New Rule

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Fresh off a federal report which found that 20 percent of the times Seattle police use force, they violate the Constitution . . . comes this:

A local man called the cops on Seattle officers when he felt a traffic stop was spinning out of control – and the entire incident was captured on a police video that shows the man being yanked from his car and thrown to the ground . . .

The video shows Seattle police pulling a car over for speeding, then one officer walking up to the driver who was pulled over.

Although the dashboard camera captured the incident, the officer did not wear his microphone – a violation of department policy.

Once stopped, the driver, Amanuel Gebreselassie, says the talk went bad from the beginning.

“He’s using profanity. He’s not acting professional. He’s just not acting like an officer,” says Gebreselassie.

In their report, police said the driver was “extremely verbally aggressive.” But Gebreselassie denies it – and says the stop seemed so out of line, he called 911.

An audiotape of the 911 call recorded the conversation between Gebreselassie and the 911 dispatcher.

“911. What are you reporting?” the dispatcher says.

“Uhh, an illegal stop by an officer – you know, I just want to make sure he’s a real officer. … There’s an officer here, but he’s talking crazy to me, and I’m not really dealing with this guy.”

The conversation was cut short when a group of officers returned to the car.

“Get out of the car,” one officer can be heard saying on the 911 tape.

“For what?”

“Get out of the car, man.”

Police say Gebresellassie resisted, so they yanked him to the ground.

In the video, one officer appears to deliver a sharp kick – but it’s unclear where it lands.

Video at the link. The cops then conducted an illegal search of Gebresellassie’s car. An internal review “reprimanded” three cops for profanity and the illegal search, but found nothing wrong with the use of force. Two of the cops were already under investigation for other incidents.

I propose a rule for cases like these: Any time a police officer inappropriately turns off his dash cam, turns off his uniform microphone, or illegally confiscates other audio or video of an incident which then ends up missing or destroyed, the courts will begin considering any disputed facts about the incident with a presumption that the citizen’s account is the correct one.

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26 Responses to “New Rule”

  1. #1 |  David | 

    What, and penalize the hundreds of thousands of police officers whose equipment suffers inexplicable but completely innocent malfunctions during arrests because of the actions of a few bad apples?

  2. #2 |  Bob | 

    Jesus christ, what a sack of thugs.

    Could it be more obvious that this was a fishing expedition designed to escalate and search?

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I propose the courts ALWAYS start considering police testimony unreliable because, you know, it is. They lie so routinely, that cops themselves no longer know the difference.

  4. #4 |  John Regan | 

    The Bureau of Justice statistics record that with 14.4 million arrests every year, only about 18,000 civil rights actions are brought in federal courts, and of those only about 6,000 are successful.

    You can do the math yourself, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a lot less than 20% of the time.

  5. #5 |  David | 

    We’re talking about how often they break the law, not how often they’re held accountable.

  6. #6 |  nigmalg | 

    Always a very effective strategy.

    Become so inexplicably aggressive with your subject that he or she feels the need to move into a defense posture. Immediately interpret the defensive posture as an “office safety” issue and assault and take down the subject.

    Now having at least something to charge the subject with, you can search for drugs, money, etc. with impunity.

    Fishing 101.

  7. #7 |  Pi Guy | 

    Arrested under suspicion of DWB?

  8. #8 |  Radley Balko | 

    You can do the math yourself, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a lot less than 20% of the time.

    1. The report was a the result of a targeted DOJ investigation of the Seattle Police Department. Nothing in the post claims that it’s representative of the entire country.

    2. That said, do you think every civil rights violation committed by a police officer gets litigated? I doubt that even a significant percentage of them do.

    3. How many of those 12,000 dismissed suits were tossed not because there was no violation, but because of qualified immunity?

    I’m not arguing that cops routinely look for ways to violate the civil rights of the people they serve. Or that cops aren’t sometimes targeted with frivolous lawsuits. But I’ve been writing about this long enough to know that when violations do happen, they aren’t taken all that seriously.

  9. #9 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I’m feeling grouchy this morning, so;

    How about, just to start, any time recordings are turned off or lost and a citizen is roughed up, we beat the police involved just as severely, in public. THEN we can hold a trial about the rest of the matter.

  10. #10 |  andyinsdca | 

    Until we hold cops personally liable for their conduct, nothing will change. The PD’s insurance company pays off any settlements, so the individual cop has zero motivation to clean up his act.

  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    This “inadvertent” loss of evidence comes up time and again,
    the perfect opportunity for the courts to play dumb.
    I think with Brady you do not have to prove Bad Faith if the
    evidence is preserved, but if evidence is destroyed you do.
    So the cops have an incentive to destroy evidence.
    I think it was the Bryant decision tried to get tough on this matter but it was not commonly cited.
    http://www.pdsdc.org/Resources/summerseries/SS06162009/FailuretoPreserveMotion.pdf

  12. #12 |  John Regan | 

    @#* Radley Balko:

    Yeah I wasn’t saying the DOJ was wrong in the 20% figure; I rather think they are probably underestimating the number of actual constitutional violations. The point I was making, evidently very ineffectively, was that the courts are providing no remedies for this police behavior and that is a big part of the problem. You’re right that most of the violations aren’t worth suing over, though the provision that attorney’s fees will be awarded should ameliorate that difficulty. And immunity is undoubtedly another judge created impediment. But it is also true, as you point out, that the claims aren’t taken seriously to begin with.

    Courts and legal processes are lamentably failing as a check on constitutional violations by the police. That was my point. Sorry I wasn’t clearer.

  13. #13 |  CyniCAl | 

    “I propose a rule for cases like these … presumption that the citizen’s account is the correct one.”

    State to Radley Balko: “We’ll take it under advisement.”

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095016/quotes

  14. #14 |  Radley Balko | 

    That was my point. Sorry I wasn’t clearer.

    No worries. Sorry I misread you.

  15. #15 |  Me2 | 

    Radley, please fix this:

    “…they violation the Constitution…”

    I’m not trying to be a dick but better proof-reading would help. Reason.com too often leaves these little mistakes in their posts also and it distracts from otherwise great reading.

  16. #16 |  The Packetman | 

    +1 @ #3

    The state should never have the presumption of truth over that of a citizen.

  17. #17 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    A great rule, Radley, one that is going to be ignored without doubt.

  18. #18 |  Deoxy | 

    Actually, I have an even better rule:

    The party that had possession of evidence that is destroyed, for any reason, is presumed to be wrong.

    Doesn’t target the police – it targets the wrong-doing. Easier to market. For criminal proceedings, it works out the same 99.9999999999% of the time (as the police take possession of everything as a matter of policy).

  19. #19 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I propose a rule for cases like these: Any time a police officer inappropriately turns off his dash cam, turns off his uniform microphone, or illegally confiscates other audio or video of an incident which then ends up missing or destroyed, the courts will begin considering any disputed facts about the incident with a presumption that the citizen’s account is the correct one.

    Actually, the crime that you’re talking about here is known affectionately in the court as “spoliation of evidence”. And, not surprisingly, when those of us outside of government do it the judge’s instructions to the jury are pretty much what you say above: “assume the absolute worst case of all possibilities is the truth”.

    Google “spoliation of evidence jury instructions” for more information.

  20. #20 |  supercat | 

    I would offer a further rule: if the cop isn’t wearing active recording equipment that is required for his job, unless he can show that the equipment was non-functional for some cause outside his control, he isn’t on-duty and, except when he has some good reason for not having the active equipment recording him, he has no special authority and should receive no pay.

  21. #21 |  John P. | 

    I wonder just how many judges willfully ignore the misconduct of cops in criminal trials and toss civil suits brought against them under the BS claim of implied immunity for the simple reason, they (the judges) know…

    If they begin hold ally he cops accountable for actual acts of misconduct the majority of them (cops) would be fired or jailed.

    And then, basically the fabric of the criminal justice system would collapse…

    By this I mean its that bad… the conduct of our cops is that bad, if they were to hold all the bad actors accountable, we’d basically have about half the cops we do now…

    Then fear of huge spikes in crimes, etc…

    I wonder how judges actually think about this. I know they see it… if we see it then they certainly do.

  22. #22 |  Larken Rose | 

    “A few bad apples! A few bad apples! A few bad apples!” How long are people going to keep spouting that lie? The whole damn barrel is rotten. If it wasn’t, we’d see cops arresting other cops, exposing corruption and abuse, and publicly condemning the fascist BS that goes on. You’d see Serpico times ten thousand. Instead, over and over and over again, we see entire agencies, including every “officer” involved, lying on their reports, lying in court, hiding or destroying evidence, making excuses, and so on. And then we see the thugs getting away with assault, battery, perjury, even outright murder. If they talk, think and act like mindless fascist pigs, it’s probably because they are mindless fascist pigs. And to any cops offended that I would say such a thing, I would suggest that instead of having tantrums at me, you could go arrest some of the badge-wearing crooks doing these things, so we can see some EVIDENCE that there is still such thing as a “good cop.”

  23. #23 |  Dre75 | 

    Violations of civil liberties by the police occur routinely. I grew up in white, middle-class suburbia thinking that these things happened somewhere else– until they happened to me–in white, middle-class suburbia. Most of the time there isn’t a thing you can do about it.

    Those asphalt burns on your face? You were resisting arrest, remember?

    It happens everywhere, routinely.

  24. #24 |  CyniCAl | 

    Larken Rose, ftw. I might add that all police are paid with tax (read: stolen) money, which makes them evil prima facie.

  25. #25 |  Mannie | 

    I propose a rule for cases like these: Any time a police officer inappropriately turns off his dash cam, turns off his uniform microphone, or illegally confiscates other audio or video of an incident which then ends up missing or destroyed, the courts will begin considering any disputed facts about the incident with a presumption that the citizen’s account is the correct one.

    This is pretty much th Doctrine of Spoilation, isn’t it? If you destroy evidence, you are not allowed to argue on the basis of that evidence. If you turn off the mike, you cannot argue that your speech was appropriate, but I am allowed to argue that it was inappropruate. If you lose the dash cam tape, as happens way too often, then my version of the incident is the only one allowed to be given, unless there is independent evidence.

    Somehow that law applies to you and me but not to the Blue Gang.

  26. #26 |  New Rule « Authentically Wired | 

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