Sunday, December 3, 2006

Police Perjury, and Burglars with Badges

“I've got a gun and a badge. I'm always right.”

Sgt. Chuck Schoville of the Tempe police department probably thought he was being facetious when he made that remark to two men he had stopped on suspicion of littering. But "jokes" of this sort, like George W. Bush's oft-repeated thigh-slapper about how things would be easier if he were a dictator, are more revealing than amusing.

At the time he decanted that line, Sgt. Schoville was mugging for the camera: The August traffic stop was taped for broadcast on the Tempe P.D.'s community access program "Street Beat."

This might explain why after he had made the stop and demanded that the two men present identification, he offered to release them without writing a ticket if they would spontaneously compose and perform a “rap” about the evils of littering.

Oh, did I mention that the driver and his passenger were black?

“No littering ticket if the two of you just do a little rap about ... what do you want to do a rap about? Littering? About the dangers of littering – OK,” stated Sgt. Schoville, intoxicated with a sense of his own cleverness.

On first reading about this incident, I was irresistibly reminded of the classic MASH episode “The General Flipped at Dawn.” In that installment, General Bratford Hamilton Steele (Harry Morgan, in an Emmy-winning guest role before he was cast as Col. Potter), is preparing to question a black helicopter pilot during an inquiry. “But first,” Gen. Steele says as the pilot prepares to testify, “a number.”

The chopper pilot replies with a puzzled stare.

“You know, a musical number,” prompts Steele.

The pilot's shoulders slump and he gives the other officers a “You've-got-to-be-kidding” look.

“C'mon, son, it's in your blood!” exclaims Gen. Steele, before improvising his own buck-and-wing dance to illustrate what he had in mind.

In General Steele's defense, he was pretty clearly insane. Oh, and he was a fictional character as well.

As to Sgt. Schoville, well ... as unlikely as it seems, given Arizona's climate, it appears that he was just recently chipped from a glacier.

Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer Kirock apparently has a relative working for the Tempe Police Department.

“You must forgive me,” Sgt. Schoville, aka Unfrozen Caveman Police Officer, might insist. “I'm a simple unfrozen caveman whom your scientists recently revived. Many of your ways are strange and frightening to me. For some reason, I didn't get the e-mail memo explaining that crude racial stereotypes are impermissible in polite society; perhaps my Blackberry malfunctioned, or my Wi-Fi coverage was inadequate. But even to an Unfrozen Caveman Police Officer like myself, one thing is perfectly clear: As long as I have a gun and badge, I'm always right!”

And therein lies the real outrage here – namely, the assumption that toting a piece of State-issued costume jewelry confers open-ended authority and something very close to impunity.

Sgt. Schoville is not the only police officer to get caught yukking it up at the expense of a detained motorist.

Last January, Tom Cox was stopped and detained on suspicion of DUI by more than a half-dozen police officers near Huntington Beach, California. During a search of Cox's Hyundai, Officer Brian Knorr popped the trunk and tossed a snub-nosed, loaded pistol inside. A second officer, who apparently hadn't seen Knorr plant the gun, was brought in to search the car and quickly found the firearm.

Holding it with both hands, the second officer turned to Cox, who was terrified at the prospect of being arrested on a weapons charge – or perhaps being swarmed and beaten by the cops.

“I thought I was in for a butt-whipping,” Cox later testified. “I just thought I was going to die that night. I realize now that they were making me look like a fool in front of everybody else.” All of the officers on-scene enjoyed a good laugh at Cox's expense.

The police at the scene acted like “gang members,” contended Cox and his public defender during his DUI trial in October. For several months, Cox was under the impression that he was facing a weapons charge, as well. And that misunderstanding didn't dissipate until shortly before Cox went to trial: After he filed a complaint with the police, “cops, prosecutors, and city bureaucrats attempted to keep the incident a secret by sealing records and stalling discovery of related documents,” reported the O.C. Weekly.

“By the time of the late October trial against Cox, however, four officers testified that the gun toss was no reason for public alarm,” continued the journal. “They admitted that none of them had mentioned the gun in official reports before Cox's complaint. And, though the officers professed amnesia on certain details, they all shared with jurors an identical excuse: the planted gun was merely a prop in a routine `training exercise' for the junior cop at the crime scene.”

Uh, yeah, right.

Officer Knorr threw a loaded gun into the trunk of Cox's car. And Knorr actually admitted under oath that he had planted guns before.

According to a department spokesman, the Huntington Beach Police Department's official policy forbids the use of loaded weapons in training exercises. Stan Goldman of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who has many hundred hours of courtroom experience, told the Weekly: “I've been in many, many trials and I've never heard of anything stranger than this.”

Cox, rattled by the prospect of a weapons charge, failed his field sobriety test. Blood tests showed “insignificant” traces of alcohol and marijuana in his bloodstream. (Cox has a prescription for medical use of marijuana.) A retired L.A. County Sheriff crime lab supervisor testified in Cox's defense that the heroes from the Huntington Beach P.D. Had botched the DUI investigation.

Nonetheless, a bored, distracted, and indifferent jury sided with the police, finding Cox guilty of DUI and four other misdemeanors. His sentence will be handed down a week from next Friday. The police, on the other hand, will most likely suffer neither civil nor professional sanctions. “Current conventional wisdom,” notes the Weekly, “says that officer privacy in the performance of their powerful government jobs supersedes public accountability.”

Cox isn't the only citizen to get caught in a police “training exercise.” Last year, Las Vegas police admitted to planting narcotics in a suspect's car – once again, as a “training exercise,” this time for a drug-sniffing dog (most likely bought and trained with a federal subsidy). The officers, upon “finding” the drugs, arrested the suspect, and charged with him drug possession.

In court, the officers claimed to have “forgotten” that the drugs had been planted. This oddly convenient case of detail-specific amnesia, so much like the condition that afflicted the officers in Huntington Beach, doesn't explain why the Las Vegas officers fabricated police reports and otherwise covered embarrassing details of the incident. The fog of forgetfulness lifted sometime before two police officers perjured themselves in the witness box in an attempt to send the innocent suspect, Mark Lilly, to prison.

That's right: These heroic guardians of the community, these self-sacrificing exemplars of civic virtue, were willing to send an innocent man to prison just to avoid embarrassment.

Yet another incident of this sort took place in Brooklyn last April, during a vice squad investigation of a massage parlor. An undercover officer strode into the reception area for roughly 43 seconds without attracting attention, and then left. Shortly thereafter, the vice squad raided the business and shut it down, on the strength of the undercover officer's claim that he had been propositioned for prostitution by all eight of the women present.

As it happens, the entire affair had been captured on surveillance cameras. Following his arrest, the massage parlor's owner told police that he could use the surveillance footage to prove that no solicitation had taken place.

So the owner was released, and the police were disciplined, right?

I mean, given the “new police professionalism” extolled by Supreme Court Justice Scalia, that's what we should expect, right?

Well ... not so much.

The day after the bust, the undercover officer and another policeman broke into the parlor and stole the incriminating videotape. Which is to say, they committed an act of armed burglary.

At one point, the undercover officer spied a pinhole camera, which he triumphantly ripped out of the wall, doubtless with the smug expectation that he and his cohort had destroyed all of the evidence.

But the owner, seamy and disreputable as he may be, works in the private sector, which means he's more astute than the government employees who burgled his business. The surveillance footage was stored on the system's computer hard drive. (Click here for a complete report, including video footage.)

The prosecution dropped the case (one of dozens built by the corrupt vice unit), and the squad commander was transferred. But so far nothing has been said about prosecuting the corrupt cops for false arrest or staging an armed burglary.

Summarizing one lesson of this sorry affair, former federal prosecutor John Sims (who is representing the massage parlor's owner and employees) states: “Certainly I do not think people should always accept the word of a police officer.... I don't know why they would lie in this case, but they did and nine people got arrested as a result of it.”

We should also remember that innocent people are getting killed because of the assumption that the power to carry a badge and gun confers something akin to legal and moral infallibility -- which includes permission to plant evidence when it suits them. (Click here, and then on the media window "NRH Police Plant Evidence," for one particularly egregious example.)


dixiedog said...

As soon as I read "Nonetheless, a bored, distracted, and indifferent jury...." I could've stopped right there. That alone explains the problem: Juries, being a genuine reflection of society, are increasingly composed of ignorant, apathetic, and statist-minded commoners.


In fact, instead of writing "Nonetheless..." a bit more poignant "In spite of...[lack of hard evidence, planting evidence, self-described corrupt cops, etc.]" would even be more on the mark.

Whatever happened to jury nullification? Oh yeah, for that to happen requires informed, honorable, and constitutionalist-minded commoners composing the jury rather than the aforementioned.

A second issue with juries is the heavily-screened jury selection process. A truly random jury selection would help, but not guarantee of course, that the state worked hard for every conviction.

Hey, one can fantasize can't he?

Tom Eddlem said...

The abuse of the law by some police is part of the general breakdown of respect for the law in society at large. I live in Bristol County, Mass., in Taunton - a city of 55,000 where the cops who do their job correctly have almost zero impact on crime.

I attended a city council meeting earlier this year where a city councillor and a senior policeman were chatting about how the public had complained of a prostitution problem in the city. Hookers were approaching people openly in the daytime; they are not just "ladies of the night" anymore. What the cop said shook me, the essence of which is this: "People complain about prostitution, but what do they expect when the courts just let them out of prison without any consequences? We've got one hooker who's been arrested 18 times for prostitution, and who has yet to spend a single night in jail."

With the cops acting as nothing more than a taxi service, plus bed and breakfast, before the 9:00 a.m. court date, how can they have any impact?

Their chief impact is the breakfast menu at "Chez de Bristol County Lock-up".

Add that to the fact that on the state level we have a legislature that just flagrantly violated the state constitution on ballot initiatives regarding marriage (and universal health care) by failing to hold a vote they were constitutionally obligated to hold.

And don't forget the federal level, where we have a Bush Administration that thinks it can torture and deny trials to anyone they please.

Respect for law is at an all-time low, and we shouldn't expect the police to be immune from this systemic societal disease.

Anonymous said...


I recall reading a glossy recruitment brochure distributed by NYPD (circa 1990). Two things caught my attention. The first was that I had to flip to the other half to read it in English. The second was that an applicant was permitted to apply at the age of 17 with parental permission. Hopefully the age of applicants has changed.

I flashed back to my days in the Army when I witnessed how immature minds carried in the bodies of alleged men excerised authority over others. Scary indeed. 18 or 19 year olds carrying guns and being referred to as police sets the stage for some ego trips.

Nowadays many police agencies are eager to recruit those who posses the coveted associate degree. Now there are cops who might be 21 years of age and never left home. They can't balance a checkbook. The greatest challenge they've faced in life was returning movies to the movie store on time or getting their oil changed at 3,000 miles.

I'm a proponent of a minimum age of 30 to apply. The applicant must've been gainfully employed, preferably in an occupation requiring medium to high levels of labor. Occasional pain and alot of sweat from said work is a plus. Supporting a family during this work period is a definite bonus. One will be disqualified if he admits he has played PS2 or Xbox more than twice (excluding recreation with his children or child relatives). 10 points to his eligibilty score will be added if there is an independent and verifiable siting of the applicant reading and then sharing the U.S. Constitution, The Federalist or Anti-Federalist Papers (or other documents of that era), The Law,.......and the list could go on. Maybe even Global Gun Grab can squeeze in there.

I agree with Tom. Respect for the law is at an all-time low. And not just the law in general, but respectable laws in particular. One used to guarantee himself a trip to the gallows if caught stealing a man's horse. Now teenagers steal cars and lead police on high speed pursuits after an armed robbery. If caught their parents scream at the cops, insisting their little boy would never do such a thing.

I don't know if some cops will become less criminal in their behavior if society continues on its current path.