The American Police State

ppnl referenced it in the police malpractice thread, so I’m going to highlight it here. Police in Orange County, California, who beat a mentally ill and homeless man, Kelly Thomas, to death were acquitted.

“These peace officers were doing their job. They had no malice in their heart,” said John Barnett, an attorney for [one of the officers].

No malice.

The surveillance camera footage shows Thomas being beaten, clubbed and stunned with a Taser by police.

No malice.

Ramos snapped on plastic gloves, made two fists and then held them in front of Thomas’ face as he said, “Now see my fists? They’re getting ready to (expletive) you up.”

No malice.

That’s why I’m not a police officer. I wouldn’t be able to beat, club and taser someone to death non-maliciously.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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23 Responses to The American Police State

  1. Matty says:

    I don’t think malice should even be an issue. If someone robbed the corner shop they would not be allowed to use “I didn’t mean any harm” as a defence, why should it be in a case of murder? I can see motive being relevant if it means the accused did not realise the effect of their actions but when you beat someone you can hardly claim not to know it would at least injure them.

  2. lancifer666 says:

    Sadly our court system (local, state and federal) has ceased to see itself as a check on police power.

    You only have to go to traffic court to see the “buddy buddy” relationship between police, prosecutors and judges.

    Checks and balances? We don’t need no stinkin’ checks and balances!

    I plan on moving out of the little police state where I currently reside (Carmel, Indiana).

    I am looking at land in the surrounding counties of Indianapolis. Out there I will only have to deal with small numbers of poorly funded county sheriff’s deputies.

  3. D. C. Sessions says:

    Well, at least we now have confirmation that it is, in fact, part of a police officer’s duty to torture and kill prisoners who are incapable of resisting. It’s not that they want to, mind, but they have to — it’s one of the job requirements.

  4. Matty says:

    Does there come a point where a legal system is so tainted by this stuff you need to get rid of everyone – police, prosecutors, judges – and start again from scratch?

  5. ppnl says:

    Does there come a point where a legal system is so tainted by this stuff you need to get rid of everyone – police, prosecutors, judges – and start again from scratch?

    But is it worse now than it has been or is it much much better?

    Not long ago countless black people were convected on no evidence. The Miranda Vs Arizona happened exactly because the police regularly deprived people to the right to an attorney and often beat confessions out of people.

    There are two differences now. First is the rise of the cheap video camera. Second is the vast number of news sources. This makes self examination much easier. In the past most police brutality was invisible.

  6. ppnl says:

    And stuff keeps coming in. Over at Poehat Ken White is reporting that David Eckert has settled out of court for 1.6 million dollars for his hours of anal probes.

    http://www.popehat.com/2014/01/16/update-the-quantum-of-recovery-for-rape-and-torture-by-police-in-new-mexico-is-1-6-million/#comments

    I agree with Ken that the scary thing here isn’t that Eckert’s rights were violated. The scary thing is that courts could easily decide that they were not or even if they were he has no recourse.

    The cops cannot be sued. The prosecutor cannot be sued. He sued the city and county. They may have settled only because of the political fallout. The doctor is now being sued but it isn’t clear if qualified immunity extends to him.

    Forcing cops to have insurance isn’t going to be helpful if cops aren’t actually held accountable. Accountability is the key here and that failure is on the courts and the legislature. It’s time to stop blaming the cops.

    BTW – has anyone been watching Tim Sandefur guest post over at the Volokh Conspiracy? I find I’m in general agreement with his placement of individual rights over democracy. I am troubled by his formulation of this as natural law.

  7. Troublesome Frog says:

    Part of me wished that Eckert hadn’t settled with the police and had pushed for an admission of wrongdoing and real consequences. Then I remembered that there’d be no actual consequences for the people who screwed up, so I was happy that he got the next best thing. In a world with police liability insurance, the officers involved (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the jurisdiction) would be feeling the pinch from that $1.6M.

    Hopefully the suit against the doctor draws some serious blood. A very harsh precedent needs to be set here.

  8. J@m3z Aitch says:

    ppnl,
    I’m inclined to agree that in general things are not getting worse. There are aspects of the war on drugs (such as civil forfeiture and the overuse of SWAT teams) that have gotten worse, but in general I think it’s getting harder for cops to be abusive covertly, without drawing public attention. There’s an appearance of getting worse, because we’re more aware of more incidents now, but I think that’s a function of reporting, not of incidence.

    And IMO a big–although not the sole–part is, as you say, the rise of inexpensive videocameras. Not only are those still increasing in ubiquity, but I think we’ll see continued pressure, both from civil libertarians but from police chiefs to equip LEOs with videocams.

    That can help with the issue of accountability, perhaps. If it’s no longer possible to abuse people covertly, then continued abuse should lead to an increasing number of lawsuit settlements, at which point police chiefs or city councils ought to start demanding accountability because of the budget effects of police abuse.

    This may, in fact, turn out to be one of those great cases where the demos really does–in the long run–hold the government in check.

    At least that’s what I think on my more optimistic days. But it’s a speculation based on reasonable logic, not just belief in what ought to be.

  9. ppnl says:

    Actually I think the war on drugs is getting better. The phrase is mostly used now to criticize it. At one time the phrase was used to get a warrior elected. We still have a legacy of changes to the criminal justice system that must be reversed.

    Qualified immunity must be reformed as well. That is the only way to get to abusive cops and prosecutors.

  10. ppnl says:

    The latest post by Tim Sandefur is dead on I think.

    http://www.volokh.com/2014/01/17/conservatives-adopt-progressive-priorities/

    The conservatives like Bork really have taken up the flag of the old style progressives. This I think drives much government overreach from NSA spying and asset forfiture to abusive cops that cannot be touched. If the courts bend over backward to let government do whatever it wants then what is the point of the constitution?

  11. lancifer666 says:

    My local cops (Carmel Indiana) have a total disregard for the fourth amendment. I doubt they care about the rest of the Constitution either.

  12. Dr X says:

    @Lance,

    My local cops (Carmel Indiana) have a total disregard for the fourth amendment.”

    True lots of places. In theory you can decline a search request when police don’t have probable cause, but doing so greatly increases the chance that they will do everything they can to ruin your day and possibly ruin far more than your day, and of course, they’ll lie about the whole godamned thing.

  13. lancifer666 says:

    Dr x,

    “True lots of places. In theory you can decline a search request when police don’t have probable cause, but doing so greatly increases the chance that they will do everything they can to ruin your day and possibly ruin far more than your day, and of course, they’ll lie about the whole godamned thing.”

    That’s just what I did and I was attacked, my ID taken from me, I was injured and the subsequent police “investigation” found unsurprisingly that they did nothing wrong.

    The worst part of it was that the police smirked openly about my “civil rights” both during the incident and later when they met with me to give me the results of their “internal investigation”.

    The local ACLU ignored my request for help in suing the police and finally, after several attempts to contact them, stated that they agreed that my rights had been violently violated but that since I was not in jail, facing charges or permanently injured that they saw no pressing reason to use their resources in such a case.

    The bullies won, and they were openly smug and disdainful, even mocking, in their victory.

  14. Dr X says:

    Has there ever been an internal investigation that found wrongdoing?

  15. lancifer666 says:

    Good point. Internal investigation should just be renamed “white wash”.

  16. D. C. Sessions says:

    And IMO a big–although not the sole–part is, as you say, the rise of inexpensive videocameras. Not only are those still increasing in ubiquity, but I think we’ll see continued pressure, both from civil libertarians but from police chiefs to equip LEOs with videocams.

    Which, in a recent case, showed that the police were doing what they were trained to do (four of them beating an unresisting man to death and joking about it while they did) and thus not liable.

    The law and evidence are only what the courts make of it.

  17. Dr X says:

    @DC:

    “The law and evidence are only what the courts make of it.”

    Cameras help, but you’re absolutely right. We’ve all seen astonishing not-guilty verdicts even when these be-badged animals have been unequivocally caught on video. Case here a few years back with a cop beating the shit out of a handcuffed man graphically caught on camera. At a bench trial, the judge found the animal not guilty. Judge is a former cop and prosecutor. While the victim didn’t get justice in criminal courts and the animal has been reinstated after being summarily fired (it was that bad), the victim did at least get a settlement of several hundred thousand dollars, which is far better than most victims of these cop-animals get.

  18. AMW says:

    A student from my university was recently beaten to death outside a club in Santa Ana, just 10 miles south of Fullerton. The defense attorneys are claiming that the victim had a hand in starting the fight that got her killed. Money quote from the prosecutor:

    “The blows that were administered, the victim was on the ground, so it doesn’t matter how it got to that point. She was then vulnerable, and any assault at that point was unjustified.”

    If only the assailants had been wearing badges…

  19. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Sigh. This is the problem with the concept of a legitimate use of force; the assumption that because they can legitimately use force, that their use of it is necessarily legitimate. We need to radically diminish that assumption of legitimacy for any given case, and if we could functionally eliminate that assumption without making law enforcement effectively impossible, that’s what we need to do.

  20. lancifer666 says:

    The cops that clobbered me clearlyenjoyed doing so. They left immediately afterwards, having no reason to linger.

    What good is power if you can’t abuse it?

  21. AMW says:

    To quote D. A. Ridgely, “the wanton abuse of power is its own reward.”

  22. Matty says:

    If it could be done we should replace the idea that some people have a legitimate right to use force with the idea the there are some limited situations (e.g self defence, stopping a crime in progress) where force is legitimate for anyone and the rest of the time it isn’t. We also need to replace the idea that the fact you are allowed to use force means any way you use it is OK. There should be a rule that you do the minimum needed to stop the attack/crime and no more, with obvious safeguards for genuine accidents or panicked over reaction.

  23. Matty says:

    Put another way the initiation of force should never be legitimate, force should be a response to other force and continue only to the point it is safe to stop.

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