull. It embedded deeply with a whack. The NVA fell, his body writhing, and for a moment the pick ax jittered in his head.

Now the other squad of Marines, answering the shots, unloaded on three NVA that had jumped from the trees behind me. The clash lasting less than a two minutes was over. Only then did I noticed I had been hit in the leg.

Before us lay eight NVA, and my buddy Ruggles.

From “The Detective’s Vice,” ©2012 R.D. Byron-Smith & Pilar Publishing. Available at Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other booksellers. See his Author’s Page at Amazon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Swing Kids of Iran

News item this morning: Iranian police arrest six young people for posting a video of them dancing to the hit song from a children’s movie, “Happy,” by Pharrell Willliams.

His magical song in Despicable Me 2 has sparked videos all over the world of happy people gyrating to the catchy beat.

Sadly, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, under its own brand of sharia law, it’s illegal for women to dance in public. The stuffy mullahs think dancing spreads our “decadent” culture.

(Obviously these empty turbans don’t know the worst of it. If they want to see real Western decadence they should come to the San Fernando Valley, where 90 percent of porn movies get filmed. But, I digress.)

The news story of the arrests of the youthful Iranian shoe-shufflers reminded me of another time, eighty years ago, when a despot also ordered arrests of young people for dancing.

His name was Adolf Hitler.

The Swing Kids as they were known in Germany in the 1930s loved American music, dressed in brightly colored clothes and had longer hair. They couldn’t arabesque but, they sure could shake ’em down. They danced the outrageously nimble jitterbug, and were so bold as to let one girl dance with two boys. The Swing Kids loved Louis Armstrong tunes. That really got under you-know-whose skin because Adolf “Everything Aryan” Hitler hated black people.

About the same time the kids were swinging, Hitler ordered formation of Hitler Youth. Boys from 14 to 18 had to join the national military-like, indoctrination organization, and females joined Girl’s Federation.

The groups amounted to Nazi catechism.

The largely apolitical Swing Kids, who hated Hitler Youth’s drab colors and buzzed haircuts, kept on dancing as a kind of protest. At first they jitterbugged in public. But after a police crackdown, they only danced in clubs. In 1941, Hitler had had enough of these whirling dervishes. His goose-stepping minions arrested more than 300 Swing Kids, sending some off to concentration camps. To show how petty Hitler could get, he even ordered haircuts for them.

Did it stop them? His strong-armed tactics backfired when arrests of the Swing Kids inspired young Germans to oppose National Socialism’s hegemony, and, we all know what happened to clumsy-toed Hitler.

So, young Iranians, keep on dancing.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Speechless Over First Amendment Idea

 Quick! Somebody run over to Montpelier Station, Virginia, to check on whether Founding Father James Madison is turning over in his grave.

As all you American history buffs know, Madison authored the first amendment in 1791, guaranteeing us freedom of speech and other things so dear to the hearts of Americans.

But, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and intellectual lightweight Harry Reid, the senate’s Democratic majority leader, want to rewrite the vaunted first amendment to empower government to regulate our political speech.

We hope that Schumer, who’s lived in a kind of a frat house in D.C. – unkempt bed and all – hasn’t been shooting brewskis because the idea reminds us of an old drinking song: “If the first amendment should happen to fall, thirty-two amendments left on the wall.”

Yeah, which guaranteed right is next?

These political pals tremble like puppies over prospects of Republicans winning the senate, and are howling mad by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allows unions and corporations to donate to independent political groups. They want to return to the good old days – for them – when their union cronies could raise the most cash.

This proposed rewrite of the first amendment gives government power to regulate “raising and spending of money” to advance the “fundamental principle of political equity for all.”

In truth, the political “equity” these boys have in mind is their own. This amended amendment makes it more difficult for opponents to raise money to challenge entrenched Washington powerbrokers like Schumer and Reid, both, obviously scholars of the Bill of Rights.

Be thankful a constitutional amendment needs ratification by 38 states, which gives this stupid idea little chance of passage. Still, they’ve put the idea out there.

Hear that? It’s the Founding Fathers screaming: leave our first amendment alone. I’ll give an updated Thomas Jefferson the final word: “Mr. Reid, I knew James Madison. Jim Madison was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no James Madison.”


R.D. Byron-Smith is published by Pilar Publishing of California. His books include, Dinner With A Killer, Epitaphs, Image of Evil, Back In Saigon, Murder Under London Bridge, The Collector and his latest, Killing Socrates.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Speaking Up For Mom

   This isn’t a warm and cuddly Mother’s Day story. But, it is about a son’s caring for his mother. Because, you see, it’s a story about a son who was shot by police for defending his mom.
   It happened on New Year’s Eve in 2008 in Texas – yeah, the state that is pick-pocketing California’s jobs.
   At 2 a.m. Robert Tolan, 23, and his cousin, both black, parked Tolan’s SUV at his mother’s home in an affluent, predominately white neighborhood in Bellaire.
   Reading the SUV’s plate, a cop patrolling the area typed the wrong license number into a computer in his car. (He apparently wasn’t hired for his typing skills.) Police records showed the car, which was the same color and make as Tolan’s SUV, had been stolen..
   Outside the house, the officer drew his duty weapon and ordered Tolan and his cousin to lie face down on the front porch, and accused them of having a stolen car.
   Tolan protested, saying, “That’s my car.”
   The commotion woke his parents and Tolan’s mom and dad came outside in their pajamas. In an effort to calm the situation, Tolan’s father, a former Major League Baseball player, told his son and nephew to comply with the officer’s commands.
   When the cop explained that the two had been driving a stolen car, the parents tried to set the record straight. “This is my nephew,” said the father, his hands in the air. “This is my son. We live here. This is my house.” In addition, Robert Tolan’s mother pleaded, “Sir, this is a big mistake. This car is not stolen. . . . That’s our car.”
   About then another cop pulled up, this one with rank – Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton. Tolan’s mother again said the SUV wasn’t stolen. Sgt. Cotton ordered her to move and stand by a garage door.
   What happened next is disputed, so I’ll let the United States Supreme Court tell you:
   The Tolan family contends the officer grabbed her arm and “slammed her against the garage door.” Sgt. Cotton claims he was “escorting the mother to the garage (and) she flipped her arm up and told him to get his hands off her.”
   Be that as it may, nobody disputes what happened next.
   From 15 feet away Robert Tolan said, “Get your f***king hands off my Mom.”
   It’s disputed whether he rose to his knees or feet, but what is clear, is he was unarmed except for some attitude. Still, at this point his only crime – and I don’t think it’s in the penal code – was using armor-piercing words to defend Mom.
   The sergeant, however, didn’t need words. In fact the family claims he never gave a warning. He fired three shots at Robert Tolan. One bullet collapsed his chest and pierced his liver, but he survived.
   This was no comedy of errors. It was buffoonery. Why these fools disbelieved Mom’s and Dad’s exculpating statements is baffling. Obviously they lived there. They came out in their nightclothes at 2 a.m. Perhaps the cops thought they were the pajama gang.
   These Barney-Fifes should have rerun the SUV’s correct plate number to learn whether the car was actually stolen. Had they, this story wouldn’t have ended in a police shooting. It would have ended in a police oops! – humbling, to be sure, but not deadly.
   On Cinco de Mayo the Supreme Court ruled that Robert’s civil lawsuit against Sgt. Cotton, alleging excessive force, had been improperly dismissed, and sent it back for further proceedings in federal court.  After the shooting Sgt. Cotton was criminally charged with assaulting Robert, but a jury acquitted him.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

There Go Da Judge


Judges have been disqualified for showing bias against criminal defendants. But, rarely, and I mean almost never, has a judge been disqualified from a criminal case for showing bias against the victim, and in this case, a 14-year-old rape victim who later killed herself.

That’s what happened this week in Montana.

I’ve written about many moron judges over the decades but I have got to say, Montana District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh, who essentially sentenced a teacher to a month in jail for raping a high school student, takes the all-time cake as jerk-off jurist.

Here's the backstory: Stacey Dean Rambold was charged with raping a girl who attended the Billings high school where he was business teacher. But before his trial in April 2010, the girl committed suicide.

In a plea deal later Rambold pleaded guilty to a single rape charge and prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to 20 years in prison because he had violated his “position of trust,” had “maintained his relationship with” the girl “for months” and had “been warned about inappropriate contact with students in the past.”

They knew what the rest of us know: sex offenders are incurable.

Rambold’s lawyer sought a 15-year sentence with all but 30 days being suspended.

Judge Baugh bought the defense pitch hook, line and stinker.

The judge gave Rambold 15 years, with all but 31 days (his time served) suspended – a slap on the wrist, or, a kiss on the ass, depending on your vantage point.

You see the judge is like a lot of judges who seem to think that when you “suspend” the bulk of a prison term it is a deterrent. You see a suspended can be re-imposed if you violate terms of your sentencing. Of course this cavalierly ignores punishment for the crime you were just convicted of. (Anyways, I digress.)

The dumb judge didn’t stop with his zero-punishment sentence. He couldn’t control himself. At the teacher’s sentencing, (and I can just see defendant Rambold nodding like a bobble-head doll in court), the judge had the gallbladder to say:

“In some respects, the Defendant took advantage of a troubled youth. I’ve looked at those interviews. And it’s easy enough to say the Defendant should have been aware, should not, obviously, have engaged in the conduct that he did. And it was a troubled youth, but a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as was the Defendant, one that was seemingly, although troubled, older than her chronological age.”

Yeah, he said that. He called this 14-year-old “probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant,” who, perhaps somebody should have reminded the judge, was 47 years old when he raped her in 2007. Public outrage followed and the judge was forced to apologize for being, well, as full of it as a horse’s hind end.

State prosecutors appealed his feather-light sentence, and on April 30 the Montana Supreme Court overturned Judge Baugh’s sentence, sending it back for a serious sentence. But, the Montana justices didn’t stop there, they basically told Judge Baugh to take a powder.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Michael E. Wheat, the justice wrote: “On remand for resentencing, we further instruct the court to reassign the case to a different judge to impose sentence.” The justice explained that in a 1993 precedent, “We remanded for resentencing to a new judge when the judge’s statement at trial evidenced bias against the defendant. . . . In the present case, Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice. The idea that (the victim) could have ‘control’ of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks any control over the situation whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity.”

Judge Baugh is 72 years old and was first elected in 1984. He has said he will retire at the end of 2014. None too soon.
(Note on headline: apologies to the late Flip Wilson.)