Lawyer gave convicts lessons in robbery

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The Independent Online
THE INMATES of San Francisco's county jail have seen plenty in their time, but this was a new one even for them. Last week the sheriff's department thoughtfully organised a seminar to teach them their civil rights. Even more thoughtfully, the lawyer running the class decided to teach them how to run rings around the police, how to wriggle their way out of search warrants, and even how to pick the right store to rob without encountering excessive security.

Sheriff's deputies looked on in amazement as role players in police uniforms depicted themselves as slow-witted, racist thugs, and the instructor, Katya Komisaruk, a civil rights lawyer, taught her 120 charges how to see through the trickery of "good cop, bad cop" interrogation routines. After several days of deputies raising hell, the course has now been hurriedly dropped - much to the embarrassment of the city authorities and the amusement of just about everyone else.

"What better way to reduce the city's jail population than teaching the criminals how not to get caught?" David Hardy, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association, asked sarcastically. "I can't believe that the taxpaying citizen could support the sheriff teaching people how to be better criminals."

Ms Komisaruk, a radical with a hell-raising past of her own - she served time in federal prison for smashing computers at the Vandenburg military base in California during an anti-nuclear protest nine years ago - insisted that everything she had said was legally accurate. The actors dressed up as policemen were meant to be entertaining, not demeaning.

There seemed to be disagreement, however, over whether her tips constituted civil rights education or merely instruction on how to avoid getting caught. Not only did she address the finer points of search warrants and the right to request the presence of a lawyer before agreeing to questioning, her advice included the words: "It's stupid to steal from the large chain stores. They have better security."

San Francisco has been running civil rights courses for prisoners - unheard of in the rest of the United States - for more than 20 years, thanks to the liberal credentials of the city's sheriff, Mike Hennessey, a former prisoners' rights activist and die-hard fan of the Sex Pistols. The sheriff's department said the classes would be resuming, but with another instructor.