Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t: Cops Get Shot (At), and Some People Still Are Suspicious (or Critical) of Law Enforcement Officers When They Shoot Back
By Ken K. Gourdin
I just posted the following at SLTrib.com, in response to comments on this story (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57742577-78/officers-heiden-lake-salt.html.csp.
There are still some overtones of criticism of law enforcement by some who have commented, wondering whether (1) the police were justified in stopping to investigate this vehicle and/or its occupants (for “criminal mud splatters” [my term]) or (2) the police were justified in stopping it (if that’s what happened). As of 8:19 a.m., that, apparently, still is unclear.
Yes, one can legally be stopped in one’s vehicle, as long as one is not illegally parked and is not doing anything else illegal which is visible to passersby; and one does have the right, under those circumstances, to not be “hassled” by law enforcement. It’s even possible, if the police stopped the vehicle, that they lacked reasonable suspicion to do so. One can even possess a loaded handgun (and, with the proper license, may even conceal such a weapon on his person), and may carry such a weapon a vehicle subject to the provisions of Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505.
But here’s the thing: if one’s rights are violated by law enforcement, the proper course is to (1) file a complaint with (in this case) Salt Lake Police Department, and/or (2) file suit, and/or (3) take one’s “case” to the media. One doesn’t get a free pass to “shoot first and ask questions later,” no matter whether any impropriety was committed by law enforcement officers or not. Even among the unarmed who don’t fire at officers, often, one’s first instinct is to try “argue one’s case” at the roadside (or wherever else one is stopped/encountered by law enforcement). The thing is, if you do that, you will never win! And even if your case goes to court later on, if you tried to argue your case with the officer where he or she encountered you, a trier of fact will be less disposed to find in your favor (or to award you a sizeable sum) the minute an officer testified, “Well, the subject began attempting to resist or to argue with me.”
To draw an analogy (although, admittedly, this is quite a stretch), just as whether a victim resisted or not isn’t an element of the crime of rape, neither is one who is the victim of inappropriate actions by law enforcement required to provide evidence that he attempted to resist those inappropriate actions in order to recover damages (or to subject the officer(s) to discipline, or to try the case in the media). If you do try to resist, you won’t win, and if you don’t resist, you’re strengthening your own case later on by giving the officer more rope with which to hang himself, figuratively speaking.
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An interlocutor now has responded to the above post. Excerpted quotations from his response appear in quotation marks, followed by my response to him:
“Being for Law enforcement myself I am aware that while such stops may be illegal they do in fact happen …”
Of course, as a general proposition, you’re “for law enforcement.” I don’t think anyone labeled you an anarchist. And the question isn’t whether such stops happen or not, in general; when they happen, they should be dealt with accordingly, through the proper channels (see more of my response along this line below). The question is whether such a stop happened in this case. As of yet, no evidence has been presented that such a stop did, indeed, happen in this case.
“But face the facts, here in Utah there is NO civilian input when LEO’s are disciplined, and for the most part it is done in backrooms among and by other LEO’s.”
Someone might want to tell the members of the civilian review boards in Salt Lake City, in West Valley City, and perhaps elsewhere that they’re simply spinning their wheels. (Granted, some such boards have more “teeth” than others, so that’s always a debatable point.) And, as I’ve pointed out in print before, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill hardly is simply a rubber stamp of law enforcement actions. As for the discipline coming from “other LEOs,” no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop does. And, while administrators must always be realistic about their ability and that of their officers to please only “some of the people, some of the time,” no one is more concerned that the public view an agency and its officers as being competent than a good law enforcement administrator. And perhaps you’d be OK if, having done something improper as an employee, someone other than your employer were to discipline you: if so, you’d be in the minority.
Too many people are content to engage in Monday-morning armchair quarterbacking of law enforcement actions (especially when critics rarely, if ever, have all the facts), yet they simply cannot be bothered to (1) report alleged wrongdoing to an officer’s superiors; (2) contact Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training regarding that alleged wrongdoing; (3) contact an agency head regarding that officer’s alleged wrongdoing; (4) contact the mayor of that officer’s jurisdiction regarding that alleged wrongdoing; (5) go to a community-oriented policing meeting, a Neighborhood Watch meeting, or a city council meeting where issues relating to officer conduct might be discussed; (6) vote in the most recent election, in which the head of the local county agency was elected directly. Or if they have done one or more of those things, when asked what evidence they have of the officer’s wrongdoing, they simply stare blankly at their interlocutor, or respond with a sentence which contains the clause “Everybody knows that cops in [insert-jurisdiction-here] …” Or, after they report alleged wrongdoing but conclude that “nothing is done” about it, they think that due process, Constitutional protection, and other legal safeguards are fine for “John Q. Public,” but that “John Q. Officer” somehow doesn’t deserve them.
“More transparency would most like likely go a long way into stopping many of these situations before they start.”
If you’re referring to the situation under discussion as described in the article, “more transparency” wouldn’t have done a damn thing to prevent the suspect who was killed by return fire from officers in this case from opening fire on them in the first place. In this case, the only thing that could stop that “bad guy with a gun” were the “good guys with guns” – and it’s the only thing that did.
“I have been In Utah for almost 4 months, and from my dealings with police investigators, and county prosecutors here an attitude adjustment is needed …”
A whole four months, huh? Well, that’s certainly enough time to gather a representative sample, as well as to do everything necessary to evaluate the data from that sample! I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m convinced! QED!
“… [A]nd a citizen review board would go a long way to making things more transparent in every department.”
Look, I know you’re the Enlightened Guru from The Big City, and I’m just a small town, unenlightened hick from a backward state, so far be it from me to question your superior judgment (after all, you’ve been here four whole months!) But I think you need to realize that if “every department” in Utah were to have a “review board,” in many cases, the number of people on the “review board” would outnumber the total personnel complement of the entire agency. (That’d go over real well: Andy, Barney, and a dozen-member review board looking over their shoulders at everything they do!) I could be wrong, but if that comment is any indication, it seems to me that you never found a government agency or a government solution you didn’t like: perhaps every officer at every agency in Utah should simply submit every report he writes directly to Eric Holder for his review? Or perhaps, if there are local problems in any given agency, local people are in the best position to suggest how to solve them?
“How many complaints regarding rights violations are brushed aside and dismissed everyday?”
I don’t know. How many of those complaints ever are heard by anyone in a position to do anything about them? How many of them go beyond places such as this message board? And of the few that do, how many are backed up by solid evidence? And how many people who are prone to complain about law enforcement hold the position, as I said earlier, that “rights, due process, and procedural protections” are “fine for me” but “not for thee,” when “thou art a law enforcement officer”?