crime

A Week for Jury Duty, Fire Smoke and A Bomb Threat

A month ago I got a jury summons for the week of October 10th (Monday was Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day). This was the first time that I ever got a jury summons. If you have a driver license and/or vote (I have the former and do the latter), you eventually get selected for this public duty. As a writer I was eager to participate and learn about the process. As a worker I was anxious since my employer only pays for three days of jury duty and the court pays only $15 per day. The average length of a jury trial in Santa Clara County is five days, but a murder trial could go on for weeks. A short trial I could put up with, a long trial would be a financial burden. The week itself was a trial by fire from jury duty, fire smoke and a bomb threat.

The daily routine for a potential juror is to check the juror reporting website twice a day (11AM and 5PM for my group number). The Tuesday groups reported to the Palo Alto court location. The Wednesday groups reported to the Morgan Hill and downtown San Jose court locations. The Thursday groups reported to the Civic Center location (outside of downtown San Jose). The remaining groups weren’t called in for Friday.

There are three sets of group numbers: 100’s (San Jose), 500’s (Morgan Hill) and 600’s (Palo Alto). My group number was 162. Based on the previous week’s group callings, I expected to report in on Wednesday. A dozen groups reported in on Tuesday. Three dozen groups got called in on Wednesday, raising the counter for the 100’s group to 142.

Wednesday was a very long day.

Smoke from the Sonoma county fires circulated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, making air pollution worse than a typical day in Beijing. I’ve watched wisps of smoke drift pass my office window in Palo Alto. The afternoon sun was a bright orange orb in the gray sky above. Coworkers at the bus stop claimed to have never seen air pollution this bad before. Like most government workers, they come from all over the United States and few are Californian natives. The 1985 Lexington Reservoir fire that burned 14,000 acres blotted out the Silicon Valley for three days, making the summer sun a blood-red orb in the sky and covered cars in ashes.

When the express bus to San Jose didn’t show up, I took the 89 to the California Avenue Caltrain station. That ended up being the scenic route through Palo Alto. Police and emergency crews closed Page Mill Road between the 280 and El Camino Road, diverting traffic across Page Mill Road to a different street that exited out on Stanford Avenue. With reports of grass fires starting in Berkeley, Oakland and Livermore, I thought there was a nearby grass fire in Palo Alto.

Conversations on the bus quickly turned real estate prices on Stanford Avenue, where the bungalows on tiny lots go for millions of dollars. A brand new house under construction won the “money to spend” award for having the second floor overhanging the first floor by two feet on one side. Like tourists on a tour bus in Hollywood, we gawked at the expensive home and shook our head in disgust.

The next morning I found out from a fellow passenger on the express bus that someone called in a bomb threat at HP. With most of the HP buildings on or just off of Page Mill Road, police shut down the whole street to check each building for bombs and snarling the afternoon commute for hours. It took me an extra two hours to get home.

I didn’t get called in on Thursday. The website that morning told me to check that afternoon, and then to check back on Friday morning. The next morning I checked the website at 11AM to discover that I’m released from jury duty and received a one year exemption from being summoned for jury duty. It’s one less thing to worry about for the next year.

Legally Stockpiling Weapons For A Shooting Spree

Whenever there was a mass shooting in the U.S., I’ve always pointed out to friends that the law doesn’t prevent a law-abiding citizen from stockpiling weapons and ammunition, spreading out their purchases over time to avoid detection by authorities, and then going on a killing spree. A point that Senator Diane Feinstein made on CBS News’ “Face The Nation” made about the Las Vegas shooter, who passed multiple background checks for purchasing weapons. It’s more difficult to buy two packs of Sudafed than to legally stockpile weapons and ammo.

While the number of households owning guns have declined between 1994 to 2013, the number of guns by gun-owning households have increased substantially to an average 8.1 guns. That number is somewhat misleading. So called “super gun owners” own eight to 140 guns, the average being 17 guns.

Who are these people who own multiple weapons?

  • Collectors — When Silicon Valley had more orchards than silicon chips, many neighbors owned hunting rifles and had mounted trophies in their family rooms When I spent a weekend at a middle school friend’s ranch in Morgan Hill, his step-father pulled out an elephant gun he used for a big game hunting in Africa (no mounted elephant or lion head from that trip, but elephant gun was impressive). The next day my friend and I shot off semiautomatics as the adults shot off replicas of ball-and-powder muskets.
  • Survivalists — Nut jobs in the mountains waiting for the government to take away their guns is as American as apple pie. That was the NRA mantra during the eight years of the Obama Administration. No gun owner I’ve talked to ever had President Obama show up on their doorstep to take their away guns. Their defense of the Second Amendment often boils down to being able to turn Bambi into hamburger as quickly as possible. If Republicans can pass the silencer legislation in Congress, silently as well.
  • Mass Shooters — Some weapons are meant to kill people as quickly as possible in a hail of bullets, as the Las Vegas shooter and pretty much every other mass shooter in the U.S. have proven in recent years. Not all mass shooters are criminals who got their weapons illegally off the street.

The politicians are not serious about gun control in any meaningful way after the Las Vegas shooting. Banning “bump stocks” doesn’t prevent someone from modifying an semiautomatic rifle to automatic fire. California has a law going into effect in 2018 to restrict ammo sales to purchasers who passed a background check and Internet sales must ship to a licensed dealer for pick up. That doesn’t prevent someone from quietly stockpiling ammo with routine purchases or going across state lines. The only way to end the mass shootings is to pass restrictive gun laws and buy back guns from the public.

I Worked With A Murderer!

When I was a kid back in the early 1980’s, a teenager killed another teenager and hid the body in the foothills. The disappearance at that time, and the remains found several years later, was big news in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of several high-profile kidnappings and murders that prompted parents to keep their children indoors. Fast forward nearly 40 years later, a friend sent me the link to an old news article about the suspect arrested for that crime. The suspect in the perp walk photo was a former coworker whom I worked with for several years before he got fired, I thought, for being a douche bag. That wasn’t the whole story on his firing.

Unfortunately, I can’t share the article link to the article or the person’s name.

Although arrested and charged for the murder over a decade ago, the suspect was never tried as the case got thrown out of court for a lack of evidence—the murder weapon was never recovered—despite having a body and a confession. A person arrested but not convicted of a crime has a reasonable expectation to privacy despite the news media coverage. Or, maybe not. A recent court ruling for police taking DNA samples have implied that an arrestee  has “diminished expectations for privacy” as legal proceedings are public. Since I’m not familiar with intricacies of true crime writing (i.e., how to avoid being sued by someone who holds a grudge), I’ll be deliberately vague on the details to protect the innocent and the guilty.

The suspect and I started working together in IT support at the same time. Almost immediately he tried to put himself ahead of everyone else in a “Me! Me! Me!” attitude to impress the client—the company that hired the contracting agency to provide tech workers—in meetings, conference calls and emails. This insecurity, he told me, came from a deep need to avoid being unemployed again, which was understandable as everyone was still skittish years after the Great Recession. Except the “Me! Me! Me!” attitude never got dialed back as time went on and he never took the obvious hints from management to drop it.

Our first bump came when he accidentally rebooted the server that everyone logged into from our workstations. During the early days of the project, almost everyone rebooted the sever by accident while trying to reboot a remote system since the server wasn’t then properly configured to prevent admin users from rebooting it by accident. But he did it twice in one day. He never came forward to own his mistake. When the server owner checked the logs and fingered him in IM, he made excuses for why it happened—and those excuses went on for days. Everyone, including yours truly, roundly jeered him whenever the topic of accidental rebooting came up.

When I accidentally rebooted the server from a double-clicking mouse a month later, I contacted the server owner during the one-minute delay before the server rebooted, admitted my mea culpa to the team in IM (instant messenger), and replaced the double-clicking mouse. No one gave me grief for rebooting the server. The suspect complained loudly that he got treated unfairly because what I did was much worse than what he did. No one bought his story. That was the beginning of his reputation of being a douche bag.

When a team lead asked his group for volunteers to work with the suspect on an assignment a year-and-half later, no one wanted to work with him and everyone confessed that they didn’t like him. I felt compelled to write a long email to the project manager about all the problems I had with him. Two weeks later, he got fired. The funny thing was that no one told him that he got fired. According to coworkers on his team, he figured it out when his regular and admin Windows accounts  got deactivated, his badge stopped working, and the client refused to return his phone calls. Never did hear if security showed up to escort him out of the building.

The real reason he got fired, I recently learned, was an unknown coworker googled his name, came across the decade-old story about his arrest, and took the story to the client. The coworker got written up by the contracting agency for going to the client, but the coworker felt strongly enough that the client had to know who the suspect was. The client had a felony checkbox on the background check form (i.e., “Have you ever been arrested and/or convicted of a felony?”). The suspect, who didn’t live in a state like California with felony checkbox protections, failed to check the box and didn’t mention his arrest. That was enough to terminate his employment.

The Stupidity of Carrying A Toy Gun in Public

toysA teenager committed suicide in Santa Rosa last week. Wearing a hoodie over his head, carrying a pellet gun replica of an AK-47 assault rifle across his chest and a toy gun inside the waistband of his pants, he probably thought he was some badass gang banger. He was walking down the street when a sheriff cruiser pulled up behind him. With light flashing and the siren screaming, the deputies got behind the doors of their cruiser and ordered the teenager—twice—to drop his weapon. He turned to look back with the gun barrel rising towards the deputies.

Seven shots later, he’s handcuffed and declared dead. Suicide.

When I was a child in West San Jose during the 1970’s, my friends and I played with cap guns. Some of the older teenagers had BB guns for shooting small birds and pockmarking the windows around the neighborhood. San Jose was still rural back then, surrounded by orchards and the suburban sprawl that would later become Silicon Valley. Most stores sold fishing gear, department stores sold hunting rifles. All the kids got taught basic gun safety when playing with toy guns. Anything less would get someone hurt.

Basic gun safety meant you kept the gun barrel pointed to the ground and fingers off the trigger guard when walking down the street. If you’re playing cowboys and Indians, you did it someone’s yard, stay out of the streets and never pointed a cap gun above shoulder height. (Shooting from the hip was popular back then.) And you never ever pointed a toy gun at a police officer under any circumstances. You were likely to get shot—regardless of skin color.

Walking down the street with a hoodie and what looks like an illegal assault weapon in California is asking for serious trouble. I can’t blame the deputies for this one. The gangs are using teenagers to commit murders because the juvenile system provides short prison terms and sealed records. Unless a teenaged murderer gets tried as an adult, he gets a proverbial slap on the wrist and instant street cred with the gang. A bad deal for everyone involved. We don’t need teenagers playing gang bangers with toy guns.