David Gregory violates DC law
Perhaps that’s a question a lot of civilian street criminals ask themselves. Why respect the law when so many of those who administer it apparently do not respect it themselves?
Welcome to Prosecutorial Discretion, a blog focusing solely on this concept and the problems it creates. These problems should, IMO, be obvious, but discussions of police abuse and other cases of official corruption often overlook the simple fact that it is the jurisdiction’s top prosecutor (often elected!) who enables the corruption, abuse, and criminality by deciding not to bring certain bad actors in front of a grand jury.
You can have all the laws you want (or don’t want), but, I would argue, you don’t have THE RULE OF LAW so long as a single or handful of individuals get to decide when to enforce the laws and when to look the other way. A recent obvious example would be David Gregory holding a 30 round magazine on TV in Washington, DC where such magazines are illegal and the local DA deciding not to prosecute. Something’s seriously wrong when the law can so blatantly be broken and one individual can decide that it doesn’t matter. Rule of men, not rule of law: that’s what the situation is. Other than the fear of getting caught getting put in jail by THEM, why should I follow the law? Why should I treat the law as anything other than a game of cat and mouse?
In the first post on this site, I’ve decided to highlight the Philly DA for an apparent abuse of his prosecutorial discretion power. Something tells me this won’t be the last time he looks the other way in a case involving a police officer apparently committing a serious crime.
Phillidelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams
From citypaper (Philly) via the Agitator (Radley Balko at HuffPo), it appears that there’s more than enough to put Officer Eric Burke in front of a grand jury, but Philly DA, R. Seth Williams, doesn’t think so:
As City Paper reported in the previous installment of our Excessive Force series, Philly paid $13 million in 2011 alone in legal settlements in police-related cases, including to alleged victims of abuse. And more lawsuits are ongoing, including one recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union accusing police of intimidating and arresting people for videotaping them in action. That financial drain has, however, failed to stem the alledged brutality against suspects and passersby.
Despite various checks — which include an Internal Affairs Division charged with investigating civilian and other complaints; a three-officer Police Board of Inquiry panel that hears Internal Affairs findings and doles out discipline to fellow officers; the parallel (but perhaps toothless) investigative efforts of the civilian Police Advisory Commission; and the ultimate consequence of criminal charges by the District Attorney — impunity seems to be the rule.
That is to say, Eric Burke is not alone — but he does appear to be a case in point. His personnel file includes an unusually large number of “use of force” reports, sometimes against handcuffed civilians. It also features an act of insubordination to a commanding officer and an Internal Affairs finding that he severely assaulted a civilian, Abrams. Since joining the force on April 23, 2007, Burke has shown signs of a hot temper and a penchant for kicking already-beaten suspects in the head. And yet he is still a Philadelphia police officer, working out of the 26th District and patrolling the streets of North Philly, Kensington and Fishtown.
If there is a lesson to be culled from Burke’s file, it may be this: The Philadelphia Police Department and the city of Philadelphia have no system in place to meaningfully discipline bad cops. Until they do, there’s little to protect civilians from violence at their hands.
Well the city does have a system; the residents elect their DA.
Anyway, let’s look at the $13 Million in legal settlements. Now, let’s get this straight right here in this first post: I’m no legal expert, but I’m pretty sure the standard of proof in a civil case, the type in which these millions in settlements were paid in order to avoid, is “Preponderance of Evidence.”
Preponderance of Evidence.
That means, the evidence shows that more likely than not, so-and-so did such-and-such bad thing. The city decided to pay out those millions in 2011 because the preponderance of evidence was enough. But, as the article says, the payouts haven’t helped the situation vis-a-vis police abuses; thye’ve only cost the taxpayers and enriched a few victims. What would help the situation would be for the DA, R. Seth Williams, to take a serious look at these cases and do some prosecuting. It’s not really that complicated – or is it? If he tried to indict Burke and the other “bad apples” who cost the city all those millions in lawsuits, how hard would it be to get an indictment? How high of a standard of proof would the DA need in order to indict any one of the excessive force guys, some of whose actions resulted in civil payouts?
Yep, a preponderance of evidence. A “preponderance of evidence” is the standard for a civil suit, and a “preponderance of evidence” is the standard for a grand jury indictment. I’m no legal expert, and I didn’t go to Georgetown University like R. Seth Williams did, but I’m pretty sure “preponderance of evidence” is the same thing as “preponderance of evidence.” Or, at least, they’ve gotta be pretty f—‘n close.
More on the kind of discretion Williams uses here and here.