Friday, August 22, 2008

Nuts Over Blogs

In the last couple of years, as I see it, Portsmouth’s Police Chief Charles Horner has been acting as squirrelly as Captain Queeg, who was a character in the 1954 Oscar-showered movie The Caine Mutiny. Queeg, played brilliantly by Humphrey Bogart, was captain of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Caine, who became obsessed with the strawberries that he was convinced were being pilfered by somebody on the ship. Never mind that a war was going on, Queeg wanted to find out who had been taking more than their share of strawberries from the ship’s stores. He became obsessed with strawberries the way Horner is with local websites. Horner long ago surrendered in the war on drugs, because he had bigger fish to fry – barely literate bloggers, some of whom were also geriatric domestic terrorists.

Queeg called a meeting of his officers at 1 AM to get to the bottom of the missing strawberries. In an equally bizarre incident, early on Wednesday, May 4th, 2008, at the corner of Market and 4th Streets, Horner gathered a crack team consisting of himself, a half dozen police officers, the Chief of the Portsmouth Fire Department, someone from the Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco Agency, and two drug sniffing dogs. Horner had assembled this pit crew in an attempt to bust Portsmouth businessman Lee Scott who, among other exasperating things, had been criticizing Horner for years on “Moe’s Forum,” a popular chatroom on a local website.

Internal Investigation

According to an internal investigation report issued by two retired law enforcement officials, after assembling his crack team on Market Street, “Chief Horner then ordered investigators to maintain a log of all individuals who were at the scene of the Scott vehicle search. In particular, Chief Horner wanted the names and actions of those allegedly associated with local websites and The Shawnee Sentinel.” A resident of 4th Street, I was one of those across the street, and since I am associated with a local website, and have posted about a half dozen blogs on Horner, I was presumably one of those Horner ordered his officers to keep a log on, whatever that means. Is a log anything like a blog? But the only action I was taking that afternoon was trying to snap a photo of Horner, but he was camera shy and kept hiding behind one of the police vehicles. Claudette Ferguson told me she had been trying to get Horner’s picture for some time, but he wouldn’t show himself. He was acting very peculiar, like Captain Queeg.

Market St., May 14, 2008: Horner's Final Botched Drug Bust

Horner had complained a few years earlier that websites were “crucifying” his family. What he was apparently referring to was Doug Deepe-John Welton’s report in The Sentinel that Horner’s son had been arrested for dealing drugs, and that a judge had later ordered all information related to the young Horner’s case expunged from court records. The Portsmouth Daily Times, typically, had not reported on Horner’s drug arrest, certainly not on the front page, which that newspaper reserves for important news, like the mayor’s daughter rescuing a duck from a drain, Portsmouth being mentioned in a nationally syndicated cartoon, and councilman Malone announcing a campaign to clean up Portsmouth’s streets, not of drug dealers and prostitutes but of litter. Hold the presses!

Horner had lost the war on drugs, and is it any wonder when his own son was on the other side? Because local websites focused on drug dealers and prostitutes and the chief’s failure to reduce their numbers, Horner became obsessed with those websites, including not just the pioneering Sentinel but the invaluable websites of Councilman Bob Mollette and his wife Teresa. It was obvious Horner was tracking the Mollettes’ websites compulsively, but he was also monitoring “Moe’s Forum,” and there were rumors he adopted a pseudonym and participated anonymously in the threads on that chatroom. I doubt that, but a lot of things I once couldn’t believe about Portsmouth,and America, have turned out to be true. When upholders of family values like Senator Craig turns up with his pants down in an airport bathroom, who is to say who you might be exchanging words with in a chatroom?

Car Wars

Being police chief in Portsmouth is a highly stressful occupation. Working for a mayor who learned nothing in trade school except how to be a tool can be a demoralizing experience. Competing with a failed grocery clerk for who has the most impressive eight-cylinder gas hog would take a psychological toll on anyone but especially on someone who has as much pride and as little common sense as Horner. How long could anyone drive a hand-me-down Cadillac Escalade from a busted drug dealer who did not graduate from high school and not suffer a severe loss of self-esteem? The rumor that there is a struggle currently going on between Mayor Kalb and the police department over who is going to get the new red Dodge Charger is the kind of turf war that has given Horner the equivalent of mental turf toe. If the whole city suffers a loss of prestige when Mayor Kalb has to drive an unsexy white city sedan to work each Thursday morning at Kroger’s, where he still works part time, how much more humiliating is it for Portsmouth when its well-spoken chief of police, not half as dumb as the mayor, has to drive a pre-owned Escalade?

It is clearer now, in retrospect, that for the sake of his mental health, Horner should have ignored local websites. Instead he provided them with lots of publicity and gained them readers they would not otherwise have had. I have no idea how many of the 127,000 hits River Vices has had can be attributed to Horner. But I do know that addiction to the internet has become a serious problem in America, not just for teenagers but for compulsive shoppers, out-of-pocket-money gamblers, Solitaire addicts, and compulsive-obsessive law enforcement officials. Horner may suffer from IAD, (Internet Addiction Disorder) and his lawyer may already be laying the groundwork for his client to retire with a mental disability. The unspecified medical condition Horner has cited as his reason for not previously talking to the internal investigators may escalate by August 27, the date at which Horner is supposed to answer questions in the mayor’s office. If Horner does retire non compos mentis, it will be a red badge, or perhaps I should say, red Dodge of courage. Like Captain Queeg cracking under wartime pressure and wandering in strawberry fields forever, Horner may be about to become a disabled veteran of the war against bloggers. That he may be guilty of obstruction of justice, insubordination, intimidation, and lying, as the internal report suggests, does not come as a surprise to this blogger. Victims of IAD cannot help themselves. The internal report points out that Horner drove one of his officers to a nervous breakdown. No one in city government has as much drive as Horner, but since he doesn’t have a brake, he’s a menace. According to the internal report, Horner “caused the officer significant mental anguish which resulted in that officer being hospitalized for anxiety-related issues.” Because of those blasted blogs, Horner may be headed for the same hospital, and other city officials may follow, because Horner is not the only one in city government who is nuts over blogs.

24/7 Blogger Surveillance Room