When WC was a newly minted young Fairbanks lawyer, he worked for a year and a half for a law firm whose clients included a pimp. Yes, really. During the TAPS construction boom, a number of prostitution rings relocated to Fairbanks. New associates in large law firms don’t get a lot of choice about who they represent. Anyway, WC defended a half dozen or so prostitution cases.
In one such case, the state trooper involved had sex with the lady before arresting her. WC’s defense was to get the jury more annoyed with the state trooper than with the defendant. So WC walked the arresting officer through each step of the seedy assignation, repeatedly asking the trooper, “Why didn’t you arrest her at that point?” To which the Trooper answered, each time with an uneasy, eye-shifting gaze, “I wasn’t sure a crime had been committed.”1
The defense worked; the jury acquitted the young woman. But what WC hadn’t known, until the Ass’t District Attorney told him, was that the trooper’s wife had been in the courtroom for the entire trial. She was even less impressed with her spouse than the jurors, and a divorce followed.2
The point of this little bit of history is that cops aren’t always the good guys. Recently, WC had a Facebook exchange with friends who were upset with the Starbucks chain, because an Arizona Starbucks asked a group of six Phoenix police officers to leave their store when a customer complained that their presence made the customer uneasy. My friends were outraged, and talked about organizing a boycott of Starbucks.
But the context of that episode matters a lot. Phoenix has the nation’s highest rate of police shootings. There were 44 police shootings in 2018. 22 deaths. Los Angeles, a far larger city, had 33. New York City, still larger, had 23. Put another way, in Phoenix a cop shoots a civilian ever 8.3 days.
There’s the video of Phoenix police officers threatening a family over minor shoplifting.The video shows a white police officer, gun drawn, threatening to shoot an unarmed black man in front of his pregnant wife and two young children. The family was of stealing a doll and some underwear.
And that happened less than a week after the the story broke that dozens of Phoenix police officers have published bigoted Facebook posts — ones that promote violence against protesters and criminal defendants. The Plain View Project was started by Philadelphia lawyer Emily Baker-White, who created a database of public Facebook posts and comments by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States. A total of 97 different Phoenix cops (75 current cops; 22 retired) made 179 questionable comments and posts. Many endorsed violence, in some cases against Mexicans, Muslims, women and criminal defendants.
Reuben Carver III, who has been with the Phoenix police department since 2002, wrote on March 16, 2011, that said, “Its[sic] a good day for a choke hold.” When that incident was reported, and internal investigation concluded, “This particular inquiry was reviewed by our Professional Standards Bureau and did not rise to the level of misconduct on the part of the employee.”
And then there’s the composition of the Phoenix Police Department: Nearly 73% of the department’s 2,937 sworn officers are white, while about 19% are Hispanic and 4% are African American, department data shows. That’s in a city that, according to U.S. Census data, has a population that is about 42% white, 43% Hispanic and 7% African American.
So, yeah, it’s not entirely unreasonable for customers in that Phoenix Starbucks to be uncomfortable in the presence of Phoenix police officers. In context, it might even be reasonable.
And that takes WC back, to the little story that opened this blog post. Criminal prosecutions very often depend on the credibility of the police officers involved. As the DAs in the OJ Simpson homicide case can tell you. If your police lose the support of enough citizens, if the police lose their credibility, those citizen-jurors will be reluctant to believe a cop’s testimony, and then the criminal justice system starts to break down. Worse, the bad cops taint the good cops. In Chicago, for many years, the prosecutors couldn’t take a case totrial if the primary evidence was the testimony of a police officer.
The elected prosecutor in Phoenix, the Maricopa County attorney, Bill Montgomery, doesn’t seem to have figured this out yet. He will. Or will get voted out when his prosecutions start to fail.
Yes, the staff at Starbucks could have handled it better. But the problem is real, and not limited to Phoenix. And needs to be addressed.
- This same state trooper harassed WC for years afterwards. Once, he stopped WC because his license plate light wasn’t working. Three different stops for “safety checks.” And once for leaving the scene of a traffic accident when, in fact, WC had been in a deposition at the time. ↩
- Some years later, the same woman worked for WC as a legal secretary. Fairbanks was an is a small town. ↩