Lead Story

In August Judge Robert Schillberg released shoplifter Leroy Kelley without penalty in Lynnwood, Washington, even though Kelley had pleaded guilty to stealing two packs of Marlboros from a Safeway store. Schillberg had fined Kelley $1, which the judge paid out of his own pocket because he believes “the store is more culpable than [Kelley] is” for selling such dangerous products as cigarettes in the first place.

Government in Action

Officials of the Katy Independent School District in Texas sent parents formal letters of apology in September for having distributed a sexual-conduct manual to all students from the first grade up. The manual listed behavior that would result in expulsion, including sexual contact with the genitals or anuses of animals.

In August the National Endowment for the Arts hurriedly withdrew funding it had granted to three California artists after it came under criticism in the New York Times. Artists David Avalos, Elizabeth Sisco, and Louis Hock were participants in La Frontera/The Border, a project that consisted of passing out signed $10 bills to illegal immigrants to demonstrate the impact they have on the economy. Said one recipient, “People don’t usually give us money.”

In August Food and Drug Administration agents raided a store in Columbus, Ohio, that had an inventory of “ear candles,” which are hollow candles that supposedly loosen hard-to-remove wax from a person’s ears. (The candle is placed in the ear and lit; the oxygen sucked from the canal creates a vacuum that loosens the earwax.) The FDA said neither the safety nor the effectiveness of the candles had been demonstrated.

In July the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rescinded an earlier decision it had made to fine a Boise, Idaho, plumbing company $8,000 for rules violations during the rescue of a construction worker trapped in a collapsed trench. Originally OSHA had cited the company because, among other things, rescue workers had failed to get and put on their hard hats before attempting the rescue.

Several members of Congress complained to President Clinton in August because the State Department had quietly moved nearly 1,000 Iraqi former prisoners of war to new homes in the U.S. and may ultimately provide homes for 3,000 more. Even though many of the POWs actually bore arms against the U.S. in the gulf war, the State Department says they are political refugees.

In Rome, Georgia, last fall Rusty Strickland, 23, was sentenced to 12 years in prison when a substance the police said was cocaine was found in plastic bags in his home. At the time of the arrest Strickland had begged for the police chemist to analyze the contents; the chemist affirmed that the substance was cocaine. After Strickland had served six months, police chemists ran another test and found that the bags had contained only soap. The original chemist, who had sworn in court that he had tested the substance but had not, was fired.

In July Sacramento police began a crackdown on the city’s homeless, writing numerous citations for illegal camping. But almost as fast as the citations came to court, the court clerk–following official procedures–voided them because they lacked home addresses for the accused.

In April in Quebec Andre Saint-Jean was finally given work–as assistant deputy minister in the Cultural Communities and Immigration Department. For the previous three and a half years he had been drawing about $74,000 (U.S.) annually, including one raise, doing absolutely nothing as vice president of the government’s legal-aid agency because his supervisor refused to assign him an office. Civil service rules require that an idle worker be paid as usual until a suitable assignment comes along.

In February in the midst of an abnormally wet winter and a $1 billion budget shortfall, according to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles County agreed to a six-month, $400-a-day contract with a Utah cloud-seeding company to be on standby in case of drought.

Creme de la Weird

Retired Mongolian physician Ichinnorof Dendev, 60, and two countrymen are in the middle of a nine-month walk from Mongolia to Seattle, where they hope to place flowers on the grave of Bruce Lee, whose movies are apparently very popular in Mongolia. As of early September, the trio were in Alaska trying to get from Nome to Fairbanks.

Least Competent Person

James Cramer, 25, and Rudolf Warren, 24, were arrested in August and charged with robbing four banks in Buffalo, New York. The pair came to the attention of police when officers made a routine traffic stop. Warren, who was alone and driving Cramer’s car, reached into the glove compartment and handed over all the papers, including the holdup note the two had been using (“I have a gun. Put all the money in the envelope quickly!”).

Least Dignified Death

Wilfredo Nunez, 43, died of head injuries after being swept off his feet by unusually strong currents in a New York City sewer in July while sifting through knee-deep water searching for coins and trinkets. Said a colleague, “It doesn’t smell that bad down there, and you don’t get that dirty.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.