DayeTime: A rabbit chase
Sometimes questions pop up during local discussions that lead to “chasing rabbits” that lead to fields far away.
Sometimes, they were the wrong rabbit after all.
That doesn’t take away the fun of the chase.
This last rabbit led me to a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist far to the north of Avoyelles Parish. It hopped through a story that was so disturbing that there was no upside to it.
Although the local issue ended up having nothing to do with this “rabbit,” it was interesting enough that I thought I should share it with you.
It seems several years ago in a large Northern city a number of police officers were accused by federal prosecutors of framing drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps by planting evidence to secure convictions. It was alleged that if they couldn’t find the evidence to convict the “bad guys,” they would just make sure they did find evidence to convict the "bad guys."
In addition to the evidence tampering, these police officers were also accused of intimidating the drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes -- including subjecting them to unnecessary “body cavity searches.”
These officers were indicted and tried before a jury. There were about 100 witnesses in a 34-day trial. The jury deliberated for 19 hours before acquitting all of the officers.
They found the prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and relied too heavily on “unreliable witnesses.” Jurors actually praised the defendants for their dedicated efforts to keep the public safe.
The Pulitzer Prize winner covered that trial. He now works as a federal agency’s public information coordinator. He said he enjoyed going back through the case in our joint attempt to “connect the dots” in my little rabbit hunt.
He also said he does not regret for a minute leaving the role of journalist to assume the role of public information agent.
“I probably help more reporters in this job than I ever did at the newspaper,” he said.
I told him that “connecting the dots” as a journalist is what keeps old newshounds young, even when the dots don’t make the picture you were hoping they would.
So, about the “no win” feeling about this case.
Were these dedicated police officers unfairly accused, suspended, indicted and tried for crimes they did not commit based on unsubstantiated accusations by members of the seedy underbelly of society?
Or did they get away with disregarding American citizens’ constitutional rights solely because of their victims’ lifestyle, “career choice” and past criminal records?
Neither of those options is acceptable to me. I wish I hadn’t gone down that particular rabbit trail.
Now I don’t know if we have over-zealous prosecutors seeking to take down our “blue knights” and protect those who should rightfully be on the other end of their prosecutorial efforts or if we live in a country where a victim’s rights can be swept away just because they weren’t a model citizen all their life.
Then I go back to the fact that this rabbit trail was far north of Avoyelles Parish in a large Northern city many years ago.
Surely we do not have law enforcement officers in this parish who hold a belief that they can treat “scum” like scum just because the “scum” have no political power, no financial power and have a criminal record.
Surely potential jurors in Avoyelles Parish would not be blinded by the glint of a gold badge and so impressed with a stiffly starched dress uniform they would let someone who blatantly violates the U.S. Constitution get a free pass to terrorize, dehumanize, humiliate and intimidate even society’s “scum.”
I would also hope that we don’t have prosecutors who would waste taxpayers’ dollars pursuing a case against dedicated police officers based on the doubtful testimony of known criminals.
What must be remembered is that a man may be a murderer, but that doesn’t mean he’s a liar. A woman may be a prostitute, but that doesn’t mean she was not raped.
So if an inmate says he was abused by a guard, is his complaint to be totally disregarded because, after all, he’s in jail for a reason?
If a police officer “roughs up” a suspect in the course of an arrest, is he to be considered a “rabid mad dog” misusing his badge, gun and position?
The answer to both of the last questions is “Of course not.”