Saturday, February 03, 2007

Don't challenge their authority.

Our second post today deals with how police officers love to assert their authority. They have a few not dissimilar to that of Eric Cartman in South Park. See the video below to set the mood.

How routine is it for police to stop people and conduct searches? Apparently very routine. Under the constitution such things should only happen if police have probable cause but police interpret that their powers very widely and your rights very narrowly. They see probably cause as meaning “any damn time we please.” Imagine the attitude of George Bush regarding constitutional rights and give it to millions of state employees with guns.

Some people in New York City were getting concerned that the police were stopping people far more than warranted by the situation. They wanted to know ho often this was happening. In 2002, the last year for which data was available it showed 97,296 people were stopped by police. Because of these demands the police released the statistics for last year. From 97,000 such stops the police escalated their stops significantly, to 508,540. That is more than a 500% increase.

With over half a million such stops the numbers of people arrested as a result is a rather paltry 1%. In 2006 these stops resulted in 5,317 arrests. That means that is around 505,000 such cases innocent people were harassed. And while the number of people being stopped increased five fold the number of arrests compared to 2002 only doubled. And the report I read doesn’t say what percentage of the people arrested were actually charged with anything and convicted. But it is safe to say that for every 100 times the police in New York get suspicious and stop and search someone that they are in the wrong 99 times at a very minimum.

And when police were questioned as to why this data has not been released for years they gave a priceless answer. They said that the methods of counting are too antiquated and can’t cope with the dramatic increase of such cases. In other words: “We do it so often we don’t have the ability or time to count it.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan we have a documented case of two police officers who stop someone for playing music too loud and then conspire together to conduct an illegal search and pursue an unwarranted arrest. And we have the video to prove they did this and which proves they then actively lied to cover in an attempt to cover it up.

Terance Moore is 17 years old. And like many teens he plays his music too loud. But that is all he did. He was driving down the road and passed two police officers who had stopped someone else. As he passed by the police yelled at Moore to turn down the music. He didn’t hear them and wasn’t really paying attention tot hem.

He stops at a stop sign a short distance away and the two officers followed him on foot and approached his vehicle. There is audio and video of the entire incident confirming all of this. Moore is asked to turn down the radio and he does. At no point is Moore rude nor does he act aggressively in manner. He addresses the cops as “sir” throughout the incident.

Officers Peter Hoyt and Jim Williams were the arresting officers. Hoyt appears to be the one most keen to conduct an illegal search and to violate the rights of Moore. Williams just goes along with it after mildly challenging Hoyt’s right to act illegally. Here is a blow by blow account of the illegal activities of the police.

Hoyt approaches the car and tells Moore that he is going to ticket him “for excessive noise real quick, OK, and we’ll get you out of here.” Throughout the incident Hoyt tells Moore that all that will happen is a ticket even after Hoyt tells his fellow officer that they need to find an excuse to arrest Moore so they can search his car. Moore gives police his license and his insurance papers. Meanwhile they officers are checking on Moore and the car. Both are clean.

Another police officer hears the name Thomas Moore (not an unusual name) and radios something that is not heard. Williams is then called on his cell phone. He turns out his personal recording device in violation of policy so the content of that conversation is now a mystery.

Hoyt now demands Moore supply his social security number. The teen tells him he doesn’t know the number. Hoyt now starts an illegal interrogation asking questions which are not legally required. He wants to know where Moore works, his cell phone number and his address, again. Moore repeats his address. Under the law he is required to identify himself and his address. He is not required to answer the other questions.

Hoyt is unconvinced. He seems convinced that Moore, who is black, must be a criminal of some kind. Even after the car is identified as belong to Moore’s grandfather the officer is unconvinced and asks Moore again: “Is this your car”. And he points to Moore’s cell phone “Whose phone is this? Whose phone is that? It’s yours this one here? It shows that it’s working? Whose name is on it?”

Moore is then heard questioning the officer about whether or not he is allowed by law to simply reach into the car and take a cell phone. And now things escalate. Moore has questioned Hoyt’s authority -- and rightly so since Hoyt didn’t have the authority to do what he wanted to do. When Moore politely calls Hoyt on his illegal action the officer responds: “You’re right. Why don’t you step out of the car for me? Step out. You can take that phone with you. Step out of the car.”

When police wish to intimidate people into surrendering their rights this is one tactic they use. They order the driver out of the car letting the driver know that they don’t like people asserting constitutional rights. Hoyt has now decided that he will invent a reason to arrest Moore and use that arrest as the excuse for conducting an illegal search.

He tells Moore to stand on the sidewalk which he does. Hoyt turns to Williams, out of listening distance from Moore, and says: “Even though I’m writing this ticket, I need to arrest him so I can get in that car to search it.” Williams seems surprised: “Do you have... uh, anything you noticed?”

Williams is basically asking if Hoyt has any probable cause to conduct a search. Hoyt doesn’t. He says: “No... just.” Williams asks: “Think he’ll let you get in the car?” Hoyt says: “I didn’t ask.”

At this point Hoyt has determined his course of action and know he was going to push issues until he could invent an excuse for arresting Moore.

He starts questioning Moore about the music. Remember that originally the police merely yelled out to turn it down. Moore didn’t notice them and wasn’t paying attention though he did turn down the music the second he heard the request. Hoyt claims they could hear the music 15 feet away, 20 feet away and 40 feet away and continues to demand to know why Moore ignored the request he didn’t hear.

Now he points again to the cell phone. “Whose phone is that?” Moore responds: “Mine, sir.”

Hoyt says: “It’s yours? What’s the phone number on that?” No one is required to supply a phone number during a traffic stop. Moore asks quietly: “Is that necessary?”

Now Hoyt escalates matters. He doesn’t like his authority being questioned. Williams questioned the plan to illegal search the car and now Moore is questioning the demand for information that he is not legally required to provide. Hoyt responds: “Yes it is. Here’s what the deal is: I could take you downtown to the jail and physically arrest you, OK?”

So Hoyt demands information from Moore which Moore is legally allowed to withhold. When Moore confirms he wishes to hold onto his rights then Hoyt threatens him with arrest. Moore is surprised and asks: “For not giving you my phone number, sir?” Moore tells the officers he would like to wait until his mother arrives since he called her on the cell phone and she was driving to the scene.

This tells Hoyt he better conduct the unwarranted arrest and illegal search immediately. He tells Moore: “So you could physically go to jail. That’s why I’m asking you for your cooperation and what your phone number is. If you want, I could just arrest you, too, but I don’t want to do that. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, write you a ticket, and send you on your way.”

Hoyt lied repeatedly in that statement. He said he did not want to arrest Moore minutes after he told his partner: “I need to arrest him so I can get in that car to search it.” The ticket was a rouse and Hoyt knew it. His intention was to appear to be writing a ticket while concocting a lie in order to arrest Moore. Hoyt was not just asking for cooperation since Moore was cooperating in every way he was legally required to do so. Hoyt was demanding Moore suspend his rights and answer questions he was legally entitled to ignore. And Hoyt was inventing an offense. It is not illegal to refuse to give police your cell phone number.

Hoyt continues his lying: “All right, this is easy to void this out. We can do it all on paper. I asked a simple question. I've shown you respect, dignity. I'm trying to help you out here.'' This is false. Hoyt was working to arrest Moore and is now using the phone issue as the excuse for an unwarranted arrest. Hoyt tells Moore: “Plain and simple, what’s your phone number? We’ll get you a ticket and be on your way. No? All right.” Then Hoyt handcuffs Moore and turns him over to Williams who takes the man to the police station.

Hoyt stays behind and searches the car. His own video shows he found nothing and removed nothing from the vehicle. Hoyt gets a phone call from the police supervisor who just spoke to Williams. The supervisor says: “I just spoke with Jim a little bit. Why are we taking guy 10-1? (That means why are we arresting him?) Apparently Williams was still concerned about the legality of this arrest and spoke to the supervisor who was obviously concerned as well. What happens next is a mystery. Hoyt then turned off the recording device so that the conversation was not tapes. Later in the day he receives another phone call but only his side of the conversation is audible. He tells the other person: “That’s what I like to hear; me free and clear and somebody else in hot water.”

In this conversation Hoyt invents a new “fact”. He claims: “The other part would have been the, uh, tobacco on the front seat that I wanted to search the car to see if there’s marijuana in it.” He tells the caller: “OK, that’s fine. I clearly saw it, so...” He clearly saw nothing. He is lying again.

Go back to the moment when he decided he “needed” to arrest Moore. Williams asks him if he saw anything that made him suspicious. Hoyt says there was nothing. In later questioning Hoyt said that stray bits of tobacco on the seat looked like it could be marijuana. Yet when he searched the car he didn’t remove any such stray bits of anything to see if it was marijuana. In his own arrest report Hoyt never mentions shreds of tobacco either. Moore and his mother both insist the car had no tobacco in it.

After apparently being skeptical about Hoyt’s actions Williams now got in line and backed up his fellow officer -- gee, what a surprise! Williams claims that Hoyt had told him about the tobacco at the time of the arrest. Yet police video and audio tapes record no such conversation being held. But what about the question to Hoyt from Williams about whether Hoyt actually say anything warranting a search. Police officials now claim that the questions would be interpreted by police as “did officer Hoyt see anything substantial” and shreds of tobacco are not substantial. So Hoyt saying he saw nothing and him claiming he saw tobacco flakes are entirely consistent.

Williams also later said that Moore was resisting police efforts to help him -- contrary to the actual video evidence in the case. “He’s really not the most co-operative person. We were gonna give him a break with the ticket, but he wouldn’t provide the necessary information for the report.” Williams is now lying. He claimed this even after Hoyt told them the ticket was an excuse and that the plan was to really arrest Moore. And Moore’s cell phone number is not required for any report.

Of course the police investigated the lying cops. And of course the police exonerated them saying that their actions “did not violate any policy, procedure or laws”. One thing you can say is that the police are vigilant about crimes unless committed by their own officers and then they firm the ranks and fight the real enemy: the American people and constitutional rights.