Saturday, December 31, 2016

What does "agnotology" mean?: BBC

Science & Environment Language

The man who studies the spread of ignorance
How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon.
By Georgina Kenyon
6 January 2016
This story is featured in BBC Future’s “Best of 2016” collection. Discover more of our picks.
In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public. Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.
In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”
This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.
Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.
Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour
It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being. Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.
“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.
“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.”
The 1969 memo and the tactics used by the tobacco industry became the perfect example of agnotology, Proctor says. “Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”
To help him in his search, Proctor enlisted the help of UC Berkeley linguist Iain Boal, and together they came up with the term – the neologism was coined in 1995, although much of Proctor’s analysis of the phenomenon had occurred in the previous decades.

Balancing act
Agnotology is as important today as it was back when Proctor studied the tobacco industry’s obfuscation of facts about cancer and smoking. For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different.
Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence.
“This ‘balance routine’ has allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.”
We live in a world of radical ignorance – Robert Proctor
For example, says Proctor, many of the studies linking carcinogens in tobacco were conducted in mice initially, and the tobacco industry responded by saying that studies into mice did not mean that people were at risk, despite adverse health outcomes in many smokers.
A new era of ignorance
“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.
“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”
Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.
Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.
Making up our own minds
Another academic studying ignorance is David Dunning, from Cornell University. Dunning warns that the internet is helping propagate ignorance – it is a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, he says, which makes them prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance.

My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so – David Dunning

"While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors,” warns Dunning.
Dunning and Proctor also warn that the wilful spread of ignorance is rampant throughout the US presidential primaries on both sides of the political spectrum.
“Donald Trump is the obvious current example in the US, suggesting easy solutions to followers that are either unworkable or unconstitutional,” says Dunning.
So while agnotology may have had its origins in the heyday of the tobacco industry, today the need for both a word and the study of human ignorance is as strong as ever.

"What does "politically correct" mean?

Friday, December 30, 2016



Forensic Experts Weigh in on the Mysterious Death of Mom Michelle O’Connell Ruled a Suicide



Michelle O'Connell (left) with daughter Alexis
Police say a St. Augustine, Florida, woman killed herself with her boyfriend’s gun six years ago — but her relatives say they have proof she was murdered. Subscribe to PEOPLE now or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more on this case.

In the years since Michelle O’Connell’s death from a gunshot wound that severed her spinal cord, her family and friends have battled with investigators over what they claim is a failure to prove the truth: that O’Connell was murdered.

A St. Johns County, Florida, sheriff’s investigation, as well as investigations by three state attorneys, have all concluded that O’Connell killed herself in September 2010. Authorities have further dismissed allegations that O’Connell’s boyfriend at the time — Jeremy Banks, a St. Johns sheriff’s deputy — was involved, citing a lack of probable cause. O’Connell’s family has said she was preparing to leave Banks the day she died.

Through his attorney, Banks has also denied involvement.

But O’Connell’s family believes they have proof of what they claim. Earlier this year, they asked a private forensic pathologist in Orlando, Dr. William Anderson, to perform a post-exhumation autopsy of O’Connell’s body. He says he discovered she had a broken lower jawbone never mentioned in the original medical examiner’s reports.

“They mentioned relatively significantly less serious injuries above the eye, but did not mention the broken mandible,” Anderson tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

He says other potential evidence revealed in his autopsy include signs of hemorrhaging on the outer surface of the mandible, the retracted position of O’Connell’s tongue and blood flow patterns pictured in death scene photos.

Shortly after Anderson’s results were released, the St. Johns County medical examiner issued a statement dismissing claims of new evidence in Anderson’s findings.

“Based on what has been reported, they do not appear to contain any new evidence not documented in the first three examinations, including the fractured mandible,” Dr. Predrag Bulic said — though he had yet to see a copy of the report.

But a thorough review of the original autopsy report reveals only that the “third cervical vertebra is shattered” and makes no specific mention of the broken jawbone.

“Except as associated with the gunshot wound, there are no fractures or notable deformities,” the report reads. A handwritten note on his report does read, “No clear-cut threat of suicide.”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Though O’Connell’s manner of death was initially ruled a suicide, the medical examiner’s office changed it to homicide — before a prosecutor’s investigation closed the case as a suicide.

“There was an area of the bone that had stark coloration that is consistent with a hemorrhage. But the reason we don’t see that in [the original] autopsy is that they didn’t open that area to see if there was a hemorrhage,” Anderson tells PEOPLE. “If they had recognized the fracture, they should have further looked to see if there was hemorrhaging. Nobody took sections of that area at all.

“My exam suggests strongly that the individual was hit twice in the face, once breaking the jaw, fell to the floor, the gun was inserted into her mouth while she was on the floor and fired,” Anderson says. “This explains the position of the body, the flow of the blood, the retraction of the tongue. I’ve never seen a suicide like this where there’s evidence of potentially incapacitating trauma that occurred prior to the gunshot wound. So, in my estimation, this is a homicide.”


inRead invented by Teads

Michelle O’Connell
‘It Could Be Homicide or Suicide’

PEOPLE asked forensic pathologist Michael Baden — formerly with the New York State police, noted for his work investigating high-profile deaths and hosting HBO’s Autopsy, who is unconnected to the case — to review the competing conclusions, drawn from the autopsy reports, autopsy photos and death scene photos.

His opinion was mixed.

“I think Dr. Anderson was correct in pointing out that there was a fracture there that was missing in the text of the first autopsy,” Baden tells PEOPLE exclusively. “But I can’t say that’s enough to indicate that [O’Connell] was struck first and then the gun discharged.”

Asked about Anderson’s conclusion that, if she had killed herself, O’Connell’s tongue would have been under the muzzle and laying straight rather than pushed back into a U-shape, Baden says, “I’ve seen it both ways.”

“It’s hard to get into the mind of somebody in that situation,” he says. “Certainly, if somebody’s going to put the gun in the mouth, they can be very distraught and upset and push the tongue back. They often don’t know exactly what they’re doing at the time. The mind is clouded at the time.

“Theoretically, it could be homicide or suicide,” he says. “I wouldn’t rule out homicide, but I can’t say for certain just on the basis of the autopsy. In doing an autopsy, the history and circumstances and all kinds of other things would come into play.”

That’s where forensic psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a senior clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at the school’s Beth Israel Medical Center Psychiatry, says the medical examiner’s office made another mistake.

“I am amazed that there was no forensic psychiatrist conducting a forensic psychiatric autopsy,” Bursztajn, who is unconnected to the case, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a difficult process trying to disentangle all the questions between suicide, accident and homicide and there are a good number of people who work in the specialized area of forensic psychiatry.”

Jeremy Banks (right) in 2009

Any Errors ‘Didn’t Change the Outcome’

“When there is a reasonable doubt as to what the cause or manner of death is, you bring in a psychiatrist in connection with the forensic pathologist,” Bursztajn says. “It’s a completely different specialty and that’s why a forensic pathologist will ask a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to join them.”

And while Dr. Carole Lieberman, another noted forensic psychiatrist and frequent expert witness in legal cases, tells PEOPLE she has questions about Banks’ behavior in the initial 911 call in O’Connell’s death — made by Banks, who discovered her body — investigators dismiss that as wild speculation.

“If I put people in jail based on their demeanor at crime scenes, I’d be wrong almost half the time,” Howard Cole, the sheriff’s commander of central investigations, tells PEOPLE. “People act differently confronted with the same situation. To me, [the 911 call] sounded like someone genuinely distraught.”

“We have made the statements to the errors that we’ve made,” says sheriff’s spokesman Chuck Mulligan.

He notes that scrutiny of the case has prompted improvements at the sheriff’s office, including boosting the number of investigators from four to 12, doubling the size of the forensics unit and developing in-house DNA screening capabilities.

“Although there were missteps, they didn’t change the outcome of the decision,” he says.

ALEXIS O'CONNELL's poem about her mother, from People Magazine

Read the Heartbreaking Poem Written by Daughter of Florida Woman Whose Suicide is Being Questioned by Family


Michelle O'Connell (left) and daughter Alexis
Police say a St. Augustine, Florida, woman killed herself with her boyfriend’s gun six years ago — but her relatives say they have proof she was murdered. Subscribe to PEOPLE now or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands today, for more on this case.

An affinity for sunflowers, days at the beach and outings for pizza and ice cream — these are just a few of the memories of her late mother, Michelle, that 10-year-old Alexis O’Connell treasures most.

“We looked for seashells, built sandcastles and played in the water,” Alexis tells PEOPLE. “I wish I had her spirit.”

At 4 years old, the blue-eyed, brown-haired girl who looks remarkably like her mom endured something few children do: the loss of her mother to a fatal intraoral gunshot wound.

While Michelle’s family disputes the official conclusions drawn about her death, what’s undisputed is the bullet that killed her was fired from a service weapon belonging to her boyfriend, St. Johns County sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Banks.

Authorities have repeatedly dismissed allegations that Michelle was murdered. They cite a lack of probable cause for such claims, and the sheriff’s investigation as well as three separate state attorneys have concluded that Michelle killed herself. (Banks, through his attorney, has denied all involvement.)

Her family disagrees. Key to the their belief that Michelle never would have taken her own life is her love for Alexis and the moves she was making to better their lives: scheduling CPR classes required for a new position at the child care center where she worked, signing up for benefits and saving money for a new apartment.

“When she became a mother, she blossomed,” Michelle’s mother, Patty O’Connell, tells PEOPLE. “It was all about Alexis. She didn’t even want to go out with her friends.”

From left: A picture Alexis O’Connell drew of her mother, Michelle, as an angel; a poem Alexis wrote for Michelle, who died in 2010.
“She was so into being a mother. Her sole priority was Alexis,” adds childhood friend Ciara Morris, who noted that both Michelle’s and Alexis’s biological fathers were absent from their lives. “That was always a touchy subject for Michelle in high school, and it’s another reason I believe she would never have left Lexi without a parent.”

As Michelle’s family continues to advocate for what they say is their only chance at justice — another review of the case — Patty is raising Alexis, who has Michelle’s “deep, hard laugh.” The two still struggle to adapt to life without Michelle.

“I have days where I just miss her, miss her, miss her,” Patty says. “I find that I miss her a lot more when Alexis is home. We go to the movies and she sits next to me. But when it’s dark, I see Michelle.”

To cope, Alexis holds tight to memories of her mother, often via pictures and poems like the one she wrote while in the second grade, and which she shared with PEOPLE (lightly edited for spelling):

My mom loved turtles.
Me and my mom loved to eat ice cream and pizza.
We love to go to Sea World.
We love to go fishing.
We love to go to the beach.
She loved sunflowers.
We love to clean.
She worked 3 jobs.
She loved me.
She worked even at night.
Our favorite game was Mousetrap.
When I was in school she got me a dog.

“I miss her, and I wish she would come back,” Alexis says. “She’s an angel now.”

PEOPLE MAGAZINE re: Michelle O'Connell murder coverup

Family and Friends of Florida Mom Michelle O’Connell Claim Her Death Was Murder — Not Suicide



Michelle O'Connell (left) and daughter Alexis
Police say a St. Augustine, Florida, woman killed herself with her boyfriend’s gun six years ago — but her relatives say they have proof she was murdered. Subscribe to PEOPLE now or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more on this case.

When 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell died of a gunshot wound in St. Augustine, Florida, in September 2010, one thing was certain: The shot that killed her was fired from a service weapon belonging to her boyfriend, St. Johns County sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Banks.

Within hours of her death on Sept. 2, 2010, the case became surrounded by a controversy that persists six years later. Though investigations by the local sheriff’s office and three state attorneys have concluded O’Connell’s death was a suicide, those who knew her best claim they have proof of something more sinister.

They allege it was Banks who killed her as she prepared to end their relationship and escape his abuse — though investigators have dismissed this speculation, saying it lacks probable cause.

Banks, through his attorney, has also denied involvement. He has previously denied allegations he abused Michelle, and a sheriff’s internal investigation in 2010 “was unable to prove or disprove the allegations,” according to documents obtained by PEOPLE.

His attorney tells PEOPLE of the abuse allegations, “That information is patently false [and] has been demonstrated to be false.” Banks has also described fraught interactions with Michelle, according to the 2010 documents, including an argument about a month before she died in which she screamed and cried and said, “Sometimes [Banks made] her want to kill herself.”

That hasn’t deterred O’Connell’s friends and family. On their behalf, attorney Janet Johnson has requested the Florida Medical Examiners Commission convene a grand jury to review the case.

“They [friends and family] know better than anyone else whether she had it in her to commit suicide and no one talked with them,” Johnson tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “If they [investigators] didn’t know him [Banks], if he wasn’t a cop, if it were any other situation, they absolutely would have done that.”

Banks discovered O’Connell in their home that September day and was the one who first called 911 about her shooting injury. According to officials, she died of a gunshot wound to the back of her throat.

But O’Connell’s family is critical of the quick determination that she killed herself.

Michelle O’Connell
‘Michelle’s Bags Were Packed’

Just hours after her death, then-sheriff’s deputy Debra Maynard was sent to notify family members that the young mother had taken her own life — something she says haunts her to this day.

“Michelle’s bags were packed and on the couch,” Maynard, who was among the first responders on the scene, tells PEOPLE. “Typically, when a woman is getting ready to leave is the most volatile time. We know this, and statistics support it.”

Maynard’s suspicion is echoed by family and friends, who describe O’Connell as a doting mother to her 4-year-old daughter, Alexis — and a victim of Banks’ abuse.

“Everything revolved around Alexis,” childhood friend Ciara Morris tells PEOPLE. “Whether it was her job, where she worked, where she lived, where we hung out, it was always about what was best for Alexis. She would not have left Lexi without a parent.”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Loved ones also say Michelle had no history of depression and was excited about recent changes in her life, including a promotion at the child care center where she worked.

Interviews and text messages on her cell phone reveal Michelle was busy making plans right up until the night she died. Earlier that day, she scheduled CPR classes required for her new position at work, signed up for benefits and planned breakfast with mother, Patty O’Connell, the next morning.

What’s more, multiple people say Michelle told them that, after attending a concert with Banks and brother Sean O’Connell, she intended to break up with Banks and move out of their home on the night of her death.

“She told me she was leaving him,” says friend Mindy Fox, adding that the two were saving money to rent an apartment together.

“We had plans for going out after the concert,” Fox says. “She told me she was going to go home, pack her stuff, make sure Lexi was okay and then she and I were going to go have a girls’ night out. We were texting throughout the evening, making sure that plans were still on.”

Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Banks (right)
A History of Violence?

Michelle’s mom claims she witnessed Banks abuse her daughter.

“I actually saw him body slam her on the floor in my house,” Patty O’Connell tells PEOPLE. “That was the day I knew he wasn’t good for her.”

In a later interview with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the altercation, Banks admitted to using a police tactic to bring Michelle to the floor during an argument when, he said, she attempted to slap him.

Alexis also accused Banks of abuse, according to notes from a July 2011 forensic interview with child welfare authorities. In those documents, a child protection worker wrote, “Alexis provided history of witnessing Jeremy Banks jumping on her mother and hitting her mother with a belt at their home. She reported her mother said, ‘Stop, stop,’ but Mr. Banks did not stop.”

Results of a second, private autopsy performed on Michelle’s exhumed remains earlier this year, at her family’s request, may support the abuse allegations. Orlando forensic pathologist Dr. William Anderson found that her lower jawbone was broken — a finding not mentioned in the earlier autopsy reports.

“The most reasonable explanation is that a hit in the jaw with a fist created the mandible fracture,” Anderson tells PEOPLE, noting that such blunt force trauma likely incapacitated Michelle prior to the fatal gunshot.

In a statement to the media, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said, “The information presented is nothing new and all was reviewed during the initial autopsy.”

He described the ongoing attention as the work of “a few family members who will go to any lengths to maintain their moment in the spotlight.”

Friends and family believe that investigations by the sheriff’s office and state attorneys may have yielded a different conclusion if investigators had allowed them to tell their side of this story. Yet the O’Connell family, Fox and Morris all say their efforts to give statements were rebuffed.

“None of them ever wanted to speak to our side of our family,” Patty says. “What kind of investigation can you do without asking questions of both sides?”

Though Michelle’s case remains closed, they hope for a change.

“This is like a nightmare. But nightmares do end,” Patty says. “I think eventually this nightmare is going to end. I hope I live through it, that I’m alive to see the end of this and see justice for Alexis and her mommy.

“We knew she was trying to get away. If anybody wanted to live, it was Michelle.”


Melissa Niecko · Team Leader at Polaris Industries
I agree with the family, that Michelle was murdered. I read a very in-depth article from the NY Times that brings up multiple points that were left out of the inquisition of her case. First, even the ME could not remove Banks' service revolver from the holster. Second, the position of the gun to the body is inconsistent with a suicide. And, just listen to the 911 call. On the 911 call placed by her sheriff deputy boyfriend, he waits to ask for an ambulance, he tries to explain his story and who he is, before telling the address of where Michelle was.
Like · Reply · 7 · Dec 28, 2016 3:42pm

Sonya Serafin
Based on the information in this article and the unwavering concerns expressed by her family, there are clearly unanswered questions and do think this case should be relooked at by an objective, unbiased party. Good luck to all and hope conclusive closure can be found.
Like · Reply · 3 · Dec 28, 2016 10:39pm

Traci Estes-Gaidos
It sounds like some people are trying to protect a cop. Why was nobody in her family interviewed? Isn't that something you do, especially when you think it's suicide? You interview those closest to the person. It smells like one big cover up. When society already has trouble trusting police, why wouldn't you do everything by the book? Unless you don't want to...
Like · Reply · 2 · Dec 29, 2016 12:10am

Patricia Jensen
They did not interview neighbors, either. SJCSO protected Banks. I live in this county and I do not trust them. Watch the Frontline story "Murder in St Augustine" for more information about this case. It is a travesty of justice. I feel so sorry for Michelle's family - especially her daughter. :(
Like · Reply · Dec 29, 2016 10:12am

Barb Wheeler · Saint Augustine, Florida
This MURDERER lives on my street. 295 Lakeshore Drive, 32095.

I am sick of paying a salary to a known murderer. I know he's been protected by Sheriff David $Hoar because he is a Ponce/Meade descendent.

Michelle O'Connell's family deserves JUSTICE.

I will continue to watch his rented house, owned by Stacey Miller of BugAway.
I will hassle him every chance I have. If I have a opportunity to take him "out", I will.

I am watching.....
Like · Reply · Dec 29, 2016 1:11pm


Suicide or Murder? Inside the Mysterious Death of Mom Michelle O’Connell


Michelle O'Connell

Police say a St. Augustine, Florida, woman killed herself with her boyfriend’s gun six years ago — but her relatives say they have proof she was murdered. Subscribe to PEOPLE now or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more on this case.

For six years, Michelle O’Connell’s family has sought what they say is their only chance at justice in her mysterious death.

Authorities say the once-vivacious young mother fatally shot herself on Sept. 2, 2010, but her relatives disagree. Instead, they allege, she was killed by her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a local sheriff’s deputy — which he denies and for which investigators say there is no probable cause.

Now O’Connell’s family is pushing a last-ditch effort for a state inquest into her death, following a second autopsy of her remains.

“Our family is not going to be quiet,” O’Connell’s mother, Patty O’Connell, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

It was Banks who, at 11:20 p.m. that September day, called 911 from the St. Augustine, Florida, home he shared with Michelle. He told the operator, “My girlfriend — I think she just shot herself.”

Responders found Michelle, 24, lying on a bedroom floor with a gunshot wound to the back of her throat. Banks’ service weapon was at her side.

Two days after Michelle died, St. Johns County Medical Examiner Dr. Frederick Hobin ruled her manner of death a suicide, though he later reclassified it as a homicide. A special prosecutor’s investigator found no evidence of homicide, however, and the case was closed in March 2012 as a suicide.

Then, earlier this year, Orlando pathologist Dr. William Anderson was asked by Michelle’s family to perform a post-exhumation autopsy on her body — and he found she had a broken lower jaw bone never mentioned in Hobin’s reports.

“The most reasonable explanation is that a hit in the jaw with a fist created the mandible fracture,” Anderson tells PEOPLE.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Michelle’s relatives say she had no history of depression and would never have left her young daughter, Alexis. Michelle’s friends say she was planning to leave Banks before she died, though his attorney points to the same conclusion drawn by “three separate state attorneys”: Michelle killed herself.

Authorities also stand firm in that finding. “The information presented is nothing new and all was reviewed during the initial autopsy,” St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said in a statement, dismissing the continuing controversy as “a few family members who will go to any lengths to maintain their moment in the spotlight.”

However unlikely, Michelle’s family wants the case reopened and a grand jury convened.

“This is not going to go away,” Patty O’Connell says.


James Haberberger
Sounds like a need for street justice if the legal system fails to reopen this case... sounds too sketchy and should warrant a federal investigation.
Like · Reply · 10 · Dec 28, 2016 10:43am

Laurabeth Lanoue
“a few family members who will go to any lengths to maintain their moment in the spotlight.”
Really? A Sheriff said that about the tragic death of a young woman? How crass and unprofessional! Open the case back up!
Like · Reply · 17 · Dec 28, 2016 12:34pm

Justice for Michelle O'Connell
The Sheriff of St Augustine Florida (David Shoar) accused the family of "molesting her (Michelles) body" because the family had an exhumation performed.
Like · Reply · 4 · Dec 28, 2016 1:21pm

Laurabeth Lanoue
And he still has a job...? Absolutely intolerable.
Like · Reply · 4 · Dec 28, 2016 3:00pm

Valerie Pedroza
Let's reflect on the case of still missing Stacey Peterson wife of Retired Police Sergeant Drew Peterson. His first wife Kathleen Savio was exhumed and after second autopsy they found that he murdered her.
Like · Reply · 2 · Dec 28, 2016 4:23pm

Nancy Dee
I smell a coverup!
Like · Reply · 3 · Dec 28, 2016 1:51pm

Bob Johnson · In "Fishy Lies" Beer in one hand fishing rod on the other, What a life !!! at Retired
You smell exactly right !!!!!!
Like · Reply · 2 · Dec 28, 2016 2:13pm

Barb Wheeler · Saint Augustine, Florida
This MURDERER lives on my street. 295 Lakeshore Drive, 32095. I am sick of paying a salary to a known murderer. I know he's benn protected by Sheriff David $Hoar because he is a Ponce/Meade descendent. Michelle O'Connell's family deserves JUSTICE.
I will continue to watch his rented house, owned by Stacey Miller of BugAway.
I will hassle him every chance I have. If I have a opportunity to take him "out", I will.
Like · Reply · 2 · Dec 28, 2016 3:00pm

Bronwen Seidlitz · San Bernardino Valley College
1) Women do not typically kill themselves with guns, because it is too messy. 2) People do not shoot themselves in the neck. They go in the mouth or temple. 3) Having a child would deter suicide in most cases. 4) A sheriff's deputy would know how to stage the scene. 5) If she was about the leave him, that is motive in many murders.

The family should contact the FBI immediately. The local police can not and should not be investigating one of their own.
Like · Reply · 15 · Dec 28, 2016 3:25pm

Julian Alexander Terris
"Then, earlier this year, Orlando pathologist Dr. William Anderson was asked by Michelle’s family to perform a post-exhumation autopsy on her body — and he found she had a broken lower jaw bone never mentioned in Hobin’s reports.

“The most reasonable explanation is that a hit in the jaw with a fist created the mandible fracture,” Anderson tells PEOPLE." -That fact alone should be enough to warrent a Federal investigation.
Like · Reply · 5 · Dec 28, 2016 3:34pm

Finally, "Flooding, sea level rise take on urgency" (SAR)

Posted December 30, 2016 06:07 am - Updated December 30, 2016 06:12 am
Flooding, sea level rise take on urgency

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CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM Rain clouds form over Matanzas River in downtown on Thursday December 29, 2016. The major body of water and neighborhoods it borders, such as Davis Shores, are areas of concern as the city adds planning for sea level rise and flooding to its agenda for the new year.
As St. Augustine enters the new year, planning for flooding and sea level rise is part of the city’s agenda.

Hurricane Matthew highlighted known vulnerable areas for flooding, mainly Davis Shores.

“In terms of what a hurricane does, I think what it does is give us a way of talking about sea level rise with an urgency,” Mayor Nancy Shaver said.

While sea level rise is a different issue than hurricane flooding, officials in St. Augustine are already looking at possible effects of sea level rise. The city is a leader in terms of thinking about the issue, Shaver said, with a study already completed by the University of Florida on sea level rise and another underway.

The state of Florida — via the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity — is completing a report on sea level rise and the city of St. Augustine, and an assessment of the city’s vulnerability is finished.

The project is an effort “to assess community vulnerability to projected increase in coastal flooding and develop strategies to improve resilience to the associated impacts,” according to the vulnerability assessment.

The next part of the effort, which should be finished in March, will help the city prioritize how to mitigate the impacts of current and future flood risks, according to Morgan McCord, press secretary from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will pay about $40,000 for the adaptation plan, according to McCord.

The department’s effort has already helped the city understand how sea level rise would impact the city and its infrastructure under different scenarios, said Reuben Franklin Jr., an engineer for the city who’s been working on the issue.

Historic preservation is also a concern with sea level rise. The city’s Planning and Building Department also has to deal with flooding concerns, as it is tasked with historic preservation.

“[Sea level rise] really is something that is on the cutting edge of science and engineering and planning right now, and people are using us as a test case,” said David Birchim, planning and building department director.

The question that remains unanswered is whether the city will make major investments in infrastructure to protect against sea level rise, a topic that can be contentious.

What is clear is that Davis Shores would be impacted with sea level rise, Franklin Jr. said. The neighborhood is bordered by the Matanzas River.

“The areas that were impacted by Hurricane Matthew are the exact same areas that will be impacted with sea level rise,” he said.

On a smaller scale, the city has already begun addressing coastal flooding.

One project that is underway is installing technology to help prevent backups of the stormwater system in Davis Shores, Franklin Jr. said. Also, the city plans to consider drainage improvements to the Maria Sanchez Lake area, he said.

Regardless of what might be done related to sea level rise, officials say dealing with the issue will take outside help.

“It seems to me that the effort has to be made on a much broader scope than just the city of St. Augustine. … We don’t have the resources to do anything about sea level rise,” Birchim said.

Tom Reynolds
I know ................................. do a study ! Ya Ya do a study ! Pay about $119,000.00 to a company who will subcontract most of it out. Then aggressively get City Manger Regan to say some catch phrases or sum up things in a nut shell kind of talking points like Regan does so well.

You Old City Elected Officials should have been working on this 20 plus years ago. Not to worry..................... people who live there don't expect smart things to come out of City Officials, Elected or just Employees.

Good Luck !

Jack (sponger) Harvell
"The Completion Backwards Principle" at work. Ruin the city by packing it with tourists, hire dimwit engineering consultants company to blow smoke up our shirts, and then wonder what to do when the water rises and the money goes away...forever. Excellent critical thinking skills thanks to the TDC. Our saviors.

DA BlueBlood
Right b/c only the greedy mega millionaire and billionaire private sector gimokes can get it right? Which means Prez Rump's environmental deregulation should clearly address the impacts of global warming! GOOD L

BEACH BLAST: NO BACKGROUND CHECKS? A KID'S ZONE, WITH beer and wine stands, face painting, carnival rides, two mechanical bulls, a rock climbing wall and a photo booth.

Posted December 30, 2016 12:01 am
By LORRAINE THOMPSON Anastasia Island Community Columnist
LORRAINE THOMPSON: Have a ‘Blast’ ringing in 2017

1 Comment
1An Anastasia Island New Year’s Eve tradition, the St. Augustine Beach Blast Off, offers families a fun-filled late afternoon and evening celebration. The event, from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday at St. Augustine Beach Pier Park, will feature 30 food vendors plus champagne, beer and wine stands, a kids’ zone, face painting, carnival rides, two mechanical bulls, and a photo booth.

Local radio station 105.5 will broadcast live. Special live performances by Papercutt, Old Enough 2 Know Better, and Cassidy Diana will precede the fireworks display, which will be synchronized to music, starting at 8:30 p.m.

Free parking, with complimentary shuttles to the pier, will be available from Anastasia Baptist Church, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, Amici Shopping Center, Reunion Bank, R. B. Hunt Elementary School, St. Augustine Beach City Hall Parking Lot, Harbour Island Executive Center and Anastasia State Park.

At this writing the A Street ramp is now open to four-wheel drive vehicles. The gates will remain open during Beach Blast Off. All vehicles are required to travel south and may park in the designated areas to view the fireworks. The closest exit ramps are at Ocean Trace Road and Dondanville Road. The estimated New Year’s Eve high tide time is 9:33 p.m.

Part II of the New Year’s Eve light spectacular is the parade of vehicles as they exit the beach with hundreds of headlights shining on the sandy beaches as revelers head home or off to another celebration — with almost two hours to spare before midnight.

And, an official reminder: By law, the use of fireworks is prohibited on the beaches at all times except by special permit as in the case of the annual New Year’s fireworks display.


The official North Atlantic right whale watching survey gets underway Monday along our coastal waters. A right whale survey training class for all volunteers will be held today (Friday, December 30) from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Center for Marine Studies on the Whitney Lab campus, 9595 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland. Volunteers will receive an update on the right whale patterns in recent weeks as well as their whale watching assignments. Volunteers who serve in the monitoring network will be stationed along the beaches at various points that will include public parks, piers and walkovers, as well as private walkovers where the owners have given permission. For information, contact

• The City of St. Augustine Beach Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 2200 A1A South. High on its agenda will be the swearing in of two commissioners, Maggie Kostka, a new commissioner, and Rich O’Brien who was re-elected in the November general election. The two will join Commissioners Undine George, Margaret England and Gary Snodgrass in the selection of the city’s mayor and vice-mayor for 2017. The meeting is open to the public. For information, call 471-2122 or visit

• The Outta Sight musical group from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind will perform at the St. Augustine Lodge 2780 Sons of Italy social on Jan. 19. The party begins at 6 p.m. at the Community Center of St. Anastasia Catholic Church, 5205 A1A South on Anastasia Island. Tickets are $15 for the social which includes entrees, desserts and entertainment.

All members of Outta Sight — singers, percussionists, guitarists and other string instruments, and piano and keyboard players — are legally blind and naturally talented. Their performances include rock and roll, soul, and in between.

The musical performing group was established by local teacher, musician and sportsman Bill Sabo in 1993. For ticket and other information, call Josephine Scher at 460-0975.

• You can exchange more than books at the Anastasia Island Branch Library on Jan. 28. A Women’s Clothing Swap will be held from 2-4 p.m. The library staff invites women to “swap instead of shop” and update their wardrobe without spending a cent.

“Swappers” should bring women’s clean, freshly washed, and lightly used clothes, hats, jackets, accessories and purses in good condition to swap. Swap out one item for each item you bring. Any remaining clothes will be donated to the Betty Griffin Thrift Store to help other women in the community. Undergarments are not included in the swap. Women who are not interested in swapping can still participate by bringing in donations ahead of time. Women’s clothing donations for the swap will be accepted at the Anastasia Island Library through Jan. 27, located at 124 Sea Grove Main Street.

For additional information about the programs and services of the Anastasia Island Branch Library or other branches, visit or call 209-3730.

• A true on-the-beach run, the Mardi Gras 5K and Fun Run, begins at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 19 from the St. Augustine Beach Pier and heads north to the beaches of Anastasia State Park. The event, one of only a handful of runs on local sandy beaches, is sponsored by the St. Augustine YMCA. The entry fee is $25 before Feb. 1 for the 5K and $10 for the Fun Run. Entry fees increases will take place on Feb. 1 ($30 and $15) and Feb. 13 ($35 and $20). Race day fees will be $40 and $25. All participants will receive a race T-shirt. Proceeds will benefit the local YMCA’s award program to individuals and families including swim lesson and camp fees for children. For registration and other information, visit the St. Augustine YMCA located at 500 Pope Road, call 471-9622 or go online to or

Have news to share about Anastasia Island or the adjoining areas? Send your information about people and events to, or call 471-4851.


The New Years Eve Blast Does Not need Alcohol sales ! It is very sad to me that the City of St Augustine Beach thinks Beer, Wine, and Champagne is needed. I grew up where and when Family Values meant fun without Booze. The City of St Augustine Beach Commissioners should be ashamed of their lack of Family Values. Plus why is the St Johns County Commissioners OK with this stupidity ?

Plus another concern people should be aware of is the lack of Smart Security. NO BACKGROUND CHECKS ON Volunteers ? St Johns County DOES NOT allow volunteers without background checks. So why is the Part Time City of St Augustine Beach Chief of Police, Robert "Little Wobbie" Hardwick, NOT DOING BACKGROUND CHECKS ? Does Little Wobbie really know what he is doing ? Just because Chief Little Wobbie is the highest paid Part Time Chief of Police in the State of Florida does NOT mean that he knows what he is doing ! This event has had many years of success, but should be done in the future without Booze Sales. Maybe next year the City of St Augustine Beach will have a full time competent Chief of Police who will highly recommend that Booze not be allowed at a Family/Retirees event.

And lastly, the City of St Augustine Beach does NOT have enough Insurance Coverage for this event. Why is St Johns County Risk Management allowing this to happen ? Has the St Johns County government shut down for a few weeks during the Holiday Season ? Are all the St Johns County Commissioners getting campaign donations by the Booze Distributors ?

Don't judge a book by its cover.
Just because this is a heavy Republican County, DO NOT THINK IT IS A FAMILY VALUES COUNTY !



Another living up to the DUH moment here in St Augustine Beach Floor a DUH !

URGENT UPDATE: The St Augustine Beach Part Time Chief of Police Robert " Little Wobbie" Hardwick is out of the office until December 31, 2016.

ONLY IN ST AUGUSTINE BEACH IS THE TOP LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER NOT WORKING WHEN SUCH A BIG EVENT IS TAKING PLACE IN A FEW DAYS ! And to think Lt. Commander Porker, the 35 year Law Enforcement, is in charge is VERY DANGEROUS ! Lt. Commander Porker admitted in court proceedings that he does know what the first amendment means. Lt. Porker is the true life Dangerous version of Barney Fife.

Update: Robert Hardwick I'll be out of the office until December 31st, please contact Commander Parker or Kathi Harrell for assistance.
Tom Reynolds
Today at 7:58 AM

I'll be out of the office until December 31st, please contact Commander Parker or Kathi Harrell for assistance.

You can't make this up ! This is real and really scary !

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fusion: Few things whiter than America's prosecutors

America's Prosecutor Problem

Prosecutors are more powerful than judges -- but the tough-on-crime stance they take to get elected multiplies racial injustices.
Gordon Weekes describes a criminal case that landed on his desk this month in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: “An old lady comes out of her house and sees three or four kids in in her yard.” She calls the police. The kids scatter, but get caught. They’d climbed a fence to snag mangos from a tree. One of the boys is charged with burglary. 
“I suppose because he jumped the fence with an intent to take mangos, that it was a burglary,” muses Weekes, the chief assistant public defender in Broward County. “But the kid is 13 years old -- and he didn’t even take a mango! The state attorney’s office is supposed to decide how to charge these cases. You would think they would go with the more appropriate charge, which is trespass. No -- they’re going with the more serious charge.” 
Trespass is a misdemeanor (a crime punishable by less than a year in prison). Burglary is a felony (punishable by a year or more). Because of his age, the child is unlikely to be incarcerated, but unlike the trespass, a felony record cannot be sealed or expunged. “That charge could have a far-reaching impact on the opportunities available to the child in the future,” says Weekes. 
“Prosecutors have more power in this system than any judge, any supreme court, any police officer, or any attorney,” he says. They decide what charges to file -- “or more importantly, what charges not to file.” 
“Prosecutors have more power in this system than any judge, any supreme court, any police officer, or any attorney.” 
--Gordon Weekes
Even as race and justice issues dominate national headlines, few media outlets have focused on the formidable power prosecutors wield. But they should. Of the 2,437 elected prosecutors in America (at both the both federal and county levels), 79 percent were white men --- even though white men made up only 31 percent of the population, according to a 2014 report by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Women Donors Network. That disparity, the report said, is a “structural flaw in the justice system” that has cascading effects -- like reducing accountability for police officers who shoot unarmed minorities. 
As part of “Rigged,” our investigation into the dark side of modern-day electioneering, Fusion worked with Color of Change, another organization working on social justice issues, to collect and analyze data for every jurisdiction in America.
93 percent of all prosecutors in the United States are white, though only 61 percent of the U.S. population is.
The results are stark: 93 percent of all prosecutors in the United States are white, though only 61 percent of the U.S. population is. At the same time, there were 1,561,500 prisoners in state and federal prisons, according to the latest (2014) data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which noted that black men “were in state or federal facilities 3.8 to 10.5 times more often than white men.” Fusion’s data supports what social justice activists have long maintained: At the local level, America’s justice system is disproportionately white-controlled, and disproportionately oriented toward punishing minorities. There are no straightforward answers for how and why the disparity persists, but the data shows the disparity is real.


U.S. Population
District Attorneys
0102030405060708090100American Indian or Alaska NativeAsian American or Pacific IslanderBlack or African AmericanHispanic or LatinoTwo or more racesWhite0.03%0.28%2.44%4.28%0.03%0.28%92.65%0.73%5.53%12.29%17.95%2.54%0%60.96%


Data Source: Color of Change, Elected Prosecutor Database with additional research by Fusion on appointed officials. Estimates of the population of U.S. counties by race , U.S. Census Bureau. Data current as of September 12, 2016. See additional notes at the end of the story.


In many places in America, people of color represent a small share of the population, so it’s natural to assume that the overwhelming whiteness of US district attorneys is due to the whiteness of large swaths of the country. However, when Fusion analyzed the data, we found the imbalance persists even in communities of color:
  • In counties in the U.S. where people of color represent between 50% and 60% of the population, only 19% of prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
  • In counties where people of color represent between 80% and 90% percent of the population, only 53% of the prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
  • Only in places where 90% of the population are people of color does the prosecutor pool reflect the diversity of the community. 
  • Overall, in the 276 counties in the U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42%, or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of color.
Only in places where 90% of the population are people of color does the prosecutor pool reflect the diversity of the community.
Existing data shows black prisoners are punished more harshly than white inmates across America. In 2008 and 2009, the average length of a federal prison sentence for black males was 90 months, compared with 55 months for a white male. Many variables are at play, but according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Political Economy, “an unexplained black-white sentence disparity of approximately 9 percent remains,” even after accounting for factors such as prior convictions. (The figure jumps to 13 percent when drug crimes are included). “Estimates of the conditional effect of being black on sentences are robust,” the study concluded. 
Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, said that any prosecutor can be good or bad. The problem, he said, is that to get elected, they usually position themselves as “tough on crime” and make strong alliances with police. “They’re going into the job trying to get high conviction rates,” Robinson said. “They try to rack up as many convictions as possible, even though we a have mass incarceration problem.” What we really need, he says, is progressive prosecutors of any race who realize that “the prison-industrial complex has not made us safer.” 
Indeed, Color of Change is tracking prosecutor elections and gathering data such as the number of times a prosecutor is elected, what party they represent, their race, gender, and whether they were appointed or ran unopposed. Of the 2,326 prosecutors elected to office as of 2016 and tracked by Color of Change, 72 percent -- 1,691 in all -- ran unopposed in their last election. 
An analysis showed:
  • 97% of all prosecutors in the U.S. are elected. 
  • 72% of all elected prosecutors in office in 2016 ran unopposed in their last election 
  • 73% of white prosecutors in office in 2016 ran unopposed compared to 64% of prosecutors of color 
  • 32% of prosecutors who are appointed are people of color compared to just 4% of prosecutors who are elected.
Data Source: Color of Change, Elected Prosecutor Database with additional research by Fusion on appointed officials. Data current as of February 2016. See additional notes below.
72% of all elected prosecutors in office in 2016 ran unopposed in their last election.
Many factors could contribute to the gap in the number of prosecutors of color who run for office. In the data that Color of Change collected, only 94 prosecutors of color were elected to office as of 2016. Of these, 60 ran unopposed in their last election, or 64 percent. Of the 2223 white prosecutors currently elected to office, 1627 or 73 percent ran unopposed. Although the percent of white incumbents who ran unopposed is slightly higher, there is not enough data to draw a conclusion primarily because there are so few prosecutors of color in office. Interestingly, three states (New Jersey, Connecticut and Alaska) appoint prosecutors. In these states, 32 percent of the prosecutors are people of color compared to just 4 percent of prosecutors who are elected. Color of Change hopes to track election outcomes over time in order to better understand what might be driving these differences. 
After police arrest a person, the prosecutor and his/her staff of assistant attorneys make a host of decisions that can transform the life of the accused:
They can recommend whether the defendant should be released on bail, and can recommend a bail amount. 
  • They can adjust the charges, making them more or less severe, felonies or misdemeanors. 
  • They can decide whether a child is charged as a juvenile or an adult. 
  • They can add or subtract counts. 
  • They can also convene grand juries to determine which charges to pursue.
  • The prosecutor can also decide not to press charges at all.
“At any time, until a jury is sworn or a plea taken by the court, the state attorney can chose to drop the case,” said Gordon Weekes. “That is always their power, for many reasons: not enough evidence, it’s not in the interest of the public to go forward, there’s an alternative that better suited.” 
Because laws outline recommended prison sentences, or even dictate mandatory minimum sentences for particular crimes, a prosecutor can have far more latitude over a defendant’s ultimate prison sentence than a judge, based solely on what charges are brought. For example, at the federal level, someone accused of a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana could be fined $1,000 and spend a year in jail. With felony charge of selling marijuana, the fine could be $250,000 and the sentence, five years in prison. 
Weekes notes that the stronger the threat of punishment, the more inclined a defendant might be to just plead guilty and end the case rather than incur lawyer fees and take up time as the case goes to trial. 


In Broward County, Florida, the site of the mango crime, the state attorney is Michael Satz, who was elected to his role in 1976 and has won every election since. He is now 73 years old. On his website, Satz makes no secret of his mission. He brags that in 1992, he “achieved the highest total conviction rate for trials and guilty pleas in the state, a high standard his office works hard to maintain.” 
Satz made his reputation for being tough on crime during the drug wars of the 1980s and 90s -- and, critics, say, that reputation was built the backs of minorities. “He’s sent thousands of people to prison on very, very minor drug offenses,” Weekes said. “There’s probably more drug crime occurring on college campuses, but no one is going to any college and kicking down the dorm room door to find a bong under the bed.
“He’s a very nice guy, but he’s lost in a different age and different time,” Weekes said of Satz. “Because he doesn’t have any true connection to people who are impoverished, who have had to struggle, he can’t relate to a lot of the people entering the criminal justice system. There is a lack of empathy that comes from that office -- and countless examples in the ways they choose to prosecute cases.”
Satz also has a reputation for working hand in glove with police. Until this year, when cell phone camera evidence raised questions about the police-involved shooting of a black man, Satz had never prosecuted a police officer for fatally shooting a civilian. “He has sent a message to law enforcement,” says Weekes, “and encouraged them to be emboldened in their misbehavior.” A South Florida alliance of Black Lives Matter activists protested Satz outside the Broward County courthouse in mid-September. 
In some of Broward’s easternmost black neighborhoods, where Fort Lauderdale police regularly park their armored vehicles with cameras on prominent street corners and signage that says “YOU ARE BEING WATCHED,” cops in recent years frequently cited residents for riding bikes not registered with the city (“biking while black”) and for not walking on sidewalks (“walking while black”). All told, 86 percent of the department’s bicycling tickets were given to black riders. Weekes says this was clearly racial profiling -- a pretext to search for drugs. “Truly predatory,” he called it. “Mike Satz, as the top law enforcement officer, should identify and root out any practices that are racially disparate.” He says that it would be within Satz’s power to call the police chief and advise the department to stop making arrests on charges that “sound stupid.” 
Satz declined to comment for this article, but defended his decisions to the New Times Broward -Palm Beach, pointing out that police-involved shootings are referred to grand juries, and that his office has charged 79 officers with felonies since 2009. 
In August, he edged out his sole opponent in the Democratic primary by only a few thousand votes. Turnout in Broward for the primary was abysmally low, hovering around 17 percent of registered voters. No one is opposing Satz in the November general election. He will hold office at least until he is 78. 


There is a challenging but open road to getting more prosecutors of color into office. First, more minorities need to become attorneys. According to the National Association for Law Placement, more than 25 percent of law school graduates are minorities. But oftentimes, graduates saddled with law school loans choose private practice, where the average starting pay can be two to four times the $51,100 salary for an entry-level prosecutor and the $50,400 for starting public defenders. Public service is not an obvious path to personal comfort for aspiring attorneys.
This chart below shows the number of lawyers and judicial workers entering the labor market according to Census data. Currently, 15.6% of all lawyers and judicial workers are people of color. Among younger workers, those age 30 who might be potential candidates for prosecutor roles in the future, 21.9% are people of color (This compares to 43.3% in the population as a whole for that age group.) As the this more diverse pool of workers ages, the gap may lessen but the prosecutor pool still will not reflect the population as a whole.


Race breakdown
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino
Asian American or Alaska Native
Unknown or Other
Two or more races
Data Source: Census Bureau ACS PUMS 2010-2014. Population estimates by age, race and Hispanic origin for lawyers, judges, magistrates and other judicial workers (SOC code 2310XX)
Melba Pearson, a past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), is a woman of color and an assistant state attorney in Miami. She didn’t fully realize how powerful the role of prosecutor was until she became one -- somewhat by chance. 
Growing up, Pearson was pressed by her father to study the civil rights movement. He noted that heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to accomplish their work partly because “they had amazing defense attorneys to get them out of jail,” she said. “That’s something really ingrained in me since I was young.”
She always knew she wanted to be in the courtroom. “I didn’t want to do transactional work. I wanted to argue,” she chuckled. She applied to entry level jobs in both prosecutors’ and public defenders’ offices and, as it turned out, “got an offer that was amazing and changed my life.” She’s been with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office for a decade and a half. 
“The prosecutor in our criminal justice system is the one person who holds all the cards,” she said. “While the judge can adjudicate a part of the outcome, everyone in the courtroom is bound by decision of the prosecutor choosing to file.” 
Now, she says, “I understand more than I did the importance of being a female prosecutor of color. I’ve embraced the role moreso. It’s not just about doing justice and seeking justice for victims,” she says, but also bringing awareness of her role to a “section of the population that has been historically underserved.” 
Pearson laughed off criticisms that minority prosecutors exercising judicial empathy translates to leniency for criminals: “I specialize in robberies and homicides, so I can’t turn a blind eye. You put a gun in someone’s face -- I can’t, because of the history of slavery and Jim Crow, ignore that. No, no -- it doesn’t work that way!” Rather, she said, the reasoning is: “Can I make you a little better? You will be punished -- but what can I do to deter you?” 
Pearson has no plans to run for state attorney, but the NBPA encourages members to seek higher office. Minority prosecutors have noticeable made gains in recent years -- notably, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch serving as attorneys general of the United States, Marilyn Mosby and Kym Worthy becoming top municipal prosecutors in Baltimore and in Detroit. 
Color of Change’s Robinson believes more minority representation in district attorneys’ offices is coming, citing Kim Foxx’s win in Chicago and noting that even the Koch Brothers and Newt Gingrich have called for justice reform. “There are very high-level movements on both the left and right. In many ways, DAs haven’t caught up and haven’t had to catch up, because they haven’t had to run in competitive elections.” 
His group is working to educate voters about the importance of electing good prosecutors. “We make communities safe and whole, not with school-to-prison pipelines, not charging felonies for schoolyard fights, not by putting people behind bars for decades of low-level crimes.” 
Meanwhile, Gordon Weekes continues to see the effects of the system play out. “I walk in and see a courtroom filled with little black kids every day,” he said.
“I know the impact it has on our community when law enforcement focuses on one segment instead of another. I’m not sure the state attorney recognizes those issues,” Weekes said. “If I had a courtroom full of little red-headed girls, I would ask, ‘Why have you arrested all these little redheaded girls?’ I would address that. They’re blind to what is standing right in front of them.” 

Additional data notes

Color of Change tracks only elected officials. The demographic and racial data relating to the number of prosecutors of color appointed to the position in jurisdictions that appoint prosecutors was collected by Fusion researchers. These jurisdictions include: Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, District of Columbia and the counties of Kalawao and Maui in Hawaii.
Color of Change data on the number of prosecutors who ran unopposed in their last general election is derived from an earlier release of Color of Change’s data which included this information. The current Color of Change database does not. This data is current as of February 2016 only and may vary somewhat from more current data in their database.
The U.S. Census bureau considers Hispanic origin to be an ethnicity and not a race. In order to better compare data in the Color of Change database with current population estimates, population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau were adjusted to isolate those of Hispanic origin. Comparing Hispanic origin to race in this way does not imply that it is the preferred method of presenting or analyzing data.
The U.S. Census does not provide population estimates by race for Puerto Rico at the county-level; we used the island’s overall rate instead.
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  • Reporting: Kate Stohr and Deirdra Funcheon
  • Data analysis: Kate Stohr and Daniel McLaughlin
  • Data researchers: Taniesha Broadfoot and Rachel Connolly Kwock
  • Editing: Adam Weinstein and Rachel Schallom
  • Art direction: Kent Hernandez
  • Development: Andrell Bower