Why The Police Are Not Our Friends Anymore

Jerry L. Steering, Esq. before 9th Cir. Court of Appeals, Pasadena, CA

In years gone by, we, as a society, had a whole lot more respect for each other; even if the showing of that respect was nothing more than addressing a person as “Ma’am” or “Sir”.  Just listen to old radio shows, and it’s apparent that people were simply more polite, respectful and civilized toward each other. So were the police. They didn’t dress like they are suited for street patrol duty in Irag or Afghanistan; part of the present problem in itself in the law enforcement community. They walked a beat and weren’t trained to kill you if you suspect that a civilian might pose a threat of danger to you. Moreover, the police needed “probable cause” to believe that you committed a crime, to restrain your freedom to leave their presence, and go about your business (the  present standard for determining whether a person is “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment (United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544 (1980.))

Well, now they do. They police are trained that their personal safety is primary, and they have become so brazen as to declare themselves dictators of the scene (take charge), with essentially martial law powers, to order civilians around. This is no joke. Any failure to immediately comply with arbitrary or just plain unreasonable police orders, now in itself becomes the basis for the police to seize you, and, very often, to beat the crap out of you; usually for fun with the guys.

To add insult to injury, not only did you get beaten-up for actions such as: 1) daring to tell the police officer that you know your constitutional rights, or 2) that the officer is violating your constitutional rights, or 3) asking the police what’s going on; or 4) telling the police that you’ll comply with his/her orders when he/she tells you what’s going on; or 5) complaining to the officers about his treatment of another, or 6) otherwise criticizing the police, but, chances are, that you got arrested by the police for some trumped up “resistance offense”, that gives the cops two bites at the preclusion apple; the apple that will preclude you from obtaining redress for the police outrages and constitutional violations perpetrated upon you.

The police have so much power, that under California state law, even if you can prove that the police attempted to frame you for a crime that they knew you did not commit, and that you suffered terrible damages, ridicule and humiliation from that attempted frame-up, the police are absolutely immune from liability for attempting to frame you. See, Cal. Gov’t Code § 821.6.

1968 Was A Crazy Year.

Since 1968, the Supreme Court has given the police, more power than a judge. A judge can only issue an order to search a person, place or thing, or to arrest another, if there is “probable cause” to believe that suspected person or place is connected with some sort of crime. A judge cannot issue a warrant to arrest or search on any level of suspicion, less than “probable cause.” However, at least in the real world, and under present constitutional standards, a police officer has the “power” to detain you, on less than probable cause; really any reason at all. The real reasons these days include things such as: 1) you looked suspicious, 2) you looked like a gang member, 3) you dressed like a gang members, 4) you’re black, 5) you’re Mexican, 5) you looked like a junkie; 6) you looked poor and homeless. All that the police need to say (reports, court, etc.) is that they asked the person who the officer encountered to show the officer his/her hands and the person didn’t comply. Not only will the judges and juries let the cops detain you, in California these days, the juries will let the cops shoot you to death. Again, this is no joke.

A judge can’t order that you be proned-out on a mud puddle, be make to sit on a curb, be handcuffed, get your hands up against a wall or a car, that you be placed in the back seat of a police car,that you be ordered to exit your house at gun point, etc. The list goes on. As shown below, in the prophetic words of Justice William O. Douglas:

“If the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can “seize” and “search” him in their discretion, we enter a new regime”.

Nowadays, the judges have bent-over backwards so much to allow the police to do whatever they want to, that even suspicion of your connection to crime is no longer a prerequisite to the police seizing you. For example, there is a new phenomenon in American Jurisprudence; “Special Needs Detentions.” These detentions are not predicated on the police suspecting that you’re connected to crime. These Special Needs Detentions permit the government to ignore the constitutional barrier between you and a tyrannical government; the requirement that the government can’t seize you or your property unless they have some proof that you’re connected to crime.Now the police can seize you because you witnessed them unlawfully killing or beating-up a civilian, and now have to be neutralized. The determination of whether your witness status is important enough to the police “investigation” (in the Internal Affairs business, really the “cover-up” phase), rests entirely with the police. Again, a judge cannot order that a witness to a crime be seized for questioning. The police now can, because the judges that compose the federal judiciary allow them to do so.

A judge can’t order that you be proned-out on a mud puddle, be make to sit on a curb, be handcuffed, be placed in the back seat of a police car, be ordered to exit your house at gun point, etc. The list goes on.

1968 was a crazy year. For most of the 1960′s leading-up to that year, America was in a state of upheaval. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, and Bobby Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles. There were riots at the Democratic Convention in the summer of 1968, and there were National Guards troops in cities throughout the United States, under Marshall law, for the nationwide race riots that were going on. Most of white America was shifting their worldview, to support the police, who they perceive as being the barrier between nationwide race riots, and them. This turn to ”The Right”, resulted in the Election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968, and the beginning of our deviance from almost 200 years of our adherence to the notion and principle, that the police cannot seize a civilian, when they possess neither an arrest warrant, nor “probable cause” to believe that the person to be seized has committed a crime.

In the craziness of the race riots in America, from 1962 to 1968, that the Supreme Court was more inclined, to excise from Fourth Amendment that chief Constitutional barrier between a free society, and arbitrary seizures of civilians by the government. In 1968, the Supreme Court gave the police the right to seize a person, on less than probable cause to believe that they committed a crime; something that a Judge cannot authorize be done to a person (a Judge can’t issue a warrant to detain another for investigation based upon “reasonable suspicion”; only an arrest warrant based on “probable cause.”) See, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968.) The sole dissenter in Terry, was Justice William O. Douglas, who warned:

“To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.  Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness.  But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment. Until the Fourth Amendment, which is closely allied with the Fifth, [n4] is rewritten, the person and the effects of the individual are beyond the reach of all government agencies until there are reasonable grounds to believe (probable cause) that a criminal venture has been launched or is about to be launched.

There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand.  That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater than it is today.

Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can “seize” and “search” him in their discretion, we enter a new regime.  The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968.)Douglas, J., Dissenting.

Ever since Terry v. Ohio (1968), Mr. Justice Douglas’ warning has come to fruition. As Mr. Justice Douglas warned, now “the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can “seize” and “search” him in their discretion”. They can do this because Terry v. Ohio abandoned 200 years of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, and allowed seizures of persons on a lesser degree of suspicion than probable cause to arrest; these days on really nothing at all. In fact, things have gotten so bad, that warrantless seizures of civilians are now permitted by the Supreme Court when the seized person isn’t suspected of any crime at all, and the only “justification” for the stopping, seizing, searching, handcuffing and proning of a civilian, is the officer’s claim that such seizure / restraint of the civilian made the officer feel safer. These days, a claim by the police that they seized you, or handcuffed you, or put you in the back seat of a police car, or ordered you out of your home (even without a warrant), or ordered you to prone yourself on a mud-puddle, can, at least in the real world of real judges and real defendants, be justified by a claim of “Officer Safety”, no matter how absurd the claim.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.

Well, the world has changed, and along with it, the police, and their relationship to the civilians, with whom they are charged with protecting. There’s an old slogan that’s attributed to Lord Acton:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.                                          Great men are almost always bad men.”

Police officers who abuse civilians, typical arrest their victims (the innocent civilian) is becoming more common every day; notwithstanding the fact that most adults now possess the ability to quickly video record events that we confront (i.e. Smartphone video recordings.) However, so has public acceptance of the use of: 1) brutal and disproportionately excessive use of, or the threatened use of weapons; 2) disproportionately restrictive methods of immediate restraint (i.e. handcuffing for “officer safety” purposes, as general precautionary practice, in citizen street contacts), 3) shooting persons who the police say that committed a “furtive movement” (usually the suspect moved his / her hands by or in the waistband nonsense; in 2010, the LA Sheriff’s Department killed 15 unarmed people this way, and they haven’t stopped), and the spectrum of “overkill” police techniques, that we’ve grown-up with over the past 30 plus years. We think that dispatching the SWAT team on a call of, “grandpa has Alzheimer’s and locked himself in the bathroom with a kitchen knife”, is normal. We see this as normal, because over the years, case by case, right by right, new weapon by new weapon, we have seen the Executive Branch of government, the police, just doing these acts; especially in the movies and television.

We also see, that when civil and criminal litigants challenge these acts, that our so cherished federal constitutional rights are usually are cast aside either:

* 1) By Issuing Appellate Court rulings that allow for the warrantless and often even suspicionless searches and seizures of persons, places and property, in the name of “Officer Safety.

* 2) To further some sort of executive efficiency: The Supreme Court doesn’t want cops to have to learn their state laws; too difficult; notwithstanding the fact that the cops are not only responsible in their own states to know what state public offenses are, and are not, jailable under state law, but they actually do know. See, Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001) (‘The Fourth Amendmentdoes not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seat belt violation punishable only by a fine”); Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001). Atwater is a repudiation of over 200 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence, holding that searches and seizures of persons must be “reasonable.” Atwater allows the police to arrest civilians for anything that the law prohibits; parking ticket, bald tires, taillight out, and the like. Justice Souter’s rationale for permitting admittedly “unreasonable seizures” of persons like Atwater (a soccer mom, arrested for violation of the Texas seat belt statute; the maximum punishment for violation of which was a $50.00 fine) is not grounded in reality, and really set the stage of the Rise of the Police State, following the World Trade Center Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.) Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001.) The Fourth Amendment no longer forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seat belt violation punishable only by a fine”; Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001); In her stinging dissent in, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Republican Conservative first female Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by Ronald Reagan, on recommendation from Mr. Reagan’s mentor; Barry Goldwater (former Sen. R-AZ), warned about the import of Atwater:

“Such unbounded discretion carries with it grave potential for abuse. The majority takes comfort in the lack of evidence of “an epidemic of unnecessary minor-offense arrests.” Ante, at 33, and n. 25. But the relatively small number of published cases dealing with such arrests proves little and should provide little solace. Indeed, as the recent debate over racial profiling demonstrates all too clearly, a relatively minor traffic infraction may often serve as an excuse for stopping and harassing an individual. After today, the arsenal available to any officer extends to a full arrest and the searches permissible concomitant to that arrest. An officer’s subjective motivations for making a traffic stop are not relevant considerations in determining the reasonableness of the stop. See, Whren v. United States, supra, at 813. But it is precisely because these motivations are beyond our purview that we must vigilantly ensure that officers’ post stop actions–which are properly within our reach–comport with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of reasonableness.

The Court neglects the Fourth Amendment’s express command in the name of administrative ease. In so doing, it cloaks the pointless indignity that Gail Atwater suffered with the mantle of reasonableness. I respectfully dissent.” O’Connor, J., Dissenting.

*3) To refuse to suppress evidence in criminal cases. There is a natural reluctance by any judge to exclude evidence of criminal activity at a criminal trial because the evidence was obtained in violation of the Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently found a way around Atwater to some degree in their recent case of Edgerly v. City and County of San Francisco, Case No. 11-15655 (9th Cir. April 10, 2013.) Edgerly held that since under Cal. Penal Code § 853.5, a police officer cannot take a person to jail for an infraction (i.e. simple speeding ticket, with no possibility of any jail time) unless the person fails to provide the officer with some sort of reasonable identification, then the Fourth Amendment is violated when an officer arrests another for any such infraction. However, Edgerly only provides that such a violation is grounds for a state court claim under California state law (i.e. a state law false imprisonment claim.)

The Cops Are Never Wrong.

Plain and simple. If grandpa is held-up in his bathroom with a kitchen knife, it’s safer to come into a restroom with grandpa in it with a machine gun. But what’s the goal. The police routinely bust into the restrooms in such scenarios, and then shoot and kill grandpa, because grandpa raised his kitchen knife at officers wearing Kevlar helmets and stab-proof vests. This is no joke, and guess what? The cops get immunity in many cases in California, for police shootings that were caused by the police, because their use of deadly force is to be judged only at the time that the force was used; even if the cops created the need for the use of force to begin with. See, Munoz v. City of Union City, 120 Cal.App.4th 1077 (2004.) They certainly did their job. They prevented grandpa from committing suicide (the cops’ homicide of grandpa took care of that), but they also got to get home that night. Believe it or not, in most such situations just described, not only will the cops be exonerated from any departmental discipline, but the entity will back them all the way; lies and document destruction be damned.

Accordingly, because the courts have refused to restrain what used to be considered police outrages, the police have become “gang bangers with badges”. The days of the cop walking his beat with his .38 caliber revolver, and twirling his baton, are long gone. Even on police television shows such as Dragnet, Adam 12 and CHPs, the FCC banned the police drawing their pistols out, because the shows were shown on prime time TV during family hours. The Police used to be our friends. Now, anyone that they violate (i.e. beat-up or falsely arrest) is their enemy; a threat to them.

Sorry Folks; Many Police Officers Commit Acts Of Violence Because “It Feels Good”.

The Los Angeles Police Departments (LAPD’s) motto is: Were the badest gang in town. A recent study of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department (LASD) that was commissioned by the Board of Supervisors actually found that there is a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department of various “gangs of officers”, who routinely beat, torture, maim and kill members of the jails, and of the community, for fun; for the honor of the gang. Everybody is a scumbag, and have no rights. The recently criminally convicted Under-sheriff, Paul Tanaka, is a Viking (at the Lynwood Sheriff’s Station; these gentlemen bore tattoos of the Minnesota Vikings Football Team logo on their lower legs, and were found by U.S. District Judge Jesse Curits to be a Neo-Nazi / White Supremacist gang within the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department; See, Thomas v. County of Los Angeles, et al; 978 F.2d 504 (1992).)

Some of the LASD gangs of these gangster cops are: The 3000 (the deputies who worked the third floor of the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail), The Grim Reapers, The Little Devils, The Regulators, The Vikings and The Jump Out Boys. After the FBI had announced that it had infiltrated the Los Angeles County jail and can now prove that the LASD Men’s Jail was essentially a torture chamber, with gangs of sick and sadistic guards, Paul Tanaka still showed his grit, as an LASD “gansta”, by addressing the command staff of the sheriff’s department, about the LASD internal affairs bureau. He mentioned that their were 45 LASD Internal Affairs Bureau investigators, and that was 44 too many (you’re got to have at least one to have a bureau.) One might think, why are these cops acting like Nazis? Why is this allowed to persist? Things have gotten so bad at the LASD that now the U.S. Department of Justice has indicted 18 LASD deputy sheriffs and supervisors, on charges ranging from Obstruction of Justice and torturing prisoners. See, “18 Los Angeles sheriff’s officials indicted, accused of abuse, obstruction”, LA Times, December 9, 2013″ “18 Los Angeles sheriff’s officials indicted, accused of abuse, obstruction”, LA Times, December 9, 2013″. These Indictments have also resulted in the resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. See, “Embattled Los Angeles County sheriff to retire” (See, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/01/07/los-angeles-county-sheriff-lee-baca-to-resign-amid-federal-jail-investigation/ .)

Lee Baca resigned from office over a scandal at the LA County Men’s Central Jail involving the Indictment of 18 LASD Deputy Sheriffs and their Supervisors for torturing prisoners and obstructing the FBI’s investigation of the same. That’s not the end of it. Former LASD Deputy Sheriff Noel Womack pleaded guilty in June of 2015 to federal charges of lying to the FBI about systemic LASD torturing and framing of inmates at the Los Angeles County Jails. In 2014, six LASD Deputy Sheriffs were convicted of obstructing the FBI’s investigation of the torturing of prisoners at the Los Angeles County Jails.  That’s not the end of it. Former LASD Deputy Sheriff Noel Womack pleaded guilty in June of 2015 to federal charges of lying to the FBI about systemic LASD torturing and framing of inmates at the Los Angeles County Jails. In 2014, six LASD Deputy Sheriffs were convicted of obstructing the FBI’s investigation of the torturing of prisoners at the Los Angeles County Jails.

Thereafter, on April 6, 2016, former LASD Undersheriff was convicted by a jury of  violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiring to obstruct justice) and 18 U.S.C. § 1503(a) (obstructing justice), for not only obstructing an FBI investigation into years of beatings and torturing of inmates at the L.A. County Jail, but also Tanaka and other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials threatening one of the FBI agents involved in that investigation, with arrest for continuing that investigation. In his trial, Tanaka admitted that he still had the Minnesota Vikings Logo tattoo on his leg; a tattoo that he described as a member in a club; the “Vikings”; a tatoo that the federal courts have held is the gang taoo for a “neo-Nazi white supremacists gang within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. See, Thomas v. County of Los Angeles, 978 F.2d 504 (1992).

Nonetheless, the body politic tolerates the existence, and the perpetuation of an ongoing unwritten agreement among and between peace officers, to falsely report, and, if necessary, to thereafter conspire with officers who they may not yet even know, to falsely testify, about event(s), if the potential or apparent criminal, administrative and civil liability of a fellow officer is at stake. After all, in the primary category of cases that truly are “false arrests” in the most malevolent sense of the word, “Contempt of Cop cases”, the only reason that there’s an arrest of a civilian at all, is because the Constable has violated another (i.e. beaten-up / torture); usually to self-medicate rather frail and easily bruise-able egos.

Modern Times; The Rise Of The Police State in America.

Why Are The Police Acting As Our Oppressors, Rather Than Our Protectors?

There are several reasons for this seemingly growing waver of police brutality, and, for us in the business, malicious criminal prosecutions. The primary reason is, as a practical matter, political subdivisions of a state, are set-up to deny that their officers acted improperly, and basically no matter how wrongful the agency’s officer acted, in large part out of fear of litigation, the agency will always find a way to justify its officers actions. This, of course, has led to the police pursuing a myriad of institutional methods of accusing the innocent victim (“you”; the public), and protecting the police, by, among other things, routinely unlawfully (feloniously and tortiously) withholding exculpatory evidence in criminal and associated civil proceedings; in violation of the fourteenth amendment’s due process of law claim, has been clearly established by the United States Supreme Court since 1963 (Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)  )

In 1968, in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time allowed the seizure of persons by police officers, without a warrant, on less than probable cause; the standard settled upon for police seizures of persons, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1791 (“To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.”, Douglas, J. Dissenting.)

This has turned-out to be the most prophetic dissenting opinion of the Warren Court era. It deals with the basic relationship between innocents and their police / regulators.

This author watched a 1998 C-Span reunion of the United States Supreme Court Law Clerks, who actually wrote the majority and dissenting opinion in Terry v. Ohio, 391 U.S. 1 (1968.) Although “Terry stops” are as much a part of what is considered normal and basically universally accepted part of proper police practices, those law clerks all stated that Terry v. Ohio, was supposedly to have been a “stop and frisk” case (of persons reasonably suspected of being, armed, dangerous, and presently involved imminent criminal activity, and not some generalized authority to detain civilians on less than probable cause.

In The 1970s And Thereafter, We Saw The Police Change From The Protectors Of You And I, To The Oppressors Of You And I.

In the 1980s the U.S. Supreme Court starting chipping away at our basic liberties, such as the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement and the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause (the right to cross-examine your accusers). The television show S.W.A.T. and its progeny caused the American people to accept the militarization of the police as normal in American society.

In Anaheim, California, there were seven shootings of persons by the Anaheim Police Department in 2012. The Orange County District Attorneys Office won’t criminally prosecute any of these officers, because that’s something that they just don’t do.

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in perception shootings ; shootings where a police officer shoots a civilian, and claims that the thought the person who he shot, was armed and some danger to him, who turn-out not to be. In fact, in 2010, the Los Angels Sheriff’s Department shot 15 unarmed people to death, who they claimed were reached for their waistband; that’s 15 people; dead. There has never been a criminal prosecution in Orange County, California of a police officer for an on-duty shooting. There have been a few criminal prosecutions of police officers in Orange County for a “duty related activity” (i.e. using force on persons during detentions or arrests) but, they were either “token” prosecutions (i.e. prosecuting an officer here and there to appease the body politic), or video and/or audio recorded so as to be simply undeniably outrageous behavior, such as the Fullerton Police beating Kelly Thomas to death. However, the Fullerton Police Department officers were acquitted of even using unreasonable force upon Kelly Thomas, because the jury pool in Orange County, California, simply will not convict a cop of a crime for even murdering a civilian, so long as the cops murdered the civilian in the course of his police duties.

Moreover, there is an inherent conflict of interest in every public prosecution for crime. If the District Attorney’s Office actually went after police officers for criminal conduct, they would eventually have to show how creepy and crooked the entire police community is. For example, when they went after the audio and video recordings and records that the police routinely destroy if they had arrested you or me (i.e. “My batteries must have been dead”), they would find them altered, stored under phony case numbers [to secrete them from location], lost, destroyed and otherwise concealed from location. That is the real world police system. If the cops want it lost, it gets lost, and in the real world, no judge or politician, is going to do anything about it. That’s reality.

Thus, the DA’s office would eventually destroy the credibility, and future usability at all, of the very persons that it depends upon to criminally prosecute you and I. The District Attorney represents one party (i.e. The People of the State of California), and it is not out to destroy the the credibility of the very system and police agencies, upon which it relies in being able to successfully prosecute you and I. Guess who wins the allegiance? It’s not you and I.

The fact is, that if a cop beats you up for fun, while on duty, and arrested you for some imaginary failure to immediate comply with an outrageous “police order” (i.e. “get down on the ground now”, when you have no clue as to what’s going on), and you have a black eye and your teeth knocked-out for daring to question the peace officer about what is going on, don’t be looking to the government to go after your oppressors; the police. Remember; they are the police. If you are reading this article, you probably would have never believed that the police really are “gangstas with badges”, if you or your loved one had not personally experienced police outrages.

If you’ve been falsely arrested or beaten-up by the police, please call the Law Offices of Jerry L. Steering for a free phone or office consultation, to get some justice. We can live without a lot, but we can’t live without justice.

Jerry L. Steering, Esq.

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