"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Merlene Maten undoubtedly stands out in the prison where she has been held since Hurricane Katrina. The 73-year-old church deaconess, never before in trouble with the law, now sleeps among hardened criminals. Her bail is a stiff $50,000. Her offense? Police say the grandmother from New Orleans took $63.50 in goods from a looted deli the day after Katrina struck.
Family and eyewitnesses have a different story. They say Maten is an innocent woman who had gone to her car to get some sausage to eat but was wrongly handcuffed by tired, frustrated officers who couldn't catch younger looters at a nearby store. Not even the deli owner wants her charged....
Maten has been moved from a parish jail to a state prison an hour away. And the judge who set $50,000 bail by phone -- 100 times the maximum $500 fine under state law for minor thefts -- has not returned a week's worth of calls, her lawyer said.
Actually, on the basis of the available information - and you won't often hear me say this - I am fairly sympathetic to the police. They were trying to control the uncontrollable, and bring some order to anarchy, without the benefit of many resources or probably even much sleep. It is understandable that circumstances led to what, with the comfort of hindsight and a dry place to sit, looks like a serious error of judgment.
The judge who set the $50K bail for a $500 misdemeanor, however, is an utter moron.
Update 9/16/2005: Corrected dumb mistake (it was $50K bail, not a $50K fine).