Monday, May 4, 2015

Know Your Job

Events in Baltimore continue to offer fertile ground for comment:

Three of the six officers were charged last week with false imprisonment, after the city prosecutor determined that the April 12 arrest of 25-year-old Freddie Gray was illegal.

I didn’t know, until seeing the picture that accompanied this article, that three of the six officers also are black (albeit none of these were charged with false imprisonment).  With that said, the underlying issue is not about race; it is about color: blue.

The false imprisonment charge didn’t receive as much public attention as second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter charges faced by some of the officers. But experts say State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s use of the charge will force arresting officers to tread carefully, knowing they could face criminal consequences.

Force officers to “tread carefully” or “face criminal consequences.”  That would be a step in the right direction.

Some fear that could introduce a degree of hesitation that lets lawbreakers get away.

It might also let individuals who would otherwise die survive.

Others say officers should be free to trust their training and judgment. “They don’t want to be charged if it turns out they’re wrong on some aspect of the law,” said Steven H. Levin, a former federal prosecutor who last year successfully defended a police detective charged with murder in a county south of Baltimore. “You’re putting law enforcement officers in an untenable position. They’re trying to do their job.”

Read that paragraph again.  Officers should be free to trust their training, which apparently does not include knowing the law; they don’t want to be charged if “they’re wrong on some aspect of the law.”  Wow. 

How can “law enforcement officers” enforce the law without knowing the law?  Isn’t learning and knowing the law part of “their training”?  Isn’t it a basic job requirement?  To expect that they know the law places them in an “untenable position.”  Wow.

The statements by Levin are completely absurd.

The officers haven’t entered pleas, and an attorney who said he spoke for all six said on Friday they did nothing wrong.

A man died while in their custody.  Somebody did something wrong.  Did the seatbelt malfunction?

Officials say Mr. Gray began running after making eye contact…On Friday, [State’s Attorney Marilyn] Mosby termed Mr. Gray’s arrest illegal. She said officers lacked probable cause…

Apparently in the tens-of-thousands of laws on the books, making eye contact is not to be found among these.  Go figure.  I guess the Maryland legislature has some work to do; how could they have left such a gaping loophole in the law?

Police far beyond Baltimore are sure to take note of all of the charges, said Doug Ward, a retired Maryland State Police major who heads the Division of Public Safety Leadership at Johns Hopkins University. “This does put police officers on alert across the country: We better make sure we’re doing the right thing or we’re going to wind up in jail,” he said.

That’s a novel idea – officers should do “the right thing” – meaning know and follow the law – or “wind up in jail.”  It seems to apply to the rest of us.  Of course, for Mr. Gray, he didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t wind up in jail, so what’s the problem?  I guess it will be on this fact that defense will make its case.  Somewhere, on some planet, that logic makes sense.

Baltimore lawyer Nick Panteleakis, who has defended police officers in criminal cases, as well as officers who have blown the whistle on police misconduct, sees a strategic reason for bringing false imprisonment charges in this case: It shuts down a defense by officers that they had to respond with force against Mr. Gray because he was resisting arrest.

“Any citizen has the right to resist an illegal arrest in the state of Maryland,” he said.

My guess?  Exercising that right can be hazardous to your health.  Wait, I don’t have to guess – ask Mr. Gray.  Oh yeah, you can’t.  He’s dead.

Wayne Halick, an Illinois-based private investigator and former criminal investigator, said officers will likely get a different message. “They see that things aren’t being dealt with in a just manner; they are being dealt with in an emotional manner,” he said. “As an officer, that is pretty scary.”

Mr. Halick must be a resident of that aforementioned other planet.  A man committed no crime, and thereafter died in police custody (which should be criminal even if the suspect committed a crime).  To deal with this isn’t “just” on Mr. Halick’s planet.

On Friday, Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore police union, said, “This decision to charge the officers is going to make our job even harder, I can say that.”

Having to know the law will make your job even harder?  Having to safely transport a suspect – to say nothing of an illegally detained suspect – is too much to ask?  Wow.

But Mr. Ward said he doesn’t share those concerns. “The reality is cops know when something is over the line,” he said.

The blue line: the one they won’t cross, the one they hide behind.  They know when they are doing it.  Perhaps this explains the high officer suicide rate.

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