Ethics Quiz: Ammon Bundy’s Cowboy Boots

Ammon Bundy. Nice look...that last name is a problem, though.

Ammon Bundy. Nice look…the jury should like it. That last name might be a problem, though.

Jury selection is was about to begin last week  in the trial of Ammon Bundy (Son of Cliven, no relation to Ted) and his fellow defendants who led an armed stand-off on federal lands in Oregon.  First, however, the judge in the case had to rule on Bundy’s lawyer’s motion demanding that the defendants, who are in custody, can wear neckties, belts and boots at trial as requested.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service  emailed  Bundy and the rest to alert them that certain  items of apparel wouldn’t be permitted at their trial: “Ties, Bows, Belts, Handkerchiefs, Cuff Links, Steel toe boots/shoes, Shoe laces, Shirt tie down straps, Safety pins, Shirt pocket pen protectors.” When U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown Tuesday afternoon asked Barbara Alfono, the deputy U.S marshal in charge of the Bundy trial, about the requirement, she explained that security concerns were the source of the order. Those accessories could be used as weapons against deputy marshals or the defendants themselves, she said. As for the boots, they would interfere with the shackles that are placed around the defendants ankles as they are transported to and from the courthouse. (The shackles will be removed, because prior courts have ruled that they are prejudicial, making defendants look dangerous to the jury.)

J. Morgan Philpot,  Ammon Bundy’s marvelously named lawyer, argued that since his client is innocent until proven guilty, he should be allowed to wear the civilian clothes that he chooses.  “These men are cowboys,” Philpot wrote  in his motion, “and given that the jury will be assessing their authenticity and credibility, they should be able to present themselves to the jury in that manner.” He continued:

“We must consider, when he does so, how will he look? And what are the spot assumptions and impressions will the jury have about him when they see him in the kind of white socks and loafers he was wearing today, with his beltless trousers, and dressed in a formal suit without a tie,Just as significantly, how will the lack of belt, tie, or other apparel compare to others in the courtroom, as he and the other detained defendants are the only ones who will appear that way.”

The judge ruled against him.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical for the system to prevent accused cowboys from looking like cowboys during their trial?

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Proof Of Evolving Ethics Enlightenment: Bert The Cop Would Have Shot Walter Scott In The Back Too

For those who think that our ethical sensitivities don’t evolve for the better over time, I prescribe a careful viewing of that family classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

At the film’s climax, George Bailey, the self-sacrificing hero who has been granted his inadvertent wish to see what the world would be like if he had never been born, finds the love of his life and (in the life he has given up for this dystopian hell) the mother of his children now unmarried, alone and working as a librarian despite the fact that she looks like Donna Reed. He embraces her, and since she’s never met him in this alternate reality, she screams, believing she is being sexually assaulted by a madman. Kind, jovial police officer Bert is summoned to quell the ruckus, and George, who is a bit upset, punches him in the face to avoid arrest, and runs away. Bert then takes out his pistol and fires it at George repeatedly.

He’s a lousy shot.

In 1946, when audiences first saw this film, nobody thought there was anything unusual about Bert’s professional conduct. Many, many films right through the 1960s show police officers, “good guys,” even ones not trapped in a strangely mean alternate reality like Ward Bond’s Bert, shooting at fleeing suspects or criminals. That was considered appropriate police procedure then, and the public, society and U.S. culture saw nothing amiss. You were expected, as a good citizen, to submit to a police officer’s lawful authority. If you resisted arrest and ran, then it was fair and reasonable for the officer to shoot you, ideally after a “Stop or I’ll shoot!” warning. Indeed, many people were shot, and killed, this way. If it was news, it wasn’t on the front page, and it wasn’t considered any kind of an outrage.

Now consider the public and media reaction to Michael T. Slager’s shooting of Walter Scott. We now know that Scott was resisting arrest: he had a bench warrant out on him for non-payment of over $18,000 in child support, and Slager was trying to bring him into custody. Instead of doing as the officer demanded, Scott resisted and ran. Burt would have shot at his back too; the difference is that Slager is a better shot, and George was faster. Slager, however, is completely reviled across the country; even his own lawyer found him so repugnant that he refused to represent him.

That represents a massive shift in cultural values in a little over half a century. Continue reading