The consequences of a “confrontation” with cops

maherThat’s Mark Maher, a resident of Windsor, CT. Well, that’s him after Enfield Police Officer Matthew Worden got done teaching him a lesson. Naturally, Maher was then charged with interfering with an officer, because his face got in the way of the officer’s energetic fist-bumps with the ground. I guess Officer Worden learned from the Sunil Dutta school of policing, whose core philosophy is ‘Obey me at all costs or I will break your face’.

Lucky for Maher, there were dashcams. Two of them. I can’t embed them because screw you Hartford Courant. But here’s dashcam one, which shows you just how annoyingly Maher kept getting in the way of Worden’s colloquial greeting to the pavement and here’s dashcam two, which prominently features “stop resisting”, today’s version of “stop hitting yourself”.

Ferguson: the no-Constitution zone

[The following is my latest column for the CT Law Tribune, to be published this week.]

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, 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.

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.

So concluded Mr. Justice Douglas in his dissent – the lone dissent – to Terry v. Ohio, perhaps with greater prescience than even he would have envisioned. Today, some 46 years later, the fruits of that unwise policy have ripened and come to bear in America, presenting us with a country that seems unrecognizable.

Impossibility is not a defense

The law, you will have guessed by now, is not concerned much with the English language and its precise definitions. A fall-back answer that’s almost always right, when it comes to the law, is that everything “depends”.

Even something as simple as ‘impossibility’. When you, laypersons, think about the word “impossible”, you usually think of something that’s not possible. But the law isn’t that easy.

There are different categories of impossibility, each with its own definition and applicability: mistake of law, mistake of fact, legal impossibility and factual impossibility. Legal impossibility is where, no matter how evil your intentions are, your acts do not constitute a crime. Factual impossibility is where it is impossible for you to have committed a crime because you misunderstood the facts. A classic example used in law school hypotheticals is that of Sydney Barringer, the guy who died in a most tragic fashion.

But none of this takes into account the law’s stubborn desire to extract a conviction from just about anyone who wanders into its field of vision, despite the apparent physical impossibility of that person to have committed the crime.

This is how we come to meet Tyree Threatt, 21 years old, facing charges of mugging a woman on June 27. They didn’t arrest him that day, of course, but she gave a description of the mugger. A few weeks later, officers saw Threatt and determined he matched the description. Then they put his photo in a lineup and she picked him out.

Things from Ferguson that even you can’t ignore (updated)


A picture of Officer Friendly in Ferguson:


My, what a big gun you have. Now here’s what happens if you want to record Officer Friendly:


(via @rdevro) What happens to people who try to record the police in Ferguson, like Intercept reporter Ryan Deveraux? He gets detained, for no reason, held overnight and then released in the morning. I know some of you find paying attention hard, so here’s the relevant portion:



But certainly they must allow press and protests, right? I mean, it’s the most well-known part of the First Amendment! It’s not like the law allows them to detain anyone without reas-oh. And within designated areas? And only walking protests? Oh.


But what about that unprecedented action by Amnesty International to send independent observers? That certainly made sure that police were on their best behavi-oh:



Well, this is the America you got when you decided not to give a crap about what didn’t happen in your cocoon. I blame you. Because for a large percentage of the population, this shit doesn’t end. It is constant and ever-lasting. Please, read this and get your head out of the sand.




The BS PC project

Spurred by the latest happenings in America vis-a-vis police officers and the stunning amounts of statism on display, I was reminded that we in the field know that officers are full of crap and most of the people in the world think officers are the second coming of Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar”.

One of the many ways in which officers’ BS is on display is in their reports and their claims of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The classic “furtive movement” or “clutching the waistband”.

So I figured why not just collect these nonsense pretexts and put them on display for the world to see? So send me screencaps of the reports that you find – with identifying information redacted, of course – and I’ll post them over at (there’s nothing there yet).


These are not qualifications to be a public defender

Which is the odd man out?

burk-flyerNow, who won the election for Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District?

Yep, it’s pro-death penalty, 7-year prosecutor Bo Burk, who, if you zoom in on the image, touts his membership in the NRA as a plus to be the champion of individual rights for the poor and disenfranchised.

But as if that wasn’t enough, he is also a fiscal conservative who will use all resources available to save taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps since he’s never represented a criminal defendant in his life, he might be confused as to where the government largesse in the criminal justice system comes from: it is from over-criminalization and vindictive prosecutions, excessive prison sentences and lengthy terms of probation.

It isn’t the job of a public defender to worry about how much money is being spent on defense. In fact, if anything, the reality is that indigent defense organizations are criminally underfunded and could use significantly greater numbers of lawyers and investigators to provide constitutionally adequate defenses.

Of course, none of this mentions the greater philosophical problem: the stewardship of individual rights and defenses of poor people left to a man who, just yesterday, was trying to put those very people in jail.

How exactly will that prosecutorial mindset so quickly convert to one of defending rights at all costs? How will he suddenly bring himself to the attitude required of criminal defense attorneys: that whether the client actually committed a crime is often irrelevant; what matters is whether the prosecution can prove it?

It would also seem that in a jurisdiction like his, there may be a significant number of people dealing with mental health and drug addiction issues – topics that prosecutors are usually skeptical of. Can he immediately shed that skepticism and see these defendants for what they are – people who are in trouble and need help?

Logic dictates that the defendants of the 25th Judicial District in Tennessee are in for some worse times. Reality dictates that Bo Burk will continue to get elected, despite his complete lack of qualifications for the job.


The apathy of privilege

I don’t live in one of Connecticut’s big cities anymore. I used to, but I don’t. I live in a residential neighborhood that is decidedly middle-class. I have a dog and I often walk that dog on my street and the streets nearby, as middle-class suburban folk are wont to do.

Last week, after our supreme court issued its opinion and while I was in the midst of getting indignant and demanding that people pay attention, I went for a walk. And it was heavenly. I forgot about everything. I forgot about the anger. I forgot about the frustration. I looked at the trees, neighbors’ yards and their flower gardens. I heard dogs barking from windows, I saw birds at bird feeders. I said hello to a few neighbors mowing their lawns. A man stopped to pet my dog. I smiled at him. I politely made way for some kids bicycling.

It was great. It was serene. It was peaceful.

It was horrible. I forgot all about Jeremy Kelly. I forgot all about Michael Morton. I forgot all about Cameron Todd Willingham. I forgot all about Troy Davis. I forgot all about the sad mentally challenged client who had fondled his younger cousin and who was now going to a very bad place that he would no doubt be completely unable to navigate. I forgot all about the hundreds of drug addicted individuals who were inartfully balancing that fine line between treatment and prison. I forgot all about the innocent man who had been arrested and locked up for weeks, the investigation of whose case had stalled. I forgot all about the institutional racism. I forgot all about prosecutorial misconduct. I forgot all about Trayvon Martin. I forgot all about the NSA and the CIA. Everything was right with the world. It was peaceful, happy, just.

From my stupor, it was easy to see how 5 wizened justices would rule that, of course, officer safety would trump the minor incursion into an individual’s Right to Suspicionless Assembly. Of course, in my neighborhood, if I saw one person up to no good, then his friend was also in on the scam. That’s the way of the world. It was white and black. It made perfect sense.

It felt great.

I hated myself. I hated myself because it was so easy. Because it was so tempting. There was nothing to slipping into that coma of blissful ignorance. I could abandon this career and never have to test my conscience again. I could walk away and never have to justify my principles again. I could take the easy path: the path of apathy. The path of following well-trod progressive trails. I could stick to the easy causes: health care, education, marriage equality. They were hard, but they weren’t controversial. It would be easy. It would be serene. It would be relaxing.

I think about that today. Michael Brown would be forgotten. Ferguson would be forgotten. Dr. King would be a token I would pay infrequent homage to. Leave it all behind and embrace my privilege. I could devote my life to Shark Week and Kim Kardashian. The Central Park Five, The Angola Four, Renisha McBride, that Lockett fellow with the horrible death by lethal injection would all run together as post-it notes to be called upon to appear informed and tut-tut the anomalous shortcomings of our otherwise truly fine institutions. But really, there would be no need to worry. There would be no need to fret. My rights aren’t really going anywhere. No cop is shooting at me 5 times. They aren’t detaining me on the street just because of who I’m standing next to. It would be so easy to wrap myself in that cocoon of privilege and turn up the apathy to 11.

It would be a lie. It would be a betrayal. It would make me a coward. If I only express support for easy causes, then I have no real principles. If I only investigate “trendy” issues, then I am nothing but a fraud. Activism, contributing to society and making a difference are meaningful only if you’re doing more than greasing the wheels that are running fine without your presence.

The easy path isn’t always the right path. I am privileged in many ways, but the people I stand up for, the causes that make me wake up every morning and shout at others for ignoring are causes that affect all of us. Those with privilege and those without. And every day that you let your apathy stand in the way of the protections that I deserve, I will smack you in the face and remind you that you’re part of the problem.

Your rights are my rights. Pay attention, because I don’t want to lose them any time soon just because you’ve decided that you’re too white or middle-class to be bothered.