I’ve had it. For some reason that video, the one with the idiot cop screaming about blowing a hole in the poor guy’s head, got to me. No, the victim wasn’t black. And no, he was not actually shot and killed. But maybe that’s the issue. There was nothing else going on with this one other than the fact that the cop was a complete jerk.
Which, unfortunately, is simply too often the case. Of course this is the part where I am supposed to point out how wonderful most cops are and how this is just one bad apple. But, I am sick of saying that. Why? Because it is total politically correct nonsense that we are basically forced to say and I refuse to keep playing that game. It is a lie. We are forced to say that because we don’t want to alienate people or lose potential clients by simply speaking the truth. Not to mention that there really are plenty of nice decent police officers; but why is it whenever I meet one, they seem like such a breath of fresh air? Such an anomaly? Oh, yeah, I remember now. It is because they are the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Take my word for it. I know.
How do I know? Because I have been dealing with this problem for decades. It is much like the mandatory minimum sentence issue I addressed last time. For decades I have been trying to tell people about the problem with cops running wild and I have never been able to get anyone to listen to me. Everyone is just so blind and biased that they refuse to see the truth. But I have been seeing the truth since my first day as a criminal defense attorney, and the truth is that the way too many of the cops out there are corrupt, lying, biased, power tripping jerks. Sorry officers, but you know it’s true.
There, I said it. Just as I have tried to say it a million times. In court, for example, when I KNOW a cop is up there on the witness stand, lying a blue streak, but the judge acts as if I am some sort of commie pinko for daring to question that wonderful officer’s integrity. Never mind that every shred of evidence points that way, other than the fact that the guy all dressed up in his pretty uniform with no place to go is up there smiling and acting charming. That seems to be enough to fool most judges, and I’m sick of it.
Because, you see, I blame the judges. And the prosecutors. And the biased public with their pretty uniform obsession. Jurors tell me all day long how open minded they are going to be, perishing the thought that they would ever possibly take the cop’s side just because they are cops. Then, after they convict my client and I make the mistake of talking to them after the trial, they invariably take me to task for daring to try to make the cop look like a liar. Never mind that they are indeed lying. It becomes my fault for pointing it out.
I was once in the middle of a trial where it was the cop’s word against my client’s. I tried to show that the cop was biased, heaven forbid. I mean, how dare I, right? They look so pretty up there in their nice uniforms. With their Pepsodent smiles and charming nods to the jurors.
I went through the usual litany. “Does it help your career if there is a conviction in this case, especially since you made the arrest?” You would think it might, right? Am I the only one who believes that is possible?
“Objection, Your Honor!” It is like an involuntary prosecutorial knee jerk reaction.
“But your honor, if it would help his career then this officer might have a motive to make sure his testimony helps get a conviction, making him biased as he testifies.” You would think I had just accused him of decapitating babies. It is so impossible for the judge to believe that a cop would ever lie or embellish or exaggerate or not be completely fair and neutral that they refuse to even let me ask the question.
I generally push on, changing the question slightly, along the lines of, “If you go to work tomorrow and there has been a conviction in this case can you imagine that a colleague might congratulate you?” That draws an objection that makes me sound as if I am now accusing the cop of dismembering that dead baby’s body, followed by an even more outraged “Sustained!” It is if they can do no wrong up there and I am a monster for suggesting otherwise. This happens virtually every time I try to do it.
Which is the problem. The cops come to believe they are above the law because that is what they experience all day long. It is a bit like the problem with every little leaguer getting a trophy, even if they can’t catch a baseball. It is pure blanket bias, with no basis in reality. It is impossible to get the judges to open up their minds enough to accept that it is remotely possible that the cop is lying. They refuse to let the jury even have the opportunity to consider that and instead prefer to take away my client’s constitutional right to cross examine their accuser, a right that goes all the way back to the Magna Carta, but which magically evaporates when the witness is in uniform. It is pathetic.
In one especially blatant case, after I was shot down on question after question about different reasons the cop might have a motive to skew his testimony against my client, the one he referred to as a “puke” when talking to me out in the hallway, the one he is so obviously biased against, I finally asked, “Officer, are you biased in any way against my client?”
Seriously? That is blatantly wrong. There is a stack of cases a mile high that say I have a constitutional right to ask a witness that question and both the prosecutor and judge know it. But away they go anyway. They got that cop’s back. It makes me sick to my stomach.
(Ironically, in that case I managed to persuade the judge that his ruling was wrong and to tell the jury that it was wrong. Ultimately my client, who had been caught red handed with twelve pounds of illegal drugs in his car, was acquitted, largely because of the way this issue was mishandled, which caused the jury to look more critically at the prosecutor. So, it can backfire sometimes.)
After experiences like this I take a special delight when I see some goober detective wearing a wife beater and cut offs jump out of his pick up and threaten to blow a hole in some poor guy’s head because of a minor traffic violation. An incident that no doubt I would have been scolded for even talking about had it not all been caught on tape.
Thanks to iPhones and dash cams it is all becoming clearer. And clearer. Recently we saw a woman, Sandra Bland, essentially sentenced to death for an illegal lane change because she copped a slight attitude after being pulled over. Then the wife beater threatening to blow a hole in some guy’s head because of a similar traffic violation. Then just last week, the latest. A campus cop has now just been shown executing a guy for driving without a front license plate. You just can’t make this stuff up… unless you are Stephen King, maybe. It’s a horror show.
Which is my point. This is a horror show of our own making. But the tide may be turning – finally. It is no longer just me trying to explain the reality of the way so many police really act in real life; we now have video proof. It is becoming impossible to keep denying it.
The fact is that all of these cases have one thing in common: they all involve cops on a power trip, unable to process the idea that someone might actually not suck up to them and do everything they say. Like kids with trophies unable to understand why everything in their lives does not work out perfectly, they’ve become spoiled by all the preferential treatment.
Which is why I was so delighted to read the new Washington State Supreme Court case, State v E.J.J. It involved an obstructing charge, which I have referred to previously as “Contempt of Cop”. Obstructing is often a way for a cop to arrest someone simply for not doing exactly what they are ordered to do, whether or not that order is legal.
Finally. Our State Supreme Court agrees with me. They are fed up. This case involved the brother of a young woman who was being questioned by the police. He stood inside his house, swearing at the officers and refusing their “Order” to close the door and basically stop talking. In other words, “Contempt of Cop.” The Court initially noted, “this case turns on whether the record suggests that E.J.J. was convicted of obstruction based solely on his words.” Then, after a thorough review of Constitutional Principles, they held that the E.J.J.’s conviction must be reversed and dismissed, stating:
“Where individuals exercise their constitutional rights to criticize how the police are handling a situation, they cannot be concerned about risking a criminal conviction for obstruction. Such a conviction is not permitted under the First Amendment.”
I admit, it’s nice to know that I am no longer alone. No longer the lone voice in the wilderness, being told to stop criticizing cops for misbehaving. The most powerful judges in our state agree with me. I like to think of that as a nice place to start.
Even after all these years.