I have thought, for some time now, that I knew just how bad things were getting in the United States, in terms of us becoming a police state.
Today, I was shown just how wrong I am.
In fact, I didn’t know the half of how bad things have really gotten.
I’ve tried to argue in the past that “no one is safe” from the police state in which we live. I always thought I was speaking in terms of what will happen, if ordinary people who don’t have day-to-day contact with our “justice” system continue to turn a blind eye to the things which we do know.
Now, though, it appears that day is already here. Say or do something the police don’t like, and you will find yourself in hot water. It doesn’t matter who you are. Don’t believe me? Ask Fresno Bee Reporter Pablo Lopez. There’s a story going around the courthouses right now that says he pissed off one of the co-owners of Fresno — police chief Jerry Dyer — and that Dyer personally called the Fresno Bee to try and get him fired. Exactly what happened, I don’t know — all I know so far is that at least a dozen people have told me what I just told you. Supposedly, it has to do with a criminal case involving Lopez’s son, in which Jerry Dyer has been subpoenaed — at least partly because he allegedly inserted himself into the case by trying to get Lopez fired. Knowing what I know, this story does not surprise me.
But, if you don’t want to ask Pablo Lopez, you can ask me.
This morning, when I arrived at the Juvenile Justice Court for a case, I found four or five deputies at the front. A deputy district attorney was walking ahead of me. She went through the metal detector without stopping, and (I assume, based on the direction she was heading) on to her office. I put my bag on the x-ray machine belt, as always, and pulled out my identification to show, as always. But I was stopped.
“You have to empty your pockets.”
“What?,” I asked.
“You have to empty your pockets.”
The officer said something about a new security issue or something along those lines. He stated that they were making all court personnel and attorneys empty their pockets now.
“A court person went through just ahead of me,” I said, motioning in the direction the prosecutor had gone. “You didn’t check her.”
And then one of them told me it was because of my blog post yesterday. He even specifically referenced the sentence that they found so offensive. “So now you’re a security risk,” I was told.
Because of something I wrote. Something which — I will admit — was offensive. Something which, in retrospect, I even wish I had not said (but not because of what happened today; I still haven’t stopped being intermittently amused and deeply concerned by the illegality of what happened today). After all — I probably shouldn’t say this — but I actually like some law enforcement officers.
And, in fact, after thinking about why the officers were so offended, I actually went back and changed yesterday’s post. (No, if you didn’t see it yesterday, I’m not going to tell you what I said. I’m adding enough fuel to the fire just by writing about what happened today.) I decided they were right, and that I was more offensive than I intended to be.
Because I won’t lie: I did intend to be offensive. What I had experienced — which resulted in yesterday’s post — was offensive. What happens far too often in our courtrooms is offensive. I was very offended, and made offensive statements about what offended me.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, however, has proven that I was on the right track. In addition to the above, I went through two more complete searches — basically, every time I left the court, when I returned, I was searched again. They opened my bag, and then opened everything inside my bag, on the pretense that they were looking for “something metal” that showed up in the x-ray machine. What they did today proved that they can be a lawless force which, when it does not get its way, is to be both feared and resisted. It reminds me of something that’s been said at more than one criminal defense conference after this quote from a California case is read:
Defendant’s analogy to the Los Angeles Police Department is thus inapposite. Section 186.22, subdivision (f) defines “criminal street gang” as an ongoing organization having “as one of its primary activities” the commission of one of the enumerated offenses. Though members of the Los Angeles Police Department may commit an enumerated offense while on duty, the commission of crime is not a primary activity of the department. People v. Gamez, 235 Cal. App. 3d 957, 970-971, 286 Cal. Rptr. 894 (1991).
And the question is always asked: why? After all, if you did apply the exact same criteria to almost any police department, they would qualify as a criminal street gang. But you can’t get any court to allow you to explain to a jury why what I just said is true, because the answer to “why” is “because the courts say so.” It has nothing to do with how the criteria are applied — because, again, if they were applied in an identical way to the police, then the LAPD, and most other police forces, would be classified as a criminal street gang.
At any rate, the overreaction of the department today shows just how dangerous they can be. And, in fact, I suspect that’s just the start. It will not surprise me if something happens to me for what I’ve written. At least a few attorneys — including me — think that there was a plan in place this morning to set up a situation where I could be given a beatdown, which almost certainly would have been followed by criminal charges against me for “resisting arrest,” or “assaulting an officer,” or something similar to that. Because that happens to more people than you could possibly imagine, more often than you would believe. And, as I said, there is reason to believe they were trying to set it up — reason enough that another attorney decided to stick around “just in case.” (Which is probably why it didn’t happen.)
And it was stupid.
Because, again, I won’t lie: as despicable as I find the behavior of a lot of police officers, I will fight them in two places only: the courts, and the courtroom of public opinion. You see, I’m not quite as stupid as many law enforcement officers. I understand that I can’t get away with violating the law, and I won’t do so. I worked too hard to get my law license. I’m not about to give it up by breaking the law. If an officer gives me an order — even an illegal order — I’m going to do what he tells me to do.
If it’s an illegal order, and it matters, I’m going to go after the officer in court.
And any officer who has had any contact with me in the courtroom knows that. I have always been — and always will be — respectful of everyone in the courtroom, even when I disagree with them. Even if I think they’re ignoring the law themselves. I’m going to keep trying and hoping that I can work within the system to fix it. But, on top of that, when I see a bailiff is abusing his position to try to upset me, it makes it that much easier to just sit there without reacting. Why should I give them the pleasure of letting it upset me?
The bottom line is this: I’m sorry that I upset the department so much that they had to go and prove I was right. I mean, seriously, going through my complete bag every time I come into court? Opening it up and going through everything inside of it, even my pen boxes? Pulling out everything on the pretense that you say you saw something on the x-ray machine in the same bag I’ve brought to court for years now?
Today, as I said, I went through three complete searches. I suspect for a long time to come, I’m going to go through more. Until there are enough for me to go to court over it. Because there is no probable cause to search me. I have never done anything illegal, nor have I threatened to do anything illegal, nor would I do anything illegal. I’m carrying the same things in my bag today that I’ve carried every day for as long as I’ve been an attorney. My bag has been through their x-ray machine probably thousands of times over the years, and until today, I never had a problem.
Because piss off a cop — even if it’s just by writing something they don’t like — and they will show you just how far from being public servants they have gone. They are our overlords.
And you damn well better never forget it.