Dealing with officer “harassment”

I’m Being ‘Harassed’ by the Police. How Do I Handle it Without Making it Worse?”

By Ken K. Gourdin

On Quora, a reader asks, “How can I confront a cop for harassment without making it worse?”

I responded:

A couple of threshold questions spring immediately to mind which might affect the advice I would give to someone who reports that s/he’s being “harassed” by the police:

  1. What do you mean when you say you were “harassed” by the police? If no reasonable officer who finds himself in the same or similar circumstances would behave as this officer is behaving (or did behave), then yes, the officer might be “harassing” you.

  2. Are you doing anything which might cause a reasonable officer who finds himself in the same or similar circumstances to wonder whether some kind of criminal activity might be afoot? If so, then I would consider those circumstances and/or cease that activity.

If the answer to the first question is “yes” (that is to say, no reasonable officer in similar circumstances would behave as this officer is behaving) and the answer to the second question is “no” (that is, you are not doing anything which might cause a reasonable officer in similar circumstances to wonder whether criminal activity might be afoot), now, we’ve finally reached the point where we can talk about what might be advisable for you to do in such a situation.

You have two choices. You can either: (1) Do something that may well make the situation worse (or at best, something which will not make it better); or (2) Do something which will not make the situation worse. For better or for worse, police officers are accustomed to people following the orders they issue. If people do not follow those orders, they tend (again, rightly or wrongly) to escalate their demands. The more resistant someone is to doing what police tell him to do, the greater the likelihood that the interaction will not end well for the person offering such resistance.

So you need to ask yourself, even if you’re right, what are the chances that you will win? Given the facts that officers are accustomed to people following the orders they give and that they tend to escalate their demands when their orders are not followed immediately, the odds that you will win (at least, in the heat of whatever confrontation likely is taking place) aren’t very good. Three things could happen in such a situation, and two of them are bad: (1) You could end up being arrested; (2) You could end up, heaven forbid, being shot; or (3) (and this is the least likely of the three) the officer could decide, or he could be persuaded by a fellow officer or directed by a superior, to deescalate the situation.

So the short answer is, you don’t confront the officer; at least, not then and there. Even if you think an officer is being unreasonable, the best way to avoid being arrested, being shot, or having anything else which is worse than the encounter itself happen, is to comply. As long as you do that, chances are pretty good (in fact, they’re better than pretty good) that you’ll live to fight another day.

Now, suppose an officer is being unreasonable. It’s simply not realistic to think that you’ll be able to talk him out of being unreasonable even if you’re right. Well, you can always talk to the officer’s supervisor or commander and/or file a complaint with his agency later on, after the heat has died down.

What if you don’t get any satisfaction after speaking with the officer’s supervisor or with his commander? Most states have a certifying body for sworn law enforcement officers. In my state, it’s known as Police Officer Standards and Training, or POST. If the misconduct is serious enough and if sufficient credible evidence exists to support it, it may have an effect on the officer’s certification, and, hence, on his ability to continue to work in law enforcement.

Whether the agency (or anyone else) will do anything about a particular allegation of inappropriate interaction probably hinges on what evidence exists that supports your claim. Were there any other witnesses? How believable are the witnesses? If your only witness is a six-foot-tall, 250-pound tattoed, jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing biker dude who just got out of prison after doing a five-year rip for felony drug possession with intent to distribute, good luck.

It also probably helps if the witnesses aren’t related to you, and/or if you have only an arm’s-length acquaintance with them. It increases their believability because it decreases the chance that someone will think they’re lying simply because they have a prior, close relationship with you. Your mom might make an excellent character witness, and everything she says about you (and/or about the incident) might be absolutely true, but the immediate response will be, “Of course his mom’s going to say that! What mother doesn’t love her son?”

What if you don’t get any satisfaction from the officer’s supervisor, from his commander, from his agency, or from the certifying body? Well, the media love “bad cop” stories, and they especially love “bad cop” stories when a “bad cop” story happens, a citizen tries to do something about it, and nothing happens in response to the citizen’s attempt to fix it. I would consider how frequently you interact with the agency involved and with its officers before taking this step, but you can always go to the media. If you decide that’s “a bridge too far,” there is no shortage of places in Cyberspace where visitors love to bandy about complaints about law enforcement. That might not do much for you, but if you’re simply looking to blow off steam, there is that. In any case, provided you comply with law enforcement during the interaction (even when an officer is being unreasonable), if nothing else, you’re free to complain later on to anyone who will listen about how unfair and unreasonable Officer [X] from Agency [Y] is.

And if all else fails? You can always sue, but litigation can be long, expensive, and exhausting. (And again, it depends on what evidence you have to support your claim.) Believing something, or even knowing something for absolute certain, is a far cry from being able to prove it according to the relevant legal standard in a court of law (in civil cases, usually “by a preponderance of the evidence”—think “50%, plus the tiniest bit more.”

I wish you well.

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We Must be Willing to Accept Atonement

A Meditation on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and on Our Willingness to be Saved and to be Exalted

By Ken K. Gourdin

We have such an incomplete, fragmentary, through-a-glass-darkly understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and yet it is the central doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God and Christ are omnipotent. That means that there is nothing they cannot do—except for one thing. Yes, God loves all of His children. Yes, He wants them to be saved and exalted. But the one thing He cannot and will not do is save or exalt anyone against his will. That’s it. So the real question isn’t whether anyone wants to be gay, or straight, or [fill-in-the-blank-with-adjective-here, ad infinitum] in the next life. The only real question is whether someone wants to be exalted—is he willing to be exalted?

To find out if I’m willing to be exalted, God has asked me to obey Him: Much of the time, I fail at that—miserably. Yes, my puny efforts to obey Him might add, in some infinitesimally small, barely perceptible way, to His glory: Glorifying Him and the life He has given me is another of my tasks, a task at which, like obedience, I fail, miserably and often. And yet there are moments—all-too-rare, all-too-fleeting, and seemingly-ephemeral and ethereal, perhaps, here amidst mortality’s prevailing “mists of darkness,” but transcendent and sublime moments, nonetheless—in which God tells me as He told Moses, “Thou art my son.” To quote the beautiful, oft-repeated refrain from the book of Isaiah, though I stumble, though I fail, though I fall (and that’s the real problem: we’re all fallen!), “His arm is stretched out still.”

Yet, here we are, so often groping about in mortality’s mists of darkness, hoping, somehow, in our mortal, fallen condition, to see the truth of the vision described by the Apostle Paul. To the Romans, in Romans 8:38-39, he described it this way:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:9, he described it this way: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

And how do we demonstrate our love for God? “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15. And, though it occurs in a different context, I’m reminded of Peter’s exchange with the Savior: “Ken, lovest thou me?” “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee.” “Keep my commandments.” (See John 21:15-17.)

Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24.

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Ends, Means, Trump, and Justice

A Brief Thought on the Mueller Probe 

By Ken K. Gourdin

I am no fan of President Donald J. Trump.  To say his personal character leaves much to be desired would, in my opinion, be an overstatement.  But as much as I can understand the desire to prosecute him, still, he’s entitled to the protections afforded anyone else who might be subject to prosecution: the presumption of innocence, due process, that the prosecution be required to prove its case at least by a preponderance of the evidence to bind him over for trial, that it be required prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, and so on.

And, still, the ends don’t justify the means no matter how much antipathy we might feel toward the “would-be criminal defendant”: If, indeed, the ends do justify the means, then such a pronouncement calls into question every other “standard” of “justice”: Indeed, it may render the very notion of justice itself moot.

“Not exonerated”?  What a strange legal standard.  While I am not a lawyer, in all of my undergraduate and graduate legal training, the alleged legal standard of “not exonerated” was not discussed.  The only legal standards discussed were the ones I have already mentioned.  If President Trump were not a public figure, I might well wonder if he has a case for defamation based on the public pronouncement of this strange new standard, and the attempt, by implication, to apply it to him.

I can’t imagine most all lawyers I know not being perplexed by that standard—and some of them might even be enraged by it.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt that: (a) a crime was committed and (b) the person in question committed it is a binary standard no matter who is being subjected to it.  Either such proof it exists or it does not.  There’s no lesser standard of “not exonerated”—or any other lesser standard—in between.

It does seem as though many of the president’s detractors are so eager to bring him down that no measure is too dire, no price is too high to pay, no threshold is too forbidding to cross.  In the eyes of his most ardent detractors, President Trump, it seems, is the devil himself, a devil they would stop at nothing to vanquish.

In that vein, I’m reminded of this dialogue between Roper and Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s masterful A Man for All Seasons:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Devil or no, even President Trump deserves the benefit of law, else there be nothing left to protect those who would cut down the law to get at him.  His most ardent detractors best ask themselves, as More admonished Roper to ask himself, where they would hide when, needing the benefit of law themselves, they had already cut down all the laws in pursuit of “that devil” President Trump.

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Change Uninspired?

Are Recent Changes in the Church of Jesus Christ Uninspired, Unenlightened, and Unnecessary? Why I Don’t Believe So

By Ken K. Gourdin

Recent changes in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have prompted complaints from some, who apparently believe such changes to be uninspired, unenlightened, and unnecessary. Some months ago, the Current President of the Church advised us that even more such change was in the offing. “Eat your vitamin pills and get your rest,” he said. Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reported on one such change here (last accessed July 19, 2019):

I commented:

[Screen Name and Location Omitted] – “Just when we thought that all of ‘the changes’ were over and we could settle in and enjoy some consistency at church. Sad.”

I suppose it depends on what one thinks underlies the changes and who one thinks is really in charge. You’re not necessarily alone in thinking, apparently, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders have gone “off the rails” (my phrase).

I don’t have any inside information other than what’s available to the average member of the Church of Jesus Christ “with eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to feel,” as it were. But I strongly suspect that the changes are much more forward-looking than someone suffering from myopia might realize or might be willing to admit. One way or another, the consistency you crave won’t be possible long-term because societal, legal, and other changes won’t allow it. In light of that, the Church has two choices: (1) It can adapt proactively to what is in the offing legally and societally; or (2) it can wait until legal and societal change make such adaptation nearly impossible and then try to adjust. While your mileage varies, I’m glad it is doing the former.

Another poster, a retired high school teacher, predicted “complete disaster” if the Church of Jesus Christ doesn’t provide more “guidance”—apparently, an explicit lesson plan to follow, or, better yet, a manual one can simply read from! Yeah, that’s it! I suggested that in the Church of Jesus Christ, unlike in his former teaching environment, the “guidance” one is supposed to follow doesn’t come from a lesson outline or from a manual. After quoting an excerpt from him, I responded:

[Screen Name and Location Omitted]: “A lot of smoke & mirrors, mostly fluff with little to no guidance, direction, or structure. As a retired High School teacher, if this was what I had to use for a new school year, all I can say is wow, what a complete disaster in the making.”

Or, in the alternative, you could ask yourself whether there’s something else (other than a manual, a program, or a set of guidelines) that’s supposed to provide the “guidance, direction, or structure” … or, more to the point, whether there’s Someone Else who’s supposed to provide it. As a high school teacher, more or less, you taught what the State told you to teach (in the manual, the program, or the guidelines), right?

Conversely, when it comes to teaching in the Church of Jesus Christ, If someone doesn’t follow that “Someone Else,” I can see how it would be “a complete disaster in the making.” Wow. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the Lord actually was serious all those years ago when He gave us such scriptures as Doctrine & Covenants 42:14 and Doctrine and Covenants 50:17-22. I mean, whodathunk?

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You’re out of your jurisdiction

“You’re Out of Your Jurisdiction, Officer!”  To Argue the Point—or Not?

By Ken K. Gourdin

On Quora, a questioner asks, “What if I get pulled over by an officer, and I know he’s out of his jurisdiction?”  As a lawyer by training if not by profession (I’m not licensed), what was my response?  “Argue with him!” of course!  Not really.  I wrote:

Argue with the officer about what his or her jurisdiction is and see where it gets you. ;-D I would not, of course, advise you to do that even if you do happen to know more about the officer’s jurisdiction than s/he does. (With all due respect, color me doubtful.) You won’t win, even if you’re right and the officer is wrong. It’s best to argue potentially improper conduct by the officer, not with the officer himself or herself, but with his or her commander or supervisor. In Utah, sworn officers have jurisdiction statewide. There are many reasons for this. Here are a couple I can think of off of the top of my head:

(1) despite its growing population and increasing urbanization, a good part of the state is very rural still. Most departments aren’t huge. (In fact, my brother is a sheriff’s deputy, and in his county, there’s just the sheriff and him. Hello, Mayberry!) If the choices are, (a) “Congratulations! This crime is ‘free’ because we lack the personnel to arrest you!” or (b) “Now that you’ve committed this crime, you can run but you can’t hide: eventually, potentially every officer in the state could be looking for you, and the one who finds you is duly empowered to bring you to justice no matter where that might be,” I can tell you which of those two choices most of the people of the state of Utah prefer.

And (2) officers don’t want to have to worry about jurisdictional niceties when they send (or when they hear) the call “10–78” (request backup) or “10–33” (help me quick) over the radio. As it is, in more than a few cases, more than a few officers will be waiting more than long enough even when backup is coming “Code 3” (lights and siren) and pedal-to-the-metal. I was a dispatcher long enough to realize how bad I sucked at it (I don’t think I killed anybody before I got out), yet even in the short time I served, I coordinated response to calls like that and did the only other thing I could do: Prayed that responding officers would reach their fellow officer in time. Fortunately, I wasn’t a long-distance witness to any tragedies, for which I thank God.

I’m reminded of the account I heard from a few years ago of a young man who, seeing a marked unit from a nearby city on the freeway, pulled up next to the officer, smiled, and waved. The confused officer, not wanting to be impolite, returned the gestures … whereupon the young man then proceeded to break the speed limit, and the officer promptly pulled him over. When the young man attempted to play the “you’re-out-of-your-jurisdiction” card, the officer duly educated him on jurisdictional niceties as they apply (or not) in the state of Utah and issued him a citation.

If you’re not sure what jurisdictional rules apply in your area, I wouldn’t recommend that you find out by copying that young man’s approach. Most officers would be happy to get the opportunity to explain such rules to you without having to issue you a citation. (Officers might love statistics, but they still hate paperwork! ;-D)

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Thoughts for US Independence Day

A Few Thoughts for U.S. Independence Day

By Ken K. Gourdin

Dan Peterson, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Provo UT’s Brigham Young University, posted the following excerpt from a letter from former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints David O. McKay to former BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson:

It is a part of our “Mormon” theology that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired; that our Republic came into existence through wise men raised up for that very purpose. We believe it is the duty of the members of the Church to see that this Republic is not subverted either by any sudden or constant erosion of those principles which gave this Nation its birth.

In these days when there is a special trend among certain groups, including members of faculties of universities, to challenge the principles upon which our country has been founded and the philosophy of our Founding Fathers, I hope that Brigham Young University will stand as a bulwark in support of the principles of government as vouchsafed to us by our Constitutional Fathers.

See the full post on Professor Peterson’s blog here (this and any other links last accessed July 4, 2019:

Similarly, President Ezra Taft Benson has said:

I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval upon it.

I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has now sent other choice spirits to help preserve it.

We, the blessed beneficiaries of the Constitution, face difficult days in America, “a land which is choice above all other lands”  (Ether 2:10 in the Book of Mormon).

May God give us the faith and the courage exhibited by those patriots who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Similarly, then-Elder-now-President Dallin H. Oaks once said:

The United States Constitution was the first written constitution in the world. It has served Americans well, enhancing freedom and prosperity during the changed conditions of more than two hundred years. Frequently copied, it has become the United States’ most important export. After two centuries, every nation in the world except six have adopted written constitutions,2 and the U.S. Constitution was a model for all of them. No wonder modern revelation says that God established the U.S. Constitution and that it “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77).

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

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Self-help vs. self-defense

Man Sprays House With Gunfire, Hitting Woman in Head: Another Commenter Posits That He Would Have “Taken the Law Into [His] Own Hands”—A Comment on Possibly-Illegitimate Self-Help Versus Legitimate Self-Defense

By Ken K. Gourdin

Early on the morning of June 20, A gentleman heard noises at the front of his house in Delta UT and went outside to investigate. When someone pointed a laser at him (which, apparently, was the laser sight of a weapon), he retreated back into his house, which then was sprayed with gunfire, a bullet from which struck his wife in the head. Amazingly (and, frankly, miraculously), she was not seriously hurt—or worse.

Eighteen-year-old Joshua Baer of Springville UT was charged with attempted aggravated murder and unlawful discharge of a firearm, both first-degree felonies. For coverage of the incident in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here (last accessed June 27, 2019):

I notice that Mr. Baer has tattoos on the side of his neck. While I’m certainly no expert in the matter, and while, given the location of the tattoos and the angle of the photo, it might be difficult for me to tell even if I were an expert, I wonder if Mr. Baer is a gang member.

For reasons that, frankly, utterly mystify me (and which were never clarified even after I requested clarification) The Deseret News rejected my comment. Responding to another commenter who said he would take the law into his own hands if something like that were to happen to his wife (and including his screen name and location in my response), I wrote:

imsmarterthanyou – Salt Lake City, UT

“These folks are real lucky they didn’t shoot my wife in the head. I’d find swift justice by taking the law into my own hands.”

You wouldn’t necessarily have to worry about taking the law into your own hands if you were to shoot someone else in self-defense or in defense of another when you are (or when the other is) faced with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, as seems to be the case here: That’s legitimate self-defense. If, on the other hand, you propose to hunt down the shooter once the imminent threat passes, that’s probably another matter entirely: while I understand the sentiment (and therefore the impulse) that might lead you to do such a thing, if you actually did do such a thing, I’d have to question whether, indeed, you really are “smarter than [I am].” It probably makes a difference if you have someone else depending on you whose life and/or livelihood would be impacted by your decision. If not, I guess the choice is up to you.

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