It’s Quiz Time!
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.