Monday, January 27, 2014

(No) Honor Among Thugs

Like countless other people, Los Angeles resident Sergio Arreola was the victim of criminal violence by the police, and forced to defend himself in court because his assailants were encouraged to lie and allowed to do so without punishment.

The Pomona, California police officers who beat Arreola in front of his wife told the terrified woman that they would make sure that the victim lost his job. That sadistic prediction was fulfilled within a day, after which Arreola discovered that his arrest had made him practically unemployable, and his family confronted the prospect of losing their home.

Soon after Arreola posted bail, three of his family members were arrested on contrived charges and threatened with deportation. The LA County DA’s office dropped a charge of assaulting an officer, but insisted on pressing the charges of resisting arrest and obstruction. Six months after the assault, Arreola was acquitted by a jury that – unlike a similar panel convened more recently in nearby Orange County – was honest enough to act upon the abundant evidence that the cops who attacked Arreola had done so without justification, and lied about their actions.

Arreola’s occupation may provide a partial explanation for that jury’s willingness to acquit him: At the time he was beaten and abducted by two police officers in Pomona, Arreola

After completing his shift on April 11, 2012, Arreola received a call from his wife asking him to help out her brother, whose car had suffered two flat tires. When he reached the scene, his wife was there, along with a tow truck operator. His wife was speaking with Eric Hamilton, an officer with the Pomona Police Department.

Arreola, who had changed out of his government-issued ensemble, parked his car and walked over to join his wife. When he got close enough to overhear the conversation, Hamilton pivoted and addressed him in what was later described as a “rude, demeaning tone.”

“Who do you work for?” barked Hamilton. “Let me see your badge.”

Arreola deferentially replied that he worked for the LAPD, and offered to retrieve his official jewelry, which was pinned to a jacket in the trunk of his car.

“I didn’t f**king ask where it was – I said `Show me your badge,’” sneered Hamilton.

Arreola complied, grabbing his jacket and showing it to Hamilton.  That prompted Hamilton to berate Arreola for opening his trunk “without being ordered to do so.” Pointing to a spot near the scene of his brother-in-law’s breakdown, Hamilton commanded Arreola to move his car to the parking place under threat of arrest.

By the time Arreola had re-parked his car, a second Pomona Officer bearing the ironic name Chris Tucker had arrived “Code 3” – that is, with lights and siren running. After Tucker conferred briefly with Hamilton, he ordered Arreola to turn around and place his hands on his head.

“Why are you doing this?” Arreola plaintively inquired, after telling Tucker about a “back-up” weapon in the pocket of his pants. “I did not do anything wrong.”

Like thousands of other people in similar predicaments, Arreola turned to fellow citizens for protection against the police. He urged several bystanders to record the incident on their cellphones. This prompted immediate retaliation from Tucker, who jerked Arreola backwards, then began punching him in the ribs. Hamilton quickly joined in. The attackers threw the victim to the ground – one of them savagely torqueing his left arm while the other applied a choke-hold. All of this was set to the accompaniment of the familiar chorus chanted by rapists and police: “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”

As they dragged Arreola away, the assailants threatened to arrest his brother-in-law for recording the assault. In keeping with unofficial but routine police procedure, they stole his cellphone and deleted the recoding.

Audio recordings made by the officers’ body microphones captured them gloating about the injuries they had inflicted on Arreola.

“Yeah, I just about broke his left arm,” one of them – not knowing if it was Hamilton or Tucker, I’ll call him “Officer Beavis” -- snickered. “Just, I wanted to break his, break his arm.”

“I had my arm around him, chokin’ his ass out,” replied Officer Butt-head. Given that a chokehold is a lethal force technique, the second officer unwittingly confessed to an act of attempted criminal homicide.

Under even the most emancipated definition of “reasonable force,” all of this was unjustified – and none of it was mentioned in the official reports filed by Hamilton and Tucker. Engaging in what trained liars in uniform describe as “creative writing,” the officers claimed that Arreola was angry and put up a fight when they attempted to arrest him, which supposedly justified a violent response.

Treatment of this kind is not uncommon as a form of “street justice” inflicted as summary punishment for “contempt of cop.” But Arreola was anything but contemptuous. Furthermore, he was a member – albeit on a probationary basis – of the Exalted Brotherhood of Official Coercion. Members of that caste generally receive “professional courtesy,” rather than an unprovoked beat-down. What, if anything, did he do to precipitate such abuse?
Demonstrators protest killing of Andy Avila by Pomona PD.

One obvious possibility is that the officers acted out of ethnic bigotry. Arreola, who is of Mexican descent, received his citizenship following a five-year stint in the Marines, including combat in Iraq. 

Pomona’s population is roughly two-thirds Latino, and there have been previous incidents of as-yet unexplained police violence against Latino males by city police, who are part of a department that is deeply imbrued with corruption of every kind.  That theory is undermined somewhat by the fact that the rank-and-file of the Pomona PD includes many Latino officers, some of whom have been implicated in episodes of abuse.

Another potential explanation is that the officers who assaulted Arreola did so out of what his subsequent lawsuit described as “professional jealousy”: His job with the LAPD was better-compensated, and regarded as more glamorous, than their posting in down-scale Pomona.

Resentment of that nature would explain the vindictive pleasure Hamilton and Tucker displayed as they taunted Arreola’s terrorized wife.

“Your husband just lost his job,” Hamilton smugly told her after she had seen him beaten and handcuffed. “I’m going to make sure your husband is never a police officer in the State of California again.”

Within a day, Arreola had been terminated from the LAPD and told to turn in his personal effects kit, to which has been given the disturbingly appropriate nickname “War Bag.” Since his arrest and termination made him ineligible to work with any other law enforcement agency in California (pending his acquittal), Arreola applied to re-enlist in the Marines – only to be turned down for the same reason.

The DA’s office was unwilling to drop the resisting arrest charge, demanding that Arreola accept a guilty plea in exchange for probation.

“They’ve ruined my life, they’ve ruined my name,” Arreola told his attorney as he rejected that offer. “What’s the worst they can do – send me to jail?”
Following his acquittal in December 2012, Arreola filed a federal lawsuit against Hamilton and Tucker, as well as the City of Pomona.

In their reply to the lawsuit, the defendants predictably invoked the evil doctrine of “qualified immunity.” The reply also retailed the now-disproved claim that Arreola “refused to follow the reasonable instructions and directions and commands of the police officers, and attempted to assault, batter and use deadly force on the police officers, [and also] presented a threat to others in the vicinity….”

Interestingly, the reply also asserted that the officers were not liable for Arreola’s injuries, because the victim “voluntarily assumed the risks involved in his conduct and appreciated the foreseeability of being injured” by them.

Granted, that claim was wedded to the perjured description of the incident offered by the officers: On that construction, Arreola got what he deserved because he defied the police. The incontrovertible truth is that he meekly submitted to every demand they made – and was beaten and kidnapped by them anyway.

The irresistible conclusion to be drawn from this is that by allowing police officers to ply their violent trade among us, we all are voluntarily assuming “the risks involved” and should appreciate “the foreseeability of being injured” by them without cause or justification. After all, if there is no honor even among government-licensed thugs, what hope is there for innocent and harmless people who come to their attention? 

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Cooperate" With the Police -- Or Be Assaulted in Front of Your Children

Post Falls K9 "officer" Andor and his handler.

 “See – this is what happens when you don't cooperate with the police!” snarled Neil Uhrig as he pinned Melissa Miller to the floor of her home. It's not clear whether  Officer Uhrig was expressing satisfaction at the expense of the traumatized woman, or trying to tutor her screaming nine-year-old daughter, Julliet, who had watched in horror as Uhrig assaulted her mother, threw her against a couch, and then handcuffed her while thrusting a knee into the middle of her back.

It was nearly midnight when Uhrig and another officer arrived at the home Melissa shared with her boyfriend and their blended family. Julliet and a friend had noticed the police approaching the house, and they went to wake up Melissa. Still groggy from sleep, Melissa opened the door a crack, only to be startled fully awake when Uhrig – unbidden and without legal justification of any kind – shoved his foot inside the home and announced, “I'm going to search your house.”

“No, you are not,” Melissa replied, giving Uhrig a lawful order he was required to obey. Rather than doing so, he shoved the door open and committed felonious aggravated battery by seizing Melissa’s arm, twisting it behind her back, and throwing her to the ground. As he did so, Uhrig performed the familiar ritual of reciting the shared refrain of police and rapists: “Stop resisting!”
Post Falls officers LARPing at public expense.
Although she was morally and legally entitled to resist the home invasion – through the use of lethal force, if necessary – Melissa had neither the means nor the opportunity to do so.

It wasn't until Melissa was bound and helpless, and her family thoroughly intimidated, that Uhrig explained why he and his comrade had honored them with their august presence: He claimed that they were seeking a runaway juvenile who, they thought, might be in their home. One of the occupants calmly explained that the youngster had visited the house earlier that evening, but had left. She also provided a detailed description of what the runaway was wearing.

If Uhrig had been the kind of person suitable for civilized company, he would have knocked on the door, politely apologized for waking the occupants at an unreasonable hour, and explained the purpose of his visit. He had neither the legal right to search the home, nor the practical necessity to do so. If his truculent treatment of Melissa Miller had been justified by the urgency of finding the runaway, he would have left immediately after his questions had been answered.

Instead, Uhrig decided to build on the illegal search in the hope of retroactively justifying his assault on Melissa. Drawing his gun, Uhrig bellowed “Post Falls Police Department!” and barged further into the home.

Melissa's house was connected to a separate apartment with a closed door. Uhrig thrust open the door to the other dwelling and immediately bellowed, “Grow!” In so doing he woke up a sleeping baby. In short order a second “grow” was found in the upstairs section of the house.

Returning to the living room, Uhrig and his partner in the home invasion, Officer Frank Bowne, suddenly “remembered” smelling a strong odor of “fresh marijuana” as they barged into the home – something they hadn't mentioned until after the illegal search.

Melissa and her boyfriend, Jason Dunnington, were both arrested on drug charges and informed that their children were being abducted – or, to use the dishonest official  language, “taken into protective custody.” Before being taken to the police station, Melissa was allowed to use the bathroom – but only with Uhrig standing in the open doorway.

Uhrig in his new gig.
Two days later, Melissa and Jason were informed that the charges against them would be dropped. Six months later, without explanation, the charges were reinstated – only to be thrown out in a subsequent suppression hearing. The court ruled that because “the warrantless entry by police” into Melissa's home on December 10, 2011 was entirely illegal, all of the evidence derived from it was inadmissible.

Melissa Miller has filed a federal lawsuit against Uhrig, his cohorts in the assault on her home and person, Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug, and the city government. Uhrig should be prosecuted for aggravated assault, burglary (illegal entry of a domicile by force), terroristic threats, felonious injury to a child, and committing an “unnecessary assault by an officer.”

Rather than facing criminal charges or even the mildest form of administrative censure, Uhrig has been assigned to patrol Post Falls High School as a “School Resource Officer” (or SRO). Given Uhrig’s proven propensity for criminal violence, and his demonstrated ignorance of – or contempt for – the Fourth Amendment, this would appear to be a singularly unsuitable assignment. 

Actually, they got it right the first time.
That assessment assumes, of course, that the purpose of an SRO is to protect students from violence, rather than tutoring them about the supposed virtue of unconditional submission to “authority.” The latter job is a perfect fit for an individual who reflexively assaults people who assert their rights.

Melissa Miller’s behavior was that of what former Seattle Police Chief (and post-retirement police critic) Norm Stamper calls “a real American… That's someone, when you say, 'Roll down the window,' says, 'No,' or who meets you at the threshold at home and says, 'No, you can't come in. Show me your warrant.' "

Uhrig’s conduct, by way of contrast, was that of a functionary better suited to a totalitarian society in which the law is irrelevant and subjects are required to “cooperate” with any demand that erupts from the gullet of a government-employed thug.

When contacted to respond to the allegations in Melissa Miller’s lawsuit, Uhrig replied that “per city policy” he is “unable to answer questions” – but insisted that “There are many facts that will come out in the case that was [sic] not documented in the complaint filing by Ms. Miller.”  

Of course,  the most significant fact in this case – namely, that Uhrig and his partner broke the law by invading Miller’s home and assaulting her in front of her family – was established beyond dispute at the October 2012 suppression hearing. From the instant he crossed the threshold of Miller’s home without a warrant or permission, Uhrig became an armed robber. In a genuinely civilized society, he would have been treated as such at the point of his crime – or, at least, subject to the appropriate criminal penalties after the fact.

Leaving aside for the nonce the fact that government shouldn’t be operating schools in the first place, Neil Uhrig could serve a useful function in a High School civics class as the living embodiment of what we have permitted our country to become. There would be some value in teaching teenagers that the superficially genial fellow in the peculiar accoutrements is the kind of person who could kick open your door at midnight on the flimsiest of pretexts and assault you in front of your family. 

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How To Kill a Law Enforcement Career: Criticize Revenue Farming

The arrival of a 450-ton, 380-foot-long “megaload” of oil refinery equipment near Marsing, Idaho last Christmas attracted the attention of protesters, spectators, and revenue farmers. A few days later it moved on, leaving in its wake scores of people who had been mulcted by the Owyhee County Sheriff's Office -- and a deputy who had been thrown off the force for publicly criticizing the opportunistic "traffic enforcement" initiative.

The megaload is a huge evaporator being hauled by the Omega Morgan shipping company from Portland, Oregon to Edmonton, Alberta, and will eventually be used to extract oil from tar sands. At various points along the route, the megaload attracted protests by environmental activists who insist that the tar sands project will contribute to catastrophic global warming – a claim that seemed robustly implausible as the megaload's transit experienced several unexpected delays because of severe winter weather.

 During the megaload’s three-day layover at the ION intersection outside Marsing, few protesters bothered to brave the chill. The football field-sized piece of heavy machinery did prove to be an attraction for quite a few local residents, who pulled over at the side of U.S. 95 to snap photos of the evaporator.

This created a minor potential traffic hazard at the intersection that could have been handled quite easily through some improvised traffic control measures. The Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office chose instead to monetize the attraction by deploying deputies to harvest revenue in the form of traffic citations for “illegal” U-Turns. This was documented by one of their own – a deputy who was forced to resign a few days later for publicly criticizing this cynical exercise in revenue farming.
“I have been listening to my scanner a big part of the day and have been hearing Owyhee County’s Finest stopping people for Idaho Code 49-645, subsection 2 – illegal U-turn over a double yellow,” observed special deputy Don Collingwood in a December 28 post on his Facebook page. “I have also noticed that most of the people have a birth year in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Now, before that megaload showed up, I would see people make U-turns in downtown Marsing -- that has a double yellow line – in front of law enforcement, and nothing was done. Is law enforcement taking advantage of the megaload being at the location to write tickets?”

Collingwood (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation") has spent decades in law enforcement, as a police officer in Homedale and a deputy (as well as special deputy and posse member) with the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office. Many of his friends from Marsing’s Vision Community Church (full disclosure: I have attended services there) can testify to Collingwood’s zeal for strict application of the law.

 “A few days after I wrote that post, Perry [Sheriff Perry Grant] showed up at my home with a piece of paper, and he basically told me that he wanted me to resign,” Collingwood recounted to me during an interview at the church’s office on Main Street in Marsing. “I never saw what was on the paper, but I wrote my own resignation.” Collingwood, who considers the sheriff a friend, explained that he was “clearly upset with me over criticizing the heavy ticketing” being carried out at the intersection where the megaload was parked.
Just after POST graduation.
“If they had been consistent in enforcing that statute, they would have been writing tickets here on Main Street,” Collingwood complained. Pointing in the direction of Marsing’s main drag, he recalled that “Just before the megaload showed up I saw somebody out here do an illegal U-turn across a double yellow line literally in front of a deputy, who did nothing.”

It’s important to recognize if the Sheriff’s Office had been more assertive in enforcing the traffic ordinance in downtown Marsing, Collingwood would not have complained about the megaload-centered ticket blitz. Such consistency would have conformed to the Barney Fife standard -- “If my mother made a U-turn, I’d give her a ticket.” Of course, Barney didn’t apply that standard with perfect consistency, either:

It’s tempting to suspect that the megaload ticket onslaught was inspired by one of Deputy Fife’s more dubious traffic enforcement initiatives, “Checkpoint Chickie,” in which he used a newly obtained motorcycle to harass truckers who had to violate an outmoded speed limit in order to deal with an upgrade:

When I contacted Sheriff Perry Grant, he didn’t deny the substance of Collingwood’s complaint, or his recollection of the circumstances surrounding his forced resignation. Sheriff Grant simply insisted, “I am not comfortable discussing personnel issues with you.” 
The sheriff didn’t respond when I pointed out that if Collingwood’s version of events was correct, he was terminated for expressing a critical opinion about a dubious use of county resources and inconsistent application of the law – which is a question of public policy, rather than a “personnel matter.” Besides, Collingwood is no longer one of his “personnel,” because he committed an unforgivable offense by siding – albeit in a qualified fashion – with the citizenry, rather than the deputies sent to fleece them. 

Obiter Dicta

A version of this essay was originally published in the blog section at This is one of several relatively short pieces I've published there over the past week. If you haven't visited that blog, please do; there are several exceptionally talented people who are regular contributors there, and it is a tremendous honor to be in their company.

There are several projects in the works, including my next book (which will be entitled No Quarter) and what could be a very significant multi-media gig. I'll let you know as things develop.

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Dum spiro, pugno!