“I was thrown under the bus for expressing my First Amendment rights,” complained former Surf City, North Carolina Police Chief Mike Halstead following his compelled resignation on September 15. Halstead was ousted after publishing a Facebook post in which he regurgitated a pre-digested slurry of punitive populist talking points about the nonexistent “war on police.”
The focus of the controversy was not upon Chief Halstead's derivative, predictable, and predictably ill-informed political opinions, or the adolescent vulgarity he used to express them, but the fashion in which he reduced the matter of lethal force by police into purely tribalist terms.
“Now let me say this, and this is not a threat but common knowledge,” wrote Halstead. “I have instructed my officers to be vigilant, if threatened take appropriate action. If that means shoot a thug, then do it and answer for it while you are still alive not dead. Law Enforcement is fed up with this murderous society who want to take out those who protect and serve.” (Emphasis added.)
With a slight transposition, that admonition would be treated as a prosecutable threat. A Facebook post urging citizens to shoot police officers whenever they feel threatened by them because the public is “fed up with this murderous institution that routinely kills those whom it supposedly protects and serves” would lead to an immediate arrest and criminal charges against its author. This is not a hypothetical proposition, as several cases of this kind attest.
One unintended service offered by Halstead was his candid expression of the defining conceit of law enforcement – namely, that Mundanes exist to be ruled, not to be served, by the police:
“Imagine if all law enforcement shut down for just [one] day. There would be murders, rapes, robberies, you name it. America wake up, all of you black, white, Mexican whatever you need the police, we do not need you.” (Emphasis added.) As documented in a survey conducted by the Police Foundation decades ago, police patrols do nothing to deter violent crime, which means that their absence for a day would not have the catastrophic impact Halstead pretends it would.
Last fall, in an entirely typical fit of union-facilitated petulance, New York City's Thin Blue Whine conducted what it called a “work” stoppage in certain neighborhoods, declining to enforce “quality of life” ordinances. Neighborhoods targeted for what had been intended as punitive neglect were exhilarated by the absence of armed pests, plunderers, and parasites – and the city witnessed a historic decline in the murder rate.
Chief Halstead's unwarranted confidence in daring people to imagine an un-regimented society brings to mind a similarly ill-conceived rhetorical gambit by high-viscosity cartoon attorney Lionel Hutz.
“Can you imagine a world without lawyers?” Hutz asked, only to shudder in horror as he saw a vision of spontaneous cooperation and goodwill among people in a society free from litigious discord.
Halstead made a feint in the direction of social harmony, urging activists to end “this Black Lives Matter bull sh*t and start a movement that all lives matter.” Like others in his tax-feeding cohort, however, what Halstead means is that only “Blue Lives” matter – or that, at least, they matter more than any others: “Be safe all of my Brothers and Sisters in blue, not white, black, yellow or brown [--] BLUE.”
Halstead insists that he is giving expression to the otherwise unspoken sentiments of his comrades in the State's coercive caste. There is every reason to believe this to be true. His is the authentic voice of Blue Supremacism.
Given the power and privileges of his position, and his professional connections with people with the means to commit acts of aggressive violence, Halstead's Facebook post could be construed as a “true threat” – if he had been subject to the same standards that govern the public at large.
Although he lost his job, Halstead doesn't face the prospect of being prosecuted. That kind of treatment is reserved for uppity Mundanes like Meridian, Idaho resident Matthew Townsend, who faces a trial in January on charges of “witness intimidation” for a Facebook post protesting the abuse he suffered at the hands of Meridian PD Corporal Richard Brockbank.
At a pre-trial conference held today – September 17, which as it happens is Constitution Day – the Ada County Prosecutor's Office made it clear that it was not interested in settling the case.
If convicted, Townsend would face a prison term of up to five years.
Townsend was conducting a street protest in front of a tax preparation service in Meridian, Idaho when he was arrested by Officer Brockbank for “resisting and obstructing” on January 30. Although Brockbank claimed to have witnessed Townsend jaywalking, his incident report does not describe conduct amounting to a violation of the relevant statute.
During his contact with the protester, Brockbank tried to get him to admit to obstructing traffic. After a brief discussion, Townsend asked if he was being charged; when the officer didn’t reply, Townsend ended the contact and legally crossed the street. Brockbank arrested Townsend on the other side of the street without incident – yet charged him with “resisting and obstructing” for the act of walking away from him without permission.
Townsend’s March 18 Facebook post – characterized repeatedly by Ada County assistant prosecutor Tanner Stellmon as “threats levied against the officer” – was a conditional promise to engage in a “non-violent and legal shame campaign” involving “peaceful but … annoying avenues” of protest. By announcing his planned protest, Townsend “sought to thwart the criminal justice system at its most base level,” contended ADA Stellmon.
During an April 15 probable cause hearing, District Judge Judy Gardunia agreed, claiming that by warning of “consequences” that would follow if the charge against him weren’t dropped Townsend went “well beyond just making a statement.” Gardunia ruled that there was probable cause to prosecute the author of that post, local activist Matthew Townsend III, on a charge of “felonious intimidation of a state witness” despite the fact that nothing in his Facebook post or conduct meets the relevant definition under existing state or federal precedents.
The prosecution's objective in the probable cause hearing was to demonstrate that Richard Brockbank is the kind of timid, cringing creature who can be deterred from offering testimony by the “threat” of facing public criticism. The officer was equal to that task: Attired in body armor, carrying a gun and several other “less-lethal” weapons, Corporal Richard Brockbank swaggered to the witness stand in Boise’s Ada County Courthouse to testify that he had been intimidated by what was described as a “contentious and hostile” Facebook post by a citizen he had arrested.
When he looks in the mirror, Richard Brockbank probably sees an intrepid badass; his behavior is akin to that of an ideologically enraptured feminist who is sensitive to “trigger warnings” and perceives “micro-aggressions” in unremarkable everyday conversations.
Two versions of the Facebook post were published by Townsend, both of which notified Brockbank and other public officials that “I know where you all live” while offering the explicit disclaimer that “this is notification of knowledge and future protests, not a threat.” In his testimony, Corporal Brockbank – who seems to claimed that “in my world” such language is perceived as “a threat to my personal safety.” Once again, this is the kind of thing that could be expected from people who promote campus speech codes and similar ventures in ideological hypersensitivity.
Seeking to validate his concerns, Brockbank alluded to a recent case in which “an officer in Idaho Falls had his house burned down” by someone he had arrested. Although he offered no specifics, he appeared to refer to a December 15 incident in which Idaho Falls resident Melvin Savage set fire to the home of attorney Laurie Gaffney, who had represented Savage’s wife in a tumultuous divorce. Gaffney’s husband is Idaho Falls police officer Eric Andersen.
Although Savage clearly nursed a grudge against Gaffney, there is no record that he was ever arrested by her husband. During the two week period leading up to the arson attack, an unknown perpetrator believed to be Savage repeatedly slashed the tires on Andersen’s patrol car, which was parked in the driveway of the couple’s home.
Savage, who subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, worked up to that offense after sending Gaffney a sending the attorney a series of threatening emails, including one in which he promised to visit her office and sign the final divorce decree “in blood.” That overt threat of violence, and the acts of vandalism he is suspected of committing, stand in sharp contrast to Townsend’s publicly announced intention to use peaceful and legal means to protest what he believed to be an unlawful and vindictive arrest.
At the April 15 hearing the prosecution focused intently on the fact that the first version of Townsend’s post described three “options”: “Drop the charges and leave me alone”; “Endure my non-violent retaliation (do you want to be the focus of my rage?)”; or “Kill me and deal with those that know, love, and care about me.” (Emphasis added.)
Townsend has explained that the third “option” reflects his belief that government is legalized lethal force, and that Brockbank’s actions display a willingness to use force and continue escalating it without clear justification. After all, that's the purpose of all the implements of violence with which Brockbank was accoutered when he testified that Townsend's Facebook post made his little heart quiver.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Aaron Tribble, Meridian Police Department Deputy Chief Tracey Basterrechea said that Townsend’s statement that “we could kill him” seemed “threatening to me.” A spectator who involuntarily reacted to that statement with an incredulous chuckle was rebuked by Judge Gardunia, who threatened to have him removed from the courtroom if he engaged in “another outburst.”
After repeatedly describing the Facebook post as an implicit threat of physical harm to Brockbank, prosecutor Stellmon repeatedly objected on the grounds of “relevance” each time defense counsel Tribble asked the witnesses to provide a foundation for that characterization. Gardunia sustained each of those objections, and eventually accepted Stellmon’s argument that any stated intention to engage in even peaceful reprisals meets the statutory definition of “witness intimidation.”
Under Idaho case law, Townsend’s actions do not qualify as witness intimidation. In its 2007 ruling in State vs. Anderson, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man who left a hostile phone message with the police officer who had arrested him on a domestic violence charge. In his complaint, Officer Timothy Neal of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department reported that John Anderson had promised that if the charge wasn’t dropped he would “get me on the stand and let people know I’m gay.”
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Anderson’s statement may been made “for the purpose of venting his anger or simply to irritate or annoy Officer Neal,” but that the state never demonstrated that it demonstrated the intent to prevent the officer “from testifying freely, fully, and truthfully….”
In a 2011 case, the Idaho Court of Appeals overturned a witness intimidation conviction involving a home invasion by relatives of a man facing a narcotics charge. One of the intruders held a .45 caliber handgun to the face of Sarah Phelps, a police informant who was prepared to testify against a defendant named Mike O’Neill.
|Flying the tribal colors at a recent parade..|
“Michael told us,” the assailant allegedly told Phelps. “You’re f****d. You’re going down.”
The Appeals Court observed that while the break-in was an act of “retaliation,” it wasn’t proven that it was carried out for the purpose of “affecting future testimony” – and thus didn’t meet the statutory standard for “witness intimidation.”
Townsend never demanded that Brockbank refrain from testifying “freely, fully, and truthfully.” Nor did he demand that the hearing not go forward, and as Brockbank admitted, the officer didn’t have the ability to prevent the hearing from taking place even if that had been Townsend's intent. Furthermore, Townsend’s comments clearly indicated that he planned to be present for the hearing, and expected that the “resisting and obstructing” charge would be dismissed on its merits, or lack thereof.
Corporal Richard Brockbank and the Ada County Prosecutor's Office claim that a single Facebook post “threatening” a legal, non-violent “shame” campaign was an act of intimidation comparable to – in fact, graver than – a home invasion in which a gun was held to the face of an unarmed, terrified woman. Hyperbole of this kind has become routine on behalf of Blue Supremacists who claim that public criticism of law enforcement is a form of terrorism.
Dum spiro, pugno!