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What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.
This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Monday, March 20, 2023
Sunday, March 19, 2023
US Christian group accused of covering up sexual abuse of minors | US news | The Guardian
US Christian group accused of covering up sexual abuse of minors
"Lawsuits claim International Churches of Christ leaders failed to report as well as plotted to conceal abuse of women and children
Michele “Chele” Roland was looking for salvation when she joined the International Churches of Christ. She never imagined that, three decades later, she would lead a legal battle accusing the controversial Christian religiousorganization of enabling and covering up the sexual molestation of children in its congregation, among other alleged abuses, but that’s exactly what she’s doing.
“They have covered the spectrum of abuse,” Roland said. “This is abuse of power – spiritually, physically, psychologically, financially and sexually.”
Roland and her attorney, Bobby Samini, have filed a series of lawsuits against the International Churches of Christ – abbreviated as ICOC – which allege that its leaders failed to report as well as plotted to conceal the sexual and emotional abuse of women and children who worshipped alongside them.
One of the lawsuits is from Roland herself. She accuses the church and its leaders of fostering an exploitative environment that resulted in her sexual assault by an ICOC recruit. Collectively, her complaint and the others accuse the ICOC of being a dangerous cult – the Los Angeles-based organization with about 118,000 congregants vehemently denies that characterization while saying it is on a fact-finding mission about the abuse allegations.
The lawsuits, which seek damages, describe disturbing instances of molestation against minors. And they accuse the ICOC, its founder, Thomas “Kip” McKean, and associated organizations of creating “a widespread culture of acceptance of the abuse of children”.
“What happened to your girls isn’t that big of a deal,” a church elder allegedly told a mother of two young girls who were sexually assaulted on church grounds, according to a February filing. “Most girls have been molested by the time they reach 18.”
Five women filed a complaint in December that said the ICOC failed to stop convicted pedophile and church member David Saracino from sexually assaulting them when they were between the ages of four and 17. According to the legal documents, Saracino received a 40-year prison sentence for raping a four-year-old in 2004.
Another February filing asserts that Anthony M Stowers, a transgender man, was molested from the age of three while in an ICOC preschool’s care. The legal documents allege that Stowers’s abuse occurred as ICOC members and leaders who were not employees of his school were given unfettered access to students.
Stowers, in the filing, recalls “many instances” in which he was pulled out of classes and brought to another ICOC property where he was molested as well as filmed and photographed while nude.
Like many of the other plaintiffs who attach their names to the allegations in the lawsuits, Stowers’s abuse purportedly continued into his teenage years, when he says he attempted to alert church leaders several times. His complaint asserts that ICOC staffers who were legally obliged to immediately notify authorities of his reports of abuse, including counselors, doctors, and psychologists, “actively concealed [them] and took no remedial action”.
That legal obligation existed whether or not they believed Stowers had evidence to back up his accusations, according to his complaint.
“They’re so brazen because they’ve gotten away with it,” Roland said of the lawsuits. Adding that other instances of abuse drove victims to suicide, Roland added: “They didn’t think they were going to get caught because of the statute of limitations. They’re like, ‘It’s been ten years! We’re all safe, right?’ No, dumbasses. You’re not.”
For years accusers were held back from seeking legal action against the ICOC because of statutes of limitation that generally prohibit suing for long ago harm. But two newly enacted California laws helped set the stage for the cases against the ICOC.
The Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act as well as the California Child Victims Act extended time limits that victims of sexual abuse have to initiate legal proceedings, effectively giving those who were minors when they were molested a second chance to seek justice.
As the bills were signed into law, Roland – who hosts a podcast for cult survivors called Whatheflok – says she started getting inundated with messages from former ICOC members who wanted to share their stories of abuse. Roland said that was an eye-opening moment for her.
Using a legal pseudonym that is often invoked in court cases involving sexual violence, she said: “I am Jane Doe 1, so I knew there was abuse. But I thought I was an enigma. I didn’t think it happened to many other people.”
These first-hand accounts galvanized Samini to take on the case.
“I did not expect to be so personally affected by the stories from our survivors,” said Samini, whose past clients include rapper T-Pain and DJ Paul of the Oscar-winning group Three 6 Mafia. “It’s very hard, day after day after day, to hear people tell you that they were sexually abused by people in their church that they trusted.”
Roland and Samini say they are working with at least 100 more alleged victims. “At this point, it’s a bottomless pit,” said Roland, saying she and Samini have gotten a thousand calls from people with similar claims. “We are getting more calls every day.”
Social activist and former ICOC member Justine Lieberman said she had been working with victims of spiritual and sexual abuse in the church organization for the last decade. Lieberman described a noticeable shift in recent months. “I have been fielding calls and connecting with victims and survivors daily since November – so many that I lost my voice at one point,” she said. “We have been non-stop taking calls at all hours.”
Similarly, former ICOC member Chris Lee, the executive director of Reveal, an online resource for former cult members, said he has also been fielding calls from fellow ex-members.
“I’m a man in my 50s, so I’m not likely to be the first person that women turn to when they’re telling us their stories of rape or sexual harassment,” said Lee. “And yet, over the last year, I heard from at least three people.”
California State University sociology professor emerita Janja Lalich, who leads the Knowledge Center on Cults and Coercion, said she believes the ICOC has at least some of the “hallmarks of a cult”. One aspect that she specifically mentioned was the lawsuits’ description of a religious culture that was permissive of molestation and never reported it to authorities ostensibly to avoid scandal.
“Anything can be done in the name of the belief system – that’s where the abuse comes in,” Lalich said.
ICOC officials have publicly denied that their organization, which they described as decentralized, is a cult. But otherwise they haven’t addressed the lawsuits.
Founder Kip McKean’s attorney, Anthony J Fernandez, would not comment beyond saying his client is “continuing to gather information about the allegations” in the lawsuits against ICOC.
“There are serious allegations and we are working to investigate the bases of the claims and determine the proper legal response,” he said."
Memphis police who beat Tyre Nichols trained as academy lowered standards - The Washington Post
Memphis police academy cut corners while scrambling to hire, officers say
"Five ex-officers charged with beating Tyre Nichols were hired at a time of lower standards and scrutiny, current and former officers say
Years before the brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis Police Department relaxed academic, disciplinary and fitness standards at its training academy in an effort to fill widespread vacancies, opening the door for the hiring of officers who could become dangerous liabilities, nine current and former officers who recruited and trained academy students said.
After the city slashed pension benefits in 2014, and as high-profile police misconduct cases across the country began to sour public opinion of the profession, many officers left the department, and fewer applicants expressed interest, according to department statistics and interviews with current and former officers.
Hoping to boost admissions, the department announced in 2018 that it would defer college credit requirements for recruits, allowing applicants with high school diplomas and multiple years of work experience to join the force and pledge to attend college later. The city announced a $15,000 signing bonus for police recruits in 2021, and in 2022, the department said it was adjusting qualifying marks in fitness in an effort to exclude fewer applicants.
Additional changes were made but not announced publicly, according to nine current and former academy instructors, supervisors and recruiters, five of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals and, in some cases, are still employed by the department.
The academy became more lenient in grading, and students were allowed more chances to retake exams — including at the shooting range — after failures that would have led to dismissal under previous rules, the current and former officers said. Incidents of cheating did not always trigger dismissal, as in the past, four officers said. Struggling students were invited to study sessions in which they were taught upcoming test material straight from exam books.
The broad overhaul was implemented by then-Police Chief Michael Rallings and his successor, Chief Cerelyn Davis, under the direction of Mayor Jim Strickland (D). It resulted in larger class sizes at the academy while maintaining high graduation rates for recruits, including the five officers charged with murder in connection with Nichols’s death in January. In extensive interviews with The Washington Post, the veteran officers involved in training and supervising new hires said the changes created conditions that made incidents like the Nichols beating more likely.
“They baby these recruits and do everything they can to help them pass the tests so they don’t lose the body,” said Brian McNamee, a former Memphis police lieutenant and supervisor of training for the department from 2019 to 2021. “That’s a problem. If somebody can’t pass the tests and can’t grasp the material, you don’t want them on the streets policing you.”
The department didn’t respond to repeated requests for information about the recruits, policy changes and incidents described in this article. Davis, the chief, and Strickland, the mayor, declined interview requests. Rallings, the former police chief, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Memphis academy, which requires more hours of instruction than state standards, still produced hundreds of quality cops over the seven-year period, the current and former officers said. But dozens of less skilled, poorly trained students joined them in graduation, they said.
One student graduated the academy in 2017 after multiple allegations of wrongdoing — including accusations of sexually harassing an instructor, the former instructors said. He resigned two years later after turning off his body camera during a traffic stop and shooting a fleeing suspect, according to department records.
Policing experts said it was difficult to know whether police departments beyond Memphis are making similar changes at their academies because few make information about their training programs public. But they said departments of all sizes are experiencing similar staffing shortages.
The Memphis department is nearly 400 officers short of Strickland’s 2017 goal of employing at least 2,300. And it is reeling from the fallout related to Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died Jan. 10, three days after being pulled over by officers and pummeled, Tasered and kicked as he called out for his mother.
Seven officers have been fired, and five of them are facing second-degree murder and other charges, a situation that critics of the hiring and training standards at the department say could have been avoided. All the officers have pleaded not guilty. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced a review of the department’s training, policies and activities that relate to using force, de-escalation efforts and operating specialized units.
“We would voice our concerns, and it would go on deaf ears,” said James Lash, a former academy instructor and Crisis Intervention Team coordinator for the Memphis department who retired in 2022. “There were several officers in that group with Tyre Nichols that everybody wondered about when they were in the academy. You reap what you sow.”
More recruits, more problems
Six years before police officer Desmond Mills Jr. swung a baton at Nichols on Jan. 7, Mills was a recruit in the academy’s 123rd session. It was the largest class in recent memory — 110 recruits, compared with 39 the previous session. Instructors who led the session remember it as the beginning of the academy’s decline.
Unimpressed with the recruit pool, they soon abandoned hopes of replicating the previous session’s 79 percent graduation rate, Lash and three instructors said. But 85 of the students graduated, 77 percent of the class, a reflection — according to their instructors — of how the standards had changed.
Publicly, city officials celebrated, with Mayor Strickland praising Chief Rallings in a guest column in the Commercial Appeal. “We made rebuilding MPD staffing a major priority — and found innovative ways to make it happen,” Strickland wrote.
Early in the 21-week session, a female recruit told academy leaders that a male recruit, Jamarcus Jeames, was bragging that he would soon have sexual intercourse with a female instructor, Lash and three instructors said. While the academy conducted an internal investigation, the female instructor filed a complaint with the city, according to two instructors with knowledge of her actions. Both complaints were dismissed, and after the session ended, the instructor who filed the complaint was transferred out of the academy, the instructors said.
The police department did not respond to questions about the complaints. Jeames denied the allegations but declined to elaborate.
Later in the session, an instructor was told Jeames had been detained by a Shelby County sheriff’s deputy after falling asleep in his car late at night outside a restaurant, according to three instructors with knowledge of the situation. The deputy released him because no officer trained to administer DUI tests was available, an instructor was told. Instructors filed a disciplinary charge against Jeames for not disclosing a contact with law enforcement during academy enrollment, a violation of academy rules, but the charge was dismissed, the instructors said.
Thirteen months later, in 2018, Jeames shot a man who had fled in his vehicle from a traffic stop and was carrying a pistol. Jeames told investigators the man, Martavious Banks, had brandished the gun before Jeames shot him five times, according to the department. Banks survived.
Jeames was not charged, and an internal investigation ruled the shooting justified. But investigators found Jeames violated multiple department policies in the moments leading up to the shooting, including turning off his body camera, according to two officers familiar with the findings of the internal investigation.
Jeames resigned from the police force in February 2019. That August, he was arrested by Memphis police for suspicion of public intoxication, assault and driving under the influence. The arrest is not listed in court records, and Jeames said the charges were dismissed.
At the academy, meanwhile, the department maintained its high graduation rates by ignoring rules described in its own policy manual, the current and former instructors said. It allowed students to fail multiple exams without consequences, Lash, McNamee and the other officers told The Post. And when instructors uncovered incidents of students cheating on examinations or during timed physical fitness tests, the inquiries often went nowhere, Lash and three former instructors said.
The academy staff was by then divided into two camps: those who supported or condoned the changes and those who objected, Lash and four officers said. Officers who pushed back were encouraged to transfer.
“If you didn’t like it, we were told flat-out by several commanders, ‘You should put in your paperwork and leave,’” said one former instructor still employed by the department. “‘You can go back to the car and start humping calls. But if you like having weekends off, you’ll do what you’re told to do.’”
Changes in academy practices were communicated not through emails or in meetings, but by word of mouth on a case-by-case basis, the officers said. And they continued under Davis, who joined the department as chief in June 2021.
During the 135th training session, which began in August of that year, firearms instructors told the rest of the academy staff that three recruits failed their final shooting exams, two instructors said. Such a result historically meant dismissal from the academy — a red line that many instructors considered sacred, given the risk involved with employing officers who can’t properly use their weapons.
Several instructors began processing dismissal paperwork for the three recruits, the two former instructors said. Then they were contacted by a supervisor.
“We get a call saying, ‘Nope, we’re not firing people anymore, tell firearms they’re coming back to the class, and they’re going to do remedial training,’” said a former instructor who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “As a citizen, I don’t know how people feel about that, but I kind of want my officers to be proficient at their weapons.”
McNamee, the former supervisor of training, said many instructors were crestfallen at the crumbling of standards.
“It was disheartening and disappointing to the majority of them,” he said. “It’s an important job. You’re training the future officers on the street who are going to be protecting you and your family.”
Alvin Davis, a Memphis police officer since 2000, was transferred to the academy recruiting unit in 2021 after teaching there years earlier. He said he was stunned by how much had changed.
Memphis officers participated in 25 recruiting events in 2011 and processed 803 applications. By 2021, the recruiters were going to more than 200 events a year and processing more than 4,000 applications, Davis said. For every person who applied, scores of others ignored the recruiters or insulted them, especially at high schools.
“We heard ‘f--- the police’ all the time from the kids at the schools,” Davis said. “It’s not a job that you stick your chest out and take pride in anymore.”
As interest in joining the police waned, supervisors ordered the recruiters to travel. Davis made trips to states including Colorado, California and Florida. He said he eventually grew frustrated, not just because of the changes in hiring standards, but also because of long-standing Memphis practices such as not formally interviewing applicants during the hiring process.
“They said it was too time-consuming to do an interview,” said Davis, who retired last year, “so instead of taking the time, you end up hiring these five knuckleheads who might have told you they wanted to be police so they could beat people up.”
The department declined a request to detail its application process for academy admission.
McNamee, the former training supervisor, said the department also has done a subpar job with background investigations of recruits. While many departments seeking to hire former Memphis officers send investigators to review disciplinary files and interview an applicant’s neighbors, colleagues and friends, Memphis doesn’t expend those resources, McNamee said.
“They are understaffed in background investigations and overworked,” McNamee said.
Another officer charged with killing Nichols, Demetrius Haley, was sued in 2016 by an inmate who alleged Haley beat him unconscious as a corrections officer in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. The suit was dropped after documents were not properly served. The Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Corrections Department did not respond to requests to disclose details of Haley’s hiring, including whether the inmate’s allegations were investigated.
Haley has declined in the past to discuss the lawsuit, and his lawyer did not return an email seeking comment for this article.
Haley and the other four officers charged with murdering Nichols are Black. Each joined the department after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, which triggered protests across the country and a renewed focus on diversifying law enforcement and revamping police training curriculums.
The hiring of Haley and several of the others coincided with a years-long effort in Memphis to field a police force that better reflected the racial makeup of the city. In 2014, the department was 46.7 percent White, while the city of Memphis is 27 percent White, according to Census Bureau data. The department is now 37 percent White, according to the city’s website.
Memphis academy instructors said the racial dynamics involved in hiring in recent years — combined with the department’s staffing push — ruled out disciplinary measures they had once relied upon.
During the first week of the 123rd session, in 2017, a car blew past an instructor driving to the academy, going well over the speed limit, the instructor told Lash and others. The instructor told colleagues he caught up to the driver at a stoplight and followed him into the academy, making note of the name on the back of the driver’s uniform after he exited the vehicle, Lash and three others said.
In a meeting room with the entire class present, instructors identified the student and revealed what he’d done, said Lash, who said he considered the incident a teaching moment.
“It’s been determined you’re a reckless driver,” Lash recalled telling the recruit. “What should we do? We’re cops. We’re supposed to uphold the law.”
Lash’s lieutenant then proffered a pair of handcuffs, and Lash cuffed the recruit and led him out of the room and into a hallway. The recruit burst into tears, Lash said. He described uncuffing the recruit and talking to him about how police operate in a fishbowl. A few minutes later, he said, the recruit was allowed to rejoin the class.
The next day, Lash, his lieutenant and two other instructors were summoned to Rallings’s office to explain themselves, Lash said. The instructors were White, and the recruit was Black. Rallings said he’d received a complaint accusing the officers of racial bias and considered the handcuffing unacceptable, Lash recalled.
The lieutenant took responsibility, Lash said. He was soon working a midnight patrol shift, his time with the academy cut short. The lieutenant, who is still employed by the department, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“We really don’t have any support. That’s what that said to us,” Lash said of Rallings’s response to the incident. “They just want somebody there to check the boxes. And for a lot of us, that was really hard. Everybody we train may end up in a car with me.”
Until they left the academy, Lash and other former instructors said, they were told repeatedly to build a more collegial atmosphere instead of barking orders and criticism in the manner of drill instructors. Advocates for reform in police training argue that military-style academy training leads to a “warrior” policing mentality. Lash said his verbal barbs were aimed at creating stress so students could learn to avoid overreacting or becoming paralyzed by fear in tense situations.
“You do that by being aggressive and using curse words that some people may have not ever heard,” Lash said. “Unfortunately, you’re going to deal with some unsavory characters on the street. And if you get flustered, are you still going to be able to communicate, move and react the way you need to react? The academy got away from that.”
The officers who spoke to The Post offered a rare glimpse into the world of police training, given the secretive nature of law enforcement culture, said Robin S. Engel, senior vice president of the National Policing Institute. She said there’s no guarantee the Memphis academy was providing exemplary training even before the culture shift.
“There’s no consistent standard in police training across the country, or even within states, or even sometimes within a single academy,” Engel said. “Unfortunately, we don’t really know what works best for police training. They don’t share the data, and they often don’t look themselves.”
Anecdotally, former officers who supervised recent Memphis academy graduates described a generation that lacked communication skills, struggled with report writing and hadn’t been tested emotionally in the academy. Supervisors said they encountered young officers who described joining the department for the signing bonus and opportunities for overtime pay, rather than a desire to serve the public.
Lt. Chester Striplin retired in 2019, years after helping the academy get accredited nationally. He said he saw a decline in competence in his final years on the force.
“They don’t know how to go from zero to a scale of five. They’re always at one of two levels — either zero or 10,” Striplin said of newly trained officers. “And you found that they weren’t able to articulate when to de-escalate the situation that they were in. The supervisors had to be called a lot more than ever before.”
Excessive-force complaints against Memphis officers peaked at 59 in 2020 after the department logged 36, 37 and 39 in the previous three years. That number dropped to 44 in 2021, the latest year for which statistics are available.
For many of the former instructors, Nichols’s death has cast changes and problems at the academy in sharper focus. Some said they wonder whether they could have done more to push back.
One former instructor who left the academy in frustration said he never felt he could air his concerns without being ignored or punished.
“You get this job at the academy, and you think about this incredible responsibility, the thousands of lives you are going to impact through these recruits and what you can teach them,” he said. “And then you find out it’s about quantity over quality, and they’re making up the rules as they go. It’s disheartening."
In Guantanamo Bay, Ron DeSantis backed force feeding amid violent crisis - The Washington Post
How Elon Musk knocked Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ off course
"Tesla’s campaign to deliver a fully autonomous vehicle has suffered amid mounting safety concerns — and the boss’s Twitter distraction
SAN FRANCISCO — Long before he became “Chief Twit” of Twitter, Elon Musk had a different obsession: making Teslas drive themselves. The technology was expensive and, two years ago when the supply chain was falling apart, Musk became determined to bring down the cost.
He zeroed in on a target: the car radar sensors, which are designed to detect hazards at long ranges and prevent the vehicles from barreling into other cars in traffic. The sleek bodies of the cars already bristled with eight cameras designed to view the road and spot hazards in each direction. That, Musk argued, should be enough.
Some Tesla engineers were aghast, said former employees with knowledge of his reaction, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. They contacted a trusted former executive for advice on how to talk Musk out of it, in previously unreported pushback. Without radar, Teslas would be susceptible to basic perception errors if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight, problems that could lead to crashes.
Musk was unconvinced and overruled his engineers. In May 2021 Tesla announced it was eliminating radar on new cars. Soon after, the company began disabling radar in cars already on the road. The result, according to interviews with nearly a dozen former employees and test drivers, safety officials and other experts, was an uptick in crashes, near misses and other embarrassing mistakes by Tesla vehicles suddenly deprived of a critical sensor.
Musk has described the Tesla “Full Self-Driving” technology as “the difference between Tesla being worth a lot of money and being worth basically zero,” but his dream of autonomous cars is hitting roadblocks.
In recent weeks, Tesla has recalled and suspended the rollout of the technology to eligible vehicles amid concerns that its cars could disobey the speed limit and blow through stop signs, according to federal officials. Customer complaints have been piling up, including a lawsuit filed in federal court last month claiming that Musk has overstated the technology’s capabilities. And regulators and government officials are scrutinizing Tesla’s system and its past claims as evidence of safety problems mounts, according to company filings.
In interviews, former Tesla employees who worked on Tesla’s driver-assistance software attributed the company’s troubles to the rapid pace of development, cost-cutting measures like Musk’s decision to eliminate radar — which strayed from industry practice — and other problems unique to Tesla.
They said Musk’s erratic leadership style also played a role, forcing them to work at a breakneck pace to develop the technology and to push it out to the public before it was ready. Some said they are worried that, even today, the software is not safe to be used on public roads. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
“The system was only progressing very slowly internally” but “the public wanted a product in their hands,” said John Bernal, a former Tesla test operator who worked in its Autopilot department. He was fired in February 2022 when the company alleged improper use of the technology after he had posted videos of Full Self-Driving in action.
“Elon keeps tweeting, ‘Oh we’re almost there, we’re almost there,’” Bernal said. But “internally, we’re nowhere close, so now we have to work harder and harder and harder.” The team has also bled members in recent months, including senior executives.
Meanwhile, Musk pulled dozens of Tesla engineers to work with code at Twitter, the struggling social media platform Musk purchased with fanfare last fall, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, and documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Earlier this month, after Tesla failed to announce a big new product on investor day, the company’s stock sank 6 percent.
Musk has defended the company’s actions as long-term bets, with the prospect of unlocking tremendous value, and Tesla has said vehicles in Full Self-Driving crash at a rate at least five times less than vehicles driving normally. Musk and Tesla did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But the story of Full Self-Driving offers a vivid example of how the world’s richest person has complicated one of his biggest bets through rash decision-making, a stubborn insistence on doing things differently, and unyielding confidence in a vision that has yet to be proven.
“No one believed me that working for Elon was the way it was until they saw how he operated Twitter,” Bernal said, calling Twitter “just the tip of the iceberg on how he operates Tesla.”
The rise of ‘Full Self-Driving’
In April 2019, at a showcase dubbed “Autonomy Investor Day,” Musk made perhaps his boldest prediction as Tesla’s chief executive. “By the middle of next year, we’ll have over a million Tesla cars on the road with full self-driving hardware,” Musk told a roomful of investors. The software updates automatically over the air, and Full Self-Driving would be so reliable, he said, the driver “could go to sleep.”
Investors were sold. The following year, Tesla’s stock price soared, making it the most valuable automaker and helping Musk become the world’s richest person. Full Self-Driving followed Autopilot, which was launched in 2014 and went on to allow cars to navigate highways, from steering and changing lanes to adjusting speed. Full Self-Driving aimed to bring those capabilities to city and residential streets, a far more difficult task.
The cars rely on a combination of hardware and software to do so. Eight cameras capture real-time footage of activity surrounding the car, allowing the car to assess hazards like pedestrians or bicyclists and maneuver accordingly.
To deliver on his promise, Musk assembled a star team of engineers willing to work long hours and problem solve deep into the night. Musk would test the latest software on his own car, then he and other executives would compile “fix-it” requests for their engineers.
Those patchwork fixes gave the illusion of relentless progress but masked the lack of a coherent development strategy, former employees said. While competitors such as Alphabet-owned Waymo adopted strict testing protocols that limited where self-driving software could operate, Tesla eventually pushed Full Self-Driving out to 360,000 owners — who paid up to $15,000 to be eligible for the features — and let them activate it at their own discretion.
Tesla’s philosophy is simple: The more data (in this case driving) the artificial intelligence guiding the car is exposed to, the faster it learns. But that crude model also means there is a lighter safety net. Tesla has chosen to effectively allow the software to learn on its own, developing sensibilities akin to a brain via technology dubbed “neural nets” with fewer rules, the former employees said. While this has the potential to speed the process, it boils down to essentially a trial and error method of training.
Rivals at Waymo and Apple take a different approach to autonomy, by setting rules and addressing any breaches if those constraints are violated, according to Silicon Valley insiders with knowledge of company practices, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Companies developing self-driving also typically use sophisticated lidar and radar systems which help the software map out their surroundings in detail.
Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina said there are evident differences between the companies’ approaches, pointing to Waymo’s goal of full autonomy and emphasis on machine learning. Apple declined to comment for this story.
Tesla’s method has at times proven problematic. Around two years ago, a popular YouTuber captured footage of the software struggling to navigate San Francisco’s famously winding Lombard Street in a video that garnered tens of thousands of views. So Tesla engineers built invisible barriers into the software — akin to bumpers in a bowling alley — to help the cars stay on the road, Bernal said. Subsequent YouTube videos showed them operating smoothly.
That gave Bernal pause. As an internal tester who drove that stretch of road as part of his job, it was clear that it was far from the typical experience on public streets elsewhere.
Radar originally played a major role in the design of the Tesla vehicles and software, supplementing the cameras by offering a reality check of what was around, particularly if vision might be obscured. Tesla also used ultrasonic sensors, shorter-range devices that detect obstructions within inches of the car. (The company announced last year it was eliminating those as well.)
Even with radar, Teslas were less sophisticated than the lidar and radar-equipped cars of competitors.
“One of the key advantages of lidar is that it will never fail to see a train or truck, even if it doesn’t know what it is,” said Brad Templeton, a longtime self-driving car developer and consultant who worked on Google’s self-driving car. “It knows there is an object in front and the vehicle can stop without knowing more than that.”
Cameras need to understand what they see to be effective, relying on Tesla workers who label images the vehicles record, including things like stop signs and trains, to help the software understand how to react.
Toward the end of 2020, Autopilot employees turned on their computers to find in-house workplace monitoring software installed, former employees said. It monitored keystrokes and mouse clicks, and kept track of their image labeling. If the mouse did not move for a period of time, a timer started — and employees could be reprimanded, up to being fired, for periods of inactivity, the former employees said.
After a group pushing to unionize Tesla’s Buffalo factory raised concerns about its workplace monitoring last month, Tesla responded in a blog post. “The reason there is time monitoring for image labeling is to improve the ease of use of our labeling software,” it said, adding “its purpose is to calculate how long it takes to label an image.”
Musk had championed the “vision-only” approach as simpler, cheaper and more intuitive. “The road system is designed for cameras (eyes) & neural nets (brains),” he tweeted in February 2022.
Some of the people who spoke with The Post said that approach has introduced risks. “I just knew that putting that software out in the streets would not be safe,” said a former Tesla Autopilot engineer who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “You can’t predict what the car’s going to do.”
A rise in vehicle crashes
After Tesla announced it was removing radar in May 2021, the problems were almost immediately noticeable, the former employees said. That period coincided with the expansion of the Full Self-Driving testing program from thousands to tens of thousands of drivers. Suddenly, cars were allegedly stopping for imaginary hazards, misinterpreting street signs, and failing to detect obstacles such as emergency vehicles, according to complaints filed with regulators.
Some of the people who spoke with The Post attributed Tesla’s sudden uptick in “phantom braking” reports — where the cars aggressively slow down from high speeds — to the lack of radar. The Post analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to show incidences surged last year, prompting a federal regulatory investigation.
The data showed reports of “phantom braking” rose to 107 complaints over three months, compared to only 34 in the preceding 22 months. After The Post highlighted the problem in a news report, NHTSA received about 250 complaints of the issue in a two-week period. The agency opened an investigation after, it said, it received 354 complaints of the problem spanning a period of nine months.
Months earlier, NHTSA had opened an investigation into Autopilot over roughly a dozen reports of Teslas crashing into parked emergency vehicles. The latest example came to light this month as the agency confirmed it was investigating a February fatal crash involving a Tesla and a firetruck. Experts say radar has served as a way to double check what the cameras, which are susceptible to being washed out by bright light, are seeing.
“It’s not the sole reason they’re having [trouble] but it’s big a part of it,” said Missy Cummings, a former senior safety adviser for NHTSA, who has criticized the company’s approach and recused herself on matters related to Tesla. “The radar helped detect objects in the forward field. [For] computer vision which is rife with errors, it serves as a sensor fusion way to check if there is a problem.”
Musk, as the chief tester, also asked for frequent bug fixes to the software, requiring engineers to go in and adjust code. “Nobody comes up with a good idea while being chased by a tiger,” a former senior executive recalled an engineer on the project telling him.
Musk’s resistance to suggestions led to a culture of deference, former employees said. Tesla fired employees who pushed back on his approach. The company was also pushing out so many updates to its software that in late 2021, NHTSA publicly admonished Tesla for issuing fixes without a formal recall notice.
Last year, Musk decided to buy Twitter, something that became a distraction for the Tesla chief executive, former employees of both companies said. After taking the helm in October, he diverted dozens of engineers — including on Autopilot and Full Self-Driving — to work there with him, further setting back Tesla, according to former employees and documents reviewed by The Post. Software updates that were otherwise issued every two weeks were suddenly spaced out over periods of months, as Tesla worked through bugs and chased more ambitious targets.
Some lament Musk’s involvement at Twitter, saying he needs to refocus on Tesla to finish what he started. Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor who is running for a seat on the company’s board over concerns about its perceived inaction on Musk’s dueling role as head of Twitter, said Full Self-Driving heralds a bright future for Tesla.
“We love Elon. He’s the innovator of our time,” he said. “All we want to see is him working full time back at Tesla again.”
Tesla engineers have been burning out, quitting and looking for opportunities elsewhere. Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s director of artificial intelligence, took a months-long sabbatical last year before leaving Tesla and taking a position this year at OpenAI, the company behind language-modeling software ChatGPT.
“Since Andrej was writing all the code by himself, naturally, things have come to a grinding halt,” Musk said on an earnings call last year, noting he was speaking in jest.
Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s director of Autopilot, has taken on work at Musk’s other company, Twitter, according to employees and documents reviewed by The Post.
One of the former employees said that he left for Waymo. “They weren’t really wondering if their car’s going to run the stop sign,” the engineer said. “They’re just focusing on making the whole thing achievable in the long term, as opposed to hurrying it up.”
The Justice Department has requested documents related to Full Self-Driving as part of an ongoing probe, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into Musk’s role in pushing Tesla’s self-driving claims, part of a larger investigation, according to Bloomberg News.
The lawsuit filed in February alleges that Tesla made “false and misleading” statements, arguing Tesla “significantly overstated” the safety and performance of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.
That is in addition to NHTSA’s two probes into Autopilot, one of which is the look at emergency vehicles. That investigation has been upgraded to a more advanced stage: an engineering analysis. The other, into “phantom braking” reports, is ongoing.
At an investor showcase this month, Musk appeared alongside more than a dozen Tesla employees onstage, touting the company’s broad array of expertise. But the company failed to offer any major developments on Full Self-Driving, despite a segment on the technology.
And some of Musk’s most loyal customers have given up hope that his initial promise will come true. Charles Cook, a commercial pilot and engineer from Jacksonville, Fla., owns a Tesla Model Y that he frequently drives in Full Self-Driving mode.
While he is amazed at what the technology can do, he is surprised by both the slow pace of progress and the status of Musk’s promises. “Someone might have purchased Full Self-Driving thinking they were going to have a robotaxi by now and spent their hard earned money on that,” he said.
“Now his engineers may have laughed at that” but “a customer may have spent $15,000 thinking they’re going to have it next year.” Those customers, he said, lost out.
“I do not believe you can remove the driver on this hardware suite, ever,” he said."