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Toys, But It's Not A Game

One of Fresno’s top criminal defense lawyers, Rick Berman, was arrested yesterday. The circumstances of the arrest are unsurprising to me: I’ve often told my wife as I leave for work in the morning that it could happen to me.


Because Fresno’s law enforcement officers — particularly in courthouses — are no different than those elsewhere in the country. As Fresno attorney Peter Sean Bradley put it:

The militarization of the police is a problem. It seems to have fostered the attitude among the police that they are a kind of occupying power in a conquered nation of people who are criminals who have just not been caught yet.

Or to be more blunt about it, in the minds of law enforcement: “Our job is subjugation. We have no legal restraints. Resistance is futile.”

The Fresno Police Gazette, also known as the Fresno Bee, comes about as close as they can to being “fair” in the story. That is, as close as they can. It is no secret within the legal community that local news media won’t report the depth of depravity within local law enforcement departments because they’re afraid they will “lose access.” So while they do try and frequently get a portion of the story right, what the local news media won’t do is report that an officer has overreacted.

Besides, it makes for good theater — particularly when we’re talking about video news reporting agencies. For example, last month when a deputy ordered a judge to leave the courtroom after he apparently decided they were talking to someone else during a courtroom scuffle with a distraught family member in a murder case and ignored the initial commands: now that was good theater, even if the deputies overreacted and decided they were going to commandeer the judge’s courtroom. Of course, sometimes when deputies are overreacting, they don’t immediately recognize they’re abusing a judge; other times, it’s just because they don’t like what the judge is doing — that’s because the default mode for “handling” citizens is to force compliance, regardless of whether or not there is a need for it.

This latest incident involved the deputies attempt to confiscate a toy — yes, let’s make sure that’s understood: however much people want to keep calling it a “plastic wrench,” as if that makes it more ominous, the deputies decided to confiscate a toy.

It makes for more excitement to call it “a plastic wrench” and avoid the use of the word “toy.”

After all, we wouldn’t want anyone drawing comparisons between the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and TSA, which was recently in the business of confiscating toys from mentally-disabled special-needs autistic individuals in diapers.

Yeah, we couldn’t have that. After all, TSA admitted that they made a mistake and said that “better judgment was needed.”

Those words are not in Sheriff Mims’s vocabulary unless she’s applying them to someone her deputies have attacked or beaten.

Rick Berman is, as the Bee reports, one of Fresno’s “high-profile defense attorneys.” He is a former Chief Deputy District Attorney, which means he had some significant time and experience in and had been deemed by the District Attorney’s Office to be someone of good judgment. He is not known for being stupid. And he is 65 years old with back trouble.

I guess you can see where I’m going with this: I have significant doubts that Rick Berman attacked a deputy in a courthouse lobby full of deputies. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible, particularly when you consider that good and intelligent criminal defense attorneys realize the joke that is courthouse security. If I’m a deputy district attorney, I can flash my badge and pretty much sail right on through security. No need to run my bags through the x-ray machine. Hell, if I’m a defense attorney the bailiff likes, I might get away with it, too. I might have a gun in my bag, but the deputy “knows” I’m a “good guy,” so he isn’t concerned to check.

Of course, the only time I’m aware of in the history of the central valley that an attorney has actually ever committed an act of violence in a courthouse, it was a prosecutor. That was when a Deputy District Attorney set the Madera courthouse on fire. That fire caused between $1.5 and $2 million dollars in damage.

Based on my own personal knowledge and a Google search, I am aware of no other incidents involving attorneys attacking anyone or committing any acts of violence inside a central valley courthouse.

Nevertheless, most defense attorneys check our bags through the x-ray machine. No badges for us.[1] In Madera, we do the same “remove the belt, turn on your cellphone and (sometimes) your computer” that everyone else does.

As outrageous as this is to those of us who believe in the United States Constitution, like the TSA harassment of the autistic disabled person which stopped one plastic hammer, but missed the one in his mom’s bag, these procedures do pretty much nothing to make us safer. Attorneys tend to be smart people and could sneak things through if they thought about it. But you don’t have to think about it: I’ve known of attorneys who accidentallybrought weapons to court. Fortunately for them, no one caught them “trying to smuggle” them in during the “security” check.

So how good is the security check, really?

To law enforcement and the judges, it doesn’t really matter in the end. This is because it’s not really about security; it’s about creating an attitude of subservience.

And that’s why I don’t believe the Sheriff Department’s statement that Rick Berman shoved the deputy. I’ve seen with my own eyes — and you can, too — how the police can become upset and attack someone for asking questions, even if you’re lost and just asking for directions, or just for watching them. It doesn’t matter who you are, even a reporter doing a story.(There are non-video stories about reporters being arrested for asking police questions, as well.)

Afterwards, law enforcement is happy to lie about what (Update 9/26/2016: link broken) happened. (Edit 3/21/2017: Link broken/removed.) (Watch the video in that last story. It’s long, but absolutely will floor you.)

The reasons for this are simple: the job of the police is to suppress citizens. There are no exceptions.

I’m not saying Rick Berman did not do what he was accused of. I wasn’t there. I haven’t seen it. (I’m not sure why law enforcement doesn’t just give video to the reporters, by the way. It happened in the courthouse where everything is filmed. But, on the other hand, since the Fresno Bee is willing to report their allegation without the need for validation, why should they turn over evidence that might exonerate Berman?)

Frankly, I think it’s much more likely that the officer — who knows that she can throw her weight around and that her fellow officers will protect her — attacked Berman, than that Berman, who is a smart and well-respected criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, attacked her.

  1. Ironically, in one of the most fascistic counties in the central valley — Kings County — attorneys who wish to do so can pay $15 for a county badge so we can sail through security just like the big boys in the District Attorney’s office.