Mt. St. Helens

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After a long week of playing cops and robbers, it’s finally time to take a day off from fighting crime. I promise I’ll have you back in time for Dr. D.P. Lyle’s appearance here on The Graveyard Shift on Monday.

Now, sit back, relax,  and enjoy the view.

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Remember, Dr. D P Lyle will be on hand on Monday to answer your forensics questions.

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Dr. Lyle is the award-winning author of many books. He serves as a consultant for television and film writers, and he’s a practicing cardiologist in the L.A area.

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Serving Time

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Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the filthiest public restroom you’ve ever visited. Take a deep breath while conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare to trod. Combine those odors with the scent of dirty sweat socks, tee-shirts and underwear, cooked popcorn, urine, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles.

Picture living or working where every breath is similar to what I’ve described above. Never a single mouthful of fresh air. Could you drink water from a sink that was used to wash the feet of a man who just finished working on a roadside work gang for eight hours in ninety-degree heat – a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by three people, but is only capable of being flushed twice in eight hours?

How about sleeping in a six-by-nine room with two other large men who haven’t bathed in several days during the hottest time of the year. There’s no ventilation – no windows to open. How about sleeping on the floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, wool blanket? Roaches, rats, and mice darting from gaps between rusted plumbing and cracked cinderblocks. Dried blood and vomit are the only splashes of color on drab walls. HGTV it ain’t.

What I’ve just described is jailing. Serving time. Marking the calendar. Doing time.

Of course, conditions are better in some facilities than others, but many are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.

The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve ever seen. It’s also a very well-run operation. The staff is well-trained, and for the most part, the prisoners seemed to be in good spirits considering their circumstances.

A brief tour of a county jail:

Deputy sheriffs  monitor and control inmate activities and movement from inside a master control room. All doors are operated electronically by the officer seated at the control desk.

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Female dormitory

Some prison dormitories house over one-hundred prisoners in a single room. Many times, a single officer is assigned to supervise the activities of one or more dorm rooms.

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Jail Library

Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.

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Cell block

In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s actually inside a day room occupied by several inmates. The area outside the windows to the left is beyond the locked cell area. The doors to his right are inmate cell doors. Each morning those doors are opened allowing all inmates into the day room where they play cards, watch TV, eat their meals, and socialize. They return to their cells at night.

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Looking out 

An inmate’s view through the window in his cell door out into the hallway. Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall is that of another inmate’s cell. The checkered grate at the top of the picture is the only source of ventilation in the cell. It’s also a means for the jail staff to communicate with the prisoner. Jail doors are heavily insulated to retard fires and noise.

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 Overcrowding is a huge problem in jails and prisons. This jail was forced to hang metal beds from the hallway walls when their cells reached capacity – three men in each two-man cell.

Just as I clicked off this shot, a group of deputies ran past to quell a disturbance in area I’d just left. The problem – an inmate was having an anxiety attack from being in such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around.  His troubles reminded me of how much I appreciate the little things – trees, flowers, family, home-cooked meals, wine, and flushing my own darn toilet whenever I want.

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 Visiting Room

Prisoners are brought to these small rooms where they “visit” with family members seated on the opposite side of the window. The family’s room is a mirror image of the inmate’s visiting room.

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*On Monday February 11, award winning author, Dr. D. P. Lyle, will be blogging here on The Graveyard Shift. Dr. Lyle will also be available to answer all your forensics questions.

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Miranda

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When is a police officer required to advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings? Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s not like we see on television. Surprised?

Television shows officers spouting off Miranda warnings the second they have someone in cuffs. Not so. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I chased a suspect, caught him, he resisted, and then we wound up on the ground fighting like street thugs while I struggled to apply handcuffs to his wrists. I can promise you I had a few words to say after I pulled the scuz to his feet, but Miranda wasn’t one of them. Too many letters. At that point, I could only think of words of the four letter variety.

Two elements must be in place for the Miranda warning requirement to apply. The suspect must be in custody and he must be undergoing interrogation.

A suspect is in police custody if he’s under formal arrest or if his freedom has been restrained or denied to the extent that he feels as if he’s no longer free to leave.

This fellow is not free to leave.

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Interrogation is not only asking questions, but any actions, words, or gestures used by an officer to elicit an incriminating response can be considered as an interrogation.

If these two elements are in place officers must advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings prior to questioning. If not, statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Doesn’t mean the arrest isn’t good, just that his statements aren’t admissible.

Officers do not have to advise anyone of their rights if they’re not going to ask questions. Defendants are convicted all the time without ever hearing that sing-songy police officer’s poem,  You have the right to…

Miranda facts:

Officers should repeat the Miranda warnings during each period of questioning. For example, during questioning officers decide to take a break for the night. They come back the next day to try again. They must advise the suspect of his rights again before resuming the questioning.

If an officer takes over questioning for another officer, she should repeat the warnings before asking her questions.

If a suspect asks for an attorney, officers may not ask any questions.

If a suspect agrees to answer questions, but decides to stop during the session and asks for an attorney, officers must stop the questioning.

Suspects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not be questioned. Also, anyone who exhibits signs of withdrawl symptoms should not be questioned.

Officers should not question people who are seriously injured or ill.

People who are extremely upset or hysterical should not be questioned.

Officers may not threaten or make promises to elicit a confession.

Many officers carry a pre-printed Miranda warning card in their wallets. A National Sheriff’s Association membership card (same design and feel of a credit card) has the warnings printed on the reverse side.

Fact: The Miranda warning requirement stemmed from a case involving a man named Ernesto Miranda.  Miranda killed a young woman in Arizona and was arrested for the crime. During questioning Miranda confessed to the slaying, but the police had failed to tell him he had the right to silence and that he could have an attorney present during the questioning. Miranda’s confession was ruled inadmissible; however, the court convicted him based on other evidence.

Miranda was released from prison after he served his sentence. Not long after his release he was killed during a bar fight.

His killer was advised of his rights according to the precedent setting case of Miranda v. Arizona. He chose to remain silent.

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Booking Stations

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The days of the ten print fingerprint card are almost over. No longer will police officers have to smear ink on a suspect’s fingertips  to transfer his prints to a paper card. Many departments have switched to computerized booking stations that have the capability of capturing prints of all types – rolled, flat, and palm – into its database. The machines are also designed to snap those oh-so-attractive booking photos made popular by recent celebrity arrestees.

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The top picture above (No, not Paris and her gang, although I’m sure her prints were taken on a machine similar to this one) is of a booking station called LiveScan, sold by Cogent Systems (There are several other manufacturers out there who make similar systems. This is just the equipment with which I’m most familiar). LiveScan units come factory-ready to connect to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), the FBI’s database – the largest collection of fingerprints in the world – over forty-seven million. 

A LiveScan booking station stands nearly six-feet tall and weighs over two-hundred fifty pounds. It’s very durable, built to withstand the abuse of combative criminals and staggering drunks. The units are even equipped with their own portable cooling systems.

Image quality is very important when attempting match a suspect’s fingerprints to that of a print retrieved from the scene of a crime. Cogent’s resolution and quality picks up the finest detail of print ridges. In fact, the resolution meets all FBI standards.

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Many departments across the U.S. simply don’t have the funds to purchase equipment like the LiveScan. Those agencies still rely on the messy ten print card system where officers roll a supect’s fingers across an ink pad and then transfer his prints to a pre-printed card. A large, one-gallon jug of orange-scented hand cleaner sits at ready to clean the stained hands of suspects and officers alike. The completed card is then mailed to the FBI in Clarksburg, West Virginia where technicians enter the information into the AFIS system.

Ten Print Card

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Cogent has developed a mobile remote fingerprint scanner that easily configures with their existing LiveScan equipment using Bluetooth technology. Officers in the field can submit a suspect’s fingerprint directly to the AFIS system and receive the results of the search in minutes. This handy little pocket-size device is approximately four-and-a-half inches tall, one-and-a-half inches wide, and less than an inch thick, and weighs less three ounces.

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(Photo from Cogent Systems)

By the way, most police officers refer to the booking procedure as “processing.” “Go process your prisoner.” Not, “Book ’em”

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Ins and Outs of Gunshot Wounds

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Shots fired from close range leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. These marks are discolorations of the skin caused by burning gunpowder. Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above the “V” opening of the shirt (the blackened area) in the photograph above. The person who wore this shirt was the victim of a shooting at close range—less than a foot away—with a 9mm pistol. Notice there’s no hole in the back of the shirt. No hole, no exit wound. The bullet stayed in the body even from a shot at this short distance.

The next photograph (post autopsy) – *WARNING. REAL GUNSHOT WOUND – GRAPHIC *- is of the wound the victim received in the upper image.

The wound is round and neat, and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the ones we see on television where half the guy’s body is blown into oblivion or beyond by a couple of bullets from a hero’s gun. Sometimes exit wounds are nearly as small as the entrance wound. The amount of damage and path of travel depends on the type ammunition used and what the bullet struck as it makes it way through the body. I’ve seen officers who easily mistook exit wounds for entrance wounds, at first glance. A close examination reveals stark differences. Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled slightly away from the wound. Normally, there’s also no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

In the picture below, the hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The tiny black dots are the stippling, or tattooing.

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The impact of the bullet and gases striking the tissue also left a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound.

Contact wounds caused by the barrel of a gun touching the skin when the weapon is fired may present the imprint of the muzzle. The wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint.

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After The Trigger Is Pulled

 

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Experts are often asked what kind of entrance and exit wounds are produced by police ammunition. The rounds (bullets) in the photograph below are hollow point bullets similar to the rounds fired from the Thompson sub-machine gun I’m holding. This is what they look like before they’re fired. They’re about the diameter of the Sharpie pens authors use to sign books. That’s pretty close to the size of most entrance wounds – the size of the bullet.

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The picture below is of one of the .45 caliber rounds after it was fired from the Thompson machine gun. The round passed through the self-healing wall tiles in the firing range, striking the concrete and steel wall on the the other side. Hitting the solid surface head-on caused the bullet to expand and fracture which creates the exit wound we see in shooting victims.

Many times, those bullet slivers break off inside the body causing further internal damage. The size of an exit wound depends on what the bullet hits inside the body. If the bullet only hits soft tissue the wound will be less traumatic. If it hits bone, expect much more damage. Easy rule of thumb – the larger the caliber (bullet size), the bigger the hole.

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Bullets that hit something other than their intended target, such as a brick wall or  a metal lamp post, can  break apart sending pieces of flying copper and lead fragments called shrapnel into crowds of innocent bystanders. Those flying fragments are just as lethal as as any intact, full-sized bullet.

FYI – Bullets don’t always stop someone. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’ve been shot several times. And for goodness sake, people don’t fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet. They just fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again.

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