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POLICE CORRUPTION: HOW TO CATCH A COP
by John Lee
God, grant me the serenity
The Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of a large police force is tasked with the job of investigating allegations of corruption made against police officers. (Of course, small jurisdictions do not have a separate office for IAD.) In his book, Cop Hunter, NYC police detective Vincent Murano describes what it was like to work 15 years undercover as an IAD investigator. His government job was to "root out and investigate police corruption, and criminals who've infiltrated the police department."
Detective Murano explains: "Sure I went after other policemen. After other policemen that were criminals who happened to join the police department. There were drug dealers, murderers, rapists. These are the types of policemen that I went after. The general public should know there are real, serious criminals in the police department. I don't believe that it should be hidden. Let the policemen know that someone they worked with was a murderer, or a drug dealer."
Murano tells how it felt to have have a $20,000 murder contract placed against him by a pair of crooked cops, who were merely fired for their crimes. A lone citizen on a jury did not want to beleive in government corruption, so the rest of the jurors were extorted by this one juror to change their votes to "not guilty" if they ever wanted to go home from jury duty. Other cops had a witness gunned down on a busy street corner in broad daylight, and merely were forced to take early retirement. IAD is a tough job, even when it is done right.
As detective Frank Serpico discovered in the 1970s, and later proved during the Knapp Commission hearings, police corruption is rampant among the 30,000 cops in New York City. All across America, prosecutions of police corruption make news headlines. However, the majority of corruption investigations merely result in administrative discharge or early retirement for corrupt cops. These cases don't make headlines, so the public never hears about them. Of course, only the minority of corrupt cops ever get investigated in the first place. As Serpico pointed out, 10% of cops are corrupt, 10% are honest, and 80% "wish they were honest." In 1998, the Baltimore, Maryland police department made national headlines when it was revealed that 90% of applicants seeking a job as police officer had such an extensive criminal record that they were turned down. The police department of the nation's capitol, Washington, D.C., has been noted for its failure to even bother to check the criminal record of its police officers before hiring them. Here in Knoxville, Tennessee, even a murder conviction does not even register on police computer files if it did not occur recently. Presumably, this also holds true for all other violent crimes. Tennessee even exempts its big city sheriffs and chiefs of police from any criminal background check whatsoever, by order of law from the state legislature.
And these are the government employees who spend 90% of police manpower prosecuting ordinary citizens for routine traffic crimes, raising billions of dollars of "tax" revenues for tens of thousands of separate governments across America.
How in the world do private citizens expose police corruption when it occurs in a one-on-one situation on the side of a road? What can citizens do when there is no IAD investigative team recording abuse of power by a criminal working as a traffic cop? When a citizen does find a way to expose it, how does he survive without suffering the fate of an illegal reprisal?
On 3 January 1997, Dateline NBC aired a T.V. show titled "LA. Law." (LA. stands for Louisiana, not Los Angeles.) This story was about seventeen motorists traveling through a couple of counties there, just minding their own business. Their investigation found that hundreds of other motorists had suffered an identical fate. Stone Phillips began the program: "Imagine for a moment a place where police can stop you in your car for no reason and interrogate you. They can seize your property, your money and your car, strip search you and throw you in jail--and you've done nothing wrong. If this sounds like a foreign dictatorship or Orwellian nightmare, it's not. . . . It's happening right here in America."
Dateline installed five hidden video cameras on a rental car (including one on the driver), and drove through a particular county that the Interstate passes through. Another car followed with a camera as well. Although 30,000 cars use thar road every day, "Dateline's" car was pulled over on the very first day of the experiment. The car was driven with the cruise control set below the speed limit, and the video cameras confirmed that no traffic violations had occurred. After passing a cop parked in the median, the cop pulled out to follow them. Thirteen miles later, after careful, normal, safe driving, the cop got frustrated and turned on his flashing lights, and ordered the news crew to pull over. The cop ordered the driver out of the car.
Driver: What's the problem?
John Larson voiceover: "You are watching an illegal traffic stop by a police officer who is lying." (Video scenes were shown proving the car had been driven perfectly.)
To prove this was not a fluke, Dateline performed the same experiment the next day, with the same result.
Cop: The first reason why I'm stopping you, sir, is because you're slowing down real fast in traffic right there. I don't know if you were just getting tired or what?
One of the interviewees, Karen Bryant, told what happened to her after returning from a church convention with her two children. She had been pulled over by an unmarked sports car, driven by a cop who was not wearing a uniform. She had just come from a state that had warned female motorists about the dangers of "blue light rapists," a not-uncommon crime in any state. Many women have been raped and/or murdered by criminals posing as police.
Cop: I'm police. Roll down your window.
After stopping at a gas station to call police, the individual in the sports car drug her from her vehicle. He threw her on her car and handcuffed her. She was accused of improper lane change. When she asked to call a lawyer, she was threatened: "If you're going to act like an ass, we're going to treat you like an ass." She was arrested, taken to jail, and given a body cavity strip search. "I felt . . . I was being treated subhumanly," Bryant said.
She sued the sheriff for false arrest and won, and the cop was fired. However, he then got a job as a cop in another jurisdiction, stopping more motorists (presumably he was a "high producer").
The same thing happened to Cheryl Sanders: "I'm standing there naked and she goes through my clothes and checks them all." She had a new Lincoln Towncar which police seized, alleging she was a drug dealer--yet no drugs had been found. "You're free to go now, but we're keeping your car, and you can find your own way home from Louisiana," she was told. It cost her $7,500 bond to begin a seven month legal battle--from her home in California. Despite winning, she had to sell her car to pay her lawyer. Now she rides a bicycle. "I'm scared to death of this town. . . . I can't believe that this still happens in America," Sanders said. She has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the cops and the government, to recover her financial losses and compensate her for her suffering.
Another woman--on her way to her sister's funeral--was stopped and searched three times within six miles--it took her four and a half hours to cover a five minute distance. Another female victim said, "I was shook down. I was felt all over my body; my things were gone through in my car and thrown on the ground; he implied that he would forget everything if I gave him a a beautiful leather jacket I had inside there."
Two men were arrested, had their truck seized, and $12,000 cash seized, without any drugs found. It was their life savings that they were taking to their family. One of their sons was put in foster care. "He's just a little boy and he was--I know he was bound to be terrified at being--you know, being stopped, having his father carried off to jail. . . . The system is preying on people who are not truly capable of defending themselves," his mother said. Their employer had to drive 1,000 miles to get them out of jail, and to get the child out of foster care. Three months later, after spending $4,000 in legal bills, they got their vehicle and most of their money back.
Dateline interviewed a local sheriff, who alleged: "We're not here to violate anybody's constitutional rights. We're--we are waging a war on drugs." Larson observed, "If this is a war on drugs, it sounds like there are a lot of civilian casualties." Edwards confessed: "There's a financial incentive in the war on drugs, yes." The Louisiana governor, Mike Foster, admitted that it was unfortunate that innocent people are "inconvenienced" by the government's Prohibition.
NBC's John Larson deduced: "[I]t may just be a numbers game--the more people police pull over, the more they're likely to seize. And improper lane usage--that's vague enough to pull over just about anyone."
A state auditor, Daniel Kyle, found that the police were making illegal use of the confiscated drug money, by taking "deputy training" vacations at ski resorts in Colorado--hundreds of thousands of dollars was missing from the confiscated drug fund. "There's a great deal of money at stake and the unique thing about this program is so much money is in cash. And that makes it very vulnerable to abuse." Bruce's Donut King restaurant was also paid with the drug money, allegedly for "undercover operations." Mr. Larson pointed out that "by far the most money . . . went to the police themselves, in the form of salaries and overtime pay. . . . The money is critical to police budgets. Without the flow of seized cash, some police chiefs admit they'd have to lay off cops." One deputy had a check written to him for $60,000.
Tom Lorenzi, the attorney for many of these citizens, points out: "The people have this belief that before the state can do something to you it has to prove that you committed a crime, but under the forfeiture law, that's not the case. . . . [I]t's guilty until proven innocent. What happens now is, without ever having to prove anything, they can take it. Now it's up to you to come and get it. They don't have to prove [that they found drugs]. They have to prove what they call probable cause. Well, probable cause is precious little, trust me." Government critics predict that the Prohibition laws will never change, since police have too much money to gain. "Each year in this one jurisdiction where we are right now, it's about $3 million." Lorenzi points out that all the government wants is the money, not to stop the flow of drugs. One of his clients who may actually have been a criminal was stopped and police found prescription narcotics and a tiny amount of marijuana. Police seized his Mercedes, his Rolex watch, and $156,000 in cash. The man was released and all charges dropped after he agreed to give up the Mercedes and $150,000. Out of this $150,000, the police kept $90,000, the district attorney got $30,000 and the judge got $30,000 as well--plus the proceeds from the sale of the Mercedes were divvied up. There had been no proof that the money had been the proceeds of a drug sale.
Dateline interviewed a whistleblowing cop, who insisted on maintaining his anonymity by using a disguise. "They got their own rules, their own laws. . . . I mean they just talk about what they would like to seize. So I could get points. You seize a Mercedes and you did good. . . . It's more law enforcement breaking the law than the citizens. . . . There's a lot of [people] out there getting robbed."
(Admittedly-adulterous) Republican congressman Henry Hyde, (formerly) of the House Judiciary Committee (who helps write Prohibition laws), agreed: "That's a classic conflict of interest. The built-in conflicts of interest where the people who seize the property profit from that, it's--it's legitimizing extortion." One victim complained: "Appalling. Unlike anything you would ever suspect--expect out of someone who was supposed to serve the public." Another wished: "This is still the United States of America and we still have rights."
This solitary piece of investigative journalism is most enlightening in regards to eye-witnessing exactly how unethical, and greedy, police officers can victimize a defenseless motorist, a situation that probably happens to thousands of American citizens every day.
If the Dateline motorists had not had hidden video cameras, and a team of attorneys standing by, they probably would have gone to jail and had their vehicles seized. Any complaints would have resulted in further retaliation. Yet they had violated no laws, as proven by the video tape. After revealing their hidden cameras, the police released them.
This show exposed a new twist on the old speed trap so many people fear. Speeding is no longer necessary for being stopped by police. With the so-called drug war, police desire to arrest as many citizens as possible, and they don't even need a valid reason to get away with their crimes. Make no mistake, "law enforcement" is big business! This story was newsworthy because it involved the semi-controversial drug war.
Yet similar atrocities are committed every day in the non-controversial drink-driving war--and more Americans are arrested for DWI than all the drug arrests put together (10.9% compared to 8.0%). This is the political scapegoat of every politician and news agency, which leads to one-sided reporting of the news, and thus a failure to alert the public to danger. Rather than identifying abuses, the powers that be are falling all over each other to see who can be the toughest enforcer of the DWI laws, including vehicle seizures. This is not the sort of thing seen on the T.V. show COPS. The COPS show is powerful public relations for police departments seeking to justify increases in their budgets, and more freedom from respecting civil rights during arrests. DWI arrests on COPS always show someone with perhaps ten times higher blood alcohol than a typical arrest, leading the public to assume all DWI arrests are like that. Clever P.R. Yet I strongly suspect the Dateline show is infinitely more accurate as representation of what the police are really up to during traffic stops. COPS runs every week, year after year, while Dateline's exposé was only shown to the citizens a single time. That's how propaganda works--tell the truth 1% of the time, then dilute it with the preferred image 99% of the time. Then the government and media can plausibly deny that censorship exists in America. There are no daily TeeVee shows to present the citizens' and motorists' point of view.
Dateline showed how citizens can win lawsuits against corrupt cops, when they have the financial resources to play the government's justice game. The following example shows how honest police officers can enforce the law against corrupt government employees.
In his book Breaking Blue, Timothy Egan tells the true story of a Washington state sherrif's attempts to solve a sixty year old murder case, the oldest in the nation, as part of a college classroom assignment. Despite Sheriff Tony Bamonte previously solving all twelve of his jurisdiction's homicides, this case was by far his most challenging. Despite the murder victim being a sheriff as well--two weeks short of retirement, Sheriff Bumonte received no assistance from his collegues in law enforcement. Despite a second sheriff dying a mysterious and violent death in the middle of a second re-investigation, Sheriff Bumonte faced vicious attacks from the local media, local government and his fellow officers. You see, Sheriff Bumonte had run into the "thin blue line" -- or the Crooked Blue Line as some cops call it. The cop killers were fellow cops.
The murdered sheriff--the first murdered sheriff--had been shot and killed during a successful robbery. The burglery organization was run by cops. These crooked cops also committed many other types of crimes, such as enjoying the "sport" of assaulting vagrants, alcoholics and trade union members, extorting bribes from other criminals and stealing from estates of dead people with the help of the county coroner (before the family arrived to take inventory).
Within hours of the crime, the killers' police supervisors were sabatoging the investigation, literally ordering the detectives to drop their case, out of embarassment for their public image. The cover up continued throughout the chain of command, and spread into neigboring police organizations.
The trigger man was merely demoted, and suspended for six days. Later, the cop killer shot an unarmed suspect--a high school honor student--in the back, killing him, and was then suspended for four months, since that case was impossible to cover up. The cop killer resigned soon after, and went on to become head of security at a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility during World War II. After the war, the cop killer not only reentered law enforcement in another state, and became a government judge as well, throwing the book at citizens charged with alcohol crimes, and continued to run his criminal operations.
Despite finding the sixty-year-old murder weapon two blocks from police headquarters--using citizen volunteers after police refused to assist, and having numerous witnesses who were finally willing to testify, the government refused to prosecute. Sheriff Bumonte was narrowly defeated in the next election. He did suceed, however, in finally getting the dead sheriff's name added to the state memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty--the first dead sheriff, not the second dead sheriff. The memorial had been located right in front of police headquarters. Although never incarcerated, the accused cop-killing judge eventually succombed to an early death, perhaps due to the pressure and stress of the international public exposure of his crimes.
Although the government did not prosecute these uniformed criminals in criminal court, the victims were certainly legally entitled to prosecute their cases in civil court, seeking monetary damages. Perhaps they could have hired their own expensive attorney to prosecute their case before the Grand Jury, in criminal court, bypassing the government. Sometimes revenge is sweetest when served personally; other times a successful prosecution can be made.In his book, The Dark Side of the Force, Jan Golab tells the history of two Los Angeles police officers who were prosecuted and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The city that gave America the T.V. propaganda feel-good shows of Dragnet, Adam-12 and Chips,--as well as the the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King, also produced cops who were churchgoing Vietnam Veterans who moonlighted as professional contract killers, jewel theives and pimps, running their illegal businesses from the police station. Lying in wait for one especially brutal killing, one of the killers, a police detective, hummed the theme from Dragnet. The cop's nickname was Doctor Death. The other killer was a juvenile officer.
Police departments everywhere appear very interested in creating a paramilitary corps with the requisite attitudes and skills to subdue the citizenry of a police state. The two killer cops may have been turned into monsters by the national government during their participation in bloody atrocities during the Vietnam War. While waiting to bushwack a victim, Doctor Death says he is excited because it reminds him of an operation against "Charlie." Being a hit man beats working, he adds: "Making 10, 12 grand every time I do this. . . . I used to do it for Uncle Sam for 80 bucks a month."
I witness government police drivers violate the law just about every day. Burned out tail lights, burned out headlights, weaving across painted lines, driving at night while forgetting to turn on their vehicle lights (on well-lit city streets), tailgating, speeding in non-emergency situations, crashing into other cars and injuring (or killing) innocent people. Three times I have narrowly missed being run over by killer cops violating traffic laws -- head-on three feet inside my lane, sideswiped by an overtaking cop 2 feet inside my lane, and watched the driver in front of me T-boned by cop running a red light at 80 mph. Cops ought to be stripped of any claim to a "Department of Safety."
When we see a cop violate the law, are we to make a "citizens arrest," like a bounty hunter, using legal lethal force if necessary? An officer is allowed to kill us, if we should resist a traffic citation, and in stautory legal theory, we have exactly the same statutory right to stop him from harming the community. If the arrested officer gets indignant at our citizen's arrest, should we assault him, handcuff him and lock him up in jail? Should we kill him for resisting a citizen's arrest? Of course, police and bounty hunters never make an arrest without superior numbers, strength and fire power, and the same rule should apply to anyone attempting a citizen's arrest.
Actually, that is not our job; we pay the police departments to watchdog themselves. What if all citizens called 911 when they witness a "crime" committed by a police officer? (Of course, a more realistic response might be for a citizen to simply file an affidavit of complaint with internal affairs and other agencies, and we will get to that later.)
TCA 40-7-109. Arrest by private person--Grounds. (a) A private person may arrest another: (1) For a public offense committed in his presence.
What if all honest police officers reported crimes committed by fellow officers? What if they actually arrested their fellow coworkers on the spot, every time they observed them break a law? After all, that's their job. That's the thrill of law enforcement. What would that do to the status quo? When an honest officer refuses to arrest a coworker who is observed committing a crime, it's no different than standing idle and refusing to arrest a rapist, bank robber or murderer who is observed in the process of committing a crime.
Tennessee leads the nation with 18 (present or former) county sheriffs recently convicted and sent to prison (as of 1995). The latest sheriff was arrested after 500 pounds of marijuana was discovered in his home. Another sheriff was arrested for six charges of official misconduct, public intoxication, sexual assault and harassment, after a Grand Jury investigation. A former Knox County sheriff was imprisoned for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of motor vehicles to feed his cocaine addiction, taking the stolen vehicles across state lines and returning home with another freshly-stolen vehicle (a federal crime). In 1998, the lawyer who had lost against him in the sheriff election was arrested for abusing his wife and DWI. The current Knox County sheriff allegedly helped a convicted murderer steal cars, according to one of his police lieutenants, as told in numerous newspaper articles. The sheriff allegedly used his cop car as lookout while the convicted murderer hot-wired the cars.
In this state, it wasn't until 1997 that police chiefs and sheriffs were required to undergo background checks, such as fingerprint testing, and required to have graduated high school and undergo police training. Amazingly, the state's big-city top cops are still immune to this new legislation. I wonder why? Wahsington D.C. ("Dodge City") has been in the news for hiring hundreds of cops without criminal background checks, and leads the nation in murders and cop shootings of civilians. D.C. cops are not allowed to arrest or ticket members of Congress for traffic violations, including drunk driving, since they have given themselves Constituional Immunity. Therefore the individuals who write Prohibition laws are immune to prosecution for the laws they write for everyone else.
At a car dealership I worked at, we had a vehicle stolen from the inventory, along with over a dozen sets of keys to other vehicles. At first, police did not respond to the manager's call to 911. So I walked next door to the restaurant where police almost always sit. The cops appeared irritated that a citizen would interrupt their sitting. I reported the burglery and theft, and mentioned that we wished to clean up the vandalism as soon as possible, since we were open for business. Police still did not come next door. Eventually, a detective showed up. He had the appearance of one of those unfortunate people whose family tree does not fork (social services workers allege there are entire towns in this area that incestuous). His eyes were literally shut during his entire "investigation" of the crime scene. No fingerprints were taken from the dozens of cigarette butts on the carpet, and he did not even bother to look at the phone lines that had been cut (just in case there had been a security alarm system).
A couple of days later, another detective called to say the truck was recovered after an tip from an informant. It seems the thief had bragged to his neighbors about it. It was allegedly found in the parking lot of an apartment complex. When our manager attempted to find out where to pick up the vehicle (since we had a customer waiting to purchase it), he was told there was no record of it being found. The next day, the original investigating detective called to ask more information, and did not even know the truck had been discovered. Finally, the manager located the truck at the police impound yard, and we picked it up and sold it immediately. No arrests were ever made.
The owner of the dealership recalled a previous experience with the police department over a stolen vehicle. Two years after the fact, the police impound yard had called and notified that his vehicle had been sitting there for two years, and that he owed the police several thousand dollars in storage fees. After threatening to talk to the news media, the police returned the vehicle without charge.
I wonder what the total crime figures are far all government officers convicted: city, county, state and national, including government lawyers and judges? Are there federal government computers somewhere that keep track of these important statistics by criminals who have infiltrated our government, like the giant government computers that keep tabs on all citizens and their alleged traffic violations?
Evil flourishes when good men and women do nothing, as they say. Sometimes the best way to defeat government corruption is to bypass traditional methods completely, whether a murder prosecution, or a false arrest for DWI. Merely reporting crime is often not enough; sometimes the citizens must investigate crime all by themselves, pushing government law enforcement agencies to their legal limits.
JOKE OF THE DAY
Authorities are now saying that the war on drugs will be bigger than World War II.
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