Quiz: Which Law Enforcement Fiasco Was More Unethical?

It’s Quiz Time!

Chief Wiggum would be an upgrade.

Today’s topic: Why the public doesn’t trust the law enforcement system. Here are two horrible and true, tales of AWOL ethics involving law enforcement in New York and Tennessee. Which is more unforgivable, A or B?

A. Brooklyn, NY: The Perpetual Warrant

What is the fair limit of “the police made  an honest mistake”? Let’s say the police have a warrant to search your house, and come to your door because they got the address wrong—and it’s a mistake. At least they didn’t break down the door in the middle of the night. OK, mistakes happen. Then they come again, because they got your address in error again. Annoying, but they seem embarrassed: they aren’t trying to harass you.

And then they arrive 48 more times.

Walter and Rose Martin,  two law-abiding seniors living in Brooklyn, were mistakenly visited by the New York City Police Department at least 50 times over the course of 8 years. The police explained that their home address had somehow been used to test a department-wide computer system in 2002, and that this resulted in the Martin’s home being put on warrant after warrant. It can’t just be that, though, for the previous owners of the same home had been erroneously visited by the police over 30 times between 1994 and 1997—in fact, that’s why they moved.

I believe it is fair to say that whatever the point is at which a rational citizen will say, “Well, the police have a lot more important things to deal with,” that point has been passed and left in the dust. A judge needs to get the Brooklyn police’s attention by levying fines and prison sentences, because whoever has been in charge since 1994 clearly is incompetent, or just doesn’t give a damn. It is accountability time…seventeen years late.

B. Monroe County, Tennessee: Make-believe Lawyers

Reason’s Radley Balko reports that in 2008, Monroe County Sheriff’s Detectives Doug Brannon and Pat Henry posed as a suspect’s defense attorney in an attempt to get him to reveal incriminating information.  John Edward Dawson, who was in jail on  charges, including theft and drug distribution, was illegally and disgracefully robbed of his right to counsel. His fake attorneys even persuaded him to reject the services of a public defender and to plead guilty at trial.

When the deception by the Sheriff’s Office was discovered, Dawson’s real attorney asked for a continuance so she could consider her client’s options. But following on the theme of complete disregard for due process of law and ethics, Judge Amy Reedy refused the request, ruling that it was all Dawson’s fault for falling for the ruse.

The appeals court was stunned, reversed her ruling, and ordered that Dawson be released:

“The conduct of the law enforcement officers in this case, and in particular Detective Henry, is so egregious that it simply cannot go unchecked.  That Detective Henry would illegally pose as an attorney and arrange the circumstances of the defendant’s case to make it appear as though he had successfully undertaken legal representation of the defendant is abhorrent.  That the detective would specifically instruct the defendant not to communicate the relationship to his appointed counsel, in what we can only assume was an effort to enlarge the time for the detective to gain incriminating information from the defendant, renders completely reprehensible the state action in this case.  Given the unconscionable behavior of the state actors in this case and the fact that the defendant was essentially prevented from proving prejudice through no fault of his own, we have no trouble concluding that the only appropriate remedy in this case is the dismissal of all the indictments.”

Balko’s investigation indicates that Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens and DA Steven Bebb had  knowledge of the scheme,and allowed it to continue. None of the officers involved in the incident seem to have been disciplined. They should have been prosecuted, convicted, and prevented from ever working in law enforcement again. And a judge who would overlook such flagrantly unethical conduct by police us unfit to wear a robe, even in the bathroom.


Today’s Quiz answer: B. The Brooklyn police were incompetent, lazy, uncaring, irresponsible, and apparently beyond embarrassment, but the actions of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office were intentionally designed to rob an accused citizen of his rights as an American and his freedom as well. Their actions were in defiance of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution as well as the Due Process Clause, and they engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

10 thoughts on “Quiz: Which Law Enforcement Fiasco Was More Unethical?

  1. Agreed. I remember reading about the NY case last year. The implication at the time was that the problem had finally been fixed. But a good whupp up ‘side the head with a 2×4 would have been appropriate about 45 incidents ago.

  2. That one was easy, but you should have changed the font color of the answer to white so that we wouldn’t read it until we highlighted it. Just an idea….

  3. Unethical is unethical, but if one must draw comparisons, I agree that “B” is the worse. Those Tennessee cops should have been jailed.

  4. Easy, indeed. At least nobody in Brooklyn has gone to jail (so far!) over the mistake. Although, there’s something really inadequate about the term mistake in that context. I’m a school librarian (it’s a private high school, and we’re not burdened with the idiocies of Zero Tolerance—so everyone calm down), so to me a mistake is when a book with the call number 612.6 gets shelved after (further down the shelf) one numbered 612.12. Or a student says they used the wrong formula on a math test and so lost some points. Those are mistakes.
    I know those poor folks in Brookly should not go and torch their local police station, but I think they they could be forgiven for feeling a little tempted to do so.

  5. I agree on “B.” It is so outrageous that I am surprised that the detectives involved, and the original judge, were not at least booted out of the justice system, and the detectives were not prosecuted. This situation informs me that, regardless of cost (and/or money I may or may not have) if I’m ever in this position I will request, and wait for, my very own attorney (whom I know personally and of course could discern the difference between her and some unethical detective). So much for Miranda rights. Last caveat: never move to Tennessee, and if you’re there, GET OUT!

    Regards “A.” Is there any remedy these poor people have? Can they sue for unlawful entry, harassment, or something? A search warrant, even if the door isn’t broken down, usually results in a house being turned topsy-turvy, and regardless of the outcome it is up to the residents to set it right. These poor people underwent this 50 times? “Sorry” is so far from the correct response that it amazes. Computer glitches are one thing, but over that many years? If there are criminals who happen to share the names of these poor victims, then the system has to be updated with more than names and addresses. So much for what we see on “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” — these are obviously examples of law enforcement of the future, not the present.

  6. This is why you don’t use real data in a development system. Cost and time often results in that system being put into service. That is why you sometimes see warrants or mugshots and arrest info for Daffy Duck or other fictional character. They put Daffy Duck in to test the system. If they had put a real person in (even a model), there is always a chance that the data could result in the model being arrested or tied to the (fictional) data in the system. Someone was foolish and put a real address into the system, which keeps getting called up. Someone should have changed the address to something obvious like 2 Fake Avenue, Not Real City, Imaginary State.

  7. I’ve been on America’s Most Wanted before- I’m an actor. I was glad that I was NOT the one they were looking for, because it happens quite often that the ACTOR portraying the wanted criminal spends some time in custody before it’s straightened out. AND, even better, my episode was trying to get a guy a new trial/released, and we just found out it WORKED and he’s free (speaking of fabricating evidence, etc)…

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