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The Thin Blue Pencil

I don’t usually read articles by Internet marketers — I’m with the group that believes Internet marketers are primarily people who didn’t make it in some other line of work, so they transmogrify into “experts” who try to tell others how to do what they couldn’t do — but I ran across this article (Update 9/26/2016: link broken) recently by Gal Baras on the importance of social networking.

Gal notes,

These days, networking is synonymous with a successful business. Networking is also the key to a good social life. No matter how big our office, how colourful our flyers, how powerful our computers or how many degrees we have, it is the quality of relationships we establish with ourselves, our family, our friends, our customers, our suppliers and, more than anything else, with people we don’t know, that will determine our success in our personal life or in business.

And as a story in yesterday’s Fresno Bee demonstrates, what’s true in business and our personal life is also true in law.

The story — and there have actually been several in the Bee over a few days — tells of allegations of physical abuse. Paul and Alex Grenier, sons of a Visalia pastor, filed a criminal complaint with the Visalia Police Department this past February. The complaint alleged that when they were children, their father repeatedly abused them, beating them, punching them in the face with his closed fist, slapping them upside the head and even “beating one son repeatedly with a tree branch.”

Apparently, however, nothing is being done about the allegations because the statute of limitations has allegedly passed on all the crimes reported. Oh, and when the boys asked for a copy of the report — the report the police created of the complaints the boys made — they were told they couldn’t have a copy because the investigation was ongoing. However, the boys were also told that no investigation would be done because the statute of limitations has passed.

Hmmm….I wonder what else is going on. After all, something has to help us make sense of this “ongoing investigation/no investigation will be done” situation.

As it turns out, networking isn’t just synonymous with a successful business: it’s synonymous with helping out when you do bad stuff. Most of the time.

The elder Grenier’s connections to law enforcement run deep in Visalia. The introduction of his self-published book “A Common Miracle,” telling his life story, includes praise from former Visalia Police Chief Bob Carden, Sheriff Bill Wittman and District Attorney Phil Cline. And the staff at Calvary Church includes a retired sheriff’s lieutenant. (Lewis Griswold, “Sons of Visalia preacher allege abuse”(July 17, 2010) The Fresno Bee.)

Now it’s entirely possible that every crime reported by the boys is time-barred. California has — not without some difficulty — attempted to extend the statute of limitations on certain types of abuse almost indefinitely. In the 2001 case of Stogner v. Superior Court, for example, they held that sex crimes which had been previously time-barred — that is, the statute of limitations had run; the time to prosecute had expired and the accused person could not be persecuted prosecuted — could, after all, be persecutedprosecuted.

The United States Supreme Court, imbued at that time with slightly more sense than today — I’d hate to see what the Roberts Court would do with this now — reversed California. The Court did this because of two concerns: first, that the specific statute addressed in Stogner violated the ex post factorestriction; second, that the passage of time “has eroded memories or made witnesses or other evidence unavailable.” (Stogner v. California (2003) 539 U.S. 607, 615 [123 S.Ct. 2446, 156 L.Ed.2d 544].)

Both those issues are interesting enough and involved enough that further discussion will have to await another day.

In any event, while California continues to believe that the absence of evidence in allegations of long-forgotten, suddenly “recovered” memories of sexual abuse (see Trear v. Sills (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 1341, 1344 [82 Cal.Rptr.2d 281]; Code Civ. Proc. § 340.1) may be pursued in the absence of any real evidence, the same “courtesy” has not been extended to alleged victims of non-sexual abuse.

And so, as I said, it may very well be that the statute of limitations has run on all the allegations of the minister’s children.

What caught my attention about this story, however, was this:

The brothers spoke with investigators for more than an hour, but were disheartened that the finished report left out what they say is crucial information.

“The report did not include the brutal nature of the many beatings,” Alex Grenier wrote in an e-mail. “It was a seriously watered-down version of what we reported and left out the most serious allegations of abuse.”

And this:

Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas defended the report, saying police reports are summarized to get cases started in the court process. “You don’t put in every detail,” she said.

The time lapse between the beatings — in the 1980s and 1990s — and when the charges were made affected how the report was written, Mestas said.

The statute of limitations expires after three years for felony physical abuse and after one year for misdemeanors. “If the statute of limitations has passed, it doesn’t matter how much you say,” Mestas said.

Then why take a report at all? Why not just say, “Sorry, kids, but there’s nothing we can do. The statute of limitations has run.” And why say, later, that the report is unavailable because the investigation is ongoing?

The likely truth of the matter here is that the report is watered down — regardless of the question of the statute of limitations — out of deference to the allegedly-abusive father with close ties to the police department. The bogus explanation that the amount of time which had passed colored how the report was written is just that: bogus. The point of police reports is, among other things, to provide information necessary for future handling of any case by providing a record of what has come out of the investigation thus far.

What colored the police reports wasn’t the passage of time; the report hasn’t yellowed with age. The coloring of the report here comes from the close relationship of the boys’ father and the police department: it seems to me someone edited these reports with a thin blue pencil.

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