All posts by Johanna Swalley

About Johanna Swalley

Technical and copy writer, editor, communicator, and all-around language enthusiast.

I have to agree with Clinton on this one.

Shooting victims Brady and Kifer on the left; shooter Smith on the right.
Shooting victims Brady and Kifer on the left; shooter Smith on the right.

In a previous post on this very blog, our classmate Lorna attributed race as a reason Byron Smith was charged with two counts of first degree murder. He shot, wounded and then killed Haile Kifer (18 years old) and Nicholas Brady (17 years old) after they broke into his home. The teenagers were white. She said, “Can anybody honestly say that Mr. Smith would be on trial today if these teens had been two thugs from the ‘hood’ up from Minneapolis for a Thanksgiving Day crime spree? I don’t think so.”

Fellow classmate Clinton commented on the post and disagreed with Lorna’s statements on the case:

“I am going to have to call foul on your first story Lorna. Mr. Smith isn’t on trial because he shot intruders who happened to come from middle class or privileged families. He is on trial because of the suspicious circumstances around the altercation. I am confident that if the intruders had been minorities with wrap sheets a mile long Mr. Smith would still be on trial.”

I agree with Clinton; there are some creepy details of this story that should be pointed out.

Lorna writes, “Mr. Smith, an elderly retiree living alone had had his home burglarized in the past and was afraid for his life when he heard his home being broken into.”

There are four true statements in the statement above as Mr. Smith: was elderly (64 at the time), retired, living alone, and this wasn’t the first time his house was broken into. I’m not so sure, however, that Smith was afraid for his life when he heard a window shatter.

Can anyone truly know if Smith was afraid, other than himself? This is a pretty deep question that I don’t think we have time to  get into, but I did find commentary on Smith’s proclaimed fear in an article on Huffington Post. Ted Sampsell-Jones, criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said Smith’s taunts to the victims don’t show a man in a panic. He also states, “…he didn’t do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about.”

The prosecution argued that Smith instead was really ticked off about previous burglaries and decided to take matters into his own hands.  The Star Tribune reports:

In closing arguments Tuesday morning, Orput said that Smith was setting a trap for a neighbor girl who he believed had been behind the break-ins.

The prosecutor contended Smith saw her drive on his street that morning and set the plan in motion: moving his truck to appear as if he weren’t home, activating an audio recorder in his basement, loading his guns and settling into a basement reading chair with water, snacks and a novel.

Orput said Smith had a tarp ready in his basement to wrap the body of Brady after he shot him.

I admit, I kind of get the waiting-to-ambush if you are really scared. The burglars might not even check out the basement for valuables, so it seems like a somewhat decent place to hide in fear (serious lack of exits, though). It could also be considered a convenient place to be waiting with a loaded gun, in the event that an intruder creeps down the stairs.

WAIT – did I see “activating an audio recorder?” 

Yes, there is audio of the incident. I don’t blame you if you don’t listen to it, it certainly was not a fun time for me. This is what I heard on the tape: Someone walking down stairs, two gun shots, the sound of a body tumbling down the stairs, another shot, and then sounds of plastic being moved around for a really long time. That was Smith shooting, wounding and then killing Nicholas Brady. It definitely sounds like a tarp when you hear the plastic sounds, but I’m no audio expert – just my opinion.

The audio doesn’t stop. I also heard Kifer’s shooting. After the first shot, Smith’s gun seems to jam (or it needs a reload) and he apologizes to her for it, almost in a sarcastic, Dexter tone. Then he either unjams the gun or reloads and proceeds to keep firing. After the final gun shot, Smith is heard saying to Kifer, “Bitch.”

That’s not all that Smith says on the audio. 

Smith was heard saying a slew of odd things during the 6-hour recording. One of the favorites of news outlets was Smith saying, “They weren’t human. I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”

Some other notables:

“Fun, cool, exciting and highly profitable until someone kills you.”

“I felt like I was cleaning up a mess, worse than spilled food, worse than vomit.”

Smith does refer to fear often on the recording:

“I’m safe now,” then whispering later: “I feel a little bit safer. Not totally safe. I’m still shaking a bit …”

“I refuse to live in fear.”

A lot of what this case came down to, according to jurors interviewed after the verdict, was whether or not Smith protected his home in a reasonable, self-defensive way. In an article for the New York Daily News, juror Wes Hatlestad said, “I do think he had some fear, but his reaction to it was very unreasonable.”

I’ve read too many articles on this case and as much as I’d love to help Lorna prove her point, I can’t find a lick of evidence or speculation that race had anything to do with Byron Smith’s charges and ultimate conviction. It’s still a horrible situation with no positive outcomes, and I’m sure people will debate Smith’s motives for years to come. I just don’t think anyone will be talking about the fact that the Brady and Kifer were white.

We can’t handle the truth, but how much have we really got?

I would like to share with you an unfolding of events that begins awfully, gets kinda gross in the middle, and ends up sorta good but not great. Confused? Good, let’s begin!




The Awfulness

In 2013, Gurbaksh Chahal, CEO and Chairman of RadiumOne, was charged with 45 felonies for beating his girlfriend 117 times during an altercation. According to law enforcement the girlfriend stated that, after finding out she cheated on him, Chahal attacked her, stated several times he was going to kill her, and she feared for her life. Law enforcement also claims to have recovered a surveillance video that showed 30 minutes of the assault.

In a perfect world, this would make for a slam-dunk case that puts a mega-jerk-lady-hitting-pig behind bars. Victim testimony and video of the crime seems like plenty of evidence to ease the mind of the prosecutor.

Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. No, no we don’t.




Ew, Gross!

First, the video was thrown out as evidence.

Then, the girlfriend decided to go ahead and not cooperate with the police anymore nor testify against Chahal. This happened after both parties lawyered-up (I smell a pay-off, anyone else?).

So, most of the charges were dropped and Chahal ended up pleading guilty to two misdemeanors: one count of domestic violent battery and one count of battery. His punishment? Three years probation, 25 hours of community service, a $500 fine and he must attend a 52-week domestic violence training program (doesn’t that sound like he’s going to be taught how to get better at beating women? ValleyWag should reword that sentence).

Chahal avoided jail, and I think he’s damn lucky. And when this came out, it seemed like his previously charmed life would stay relatively charming.

Gurbaksch Chahal says, "Yay, I win!!"
Gurbaksch Chahal says, “Yay, I win!!”




The good, I guess.

Well, things started to get worse for Chahal. People were pretty ticked off about this whole thing and social media sites were blowing up with comments about how unjust it was that he didn’t get jail time.

Chahal’s company, RadiumOne, started losing business.

And then he lost his job. There is some speculation as to whether Chahal knew about his pink slip when he published this blog post in which still refers to himself as the CEO. In the post, he also denies he hit his (hopefully now ex?!) girlfriend 117 times. Which seems reasonable – it’s not that he didn’t hit her, he just wants to point out it’s not that bad since it wasn’t that many times. Oh, ok! I’m sure we can all sympathize and forgive you for only mildly abusing her, no big deal.

Chahal also denies in his post that the video proves he committed such a heinous, drawn-out attack on the girlfriend. He claims that the video will only prove that the police abused him when they stormed his place, even though he was being cooperative. Not everyone is convinced. But Chahal isn’t faded, he knows we just “can’t handle the truth.”

It seems like if Chahal is telling the truth and the video’s content has been exaggerated, he should just release the video. Then we can all agree he’s not such a bad guy! For some reason, though, Chahal hasn’t done that yet. I have a feeling this isn’t the only offer being made to see that video.




So…is this a happy ending, or…? 

I doubt the public will get the chance to see the video, as I’m sure it’s been destroyed. Yes, I’m just a cynical old crank like that. Without proof, it’s going to be tough to determine if Chahal really lucked out on this one (or just how much freedom money can buy), or if the contents of the video were in fact blown out of proportion.

I do know one thing about Chahal: his post reveals that he believes there are justifications for domestic abuse e.g.,  your girlfriend having sex for money in Las Vegas. However rude of her that might have been, I’m sorry dude, but nope. Wrong. Does not computer. We may never know exactly what happened that night with his girlfriend, but it’s pretty obvious this guy is a clueless a-hole when it comes to violence against women.

A footnote: full disclosure, I’m going to think this guy put the beat down on his girlfriend until he releases that video and shows us otherwise. He brought it up, basically said it proves his innocence, but it hasn’t been released. So yes, I’m coming from a very biased viewpoint.) 

Honey Be(e) in Trouble

Look out, bee!

We need to talk about bees. No, not the jerkface one that stung you in sixth grade, shush. Bee populations are in danger, and it’s going to set off a whole butterfly effect on the environment and our access to certain foods. In other words, when bees go byebye, they don’t go alone.

“Um, Johanna, why should I even care about bees? All I know about bees is that they like to sting sixth-graders, and that sucks. Bees are stupid.” 

Bees are not stupid and this gives some reasons why you should respect them. Also, honey bees account for $15 billion dollars of crop values each year. AND, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 1 in 3 mouthfuls of our diet benefits from honey bee pollination. (I realize that “our diet” is a grossly general assumption, but we can agree that a whole bunch of us really love fruits and veggies, yes?). Still not convinced? Fine, read this.

Now that we’re on the same page about how much ass they kick, allow me to explain what’s up with the honey bees and why it’s currently not a good thing to be their knees.

Since 2006, beekeepers have been reporting unusually high losses of bees. Sure, the queen bee is still loafing around the hive and there are plenty of younger bees, hanging out in their combs, listening to emo. It’s the worker bees that are missing and without them, nothing gets pollinated.

Below is a fun video that explains the missing bees in under 5 minutes (much shorter than it would take me to blog about it, and I don’t want to get too research paper-y up in here).


If there aren’t any worker bees doing their jobs, the following are just some of the crops that will become vastly reduced in availability:

  • apples
  • cucumbers
  • broccoli
  • onions
  • pumpkins
  • carrots
  • avacados
  • almonds

Which means a lot less:

  • apple pie/crumble/crisp/muffin/turnover/fritter/sauce/butter
  • pickles (F that!)
  • um, the ten million things made with onions
  • pumpkin pie/latte/muffin/bread/ice cream
  • carrot cake/muffins/for feeding your rabbit
  • guacamole at Chipotle (NOOOOOO!)

These lists could be much longer, like $15 billion dollars per year longer. Scroll down a bit here and you’ll see a much scarier list. But you get the idea. A lot of delicious, natural foods are threatened by this.

And what is “this,” you ask? It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). You would know that if you had just watched the video posted above. If you didn’t, way to not want to learn the easy way. CCD is what scientists and beekeepers are calling our shortage of bees, but there still aren’t definitive reasons (that everyone can agree on) as to what causes it. It’s probably one of those things where it’s, like, you know, all the stupid and irresponsible crap we humans do on a regular basis: using pesticides, growing produce in massive amounts, using more pesticides because more plants means more bugs, not caring about the fact that the bugs you are killing might not be the only bugs dying…you know, the usual.

Enough of the negative numbers, fearsome statistics and sad thoughts about bees. Let’s get positive and proactive by learning what we can do to hopefully lend a hand to our bee buddies.

Support Local Beekeepers: Even if you don’t shop at Whole Foods or a neighborhood co-op, there’s a good change your grocery spot has some Minnesota (or nearby) honey on the shelf. Yes, the bear-shaped bottle is adorable, but trust me – the local stuff tastes much better.

Avoid Using Pesticides: Being “green” isn’t a new concept; there are natural solutions to getting rid of not-as-cool-as-bees insects. A quick Google search for organic gardening products should do the trick, as would a visit to your local gardening center.

Become A Beekeeper: Yes, I’m serious. There are people that will teach you how. If committing to a new hobby isn’t your thing, you can set up some bee blocks in your backyard. Either way, you’re bound to earn some street cred.

Rock on.

Here is a handsome website from the UK that offers more solutions for you lovers of bees.

“Wrap it up, Swalley!”

Bees are awesome, they help obtain super yummy munchies, and I want to keep eating those tasty munchies. I bet you do, too, so think about the bees when you shop, garden, and talk to other people who think they know everything and you want to be smart, too. The bees and I thank you, the end.


Take the Poo to the Loo, yo.


Mr. Poo is an excellent subject for my introductory blog post (that’s right, Lady Procrastinator over here, hello). What a wonderful example of using media and potty humor to spread the message of a serious social issue. This might not be the most tailored blog post, but I’ll be damned if anyone beats me to posting about this. It’s just too good.

Mr. Poo. the face of Unicef’s recent health campaign in India, aims to decrease the number of people defecating in public (which is estimated to be half the population, which is a lot of public poo). It’s a big task to take on, but I think Mr. Poo can handle it.

The humor in the video is interesting because it mixes more juvenile/cartoon graphics with a funny, catchy tune that just happens to drop verbal shit bombs many times over (pun intended). Am I that square that I didn’t think an organization like Unicef would use (what is commonly referred to as) a profanity in a campaign? Does the word shit have a different place in India as far as social acceptance goes? Or is Mr. Poo and his Bollywood-dancing poo fools just that bad ass?


There is a definite entertainment factor to Mr. Poo and his jingle, but is the video effective? Do you think it will inspire change, like the radio show Taru did in Abirpur?

Let’s discuss below, cool? Cool.