By Mark David Blum, Esq.
One of the most memorable lines Democratic Presidential Nominee Barak O’Bama’s acceptance speech was his incantation of a philosophy by which I have always adhered. Simply put, say I is that there are times in a person’s life when they see a great wrong and know that nobody is going to take any action. These moments are the ones that call you to duty. Nobody else is going to do it, it has to be done, and you know that you are the one who has to step up, though at great personal risk, and solve the problem.
More than five years ago now, a man came into my life who was buried under a mound of legal problems. He had personal issues with police and spent a great deal of his time running for cover and safety as police were constantly on his tail. It was always their choice to exercise the maximum amount of discretion in their dealings with him.
By spending time with him, my exposure was enhanced to a wider world that exists outside the one we all know best. I met many people and spent hours and hours listening to the issues people had with the police. Some branded me an advocate for criminals and being anti police because I have made as much noise as I could to try and bring to official attention the plight and problems I was hearing about.
I don’t recall the specific incident or moment, but about a year ago it became obvious to me that officialdom was not coming to my rescue. Yet, a problem cried out for a solution as civilians and citizens of the United States were being so brutally manhandled for even the simplest arrests. In more than one case I heard a verdict of guilty against a client yet at the same time listened to the judges comment about the use of force. Talk though they did, no judge or legislator was going to step up. Even Dave Stott got close and then backed down.
In my heart I knew that I could easily fix the problem. Solutions were easily achieved with minimal work. Even the smallest of efforts could have had such a dramatic impact. Alas twas but the messenger that ruined the message. Unfortunately, the best examples of the point were always the least respected members of society.
Here was the problem: Though seemingly within their department guidelines, Syracuse police developed protocols and policies that gave the beat officer a wide range of choices of use of force. While the officer must always be in control of the situation, what should be a 51/49 distribution of force, at times can be as disproportionate at 78/22 yet still be within use of force guidelines. The best example would be an officer asking a stopped motorist to get out of his vehicle and the motorist refuses, but does no more but sit still. The range of force the officer can use can rise from pulling him out of the car to tasering or pepper spraying the driver into compliance.
My goal has always been to slow down the escalation of use of force and attempt to see police realize human beings are not chattel. It is not about how many you can body into custody. There is a human element that had to be taken into account. It is my firm belief that when a police officer or any government agent crosses a line, legitimately or not, and doing so is at a level seemingly unfair to the untrained citizen, the damage is extensive. Not only does trust evaporate with the arrestee. You can count also the family of the arrestee, his friends, neighbors, friends, significant others, and children. So much damage comes about from one single act of perceived abuse of government power that we now have a situation where more often than not, cross hairs have an SPD uniform at dead center.
In my arrogant closed minded antidisestablishmentarianist libertarian worldview and over the course of five years of focused discussions, I came up with a solution. Drawing on my education, work and life experience and what I knew of both sides in the equation, I set about implementing a plan of action. It was quiet, not even the participants were told, but through loud and vigorous debate, lawsuits – won or lost, backdoor negotiations for pieces here and there, and some occasional loving assistance from unwitting volunteers. Yes, it also took some slight of hand, a little bit of social psychology, and a relentless pounding of the drum.
Yesterday, I finally saw that it worked. Yes, my thinking and analysis as applied to this one problem finally yielded a result that I consider so positive, that I took the hours spent in presenting this for your consideration.
Now, let us assume I have a client who, over the years, convinced police (right or wrong) that he was a gangster, a danger, and every confrontation between them resulted in a violent arrest. His arrest record may be a mile long, but his conviction rate was handled by good lawyering. For the purpose of this discussion, let us make him a street wise gang banger John Gotti wannabe. Police hate him, hate dealing with him, are very angry at him for the alleged charges and how the criminal justice system has handled him. They also thank their lucky stars that the civil justice system still gives police the benefit of the doubt on the use of force.
Yesterday, I witnessed an act of magic.
This same client; whom police have never hesitated to illegally enter, search, and arrest at any time in the past when so desired, was accused by his girlfriend of threatening her and their 14 month old child. Of course I am going to tell you flat out she is a lying bitch, but that is for a jury to ultimately decide. The evidence should bear out it was a tactic in a related soon to be pending custody dispute.
But yesterday my telephone rang. It was a detective at Syracuse Police telling me the lying bitch is swearing out a criminal complaint. My client was going to be charged with an E felony for criminal contempt. Police wanted him to surrender himself and also to deliver custody of the child to the mother / complainant. For the record, there is no order of custody and each parent has as much rights as the other on questions of custody and possession.
But I made a deal with the detective. I would be willing to help my client settle the custody issue in family court and deliver the child to the mother. At the same time, the day being a Friday, I asked the detective if my client could surrender himself for arraignment on Monday or Tuesday of the week coming. We had a deal.
I drove to the client’s house and told him to come home. He told me the child was with his 13 year old brother meandering about the neighborhood on the warm summer’s eve. It took all my efforts and everybody who lives around the area, but the kids were found, the baby was brought to the father’s home, and we all lived happily every after.
Two seconds after I arrived at the client’s house and before the baby was located, one then two then four and ultimately overall eight Syracuse Police cruisers drove up. Some of the arriving officers had just been ground up by me on behalf of this client in Federal Court. Among them was the Sergeant in charge on the spot.
They demanded my client come out and surrender himself. Inquiring why given the deal I had just struck, I was just told that it would be better if he just came out and surrendered and got it all over with. Again, I reminded them of a deal I had and warned them of the danger of making a deal with a lawyer and breaking it. Every attorney in town would know it and many future citizens could be at risk because professionals are lying to each other instead of working toward a common good. When the baby shows up, I tell the cops they can leave now and the client will surrender as agreed. Nope, they want his body now.
First, I pointed out to them that I was not going to allow the child to go with them until they got a car seat. The law is the law, yaknow.
Second, I told them unless they had a warrant or other legal basis to do so, not only was my client not going to come out and surrender, but they the police were not going to enter absent an arrest or search warrant. I parked my fat ass on the client's front steps and told the sergeant to call the detective.
Finally arriving about an hour later, was the detective and the complaining witness / mother in his unit and a baby seat. Mom took the child and did all the things a mom would do.
The detective, the sergeant and I then had a discussion. First the detective says that he is going to file the E felony. Second, its Friday night and the detective says he is not going to get any of the paperwork done by Monday or Tuesday so the client can come in and voluntarily surrender then. Finally, the detective said no warrant was signed and no complaint has been filed. He held the officers at bay in recognition and honor of the agreement.
As they were slowly leaving, one by one, I was told by the sergeant that if they see my client, he will be arrested on sight. Remember, no complaint has been filed by the detective and no warrant has been signed. The little sergeant made sure that I told my client to stay indoors and out of sight or he would be taken; implying he would do so with extreme prejudice.
Then there was the tall blonde dork in black and blue who stood as though he were twelve feet tall at the side of the steps leading into my client’s house. I asked him why he was wearing his leather gloves. Was he expecting a fight?
His infantile response was how they always wear them. Touching people without gloves is dangerous, said he. You never know who has what diseases or issues. I reminded him that the overwhelming majority of us do not have such diseases and are healthy. He was advised that he could stand down. Though he maintained his “its for the disease” argument, I did notice later that all those other officers who had been wearing their leather gloves had taken them off.
This tall blonde and totally gay officer did one last thing as he was driving off. He handed me a parking ticket. Apparently one of my tires was on my client’s lawn and off the driveway. “Parking on the lawn is illegal in Syracuse.” I counted at least three high fives and loads of laughter from the brother officers. It will be a fun trial indeed; it is called Abuse of Process.
Anyway, the point here is that for the first time in five years, the police dialed way down on their use of force and secured a peaceful and desired outcome without any conflict. I made sure everybody down in the hood realized how well behaved and leashed the uniforms were. The client has his issues with which to deal.
But I think a seed was planted and somewhere along the way, SPD learned it can resolve matters with much lower levels of force than their so-called continuum permits. Of all the anger I witnessed that night, it was all about the lying mother and that I got a parking ticket.
I once offered the SPD PBA a $1,000.00 donation if I was wrong that there is a better way to do things. Seems to me I am proven right and hope this first step is a sign of better days ahead. There are always going to be hallmonitors handing out parking tickets. Any use of force is not always the starting point. Adults can resolve issues; if police act like adults. They are the professionals and it is from them that I expect professional behavior. Street thugs should not be seen as victims or heroes. Only misbehavior and over-the-top uses of force make them so. Seems to me the PBA should be paying me.
To the detective, thank you. To Burgess, you can put lipstick on a sow but its still underneath a sweaty pig. To Badge #303 who gave me the parking ticket, this is going to be fun.
So I sit here this moment with a lighter heart. Perhaps real change has come about. Time and two upcoming trials will tell. “Hope”, as one civil rights Plaintiff once proudly proclaimed, “springs eternal.” Indeed.
(Anybody taking me seriously and wants specific information and data, contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org)