Space Invaders

Garlic mustard.Our little castle finds itself under siege once again:

Alliaria petiolata is an aggressive invader of wooded areas throughout the eastern and middle United States. A high shade tolerance allows this plant to invade high quality, mature woodlands, where it can form dense stands. These stands not only shade out native understory flora but also produce allelopathic compounds that inhibit seed germination of other species. Alliaria petiolata is native to Europe and was first introduced during the 1800s for medicinal and culinary purposes.

Though a member of the mustard family, when crushed or rubbed the leaves of A. petiolata generate a garlic scent — hence its more common name, garlic mustard. Apparently its leaves make a tasty pesto, a recipe I’m willing to try since I have so much of it growing on the edge of our woods.

I’m skeptical of the whole concept of invasive species; what some may see as imperialism by the exotic, I see as natural selection. A species using what it’s got to get what it wants is the engine of evolution. The first mudskipper who crawled onto land was an invader; so too are the first seeds to germinate in the black sands of a new volcanic island. Concern about invasive species here in the U.S. is less about conservationism and more about restoring it to an imagined pre-Columbian ideal. We know that American Indians altered the environment to suit them, drastically changing the Western Hemisphere as they found it, and yet we fantasize about furbishing the land to how it appeared in 1491.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If we buy an old house, we may admire aspects or details from an older period (like, say, the original hardwood floors) and strip away modern additions that obscure them (wall-to-wall carpeting). But we’re conscious of making those choices and acknowledging those preferences. When we label a species as invasive, we intend it pejoratively. We mean that we simply don’t like them. The Earth is a garden, a place where we discriminate between species: we water the elephants and weed the smallpox. What’s so wrong with admitting that to ourselves?

For a few short hours in this lifetime, our acre is my garden — and I don’t like garlic mustard. The stuff spreads like a brush fire and seems headed straight for our lawn; thus I’ve started the four-to-five year process of eliminating it from our yard. It’s notable that some studies showed that outbreaks of garlic mustard didn’t damage species diversity, so the stuff is hardly kudzu. But it’s easily recognizable with its serrated heart-shaped leaves and white cruciform flowers and pulls easily, especially after a rainstorm. I think Connecticut has already lost the battle — or at least is in the process of evolving — because I see it everywhere I go, and who’s going to yank it from public land or along the roadsides and in the abandoned lots? No one. But I mutter a prayer to Saint Jude and pull it anyway.

SCOTUS to Cops: Time to Face the Music

On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal (pdf) filed by police officers who participated in the 2008 raid on the Easton, Connecticut home of Ronald Terebesi, Jr.

If you recall, the SWERT tactical team composed of officers from six neighboring towns raided Terebesi’s house in response to a tip from an exotic dancer who said two men were smoking crack cocaine in Terebesi’s living room. The raid — which involved all the usual hallmarks: flashbangs, battering down the front door, setting the house on fire — ended with cops shooting and killing Terebesi’s unarmed friend Gonzalo Guizan. Paraphernalia and less than a tenth of an ounce of a suspicious substance was recovered from the house. Terebesi completed a brief drug program and was never charged with any crimes.

Both Terebesi and Guizan’s estate filed civil suits against five of the towns (Westport being the outlier) and the individual officers involved. The Guizan family settled with the towns for $3.5 million. In Terebesi’s case, the cops argued that their acting in their official capacities as town employees granted them qualified immunity and requested summary judgment. Both the District Court and the US Court of the Appeals for the Second District disagreed, and now SCOTUS has tacitly done so too.

The case is headed to trial in New Haven and currently assigned to Judge Janet Bond Arterton, the same District Court judge who wrote the scathing decision denying the officers’ qualified immunity in the first place:

[Monroe police sergeant Jay] Torreso maintains that he is entitled to qualified immunity because his personal conduct was objectively reasonable. However, Torreso is alleged to have been personally involved in what is plausibly described as an objectively unreasonable raid, given the minimal threat posed, the extreme force used, and the circumstances surrounding his no-knock entry. … Therefore, he has not shown that he is entitled to qualified immunity at this stage.

Arterton, who has a reputation for dropping the hammer, has presided over a number of high-profile cases; she recently sentenced former governor John Rowland to 30 months for campaign fraud and conspiracy. And I’m sure the judge will turn a fond eye upon the testimony of William Ruscoe, one of the SWERT cops named in the suit, who’s currently serving time for raping a teenager.

Terebesi’s lawyer, Gary Mastronardi, believes the case will go to court this year. “Because of the age of the case, the judge will be riding roughshod over the lawyers to move this quickly,” he said.

As for his client’s chances, Mastronardi said, “Both rulings in the Second Circuit and the Supreme Court were expected. Evidence is the evidence and they can’t make the evidence disappear.”

Local Cop Rapes Teen, Gets 2.5 Years

This happened last month but I just learned about it: William Ruscoe, a Trumbull police officer who was a member of the SWERT team that murdered Gonzalo Guizan during the May 2008 raid in Easton, CT, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for raping a teenager. Ruscoe’s plea bargain called for five years prison time in exchange for him pleading guilty to second-degree sexual assault. Instead the judge gave him half that. Why? Because some animals are more equal than others, of course:

During the emotion-packed hearing the victim urged the judge to impose the plea bargained 5-year prison term on Ruscoe.

“I was completely betrayed by someone I looked up to as a role model,” the girl told the judge. “I still wake up in a pool of sweat after having a nightmare where I yell stop and no, the two words I yelled that night at him.”

State’s Attorney John Smriga added that five years was the appropriate sentence.

“It’s not that he (Ruscoe) just had a bad day, this was an action that was planned out,” he said.

But [Superior Court Judge Robert] Devlin, while acknowledging that children need to be protected said he was giving Ruscoe credit for his years of good service with the police department.

As if after Ferguson and Eric Garner anybody needed more proof that there is one rule of law for police and another for the rest of us. I know that plea bargains aren’t set in stone and I’ve read several stories where defendants received harsher sentences than what they agreed to, but I’ve never read about someone being sentenced to less than the prearranged jail time. William Ruscoe is a monster. And frankly, so is Judge Devlin.

Via Simple Justice.

This Way to Pleasure Beach

Eighteen years after the burned bridge cut off access, Pleasure Beach has been reopened. I didn’t manage to go out there via the water taxis that ran during the summer but a Veterans Day expedition confirmed that the pavilion has been renovated, the boardwalk repaired, and amenities such as picnic tables and trash cans provided.

Pavilion at Pleasure Beach, 2014.

I confess I’ve expressed some cynicism on the subject but I suppose nearly two decades is still a short wait to the people who run the DMV. Though everything was locked up for the season, the lights were on and we even met a park ranger — the first time I’ve ever encountered someone out there. “It’s a long walk from Stratford,” he said. Yes, but still easier than loading two kids and a dog on a paddleboard.

The beach is pristine, the sand much softer and cleaner than Fairfield’s. There’s talk of building ball fields and visitors are free to bring their bikes over and ride the old cracked roads. It’s so nice you can almost forget you’re in Bridgeport.

A Connecticut County in Bill Penn’s Grant

Wyoming Valley by Jasper Francis Cropsey

I have a story at the Journal of the American Revolution about the absolutely true tale of Westmoreland County, a piece of northeastern Pennsylvania claimed by Connecticut as part of King Charles’s grant creating the colony:

The Susquehannah Company was founded in July 1753, when 152 subscribers adjourned in Windham, Connecticut to pay “Two Spanish Mill’d dollars” to join a new joint-stock venture. Declaring “Thatt Whereas we being desirous to Enlarge his Majesties English Settlements In North America and further To Spread Christianity as also to promote our own Temporal Interest,” their aim was to settle an area of the Susquehanna River beyond New York’s borders. … The Company proposed to settle at Wyoming, on the west bank of the river about 50 miles southeast of Tioga. Its clean soil and the scarcity of Native American settlements made it ideal to the Company members. More to the point, they believed the area was included in the Connecticut grant as per the 1662 charter.

I’ve mentioned before how, in the mid-aughts, I shopped a book idea called Lost States, detailing efforts at American state making that went pear-shaped. The book’s sample chapter, all 18,000 words of it, dealt with the first half of the Westmoreland story; this would have been followed by second and third chapters on the Republic of Vermont (using Ethan Allen’s involvement in the Susquehannah Company to segue into the conflict between New York and New Hampshire) and the resolution of the Westmoreland project. Lost States never went anywhere, and I very briefly sent around a proposal focusing solely on Westmoreland until I finally realized not everyone was as fascinated by the history as I was. Fortunately, the editors and readers at the JAR love this kind of stuff. My article is a distillation of that sample chapter.

Even today Westmoreland continues to mesmerize me, especially the religious angle. Was the Company’s obstinate refusal to take no for an answer a result of the New Light zealotry of its members?

Second Circuit Slaps Down Cops’ Appeal

Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision regarding the 2008 tactical raid in Easton, CT that killed Gonzalo Guizan. After homeowner Ronald Terebesi and Guizan’s estate sued the police involved for civil-rights violations, the cops had asked for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied. The police then appealed.

The Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on every point save one: that because “there is no clearly established right in this Circuit to be free from the deployment of a tactical team in general,” [Easton police chief John] Solomon was within his rights to activate the SWERT team in the first place (the town of Easton, probably upon reviewing their insurance premiums after the settlement with Guizan’s estate, appears to have disagreed: Solomon’s contract was not renewed and he was shown the door). But on every other count the court tilted in Terebesi’s favor, noting that the use of stun grenades, being pinned by the officers’ shields, the poor planning and approval of the raid, and even the failure of officers to intervene to stop it are constitutional grounds for a trial.

Read my whole story about it over at Reason.com.