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September 20, 2008

Charges dropped against journalists arrested during RNC


Tear Gas, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

The St. Paul City Attorney's Office announced yesterday that it is dropping misdemeanor charges journalists arrested during the RNC.

This development shouldn't surprise anyone. The charges were so flimsy and frivolous that it's doubtful the authorities ever intended to pursue them in court. The arrests were clearly a tactic of diversion and intimidation to keep journalists from doing their jobs.

There must be a full investigation into security tactics during the RNC. The Minneapolis City Council has already blocked one bid for an inquiry.

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I remember that back when the protests were happening, one of the commenters here said that lawsuits should be against individual mayors and police chiefs rather than cities and counties, because taxpayers shouldn't pay for the malfeasance of politicians. But here is why that won't work: often, the entire city is complicit. The city council, which the people of Minneapolis voted for just like they did the mayor, blocked the investigation, protecting the police from brutality charges.

We should change the law to put people who are arrested before a judge faster, so that journalists arrested on bogus charges can get out within about 2 hours.

The journalists have been taught the proper lesson: Stick to speeches and ribbon-cutting ceremonies or you'll, first, be spending a night or two in the county jail where you'll be using a very public toilet, and two, you'll have to go to the trouble and expense of waging a probably fruitless lawsuit if you object.

Good. Now that that's settled, here's the official press release, and here's how we want it reported. . .

Alon Levy,

I think the earlier comments you refer to were mine. You make the point, very well, that political leaders can abuse the system without worrying about personal accountability. My point was not that they should be sued personally, though I wish it could be done, but that it is an exercise in futility.

County prosecutors have an enormous amount of discretion that is as close to absolute as you can get. Local heads of police have a certain amount of latitude, time-wise, in how they process police arrests and subsequent handling. Abusing the system with discretionary prerogatives, in the service of political ends, happens every day.

I guarantee you that even if significant tort action is taken, and lots of money awarded, taxpayers will foot the bill, and other political officials will be undeterred on the day after tomorrow.

The only thing I can see that might help is federal prosecution for violation of civil rights. But, I don't think the political will and the statutes are up to the task.

"Good. Now that that's settled, here's the official press release, and here's how we want it reported. . ."

And also- before I forget- please do try and allow for a little extra time at the airport from now on.

We should change the law to put people who are arrested before a judge faster, so that journalists arrested on bogus charges can get out within about 2 hours.

Bad idea. When you get much under 24 hours, the police has to scramble to find a judge who may not be available, instead of spend the time gathering more evidence to build a prosecutable case.

I guarantee you that even if significant tort action is taken, and lots of money awarded, taxpayers will foot the bill, and other political officials will be undeterred on the day after tomorrow.

Yes. That's standard: when the government, which represents the people, screws up, the people pay. It's the same with corporations representing the shareholders. At every stage, the voters/shareholders have the ability to vote in people who will not endanger their money to tort action.

Occasionally, this is a deterrent. A good example is with creationism in school boards. The Evangelical activists who convinced various school boards to adopt ID in their biology curricula never paid a dime; the taxpayers did. And that precisely is what convinced other school boards not to change their curricula in a way that would expose them to lawsuits.

Bad idea. When you get much under 24 hours, the police has to scramble to find a judge who may not be available, instead of spend the time gathering more evidence to build a prosecutable case.

I don't think it's typically the responsibility of the police to find a judge; cities of any size have a separate court system that is in charge of that. And the initial appearance only needs to determine if their is probable cause to charge a person. If the police don't already have evidence of that, they shouldn't make the arrest.

Yes. That's standard: when the government, which represents the people, screws up, the people pay. It's the same with corporations representing the shareholders. At every stage, the voters/shareholders have the ability to vote in people who will not endanger their money to tort action.

Well there's a crucial distinction between corporate shareholders and citizens of a country. If I disagree with the majority of a coporation in which I hold shares and don't want to put my money at risk because of their bad decisions, I can unilaterally end my participation in in the company, withdraw my money, and terminate my risk.

Obviously, citizens can't do that.

We've set the precedent that police departments can keep money they seize in the course of the drug war. If police forces are allowed to profit from their law enforcement activities, they should also have to pay for their misdeeds.

Police departments should have to pay police brutality lawsuit settlements out of their budgets.

Lindsay, police budgets are fungible. If the police has to pay brutality charges out of its budget, the city can and will bail it out. No mayor ever lost an election increasing police pay.

HOLDING THE ARRESTED FOR MORE THAN 24 HOURS

If memory serves me correctly, and following the appointment of Antonin Scalia, the US Supreme Court ruled that police were allowed to 'grace' over holidays and weekends to extend the 24 hours most jurisdictions allow for charging and arraignment of an arrested person in custody. [Would lawyers among the readers please weigh in and clarify this matter.]

Also, I think it was Scalia who authored the majority opinion in this case. Since then, a person could be arrested late on a Thursday, and no one would hear about the person, or see hide nor hair of the prisoner for 72 hours. Scalia thought is was a reasonable accommodation to make to suit the administrative needs of the police. I'm not so sure 72 hours is reasonable when it comes to keeping me in jail without charges or contact with family and attorneys.

This is one time when a ridiculous accommodation for police administration, at the sacrifice of personal liberty, can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans. Keep in mind that this is long before 9/11/2001. Does anyone doubt the validity of a slippery slope argument when assessing the assault on the Bill of Rights, any number of other Constitutional amendments, and habeas corpus since 9/11/2001?

This is one time when a ridiculous accommodation for police administration, at the sacrifice of personal liberty, can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans.

Republicans have whined about Miranda v. Arizona ever since its decision in the sixties. They’ve also never cared much for Gideon v. Wainwright or Mapp v. Ohio, or much of any kind of due process for that matter. It’s not just Roe v. Wade we’ve got to worry about if McCain and his Alaskan Diana win the White House.

Alon, why do you say that police budgets are fungible, especially in respect to revenue received through asset forfeiture? My impression was that for many police departments, funds from asset forfeiture are restricted.

parse,

Thanks for the cites. I thought everyone ought to have a brief description of these cases. I obtained the following from Wikipedia:

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)[1], was a landmark case in criminal procedure, in which the United States Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures", may not be used in criminal prosecutions in state courts, as well as federal courts.

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history. In the case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants unable to afford their own attorneys.

Miranda v. Arizona (consolidated with Westover v. United States, Vignera v. New York, and California v. Stewart), 384 U.S. 436 (1966), was a landmark 5-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court which was argued February 28–March 1, 1966 and decided June 13, 1966. The Court held that both inculpatory and exculpatory statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant was informed of the right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning and of the right against self-incrimination prior to questioning by police, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them.

parse,

Whoops! I meant to address my prior comment to cfrost.

cfrost,

Whoops! I did not mean to address my prior comment to parse.

Everyone else,

Whoops! See above.

Alon, why do you say that police budgets are fungible, especially in respect to revenue received through asset forfeiture? My impression was that for many police departments, funds from asset forfeiture are restricted.

I'm not worried about asset forfeiture, but about court expenses. If the police has to pay tort out of its general budget, the city or county will just supplement it based on how much the mayor likes the police.

parse,

Whoops! I meant to address my prior comment to cfrost.

cfrost,

Whoops! I did not mean to address my prior comment to parse.

Everyone else,

Whoops! See above.

Completely, utterly, and abjectly OT, but...

Friday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and unlike last year, Lindsay didn't see fit to give it even a passing mention. I'm very disappointed. Yaaaaarrrr.

POLICE BUDGETS

Sheriff departments tend to have insurance to cover tort awards. It may be that very large police organizations are self-insured, but that means that they have their own asset bank for tort awards. So their budgets are really untouched - except that their budgets may call for a higher premium for surety.

One way a law enforcement officer might be denied insurance protection is if the insurer decides that the sheriff, for example, was acting outside of official duties and did so knowingly and intentionally.

Otherwise, the sheriff's personal assets are usually not available for tort awards. Tax payer money, unfortunately, is always available when police and politicians violate civil liberties.

Obviously, nobody's going to let a police department go under because of a lawsuit. And, clearly, the police can lobby for more money to offset whatever expenses they incur.

On the other hand, no bureaucrat likes to see her budget shrunk for any reason. The police can ask for more money, but that's work and political capital that they have to expend. So, if police departments had to kick in a percentage of legal settlements out of their own operating budgets, police brutality on the street could create a certain amount of extra work and stress for the higher ups, which is exactly what we want. Otherwise, kicking the shit out of protesters begins to seem cost-free.

Lindsay,

That's just the point. "...[K]icking the shit out of protesters ...[is]... cost-free." And to whom the shit belongs, before it's kicked out, is a purely political decision. Prosecutorial discretion is another responsibility that is abused. Wealthy and connected individuals and companies get away with all sorts of crimes. I speak from personal knowledge over a good number of years.

Sometimes the reason for police action defies all logic. For example, an acquaintance of mine, the artist Alexis Portilla in NYC, was driven out of a park in The Village a number of years ago along with many other artists, and some were arrested. They were displaying their original art in a outdoor free showing for the public. The artists took the police to court and each received a sizable payment.

Guess how many police were disciplined, transfered, or forced to retire. Hint: the number is less than 1.

The police can ask for more money, but that's work and political capital that they have to expend.

Yes, and the amount of political capital they have to expend is proportional to how little the political system is willing to support them. A mayor like Giuliani would give them the money automatically; a mayor like Dinkins would insist on a more drawn-out process. So the net effect would be to make police brutality even easier in a supportive political environment, and harder in a political environment that already tries to crack down on it.

The net effect would be a structural disincentive for police brutality. This isn't about punishing the police department, it's about giving the top brass an incentive to reign in their people.

No organization likes to lose money for no reason. The police will always lobby for as much money as possible from the city. However much they get, they'd rather not spend any of it paying off police brutality judgments if they don't have to.

Insurance for police thugs. - It’d be interesting to talk to someone who knows insurance and law regarding how police became as legally insulated as they are from the consequences of the work they do. I wonder how it works with prison guards, like for instance, in public versus private prisons.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day. – I’d never heard of it until a question regarding its place of origin (Corvallis or Albany, Oregon as I recall) came up in a pub quiz in my roommate’s bar last week. It’s so utterly, totally stupid it’s funny.

I used to work on tuna seiners that occasionally fished in the waters around Indonesia and Malaysia where they kept guns on board and an eye out for pirates. (Happily I was on these boats only in the Eastern Pacific, hundreds or thousands of miles from any coast.)

The origin of the word “buccaneer” is interesting, evoking a time when the Caribbean was a lawless wilderness, emptied of its native inhabitants and mostly still awaiting settlement by the cane growers. Herds of feral livestock roamed the islands and the beaches now crowded with tourist hotels were the domain of sea turtles and monk seals; the latter gone extinct within my lifetime.

From the American Heritage Dictionary:


buccaneer n. 1. A pirate, especially one of the freebooters who preyed on Spanish shipping in the West Indies during the 17th century. 2. A ruthless speculator or adventurer. [French boucanier, from boucaner, to cure meat, from boucan, barbecue frame, possibly from Arawakan or Tupinamba (a Tupian language) bocan, rack.] –buccaneer v.

WORD HISTORY: The Errol Flynn-like figure of the buccaneer pillaging the Spanish Main may seem less dashing if we realize that the term buccaneer corresponds to the word barbecuer. The first recorded use of the French word boucanier, which was borrowed into English, referred to a person on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga who hunted wild oxen and boars and smoked the meat in a barbecue frame known in French as a boucan. This French word came from an Arawakan or Tupinamba word meaning “a rack, sometimes used for roasting or for storing things, or a racklike platform supporting an Indian house.” The original barbecuers seem to have subsequently adapted a more remunerative way of life, piracy, which accounts for the new meaning given to the word. Buccaneer is recorded first in 1661 in its earlier sense in English; the sense we are familiar with is recorded in 1690.


The net effect would be a structural disincentive for police brutality.

Only when the political system cares about police brutality. This could actually create a perverse incentive: the police would have a stronger vested interest in having a mayor who doesn't care about brutality, leading it to lobby for politicians who are anti-civil rights instead of those who support more fruitful police tactics, like increasing officer pay and community policing.

I've been waiting for The Parodytroll to explain how this proves the police had the secret information s/he hinted they had.

Sigh...

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