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A New Kind of System

Scott Greenfield may not be blogging anymore, but he’s still a good resource for keeping up with things.[1]

“If you or I did that to somebody on the outside, you’d be sitting in jail talking to (an attorney)” Arcesi said.

But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, those responsible for enforcing our laws take a different approach when it comes to their own behaviors. I was already writing another post this morning about law enforcement ignoring the law when I spotted Scott’s tweet. If you followed the link in the tweet, you already know the story. (Update 9/26/2016: link broken, so I removed it.)

In case the link goes belly up, the essential facts are summarized in the first paragraph:

A defenseless inmate was beaten by Tioga County Jail’s top administrator, David Monell, after being pepper-sprayed and handcuffed to a wooden bench by other officers. But the Commission of Correction ended its investigation and Tioga’s district attorney decided not to prosecute after Monell resigned.

There are a few other points to the story, such as a claim that the inmate spit in the officer’s face, and that the beating everyone attempts to trivialize allegedly resulted in permanent damage to the inmate’s vision. Oh yeah, and the fact that the day after the beatdown, Monell was honored by the New York Senate as the “2010 Correction Officer of the Year.”

The most important part of the story, though, is that Monell was punished.

How? Well, it turns out that after the facts about the beatdown began to emerge, he decided to quit his job.

Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene decided Monell’s resignation was punishment enough.

This is a defense to criminal charges that my client’s would no doubt love to be able to use. I don’t even need a lot of experience with that particular defense to realize — as Bunny Chafowitz sometimes says — “that dog won’t hunt” when it comes to ordinary citizens.

Last week, I was defending someone charged with evading the police, for example. Without getting into the details, there was at best a failure to exercise common sense on the part of the client, who thought the police were after someone else and drove an additional 10 or 20 yards before parking in a parking spot (whereupon two officers did a “felony extraction,” ordering my client out at gunpoint). There is no evidence whatsoever that my client “willfully fle[d] or otherwise attempt[ed] to elude a pursuing officer’s motor vehicle.”

Recognizing this, the prosecutor has magnanimously offered to reduce the misdemeanor to two infractions: one for running a stop sign, which didn’t happen, and another for using a cell phone while driving. My client countered by offering to plead to using a cell phone while driving, even though it was more like “listening to music while driving,” which everyone agrees would have been perfectly legal “if he had been listening to a transistor radio instead of a cell phone.”

My client’s offer was rejected. In explaining that phone records show no phone call occurred and that witnesses indicate my client did not run a stop sign, the prosecution states “I’m offering to dismiss a misdemeanor.”

There’s a reason this makes sense to the prosecutor: My client is just a janitor with no criminal history, no reason to want to flee or evade the police, poor enough not to have a real radio in his car, and witnesses who say he did not attempt to evade.

In other words, he’s not employed by any law enforcement agency.

A couple weeks before that, I successfully defended a woman charged with assaulting an officer. The “officer” was a dog catcher who came onto her property, stating that he had previously seen her unleashed dog running in the street and therefore he was going into her fenced backyard to retrieve the dog. When the woman stated that he was not going to do that without a warrant, he shoved her — yes, he shoved her — out of the way. Despite being approximately half his size, she responded by getting up and shoving him back.

When she went down to file a complaint at City Hall, she was told, “You can’t file a complaint. We’re charging you with assaulting an officer.”

After a year of fighting this in court, the trial judge in the case attempted to convince me to accept an infraction offered by the prosecutor for, apparently, disturbing the peace. (The prosecutor said, “making a loud noise,” so I assume he meant disturbing the peace.) I was appearing in court without my client and stated I would need to communicate the offer first and see if she would accept it.

“Don’t give me that b.s., counselor,” the judge said. The judge went on to claim that the code section that authorized my client to be absent also authorized me to settle the case. (It does not.)

The prosecution finally dismissed the case — without the need to admit to “making a loud noise,” or any other “crime” or “infraction” — just before we were to go to trial.

In that case, I expressly attempted to convince the judge and the prosecution that whatever they — it was clear the judge, without having heard all the facts, was in agreement with the prosecution — whatever they thought about the merits of the case, my client had suffered enough by being forced to hire an attorney and make occasional court appearances for approximately a year.

Until it became clear that we would proceed to trial, they would have none of it. In this case, not only was my client not a law enforcement officer, but she had the gall to defend herself and her property against an “officer” — a dogcatcher — who was only shoving her out of the way so he could invade her backyard without a warrant and take her dog.

On the one hand, these are mild examples of the injustices perpetuated by those who administer our criminal “justice” system. On the other, they show how very far from the purpose of the system we have come.

The reason Tioga County Jail Administrator David Monell was not charged with a crime after resigning is because — in the eyes of those who run the system — he did not do anything wrong. Monell was merely doing his part as an administrator in a new kind of system. It is no longer a “justice” system at all.

It’s a system for the control of all those not employed in the new system. In the eyes of a prosecutor, Monell was “punished enough” because he has — at least temporarily — gone into self-imposed exile; he no longer has the ability to beat defenseless inmates at will.

Those in power actually do see this as a significant punishment.

  1. Yes, the original tweet came from Radley Balko, who I also follow, but I wouldn’t have seen it without Scott’s tweet. [↩]