Who's Policing the Police?

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November 29, 2007

A few northern Michigan officers have recently been in the headlines for breaking laws they swore to uphold. Angered and intrigued, I wondered if this was a fluke or a growing problem.

While I have no love for our storm troopers in blue and brown'right or wrong, I have always had a problem with the idea that I should submit to a janitor with a gun merely because he has the means to legally injure or murder me'I was surprised at just how big a problem police misconduct and the lack of justice for said misconduct is.

Still, I won't presume to condemn a profession on the actions of some, but I will point the finger of shame at the dozens of scofflaw Michigan cops including the case of David Mede who was convicted of drunk driving in 1994 but remained a cop.

Perhaps emboldened by his above-the-law status, he slammed his vehicle into a utility pole after a night of drinking in 2006. He fled the scene, where he left a loaded weapon and then lied about the incident.

His abhorrent actions resulted in two misdemeanors, a $6,000 fine and he was transferred to a police station in a lovely resort community.

Let's hope Mede isn't so drunk when he pulls you over that he mistakes your wallet for an Uzi.

Some cops, like Charlevoix's own Brian VanMeter, get adequate punishment for their actions, but this seems to be a chance occurrence.

Even still, while VanMeter was released from duty, his original charges of reckless driving

and assault/battery for, allegedly, getting drunk and chasing his ex-wife's boyfriend down the highway while trying to run him off the road and then trying to force him out of his car for who knows what, was dropped down to careless driving.

Meanwhile, former Petoskey Michigan State Police commander, Aaron Sweeney, was demoted, transferred and charged with the responsibility of training other cops after being convicted of domestic violence.

We have our fair share of bad cop stories, but don't think northern Michigan is the only area plagued with bobbies behaving badly.

Eugene J. Williams, Detroit, was fired in 1971 for a fatal hit-and-run while he was drunk, but he was reinstated three years later. While off-duty in 1979, he shot and killed a man during a domestic dispute.

He then shot his wife during a domestic dispute in 1984. He wrongfully beat a student in 1989, smashing out four of the child's teeth and shot and killed an allegedly unarmed 16-year-old.

The matter remains under investigation.

John J. A. Debono, a sheriff reserve deputy in Genesee, used his cell phone to record a friend's wife having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Instead of the 20-year felony for producing child pornography, he faces a four-year felony for possessing sexually abusive material of a child and a two-year felony for attempting to accost a child for immoral purposes. At least he is no longer a deputy and must register as a sex offender.

Ryan LaPratt, a Battle Creek cop who savagely beat a motorist after stopping him for a loud muffler, was fired, but I can't figure out how his partner, Andrew Olsen, who did not stop the act, was merely suspended without pay and put on probation for five years.

Kudos, however, to their police chief for sharing the video with the public and media; true, the tape is public information, but he could just as easily have destroyed it to protect his deputies.

It's good to know there are policemen who refuse to help cover-up or diminish the severity of police misconduct.

Then there is the Flint police officer, Andrew Gauthier, was fired for beating a 15-year-old on a bus, but Jeff Lutz, the Eaton County cop who shot himself and then spurred a manhunt by lying about the incident, got the benefit of being put on medical leave, and Robin Harrington, who severely injured another woman when she crashed her car while drunk last New Year's Day, was fired for her actions.

And, Michigan isn't alone: Elizabeth Ritter was shot in the face with wax bullets by cops policing a protest. Ritter's crime? Cowering behind a sign which read "fear totalitarianism." The dozens and dozens of cops at the protest, one of whom shot her, are seen on a tape following the shooting laughing and joking about the incident.

Check out the Youtube video of the two cops who take handcuffs off a man and then begin beating him.

And what about Terry Abbate, the Chicago cop seen on camera beating a female bartender who refused to serve him.

And why should we expect different behavior from humans thrust into power, often regardless of their mental and social deficiencies, given unreasonable amounts of preference and credibility and who are slapped on the wrists at best when given to behavior viewed as criminal by any other perpetrator?

Should we be anything but terrified when our so-called protectors look at us as little more than enemies?

Hundreds and hundreds of incidence of illegal activities involving police in the last few decades across the nation are not chance occurrences, but an ongoing problem for both civilians and law-abiding cops whose jobs are made more difficult by the actions of a few juris-jackasses.

I planned a rant on the importance of government accountability and zero tolerance for bad cops until I discovered our governor refused to veto a new law which blocks the public from statements made by officers during internal investigations'no help there'now it seems hiding police psychological profiles and disciplinary records is the least of our worries.

If you are ashamed of your record as a police officer, you have no business being one.

We trust these people to patrol the streets armed with firearms, Tasers, batons, pepper spray and unnatural amounts of trust and power.

When they molest that trust, it leaves an odious funk on the citizenry's collective taste buds. Trite though it may be, bad things happen when good people'good cops especially'do nothing.

So what can we do?

It seems a reasonable assumption that an officer, who knows his every action will be exposed to the nation via venues such as www.youtube.com, might think twice about misbehaving, so fire up those camcorders, cell phones, digital cameras and report suspected misconduct; make those videos known and share them with all who will witness.

Until "our protectors" are truly held to that oft quoted myth of a higher standard, the community you save may be your own.

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Benjamin Gohs's picture
Columns on STR: 4

Benjamin J. Gohs is a staff writer for the Charlevoix Courier newspaper and author of the award-winning column "The Crying Towel."