Reality Round-Up: Bad Cop, Worse Cop

Don’t give in to the stereotypes. We ALL love donuts (courtesy of Sign Network)

There are a lot of thankless jobs in this world. And a lot of dedicated people fill these positions despite the lack of courtesy, respect and adequate financial compensation they bring.

At the top of the thankless job list is, of course, the person tasked with serving and protecting the rest of us: the police officer. Even after the horrible attacks of September 11th—which claimed the lives of dozens of police officers—most of the attention went to firefighters. Granted, they deserved it given their bravery and sacrifice—hundreds of them died, after all—but people seemed to forget the cops. And sadly, this isn’t very surprising.

When I was young—I can’t remember the exact age, but pretty early on—I trusted police officers. A few even came to my elementary school to talk to us kids about the job they do. They gave us safety tips, advised us on how to deal with strangers and made law enforcement seem like the most exciting job in the whole, wide world.

Then something changed.

Again, I can’t remember the exact timing, but I suspect it happened during my pre-teen years… around the time that most of us start experimenting with this or that, bending the law and challenging authority. Instead of allies in the battle against evil, the police became the evil. They were the ones who would bust you, call your folks, plaster your name all over the newspaper and basically ruin your life, and for what? Rolling someone’s house in toilet paper, drinking a couple of beers you stole from your old man or kissing and hugging in some wooded area of a public park?

These are just examples, of course. I never actually did any of those things… as far as you know.

As time went on, I started to re-develop the respect I had for police officers. The turning point came in high school when career day rolled around and I decided to spend mine with the local police department. A few friends of mine had the same idea, so instead of driving to school one Friday morning, we met outside city hall and parked among the blue lights we feared so much at parties.

It’s tough for me to remember all the details of that day—the unfortunate consequence of age and some other questionable choices—but I do recall it being both informative and fun. We sat through a drug demonstration where cops showed us everything from marijuana and speed to cocaine and heroin. They locked us in a holding cell for a few minutes longer than I would have liked, which I now see was the point.

It must have worked, because I haven’t been back since.

I also remember being allowed into the evidence room which, in my town, means it was full of guns: Tech-9s, AK-47 replicas, AR-15s and all sorts of assorted, modified and basically cheap weapons. Then came the scariest part: the lie detector test.

The lucky officer assigned to babysit us was, I must say, pretty kind when it was my turn in the hot seat. He asked the usual baseline questions: name, age, address. Then came the trickier stuff: Have you ever stolen something? Did you ever lie to your parents? Have you consumed alcohol despite being underage?

The infamous mugshot. The real crime was obviously my hair style!

The infamous mugshot. The real crime was obviously my hair style!

I answered everything honestly because at that point in my life, I really had nothing to hide. I still don’t, of course, but the story is a little darker now than it was at 16 or 17—kind of like graduating from PG to R or NC-17 movies.

The best thing about career day with the “boys in blue” was that just before we left, our guide took us into the room where they take mug shots and let us all take one as a souvenir. I even got to keep my sunglasses on which, I can tell you, impressed more than one person in the following years.

Unfortunately, none of them were women, but you can’t win them all.

These days, I have friends working in law enforcement, including people I knew from school, acquaintances and, in a few cases, family members. Hell, I originally went to college for a criminal justice degree, fully intending to join the ranks of the SBI, FBI or some other government agency. So the days of sweating when a cop pulls me over, dashing into the woods at the first sign of blue lights or referring to police officers as “pigs” or “the fuzz” are long gone. And in most cases, I assume the cops can be trusted and are doing what they’re supposed to: serving the public and protecting us from harm.

Of course, I’m not naïve enough to think there aren’t some bad apples in the proverbial bunch who affect public perception more than the countless others who save lives and stop crime. Stories of officers abusing their authority or overstepping their bounds saturate the news daily, so pulling a few together for this edition of the Reality Round-Up was not a difficult task. However, it is a task I feel is worthy since ultimately, my goal in writing about bad cop, worse cop is to show how the misguided actions of a few should not used to judge the efforts of the many. For every cop who accepts a bribe, uses excessive force or pockets some drug money, there are thousands of others who do their jobs and, more importantly, do good.

These are the people I hope to honor as we examine some “shield-bearers” who lost their way, but should not be viewed as representative of all police officers. If that were the case, I’m fairly certain our civilization would have collapsed by now. Heaven forbid.

NEW PORT RICHEY, FLORIDA

If ever there were a law enforcement officer who succumbed to the stresses of his position, it would be 45-year-old Norman Grant, a Pasco County detention deputy at Land O’Lakes Jail.

And no, I don’t think the jail was named after the famous butter. I could be wrong, though.

On June 20th, a teenage inmate started to bang his head into his cell door, resulting in him being handcuffed and placed in a restraining chair—standard procedure in a situation like this, as I understand it. Unfortunately, the restraints were too tight and the inmate kept complaining. Eventually, his complaints pushed Grant to the edge and, in a fit of rage, he grabbed the 16-year-old prisoner by the throat, squeezed so tightly that he couldn’t breathe and whispered, “Stop or I’ll break your neck.”

A counselor was called in to help and the young man immediately described what happened, his story reinforced by the bruises and abrasions on his neck. When investigators pulled the surveillance video to see if it supported his story, they quickly learned that he was telling the truth. As a result, Grant was charged with using excessive force and fired.

Some people just aren’t cut out for this type of work, I suppose. And though we all give in to anger and do things we regret from time to time—sometimes of a physical nature (I have been known to smash things when rage overtakes me, but they always belong to me and I always hate myself later)—there is no excuse for attacking someone who is both unarmed and restrained.

Mills is pushed to his breaking point in “Seven” (courtesy of New Line)

It’s like the scene at the end of the Brad Pitt-Morgan Freeman film Seven when Detective Mills realizes that the killer—played expertly by Kevin Spacey—murdered his pregnant wife and had her head delivered to him by some shipping company. Despite having the killer in handcuffs and kneeling on the ground, Mills cannot control his anger and grief and does the unthinkable: he kills him and riddles his body with bullets. Granted, he had his reasons and the killer deserved to die, but it still didn’t excuse his behavior. The same can be said for Norman Grant, and now his inability to control himself cost him his job. Not too bright.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

Every so often, you hear about a police officer who is so troubled that you wonder how anyone could hire him to serve and protect the public. One such officer is 42-year-old Daniel Lopez of the San Antonio Police Department.

Despite being an 11-year veteran of the department, Lopez has struggled in his personal life and has been reviewed and investigated numerous times, the first coming four years ago. Then in June, he was placed on administrative leave after an incident at his home where he fired his service weapon into the air. His gun was taken from him, of course, but that certainly didn’t stop him from wreaking even more havoc this past week.

On Thursday, officers were called to Lopez’s residence to investigate a domestic disturbance. When they arrived, they learned that the off-duty officer was in the house with a gun and had at one point held it to his wife’s head in front of their children. The cops surrounded the house and blocked off several streets, but fortunately Lopez surrendered a short time later without incident. He has now been charged with deadly conduct and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, his bond being set around $85,000.

Lopez was placed on administrative leave, of course, but I suggest terminating him altogether. After all, this is a man whose pattern of bad—even criminal—behavior dates back almost five years. And though I know nothing about his first “incident,” it seems as if each subsequent one has been more serious and more dangerous.

Do we seriously have to wait until this guy slaughters his entire family before we take action or get him the help he seems to need so desperately?

MISSION, KANSAS

Officers in Mission, Kansas have come under the microscope after a disgruntled husband posted a video to YouTube that showed several of them arresting his wife last March. The video even includes dash cam footage from one of the police vehicles that, to me, substantiates his claim that undue force was used by authorities.

Check it out HERE and see if you agree.

Cops take mom down (courtesy of KCTV-5)

As I understand it, the woman was rushing to the post office—two small children in tow—to deliver some packages for her husband, who has an online business and needed to get them shipped to customers immediately. According to her husband, she arrived a few minutes before closing, but found the office locked up early. She knocked several times and never got a response, so she decided to use the drop box instead. And that’s when the problems started.

A postal worker called police and reported that the woman was irate, banging on the walls, threatening her and even putting rocks in the drop box. She must have been unaware of the call because when the first officer arrived on the scene, she was in her van with her children. The officer asked her to exit the vehicle and began questioning her on the passenger side of the van. When the second officer arrived, however—the one with the dash cam I mentioned—things took a turn for the worst.

According to the official incident report, the woman was uncooperative and at one point turned away from the first officer as if she were trying to free herself. A struggle ensued—which to me seemed to be prompted by the officer—and the arrival of the second cop only intensified their aggressive behavior. They slammed the woman to the ground violently, cuffed her and then started rifling through her purse, an act the mother of two did not appreciate.

“Really? Are you shuffling through my purse?” she asked the female officer who was snooping through her belongings. “You have no right to shuffle through my things.” And the response she got in return was classic sarcasm.

“Yes,” the officer told her. “Where’d you get your law degree?”

This was followed by an arrest—in full view of the mother’s screaming children—as well as a cavity search once she arrived at the police station. And even though the woman explained time and time again that her kids were putting pebbles into the drop box—while she yelled for them to stop, which explained why she seemed so frazzled and irritated—no one would listen. This perceived injustice is what prompted the husband to post that crazy YouTube video.

Of course, the Mission Police Department claimed that no unnecessary actions were taken during the arrest and as such, Officers Pierce and Gift received no punishment. I understand how dangerous police work can be—and how officers have to take certain precautions in order to protect themselves—but body slamming a seemingly harmless woman to the asphalt in full view of her scared, screaming children seems pretty excessive. Unfortunately, when it’s your word against the cops—and despite having video evidence to support your allegations—the odds are you’re still going to lose. And to me, that’s a big reason why some people will never trust the police… including this poor couple.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Although this next story does not involve an active police officer—rather a former Customs and Border Protection officer—it still illustrates how corrupt and unethical some law enforcement professionals can be.

The Calexico Port of Entry (courtesy of Birdair)

Oscar Osbaldo Ortiz-Martinez, a 33-year-old previously assigned to the Calexico Port of Entry, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison last week for bribery and conspiring to import controlled substances into the U.S. Apparently, he and his accomplice, Victor Manuel Silva Jr., agreed to work with drug traffickers and allowed them to smuggle illegal narcotics through their inspection lane. Five to twelve kilos of cocaine would earn them $20,000, while 15 kilos of methamphetamine netted them a cool $30,000.

Unfortunately for these would-be smugglers, the drug traffickers they worked for turned out to be undercover federal agents. Ortiz accepted $20K from them and was on his way to pick up another $30K from an informant when he was arrested. Silva was arrested the next day, but rolled over on his partner in exchange for a lesser sentence—conspiracy to import at least five kilos of cocaine.

Jumping at the chance to make some “easy money” is one thing. But when you have to violate federal laws to do it—especially when you allow drugs to enter our country, knowing full well how devastating they can be—you certainly deserve to be punished for it. And personally, it’s a little hard for me to understand Ortiz and Silva’s motivation. On average, border patrol officers make $64,000 a year—more than two meth shipments would have made these idiots. Instead of enjoying a windfall of cash, though, these guys are going to spend a number of years in prison with no income, no job and, when they are released, no substantial job prospects.

I hope it was worth it.

HOUSTON, TEXAS

Our final example of bad cops spoiling the good names of police officers everywhere comes from the great state of Texas. As you know, everything’s big in Texas—and that includes abuse by a handful of law enforcement misfits.

Brandy Hamilton and her friend Alexandria Randle decided to spend Memorial Day of last year in beautiful Surfside, a beach community near Houston and resting peacefully along the Gulf of Mexico—when there isn’t a hurricane in the forecast, that is. After a fun and relaxing vacation, they were returning home and driving down Highway 288—possibly going a little faster than they should—when a state trooper hit his lights and pulled them over.

Trooper Nathaniel Turner approached the vehicle and informed the women they had been pulled for speeding. The audio from his dash cam actually recorded him saying this. Then, his demeanor changed dramatically and the trooper claimed that he smelled something.

“There is an odor of marijuana in the vehicle,” he told them. “I’m going to be searching the vehicle.”

And this was when things got weird.

Turner then called for a female trooper to come and search the women—he would later claim that the passenger had her zipper open, as if she just shoved some weed into her hoo-hah. He also claimed to have found a joint, but I’m not sure if this was confirmed.

At any rate, both Hamilton and Randle were subjected to roadside body cavity searches, neither of which revealed anything illegal—unless you include the violation of their constitutional rights, that is. I even heard that one of the dash cams recorded the pained expression on Hamilton’s face as Trooper Jennie Bui invaded her private areas. Unbelievable.

In the end—and after 40 minutes of discomfort, to say the least—Turner wrote Hamilton a possession ticket, warned her about speeding and released she and Randle so they could return home. Little did he know that less than a year later, these same women would thank him… in court.

They do the job the rest of us don’t want to (courtesy of eBay)

As it turned out, a couple of Brazoria County deputies were in the area that fateful day and witnessed the cavity searches. And the Texas Department of Public Safety moved quickly to rectify the situation. Trooper Bui was immediately terminated, while Trooper Turner was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation. If you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before he loses his job, too.

This actually works as a pretty good end to this edition of the Reality Round-Up since the firings of Bui and, soon enough, Turner, mean that two bad cops will be off the streets. It also means that justice was served, despite being absent from so many incidents like these under normal circumstances.

Ultimately, though, what we need to remember is this: law enforcement officers—regardless of department, state, jurisdiction or anything else—are not evil, power-mad hypocrites bent on ruining the lives of regular citizens like you and me. Most of them join the force because they believe in helping and protecting others. They put their lives on the line for people who, for the most part, either fear or dislike them—all because a few individuals abused the position and got more play in the media. But for each bad cop—for each worse cop—there are countless better cops out there doing their jobs with honor, integrity and—believe it or not—love.

And for that, I salute them.

Posted on July 6, 2013, in Perspectives, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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