Police Corruption

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Police Corruption

by Ari Armstrong, January 3, 2002

Police corruption increases as more ambiguous and oppressive laws are passed. Some individual officers act in more corrupt ways, and the number of corrupt officers increases. Many of those who would make the best officers are turned off by the problems with the system and pursue some other career.

On December 30, the Denver Post published an article by David Migoya titled, "Lawbreaking cops still on job." Migoya writes:

[49] Denver police officers disciplined for breaking the law in the past decade kept their badges... They include a sergeant convicted of assaulting a suspect with a flashlight then lying about it, and two veteran officers convicted last year of destroying evidence from about 80 drug arrests -- the department estimates "hundreds of cases" may have been affected -- because they didn't want to do the paperwork. Also on the list: a sergeant at Denver International Airport who put a knife under a fellow officer's testicles as he stood at a urinal.

It seems like an obvious point: those entrusted to protect the public ought not be violent criminals. Though I've seen no polling data on the matter, I suspect a large minority of Americans are more fearful of police agents than (non-police) criminals. (How are we to be sure that the officers "destroyed" the drug evidence? Sounds fishy to me.)

Of course, drug prohibition is a major cause of police corruption. Victimless crime laws in general open the door wide open to abuse. And victim disarmament laws increase people's dependence on the police department, even though police rarely do more than mop up the blood after a crime has been committed.

On January 3, the Rocky Mountain News published articles by Kevin Vaughan and Mike Littwin about the alleged police shooting at Columbine. Vaughan writes, "Arapahoe County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Taylor... contended this week that he never told the family of Daniel Rohrbough that he saw the boy die outside the school and that he did not see anyone get shot on April 20, 1999." Unfortunately for Taylor, the Rohrboughs released a tape on which Taylor said he did see a student get shot.

It is well-known that police officers shot at the building from outside. Indeed, early television reports showed bullet marks on the outside walls. The Rohrboughs believe Denver Police Sergeant Dan O'Shea may have shot and killed their son on that horrible day. O'Shea, however, said, "I arrived at Columbine after the boy was killed. I did not kill anybody at Columbine, and I, like everyone else there, gave my best. I'm deeply hurt by these allegations" (Denver Post, John Ingold, December 30).

Hopefully we will eventually learn the facts of the case. Unfortunately, another problem with today's police forces is that the police are investigated by the police. And, as the News editorialized January 3, "Jefferson County... has made such a habit of misstatements in the nearly three years since the Columbine shootings that we've frankly lost count of them."

I have met O'Shea on two separate occasions: once when he arrested Duncan Philp, and once when I appeared in court to testify regarding that arrest. (The case was settled without me testifying.) Prior to my court appearance, I wrote some notes about the case that are reproduced below.

On August 14, I witnessed the police arrest Duncan Philp. Duncan was sitting on a ledge which was a few feet from the street -- the 16th Street Mall. Duncan was not making any effort to pronounce his views publicly. He was not holding any type of sign or political literature. He was not attempting to speak to other people. He was just sitting there. He was wearing a T-shirt which read, "Tyranny Response Team." Pedestrians were passing by only a couple feet from where Duncan was sitting. The bus was taking on and letting off passengers a few feet from where Duncan was sitting. The police made no effort to clear the area around Duncan of other pedestrians. Other civilians were allowed to roam around the area freely.

Across the street, on the opposite corner, the police had set up a barricaded area called a "free speech zone." The police had asked certain individuals to go to the "free speech zone." The police did not require many pedestrians, including some involved in political activity, to move into the "free speech zone." Officer O'Shea asked Duncan to move to the "free speech zone." At this point, I was standing only a few feet from Duncan. Officer O'Shea said that on the third time he asked Duncan to move to the "free speech zone," and Duncan declined to do so, Duncan would be arrested. Then Officer O'Shea cuffed Duncan and two other officers escorted him from the premises.

I then had a short and amiable conversation with officer O'Shea. I asked him why he was moving some people into the "free speech zone," and he said he was only following orders.

It is my opinion that Officer O'Shea gave Duncan an illegal order. It is my opinion that Officer O'Shea violated Duncan's civil rights. It is my opinion that Officer O'Shea discriminated against Duncan based on his political beliefs. It is my opinion that Officer O'Shea violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourteenth Amendment.

Specifically, the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble." The Fourteenth Amendment specifies that all U.S. citizens are entitled to the rights specified in the Constitution. It states, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws."

The Fourteenth Amendment pertains to Duncan's arrest in two ways. First, it makes clear that right to free speech and assembly must be respected by State (and, by extension, city) governments. Second, it requires "equal protection of the laws." Officer O'Shea was forcing select people to move into the "free speech zone," while allowing others to stay in the area, absent any clear criterion. Thus, he was enforcing the laws UNequally.

The Fourth Amendment states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause..." Obviously, Duncan was not secure in his person, and his seizure was not accompanied by any modicum of reason which I could discern.

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