Cops gone wild: Rocky Mountain lows, and OK Great Plains blues
Published: April 30th, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY – Every year, I judge a range of competitions among professional journalists. Recently, reading news reports and commentaries from mainstream newspapers in the Mountain Time Zone, an undeniable theme emerged, to wit: abuses of power by and among law enforcement agencies are an increasing reality, raising concern in some of America’s most pro-cop and pro-law enforcement jurisdictions.
The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper, in a lengthy news story printed last November detailed shocking abuses within the ranks of the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP).
Tribune Reporters Nate Carlisle and Cimaron Neugebauer reviewed an incident involving two patrolmen who broke into a locked office at a state police academy, where they altered their timecards.
When the wrongdoing was discovered, one officer was demoted with his pay reduced; the other officer got a 40-hour suspension.
Two other Utah officers sought felony counts against man in possession of small amounts of drugs – for which he had valid prescriptions. And, there’s the case of a woman named Utah’s Trooper of the Year – two years before she was found to have falsified arrest reports and lied under oath.
Carlisle and Neugebauer said the real problem is that every single one of the cases revealed UHP’s “blind spot: patrolling itself.” Those and other Utah scandals are the tip of an ugly proverbial iceberg.
In Denver, commentator Vincent Carroll last year reviewed the Mile High City’s “shabby farewell” to a law enforcement watchdog. Richard Rosenthal worked as an internal brake on corruption within the Denver Police Department. Among other things, he had insisted “cops who lie about serious matters” have to be fired.
This earned the ire of department brass and/or of the police union. On his way out the door last year, Rosenthal was rhetorically kicked in the ass by city hall, rather than lauded for his service to good government.
And then, there’s a local story I’ve worked on for months. Details forthcoming, but here are the essentials.
In 2010, an Oklahoma City schoolteacher was asked to meet her principal and another administrator after returning from lunch. When she met them, they were in the company of an Oklahoma City police officer, and two officers from a Texas jurisdiction.
The teacher was arrested on a murder charge by the two Texans, who had no warrant. Taken to our local city-county jail, she was held overnight and told investigators believed she had killed her former roommate.
She asked for legal counsel of her choice, but was told that was not an issue in her extradition to Texas. She was never “Miranda-ized,” and never tried. She was held in jail 18 months, half of that time in solitary confinement, the other half in a diversion program intended for those who have been convicted. She was never tried, and never received a formal copy of the dismissal of her charges.
After this odd sequence of events, this lady returned home to Oklahoma City, free from incarceration but not from the effects of false charges and 18 months in jail.
She is now another 14 months into a struggle to regain her right to teach. Her family still hopes somehow to offset the effects of an initial burst of publicity that led many to believe she had committed murder, which she had not.
She endured — unjustly — events that the righteous should not wish upon their worst enemy.
Steven Greenhut of Watchdog.org and a few others have been raising an alarm bell about grants of unquestioned new powers and resources to law officers in contemporary America.
There have always been police scandals – witness the true stories behind “Serpico” and “Code of Silence,” among others. But this new wave is leaping off the pages of newspapers, coursing through the sinews of the Internet and moving across the broadcast spectra.
The best way to support the honorable and the ethical among U.S. cops is to shine a bright light on those who are neither.
America’s founding generation included the father of our Constitution, James Madison. He wrote:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
Madison wrote those words as an anonymous newspaper commentator — “Publius” (the public) in The Federalist Newspapers (#51).
Your humble servant plans to delve into matters Brother Greenhut and others don’t have a chance to reach.
The muse is not whispering, but shouting. Madison would approve.