If you're a veteran police officer who beats, chokes, and sexually assaults a prisoner in the State of Idaho, you can anticipate a wrist-slap so trivial as to defy detection by the human nervous system.
If, on the other hand, you're a law-abiding, 66-year-old retired nun, who -- in the sanctuary of the jury room -- expresses the view that a juror's first allegiance is to God and the truth, you can expect to be charged with felonious perjury.
You can expect the same state Attorney General who displayed torpid indifference in prosecuting the abusive police officer to pursue you hammer and tongs. You can anticipate that the AG will make it a priority to put you in prison for the supposed crime of behaving like a conscientious citizen and carrying out the fundamental duty of a juror: Forcing the State to prove its case against a defendant, and voting to acquit if you're honestly convinced that the case hadn't been made. And if that AG had his way, you would probably spend the rest of your life in prison.
Kevin Buttars, formerly of the Montpelier Police, didn't escape punishment entirely for his March 2007 assault on Jared Finley. He will spend about two weeks in the local jail, and was stuck with a $500 fine and court costs of about $75. He will also be on probation for a year. This sentence -- imposed for a crime that involved physical battery and a sexual assault -- is much lighter than what the typical Idahoan would receive for driving with a suspended license.
To understand the magnitude of the break Buttars was cut by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, one need only learn that the prescribed sentence for the crime of "unnecessary assault by a police officer" -- which is a misdemeanor (!) -- is a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
For commonplace assault and battery, the Idaho Criminal Code prescribes a sentence of up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. And of course, if someone of the plebian class had dared to lay his unhallowed hands on the sanctified person of Officer Buttars in exactly the same way he attacked Finley, the punishment would have been a prison term of at least five years.
From the testimony provided by the victim and Officer Kenny Yellen, an eyewitness to the attack, it's clear Buttars should have received the full sentence, and change.
A year ago (March 5, 2007), Finley was arrested and booked into the Bear Lake County Jail. Ordered to sign a form, Finley committed the unpardonable crime of hesitating to read the paper and ask questions when he didn't fully understand what he was signing.
This fleeting and entirely justified delay was enough to pull Buttars' hair trigger: He thrust himself into Finley's face, barraging him with insults and -- more importantly -- insulting his father, for whom Buttars once worked in the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office.
Understandably infuriated by the profane outburst, Finley replied in kind. Like many bullies who take refuge behind badges, Buttars can be as bold as Achilles when he has numbers in his favor and his victim is unarmed. Accordingly, he beat Finley, slammed his head into a wall, choked him, and committed an act described as "simulated sodomy" after the two fell to the floor.
During his belated trial last January, Buttars insisted (in the paraphrase of a local reporter who covered the trial) that "the only reason he used force was because Finley was not in handcuffs and he was doing what he had to [in order to] protect himself and his fellow officers."
Note the plural here: "Officers."
So a solitary, unarmed, outnumbered, physically unremarkable prisoner was a lethal threat to several of Montpelier's Finest. Got it.
And the prison rape pantomime was necessary, because...?
Well, y'see, it really wasn't simulated sodomy, 'cause, y'know, the two of them fell to the ground in an "awkward position," and the only reason Buttars "pushed his hips into Finley was to keep him down."
At this point, I'm prompted to ask: Officer Buttars, are you perchance related to Larry Craig?* Your explanation here rivals Craig's immortal plea "I take a wide stance" for sheer inventive desperation.
In any case, one of those who witnessed the incident, Officer Kenny Yellen, broke ranks with the rest of his tribe to tell the truth.
When it became clear that Finley was going to press charges, Buttars, with the support of then-Chief David Higley, planned to cover up the offense. Yellen, a genuinely heroic young officer who remembers that the rule of law is supposed to apply to those trusted to enforce it, wasn't interested in abetting the cover-up. He surreptitiously tape-recorded a conversation in which Buttars acknowledged his intention to lie about the matter: The "I'm gonna make you my prison bitch" routine was intended to humiliate the defiant Finley, Buttars confided, and it would be relatively easy to cover up.
And when the case went to trial, Yellen's corroborating testimony was sufficient to convict Buttars. On the witness stand, Yellen recalled having to look away in angry disgust after Buttars took Finley to the ground.
Officer Yellen deserves a commendation and a promotion. Most likely, he will get neither. Although Yellen has received perfunctory praise from various officials, he will probably endure ostracism and various informal punitive sanctions for taking the side of a mundane against his fellow Heroes in Blue.
After Finley reported his experience, Buttars was placed on administrative leave -- essentially, a paid vacation. After it was revealed that he and Chief Higley were trying to cover up the assault on Finley, they were fired by the City Council. Buttars and Higley responded by filing a "wrongful termination" lawsuit. I suspect that it will soon be dismissed with prejudice, at least where Buttars is concerned. (Higley has yet to stand trial for his part in the cover-up.)
The corrupt audacity displayed by Buttars and his former chief reminds me of scandal that erupted here in Idaho late last year. In December, a graduating class of police trainees at the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (I-POST) academy chose as its slogan: "Don't suffer from PTSD -- go out and cause it."
PTSD, of course, stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a tragic and occasionally fatal psychological condition that follows an individual's experience with lethal violence. PTSD will be one of the lingering legacies of the Idiot King's criminal war in Iraq; its victims will be Iraqis on the receiving end of Washington's murderous "liberation," and many of the Americans sent to carry it out.
Needless to say, the line about PTSD that struck the next cohort of Heroes in Blue as such a thigh-slapper provoked nary a chuckle from the rest of us.
Clearly, some ugly things have taken up residence in Idaho's law enforcement culture, and even uglier things appear to be gestating in the I-POST academy. All the more reason, then, for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to make an example out of Buttars, rather than flogging him with a single strand of overcooked linguine.
That's not to say that Wasden is incapable of dealing sternly with those who impede the course of justice, as he pretends to understand it. Take the matter of Carol Asher, the retired nun whom we met previously.
This stretch of sylvan splendor is the ugliest spot in Kamiah. I'm not kidding.
In 2005, Miss Asher was called to serve on a jury hearing a narcotics case in Kamiah (one of the most beautiful places with which God has favored fallen humanity). She is associated with "Police and Military Against the New World Order," an activist group led by former Phoenix Police Officer Jack McLamb. As its name indicates, the group opposes globalism and policies conducing to the creation of a domestic police state. It also emphasizes the role of the jury in reining in abuses of government power.
Despite her supposedly controversial background, Miss Asher was duly empaneled as a juror. The case she heard involved a warrantless search of an automobile that revealed a small quantity of meth. The prosecutor apparently considered a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion. But Asher didn't believe that the prosecution had proven that the defendant a young Indian man, was aware that the company-owned vehicle he was driving was carrying the drug.
During jury deliberations Asher expressed her views to the other jurors and urged that they vote to acquit the suspect. Chastised for refusing to follow the judge's precise instructions, Asher pointed out that it is the jury, not the judge, that is entrusted with the power to decide not only the facts of the case, but also to rule on the justice of the law. She also pointed out that District Judge John Bradbury, august as he may be, is not the supreme authority.
One of Asher's fellow jurors, driven by the perverse yet irresistible urge to tattle, relayed those comments -- made in the supposedly unassailable privacy of jury deliberations -- to the prosecutor. After the defendant was acquitted, the prosecutor, his lust to imprison somebody unappeased, filed felony perjury charges against Asher -- with the enthusiastic support of the same Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
Perhaps owing to the prominence of fully-informed jury activists in Idaho, jurors here are required to sign, under penalty of perjury, a statement attesting that they will be guided by the judge in determining the facts and law of a case. The intention here, of course, is to prevent "jury nullification" by effectively rendering the jury a nullity -- a body that exists solely to ratify the will of the presiding judge.
Oddly enough, the official guide to jury duty published by the State Supreme Court doesn't foreclose the possibility of "jury nullification." In describing the role and functions of the jury, that document says the following:
"After the jury has been selected, the jurors will be asked to rise and swear or affirm that they will render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence.
Once the jury has been sworn, the judge will give instructions about how the trial will be conducted--generally what the case is about and how the jury is to carry out its responsibilities.
Your duty as a juror is to listen to the judge, witness and lawyers; to deliberate calmly and fairly; and to decide intelligently and justly. Your decision must be made upon the evidence presented to you in court."
This is exactly what was done by Carol Asher and the other three jurors who voted for acquittal: They listened to the judge, examined the evidence, applied their intelligence, and decided that the State hadn't made its case. Of the four, only Miss Asher was prosecuted for "perjury," on the assumption that she had deceived the court by not disclosing her views about the primacy of the jury.
Carol Asher, a meek and unassuming former nun, did nothing to injure anyone or anything, other than the pathological pride of a pack of preening prosecutors. And for that offense Attorney General Wasden, the same bureaucratic Babbitt who held his punches in dealing with a depraved, perverted, abusive cop, was willing to send Asher to prison for up to 14 years -- a term that could have been a life sentence for the 66-year-old woman.
Somebody light a match! Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter (the well-coiffed one on the right) seems to be reacting to the stench of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's hypocrisy. Either that, or Wasden and his colleagues are experiencing the olfactory aftermath of the extra-large burrito he had for lunch (the size of which he is illustrating with his hands).
Fortunately, Magistrate Judge Michael Griffin didn't buy what Wasden and his chums were selling. On March 7, 2006 (almost exactly a year before Buttars' assault on Finley), in front of a courtroom in Grangeville packed with honorable, peaceable people who may have rioted if Asher had been sent to prison, Griffin dismissed the perjury charge -- a decision that inspired a close friend of mine to defy courtroom decorum by exclaiming, "Praise be to God!"
For reasons left unexplained, my friend was not arrested for daring to assert that there is a power in the universe superior to that of trial judges. That's progress of a sort, I guess.
A brief post-script....
It's becoming apparent that random acts of physical violence against detainees, attended by profane verbal abuse, and followed by an attempted cover-up, constitute standard operating procedure in many local jails across this once-free country.
* An even more interesting question is this: Is former Officer Kevin Buttars of Bear Lake County -- which abuts the Utah border -- related to Utah state senator Chris Buttars? The latter is the sponsor of a bill that would help police officers suppress disclosure of both criminal and administrative charges. If the two are related, it's possible the Utah politician was thinking of helping his wayward relative get a law enforcement job on his side of the border.
Liberty in Eclipse is on sale now.
Dum spiro, pugno!