Friday, August 1, 2008
Police Impersonators: Never There When You Need One
Hey, you sure you're safe there, Bubba? Dibor Roberts, a 48-year-old, 120-pound naturalized citizen from Senegal, is led into a courthouse in a Yavapai County, Arizona jail to talk to the press. She is shackled, both hands and feet, because she supposedly "assaulted" Sgt. Jeff Newnum of the County Sheriff's Office, a beefy guy a head taller and at least 75-80 pounds heavier (see photo below).
Last March, two young girls in Phoenix were pulled over in front of the Desert Sky Mall by a man they believed to be a police officer. His vehicle was a white Crown Victoria equipped with running lights; he was attired in what appeared to be the appropriate State-issued costume -- complete with a bullet-resistant vest -- and accoutered with a sidearm, handcuffs, and mace.
The man strode toward the girls only to pivot back to his car suddenly and call 911 when a mall security vehicle drove by. Amid a growing sense of uneasy consternation, the girls watched as a police car arrived on the scene, and the man who had stopped them was handcuffed and taken into custody.
It turns out that 33-year-old Michael Escobar wasn't a police officer of any kind, or even a representative of a "state recovery agency," as he had claimed to the 911 operator. He was simply a criminal prepared to exploit the potentially deadly deference that people display to the demands of the State's hired enforcers.
After Escobar was charged with several offenses -- including suspicion of kidnapping -- Phoenix police described the episode as "a reminder to drivers to pull over in a well-lighted area during a traffic stop," reported the local CBS affiliate, KPHO. "Officers are required to carry their badges and commission cards, so drivers can always ask to see their identification."
Remember that well: Drivers who are worried about being waylaid by highwaymen disguised as police have official permission to choose a safe location for the shakedown to take place.
Your eyes can deceive you: This vehicle, which belongs to a private security force in California, is not a police car. Nor is the spiffy little number found immediately below.
A second case of that occurred last March in Sahuarita, Arizona. A woman was pulled over by a man driving a white mini-pickup with a red emergency light.
The woman stopped and pulled to the side of the road, but did not roll down her window when ordered to -- despite the fact that the man threatened her with what appeared to be a gun. The man -- described as Latino in appearance, heavyset (250-280 lbs.) and wearing casual attire -- withdrew to his vehicle and drove away without further incident.
Just a few weeks ago -- July 3, to be specific -- police in Tucson issued a warning about another ersatz officer "who talks his way into women's homes and then has then strip." This predator has succeeded in getting several women to let him into their homes by displaying a badge and then telling them he is either conducting a drug investigation or trying to capture a criminal suspect. The suspect was also seen driving a white or gray car with running lights and what appeared to be police markings.
This kind of thing is not limited to Phoenix, of course. Last spring, Denver witnessed what the Denver Post called a "rash of police impersonators." In one incident, a woman who was pulled over in a poorly lit intersection refused to follow orders from a man driving a car equipped with running lights. The man, who identified himself as a police officer, claimed the woman had a cracked rear window and ordered her to follow him; when the driver refused to comply, the man drove off without incident.
A similar episode on April 22 turned out much differently. In that case, the woman who was pulled over complied with the order to follow the "officer," only to be taken to the darkened parking lot of an industrial park and raped.
As law enforcement becomes increasingly authoritarian, and the public grows more docile, the practice of police impersonation by criminals is becoming more commonplace.
"You wave a badge at someone and tell them to pull over and you'd be amazed at how many people are going to obey," observes psychologist Dr. Naftali Berrill, head of the New York Center for Neuropyschology and Forensic Behavioral Science. "They disarm their victims by appearing to be cops." (Emphasis added.)
It is potentially fatal for an individual to allow himself, or herself, to be psychologically disarmed by someone who wears a costume and carries a gun. This is certainly true where street criminals are concerned. But in historic terms, it is even deadlier to allow one's self to be disarmed, in any sense, by agents of the State.
All of the world's private criminal syndicates combined have never killed as many people as were slaughtered in the late century by the public criminal organizations called "governments."
Between 1995 and 2005, more Americans were shot by law enforcement agents (3,949) than killed by terrorists (3,147). Most of those included in the first figure were criminal suspects, many of whom were trying to kill the police officers who shot them. But the contrast becomes a great deal more acute when we recall that the latter figure includes nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, which is both an atrocity and an anomaly.
In other words: It is the rarest of things for an American to be killed by a terrorist, but not that uncommon for an American to be killed by police.
We should also take into account the increasingly promiscuous use of "less-lethal" weaponry by police, particularly Tasers. Originally advertised as a non-lethal alternative for use against violent suspects, the Taser has now become an instrument of "pain compliance" used against practically any civilian who taxes the patience of a police officer in situations that don't involve violent crime.
Most recent case in point: In Lakeside, Michigan just a few days ago (July 26), newlyweds Andy and Ania Somora, were tased at their own wedding reception after police from fourteen different agencies were mobilized in response to a single complaint of rowdy behavior.
This happened, according to witnesses not on the government's payroll, because the groom objected to the arrest of his elderly father, who had annoyed one of the Heroes in Blue by urging him to de-escalate the situation.
Enjoy your honeymoon: Newly married bride Ania Somorra, seen here at the bottom of a thugswarm, is subdued and handcuffed after being tased at her own wedding reception.
This isn't the first or only time cops have celebrated a marriage by needlessly assaulting the bride with a Taser.
Earlier this year, Chicago resident Ramona Madison, and her father Clarence Phelps, were both attacked by Taser-wielding police at her wedding reception following a noise complaint about their outdoor party.
"Basically, what happened is that they came in and started using the Taser, [without] even knowing what was going on," insists Mr. Phelps, who -- along with his daughter -- is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit. The police, in a now-familiar routine, insisted that Phelps and Madison were non-compliant, which is now commonly treated as an excuse for a potentially lethal use of force.
Those incidents reminded me a bit of the police pogrom in Fiddler on the Roof that brought a tragic end to Tzeitel and Motel's wedding. That comparison is unfair, of course: The rampaging Cossacks in that story, after all, didn't actually lay a hand on the bride or groom.
The word most commonly used in describing atrocities of this kind is "overkill": Police arrive, militarized to the molars and infected with the notion that their every desire is law; they find a group of puzzled, inoffensive people who didn't get the memo explaining their duty to submit to every order issued by uniformed bureaucrats with forelock-tugging docility; words are briefly exchanged, Tasers and clubs are wielded, people needlessly get hurt, and the public is told that the officer or officers "acted properly" in according with established policy.
In numerous, perhaps countless ways, the public has been informed that the mission of the police is not to protect the public, but rather to compel its unconditional submission. After all -- as we have discussed previously -- there is no statutory or constitutional duty to protect any individual citizen, but they act on the assumption that each individual citizen has the legal obligation to obey the orders of an officer without question or hesitation. A citizen is required to obey and submit to a police officer, under penalty of criminal charges, even when the officer is manifestly in the wrong.
It is this summary disarmament of the citizen that makes police impersonation so attractive to certain criminals: Such malefactors assume that the victims will have no choice but to comply with their demands.
But the brief record of such incidents reviewed above reveals a remarkable irony: Police impersonators, in some cases, are less dangerous than real police. When rebuffed, most impersonators apparently withdraw rather than escalating to actual violence. Real police generally don't, even when de-escalation is not only appropriate but required.
This is illustrated by the infuriating case of Dibor Roberts, who was convicted on two felony counts (resisting arrest -- which shouldn't be a criminal offense -- and unlawful flight) by a Verde Valley, Arizona jury in May. Dibor's "offense" consisted of frustrating a high-strung, officious boob in a state-issued costume by acting exactly as she had been instructed to by the agency employing said boob.
Hell-o, Newnum: Yavapai County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Newnum, who needlessly assaulted Dibor Roberts, seen here perjuring himself in court.
Roughly a year ago (July 29, 2007), Mrs. Roberts, a 48-year-old nurse and naturalized American citizen from Africa, was returning from work at about 10:45 PM when she saw a car driving erratically in front of her.
After she passed the vehicle -- a maneuver that entailed acceleration, of course -- she noticed what appeared to be a set of police lights in her rear-view. Her first impulse was gratitude, assuming that the erratic driver was going to be pulled over. But she became first puzzled, then alarmed, when it became clear that the apparent police vehicle intended to stop her.
Dibor and her husband, as it happens, had discussed recent incidents involving police impersonators. They were aware of advice given by police agencies to people being pulled over by purported police officers in dangerous circumstances: Drive carefully to a well-lit, preferably public area, and call 911 if possible to verify that it is a police officer. That is the established policy of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department, whose roster includes Sgt. Jeff Newnum.
With that advice in mind, and worried about the suspicious disinterest of the alleged police officer in dealing with the erratic driver, Dibor slowed down and proceeded in the direction of a better-lit area. Her behavior was in strict compliance with the advertised advice of local police authorities. But even if it hadn't been, it still wasn't the behavior of someone trying to flee from the police.
Deputy Newnum, who radioed his headquarters to say that he was pursuing a "black driver" who refused to stop, pulled alongside Dibor's car, and eventually cut her off, forcing her to stop. He then came boiling out of his vehicle with his gun drawn because, as he later testified, "I knew I had an angry driver."
Of course you did, Jeff -- and threatening the driver with a gun is just the thing to defuse the situation, right?
Dibor, very alarmed by this time, was frantically gesturing that she wanted to proceed to a well-lit area, and trying to make her intention clear by shouting through her windows. Newnum took out a baton and shattered the driver's side window, seizing the terrified woman and dragging her out of the car. As he did so, Dibor's foot came off the brake and her car -- which was still in gear -- rolled forward over Newnum's foot.
"He pulled me out and the car jerked because I had my foot on the brakes," Dibor explained after the incident.
"She took it too far when she ran over my foot," lied Newnum later in court. We know that this is a lie because, first, it was Newnum who took things "too far" by needlessly escalating the encounter; second, because Dibor didn't try to escape after supposedly assaulting the officer; third, and most importantly, because although he stated definitively in court that Mrs. Roberts had deliberately run him over, he said in his official report six months earlier that he "couldn't remember" whether this was the case. (He also equivocated, under oath, as to whether he was injured in Dibor's supposed attack.)
Through her window, Dibor repeatedly yelled "It's too dark; I'm afraid." She was dragged from her vehicle yelling "No, no, no, no," as Newnum threw her to the ground. Her cellphone was taken from her and thrown away as well.
She had no chance to call either 911 or her husband, a detail that was confirmed, ironically, by Newnum's boss, Sheriff Steve Waugh. This is significant because the state's corroborating witness, Colin Bass, claimed to have heard Dibor use her cell phone to ask her husband how to escape. (Bass also claimed to have taken Newnum's police flashlight from the Deputy's belt to help direct traffic, an element of his story that is entirely implausible.)
Why was Newnum so wired when he came charging at Roberts with a drawn gun? He testified that he was worried that he couldn't see Dibor's hands; that was the "threat" she supposedly presented to him. But he also testified that he saw her hands plainly, that they were gripping her steering wheel "firmly" -- supposedly the behavior of an impaired driver. In either case, the jury bought into the idea that the police officer's behavior was appropriate, given the supposed threat posed by a terrified, small-boned, 120-pound, 48-year-old nurse.
Roberts was initially arrested and held in jail for six days. As mentioned above, she was later convicted of two felonies, resisting arrest and unlawful flight (interestingly, the initial traffic violation was apparently dismissed outright). The first charge was dropped by the judge, and Dibor was given a sentence of six months' supervised probation. But she has an unearned, unwarranted felony conviction on her record, which means that she cannot continue to work as a nurse (or vote, or -- more importantly -- legally own a firearm).
Despite the fact that Roberts, not Newnum, had carried out his department's policy regarding late-night traffic stops, Sheriff Steve Waugh insisted that his officer had (let's say it altogether now) "acted appropriately."
In his closing arguments during Dibor's trial, Yavapai County Prosecutor Glen Hammond insisted that her crime was that "she did not stop" --
which would mean that Sheriff Waugh had abetted the crime by instructing motorists uncertain of the identity of their pursuer not to stop until they reached a well-lit area. Hammond's position was that Dibor was a criminal because she had obeyed the instructions offered by the Sheriff's Department, and that it was not necessary to prove that she had willfully tried to flee or injure Newnum.
The jury, which apparently consisted of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and his brood, swallowed the prosecution's argument without protest and dutifully regurgitated it two hours later.
After fastening the noose of an unjustified felony conviction around Dibor's neck, Hammond -- as if to validate the suspicion that prosecutors are uniformly despicable -- actually tried to depict her as the bully in this entire affair.
"All he [Newnum] wanted from the very beginning was an apology and [he] left it up to the County Attorney what to do with this case," simpered Hammond. "It was a misunderstanding. It has been really tough on him and his family due to a lot of press, a lot of hate mail. He has been called a racist.... He just wants everyone to move forward and" -- here I must pause to find a basin to collect my rebellious gorge -- "let the healing begin."
So eager was Hammond to recite those puerile cliches that he inadvertently confessed to actionable malfeasance of office: If this even was a "misunderstanding," then it wasn't a crime, and shouldn't have been prosecuted as such.
If Newnum really wanted nothing more than an apology "from the very beginning," he should have complied with Dibor's reasonable and lawful request to find a well-lit area to conduct the traffic stop. That would have cleared up the "misunderstanding" without further complication.
That's how a peace officer would have behaved under those circumstances. It's a pity none was present at the time.
In fact, Dibor Roberts would have been better off that night if her suspicions had been correct, and Jeff Newnum actually had been a private criminal. Contemplate that fact, and its implications, if you're interested in a cure for narcolepsy.
Those interested in donating on behalf of Dibor Roberts' appeal -- which will cost as much as $25,000 -- should contact the Friends of Dibor Roberts by way of the "Woman's Right to Light" campaign.
(Credit must be given to J.D. Tuccille for his tenacious cyber-reporting on the Dibor Roberts outrage.)
On sale now!
Dum spiro, pugno!