Could a Low Heart Rate Make You More Likely to Commit Crime?

This week, JAMA published a study about the correlation between lower heart rate and propensity for criminality, violence, and injury. Pretty neat stuff. (As a side note, I always had an extremely law heart rate as an adolescent, so maybe there’s something to this …) Click on the image below for the full story.

dwi story

How Medical Marijuana Users Are Treated Like Criminals

Steve Green has epilepsy. His wife, Maria, has multiple sclerosis. Since 2011, they’ve been growing cannabis for medical use.

Everything they do is perfectly legal under state law in Michigan, where the couple resides. Maria is a registered caregiver—meaning that she’s allowed to grow 12 plants per patient—and both are qualifying patients.

Nonetheless, in 2013 Children’s Protective Services came in and removed the couple’s six-month-old unweaned infant, Bree. According to Steve, “Bree was ordered removed from our home because the judge said it was an inherently dangerous situation, that people could break in to steal the marijuana and steal the baby.”

The removal came despite the fact that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act notes, “A person shall not be denied custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act, unless the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.”

Sara Arnold, the director and co-founder of the Massachusetts-based Family Law and Cannabis Alliance (FLCA), a national nonprofit organization founded in 2013 and dedicated to advocating for medical marijuana parents, said that the Greens’ story is not unique. “It is extremely common,” she said.

She knows a thing or two about it because in addition to being an advocate and policy expert, Arnold is a medical marijuana parent herself.

“I was investigated by CPS for neglect three times for my medical marijuana use,” Arnold said. “My story is common; I was investigated after the birth of my first child after self-disclosure to my prenatal care provider and twice more from mandated reporters.” By law, people in certain professions—or in some states, all citizens—are mandated to report potential or actual neglect and abuse, which specifically includes drug use. She continued, “One of the mandated reporters had never met my child nor seen me parent her and had only read ‘medical marijuana’ in my medical records mentioned by a (supportive) physician; and the other did not want to make the report but believed they were mandated to do so.

“The outcome of these investigations resulted in the allegations not being substantiated and no further action taken by CPS, but investigation by CPS is still an intrusive, traumatic experience for any family—much less three times for the same thing. It is also a huge waste of limited CPS resources that is taking case workers away from real child neglect and abuse.”

Like Arnold, the Greens eventually got their daughter back—but only after six weeks of expensive legal wrangling.

Although the above cases were in Massachusetts and Michigan, those states aren’t cherry-picked examples. Arnold explained that similar situations happen everywhere: “This is a problem throughout the country. Obviously some states are worse than others (like Texas and Florida) but you might find it surprising that even states with mature medical marijuana programs still investigate their patients who are also parents. Even CPS in medical and legal Colorado still regularly and consistently investigate medical marijuana patients.”

Heather Thompson, a molecular biology PhD who works as the deputy director of a nonprofit known as The Elephant Circle, said that often CPS might get involved before the child is even born. Because the Denver-based organization advocates for new mothers, Thompson has become acquainted with the surprising ways in which legalization has played out in Colorado. Instead of creating a more permissive environment, Thompson said that legalization has created among medical professionals a heightened awareness of cannabis and thus some hospitals are now more likely to drug test newborn babies. She said, “That’s where federal law trumps state law—because it is Schedule 1 it is legal for someone at the hospital to test a baby for THC without the parents’ consent or knowledge. Then if they test positive, because it’s for a Schedule 1, then they have to involve CPS.”

She continued, “If a baby tests positive, it’s automatically a charge of neglect and abuse. There is no evidence to say that drug use equals abuse, but because of the climate in Colorado there’s a very punitive attitude toward parents in general who use marijuana.”

Thompson is not the only advocate quick to note the problems caused by conflicting federal and state laws; it’s something Jennifer Ani is very familiar with, too. Ani is a California-based attorney and child welfare specialist who handles cases where legal medical marijuana users and growers find themselves running afoul of CPS.

To some extent, funding is the source of the problem. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), was originally enacted in 1974 as a federal law to allocate CPS funding to states that meet certain federal standards. Ani said, “That’s where marijuana comes in. How do you reconcile that with medical marijuana laws?”

After a 2003 revision, CAPTA now requires states to have policies in place to report and address situations in which infants are born “affected” by illegal substance abuse. That can be problematic both because cannabis is still an illegal substance on the federal level and because the line between use and abuse can be unclear.

Ani said that, once the child is born, “Just the fact that a parent is breaking a federal law is not enough to remove a child [in California]. Regardless of the substance, in California, a parent can use any substance they want to as long as they’re not abusing it and that abuse does not affect the child.” Of course, whatever the law says, Ani said that the children of medical marijuana users are still being removed on a regular basis.

“It’s a problem,” Ani said, “because there’s so much ignorance as to the fact that it’s not harmful. Not only is it not harmful but it does not cause serious physical harm, as the law requires.”

In fact, according to Thompson, existing literature doesn’t even support the idea that marijuana use is harmful during pregnancy: “There has been research on pregnancy and marijuana since 1982 and Canada has been doing it since 1978, and there are very few clinical effects of marijuana. It does not seem to affect growth. If you take the literature as a whole, it does not seem to affect babies negatively in a way that can be documented.”

In a sense, Thompson said, it’s like the crack-baby myths of the 1980s and 1990s. The crack-baby myth—the belief that crack cocaine use during pregnancy would cause major damage to the fetus—grew out of a lack of well-designed studies and thus a lack of understanding. Now, medical marijuana users are facing a similar lack of understanding.

As Ani put it, “Families are being separated because of idiocy and incompetence and a failure to understand cannabis.”

As of now, some states—like Michigan—have language that should theoretically protect medical marijuana parents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way. As cited above, the law says that medical marijuana should only affect custody if “the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.” However, Arnold explained, “There is no definition of ‘unreasonable danger’ or ‘clearly articulated and substantiated.’ What this has often been interpreted to mean (including in Michigan) is that a) investigation is required of any parent found to use marijuana to ensure that there is no reasonable danger and b) that it can be widely subjective, to the point where the marijuana use itself…can simply be a sign of ‘unreasonable danger.’”

Despite the struggles medical marijuana parents are facing, Arnold remains optimistic. She explained that FLCA offers model language for parent-protective initiatives, such as one that has already been proposed in Massachusetts.

“Marijuana reformers,” she said, “are waking up to the fact that parental rights for patients matter, and social workers are waking up to the fact that it shouldn’t be their job to continue the war on marijuana to the detriment of children and families.”

This story originally appeared on The Fix.

The Incident at Danby: Standoff Between SWAT and David Cady

According to Ithaca Police Department (IPD) SWAT Commander Jake Young, there have been 34 barricaded suspect situations in Tompkins County since 1998—when the IPD tactical team was formed—and none of the others lasted nearly as long as the one at Hornbook Road between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing, in an interview conducted weeks after the event, expressed surprise that the confrontation with David Cady on Hornbrook Road in Danby went as long as it did.

What actually happened and when on Hornbrook Road? What is known about David Cady?

House at Hornbrook Road, Danby
David and Melissa Cady’s home after the barricade. (Image by Tommy Battistelli, from The Ithacan)


The DWI arrest that ultimately led to a standoff on Hornbrook Road occurred in November 2013. While traveling to a friend’s house in Danby, Cady was pulled over. He failed a breathalyzer test and admitted to drinking five beers at home before driving.

Cady pleaded to a “Driving While Intoxicated” charge, in this case a Class D Felony, since it was his third DWI.  The prosecution requested one to three years in state prison, but instead, in December 2013, Cady was given interim probation pending sentencing. Lansing said that Cady had already spent 20 to 25 days in the Tompkins County Jail for his earlier DWIs; he had served the time on weekends.

The following timeline is constructed from reports made to the Public Safety Committee (PSC) of the Tompkins County Legislature on Jan. 12 by Young, IPD Investigator and CINT member Michael Gray, State Police Lieutenant Todd Keister, and District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson and the interview with Lansing on Jan. 22.

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014

A bench warrant was issued after Cady missed a court appearance. Over the months that followed, according to Lansing, deputies repeatedly attempted without success to serve the arrest warrant. “Since October, we’d been there well over a dozen times,” said Lansing.

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014

7:46 p.m.: Two officers arrived at the 127 Hornbrook Road residence and made contact.  Initially, his wife Melissa said that Cady was not home, but the officers insisted that they heard him inside. Eventually, Melissa Cady admitted that her husband was at home. She also told the deputies that her husband was armed.

8:33 p.m.: When the reportedly armed David Cady refused to come out of the house, the decision to request a SWAT deployment was made and SWAT Commander and Ithaca Police Department Sergeant Jake Young was notified of the situation.

8:47 p.m.: Chief John Barber texted an email approval authorizing the activation of SWAT. The SWAT was activated  because officers on scene were told that David Cady had a loaded gun.

Shortly after 9 p.m.: Melissa Cady and her sons exited the premises.

Lansing said that Young made the calls for mutual aid on Tuesday evening, in part because of the weather. “Some of my officers were starting to feel that they were feeling hypothermia after half an hour,” he said. “That’s why he would call, not knowing for the weather.” Throughout the course of the standoff, a total of more than 100 officers were on scene (usually 30-40 at a given time), but Lansing said that had there been better weather it is possible that it would not have been necessary to call in so much help.

11:17 p.m.: Cady fired a shot out of an upstairs window. In his report to the Public Safety Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature Young said that at this time Cady insisted that the lights aimed at the house be turned off or “someone was going to get shot.” At this time the Elmira SWAT team was on its way and Young requested deployment of armored personnel carriers (APCs or “BearCats”) from Syracuse city police and the Onondaga County sheriff’s department.

Midnight: By this time negotiators had spoken with Cady 14 times and had attempted to get in contact with him by phone 44 times.

Morning, Wednesday, Dec. 31

2 a.m.: APCs owned by the New York State Police arrive. Over the next several hours the state police Special Operations Response Team (SORT) arrives at Hornbrook Road from around the state.

3:35 to 6 a.m.: At 3:35 a.m., Lansing said that officers prepared gas canisters for deployment.

4:16 a.m.: According to Lansing, the last direct contact with Cady was by phone at this time. Lansing said, “Cady stated that he’s armed up and come get him.”

5 a.m.: Melissa Cady said she heard a shot at this time. Lansing said that it could have been the police using of flashbangs—a non-lethal explosive device intended to disorient the subject—which began around 4:30 a.m.

5:45 a.m.: District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson arrives at the scene.

6 a.m.: Lansing arrives on the scene.

No one attempted to contact Lansing in earnest, he said in a Jan. 22 interview, “because they didn’t know they needed me. These incidents usually end within hours.” According to department protocol, the sheriff said, “The SWAT team is initiated by our people on the scene. It’s housed in the city, so they contact [IPD Chief] John Barber and the mayor. Jake Young, the SWAT commander, called for mutual aid. They know all about this stuff. I don’t.”

The sheriff was a mile and half from Hornbrook Road on Dec. 30, but he was in a location that was out of cell phone range. No one tried to reach him via a land line. He was checking his cell phone on his way to work at 6 a.m. on Dec. 31, saw the message and went immediately to the scene where his under sheriff, Brian Robison, was acting as “incident commander.”

The first gas deployment occurred at this time. There have been differing accounts of how many canisters of gas were deployed, with the lowest number being around 70. Young reported to the PSC that the gas was ineffective because the canisters were fired into the ceilings per procedure. The house had dropped ceilings, which, Young said, “caught” much of the gas.

7:40 a.m.: A BearCat armored vehicle was used to pry open the back door of the house, and two reconnaissance robots was sent in. They provided views of portions of the first floor, but stopped transmitting data after a short time.

Attorney William Furniss
Bill Furniss (by Tim Gera)

8:30 a.m.: After getting a voicemail from Melissa Cady, Bill Furniss—David Cady’s long-time attorney—arrived on the scene. He said, “I identified who I was and asked if I could try to speak to him. So the trooper called his sergeant and they said they’d keep it in mind. I gave them my contact information and went home.” He lives only three miles from Hornbrook Road. Furniss said that he asked four more times—three times by phone, once in person—to make contact with Cady.

“They turned me down,” the attorney said. “They kept saying that they didn’t have any way to communicate with him. I said, ‘Don’t you have a bullhorn, don’t you have a speaker system? The guy trusts me and I can help talk him out.’ The last time I talked to somebody they said, ‘We have made concessions for Dave, and he has not followed through on his part.’” IPD Investigator and negotiator Michael Gray has verified that concessions were made to Cady. Gray did not disclose the nature of the concessions, but said that he departed from training when he made them.

Afternoon, Wednesday, Dec. 31

1:30 p.m.: Lansing said the state police SORT wanted to enter into the house. “I looked at them and said, ‘Gentlemen, I’m not comfortable with that,’” Lansing recounted. In the Jan. 22 interview the sheriff said he didn’t believe that the SORT team could complete the operation before dark, which he thought made it too dangerous. Wilkinson was consulted in this decision, and she concurred with Lansing.

5:47 p.m.: Although the last direct contact with Cady was early Wednesday morning, Lansing said in the evening of that day officers using binoculars saw him through the windows at this time.

7:43 p.m.: A “throw phone” was launched into the house. It was equipped with a audio monitor, which picked up the sound of Cady’s movements. At 9:30 p.m. police hear him coughing. (Throw phones provide a direct connection to the negotiator in the absence of a working cell phone.)

11:11 p.m.: The electricity to the house is cut off. The land line telephone remained functional; the throw phone monitor picked up the sound of its ringing when negotiators attempt to contact Cady.

Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

7:52 a.m.: Police heard Cady coughing and clearing his throat.

Morning: Pennsylvania State Police arrived with a Rook, an armored vehicle that was used to create large openings in the home’s exterior. (The Rook, manufactured by Ring Power, Inc., a north Florida Caterpillar dealer, is an armored BobCat with several attachments, including a hydraulic breaching beam and a grapple claw.)

Afternoon: Police heard the sound of a washer and dryer being moved. It was the last sound picked up by the throw phone monitor in the house. Wilkinson left the Hornbrook Road scene having been there since Wednesday morning.

Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing
Ken Lansing (photo by Tim Gera)

Evening: Lansing said officers began using the Rook to remove the carport for better access to the home.

8 p.m.: The removal operation is stopped for the day.

Morning, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015

8 a.m.: Removal of the carport was resumed.

8:27 a.m.: The Rook removed a wall of the house and officers were able to see Cady, who they quickly realized was deceased.

What We Know About David Cady

He will now forever be known for the unfortunate series of events leading up to his death but, before all this, who was David Cady? We don’t really know.

According to Furniss, “I knew he was married with two kids, was a hardworking guy.” He added, “He worked at the Auto Salvage right next to the house until they closed up. I knew through the grapevine that they loved him.” Furniss said he’d known Cady for at least seven or eight years, maybe longer. In fact, they lived near one another, which is why Furniss was so easily able to come to the scene during the standoff.

After Auto Salvage of Ithaca closed, Cady went on to work at Willcox Tire and Auto on Elmira Road in Ithaca. Tom Shea, a mechanic at Willcox, said that he and Cady had worked together for about two years. “He was very outgoing, liked to fool around and have a good time,” said Shea. He added, “We miss him a lot. He was great.”

Danby Supervisor Ric Dietrich said that he knew David Cady, in part because Cady had been regularly attending town board meetings. Dietrich, who described Cady as “very polite, very respectful” explained, “He was in the process … of starting a business venture in town.” Cady, along with his friend and business partner William Kuhns, was planning to open a new automotive shop, Eagle Automotive. “They had already started construction, right across from the old Danby market in the center of town,” said Dietrich.

In her statements to the Danby town board on Jan. 14 Melissa Cady said, “My husband needed help. I told the police from the beginning that he was suicidal. He needed someone to help him, and all they did is bring in more and more and more police.”

Lansing said, due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws, he was not privy to any information about Cady’s mental health, but he would “assume probably” there were mental health issues. (The sheriff noted that he did not consider alcoholism in and of itself a mental health issue.)

The arrest that led to the Danby standoff was not Cady’s first brush with the law. He had previously been arrested for DWIs in Chemung County in 2004 and in Tompkins County in 2008. While the first DWI was not a felony, the second was—and he was on probation for the second one when he was arrested in 2013 for the DWI that led to the standoff in December. Since the third DWI was a D felony, the maximum sentence would have been 2 ⅓ to 7 years.

What Is Being Done

Danby Town Supervisor has called for an independent investigation. Tompkins County Legislature Chair Mike Lane (D-14th) said, “As far as launching any kind of an independent investigation there are currently no plans to do that.”

Lane said an investigation isn’t off the table though. For now, the next step is waiting for the full report from the Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff is still waiting for the full autopsy results, although Lane said that information may not necessarily be included in the full report. Although Lane said that some things in it may not be public record, the report will come before the legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

For his part, Lansing said that he is not opposed to an independent investigation: “To be honest,” he said, “if it would put people’s minds to rest that we weren’t covering up something … I have no problem with that.” •

Note: This article, co-authored by Bill Chaisson and Keri Blakinger, originally appeared in The Ithaca Times.