In this update, posted only four days after Update 7, I addressed the crude and moronic harassment of Samantha Sterner and others in more detail. I also explained why professional police officers treat any traffic stop with great concern regarding public relations. One of my primary goals in the Erik Scott series has always been to inform the public—so badly misinformed by TV and the movies—about the realities of police work so that they can better judge the behavior of Metro and its allies for themselves.
As always, those interested in reading the comments that accompanied each original article should visit the Confederate Yankee Erik Scott Archive.
10-27-10: The Erik Scott Case: Update 7.2
So she got a few tickets. What’s the big deal? I refer, of course, to Samantha Sterner, Erik Scott’s girlfriend and arguably the most important witness in the upcoming civil trial regarding the metro police shooting of Scott on July 10, 2010. In Update 7 (the SMM archive with all Erik Scott related posts is available here.) I wrote of the fact that Sterner had recently received two traffic citations and several friends had been followed by the police for such distances that mere coincidence was not a credible explanation. The common factor was that all of the vehicles involved displayed a red, white and blue Erik Scott memorial ribbon on their rear surfaces.
Since that post, Sterner has received a third ticket. Bill Scott’s more detailed account of these recent developments can be found here [Note: Circa November, 2011 the Scott Site has been deactivated on the advise of the Scott family attorney; it’s a matter of pre-trial strategy]. In brief, Sterner has received three tickets, two by Henderson officers, one by a Metro officer near her workplace, and as I mentioned in Update 7, others have been harassed–there is no other word for it–as well. So what’s the big deal? Lots of people get tickets, right?
That, precisely, is the big deal. We–society–lend the police an important and uniquely destructive power: The power to make arrests. But I’ve never been arrested! If you’ve ever received a traffic ticket, you have, in fact, been arrested.
An arrest occurs when a person is stopped and detained by the police and a reasonable person would believe that they were not free to go. An officer does not have to say the magic words–”You are under arrest”–in order for an arrest to occur.
With this in mind, consider the circumstances of a traffic stop. Virtually all legitimate traffic stops occur because officers have probable cause, facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable police officer to believe that a crime has been committed and that a specific person has committed it. In other words, an officer sees a citizen running a stop sign, or tracks a citizen on radar exceeding the speed limit. He knows a crime has been committed and that the person he observed committed it, so he stops them and they are not, until he is done, free to go. They are under arrest.
If they’re arrested, why don’t the police take them to jail? Considering the sheer number of traffic tickets issued, it would be impractical, so almost everyone issued a citation is allowed to go on their way after signing a promise to appear in court or otherwise take care of the citation before the court date. An officer can, if he believes it’s warranted, take a traffic violator into custody–remember, every traffic citation is an arrest–but he must be able to explain why, unlike with 98+% of all traffic violators, it was necessary.
Once again, what’s the big deal? Competent, honest police officers and agencies know it’s a very big deal indeed. For most of the population, traffic stops are the only personal contact they’ll ever have–apart from making a report of a crime–with their police. The police get only one chance to make a good impression with most of the public. If a citizen is ill-treated, that cancer will spread to everyone with whom they speak, and fair or not, most people are willing to believe the worst about the police.
Courtesy and professionalism, particularly in traffic stops, is considered so important in competent agencies that it is taught not only in basic training, but continually reinforced throughout an officer’s career. As a line supervisor and a field training officer (an experienced officer teaching, one-on-one, new officers on the street) I always told my officers to treat every citizen they met as they would want any officer to treat their mother or wife, a sort of policeman’s Golden Rule. This attitude is the norm in professional agencies, as is a supervisor’s dressing down when officers forget or, God help them, become what competent police call “badge heavy,” taking themselves and their authority too seriously, even abusing it.
Norms for citations are established, formal and informal, in every agency. The public often thinks that officers have a quota, that they are required to write a given number of citations each month. While this is possible, reality is, for most agencies, much more mundane. Think about the last time you drove to a grocery store. How many traffic violations did you see? Now imagine that you’re a shift supervisor. If one of your officers hasn’t written a single traffic citation in three weeks, wouldn’t you wonder if he was actually awake on patrol? Wouldn’t you encourage him to pay greater attention to this aspect of his duties?
Even so, officers are expected to show good judgment in issuing citations (and all that they do). Anyone writing tickets for exceeding the speed limit by three to five MPH would be rightfully accused of writing “chickenshit” tickets, tickets within the margin of error, tickets that can be handed out like candy at any minute of the day to citizens who have no intention of violating the law. Who has not found themselves inadvertently traveling five or so MPH above or below the speed limit? The point is that officers should be issuing traffic citations only for substantive violations. It hurts the police and respect for the law in general if the police issue citations to people who are doing their best to obey the law. It’s unprofessional and stupid, for as much as the people need the police, the police need the support and good will of the people even more.
Professional officers generally won’t write chickenshit tickets, including a ticket for a red light run unless the light turned red before the car actually entered the plane of the intersection. They’ll write “red” lights, but not “pink” lights, because they know that sometimes people make honest mistakes, but if a pink light run, for example, resulted in an accident, that’s a different matter. Professionals know that understanding and acting upon common sense and human nature not only does not hurt their productivity, but ensures that few citizens will contest their citations. During my last stint on the street, I wrote more citations in a single year than an entire traffic division, yet I would never write a speeding ticket unless the driver was traveling 13 or more MPH over the limit. Who could reasonably argue that they did not know they were traveling 38+ in a 25 zone? My conviction rate was 100% because I never wrote a chickenshit ticket and was unfailingly polite and kind to drivers. Professional officers call it “selling the ticket.” At least 80% of all drivers thanked me when our contact was over. This too is common for professional officers. I also wrote far more warning citations than most. I received nearly 100% thanks for those.
As with far too much in the Erik Scott case, this behavior by the officers of two cooperating police agencies goes beyond mere coincidence. It is unprofessional. It is badge heavy; it is destructive to the community and to the officers and their agencies. Oh, and let’s not forget that tampering with witnesses (Sterner will be a witness in the upcoming civil trial and the Police know this) is unethical and a crime. But beyond all of that, which is bad enough, it is cruel, inhumane and unworthy. Professional police officers pride themselves on being the guardians of the weak and helpless, on protecting those who need protection and on helping those who need help. At their best, they embody warrior virtues and honor, as old fashioned as that is, and as politically incorrect as such values may be, even the most ardent liberal discovers the value and necessity of those simple virtues when someone is breaking in their front door at 0300.
Here is what is known as this is written: Sterner’s traffic record has apparently been clear for years, yet in roughly two weeks she has been cited twice for failing to clear an intersection before a red light (which sounds like an incredibly lame pink light situation) and once for speeding approximately five MPH over the limit. In each case, she was reportedly merely keeping up with the flow of surrounding traffic, traffic which was also committing the same “violations” all around her. If we assume that all of this is correct and ignore who Sterner is and what has happened to her and what is happening to her, these are–at best–classic chickenshit tickets. At worst, they are blatant, dishonorable harassment and cruelty.
In this case we have a young woman who experienced the unimaginable horror of seeing the man she knew and loved for years shot and killed within inches of her, shot and killed by the police. An honorable man (or woman) would want to ensure that such a woman was protected and kept safe from harm, was given time to heal and to build a new life, was not forced, inadvertently or purposely, to relive the horror. What kind of man smells vulnerability and exploits it? What kind of man takes pleasure in the misery of others, to say nothing of purposely causing such misery? Certainly not one the public should entrust with a badge. One of my past supervisors proposed a wonderful standard for police behavior: “If your mother would be ashamed of it, don’t do it.” God help the mother who would be proud of what these officers are doing.
Here is what should happen in a professional, honorable police agency, even if the officers involved acted completely without malice, having no idea who Sterner was, even if the citations are completely legitimate. Appearances matter to professional agencies and these citations, this behavior is plainly awful and harmful.
(1) Sterner and anyone involved in the case should be, absent an absolutely unavoidable necessity of police involvement, off limits to officers. They should leave her alone, not only because it’s the right thing to do, not only because it’s what honorable men and women do, but because such petty, cruel harassment is cumulative. It will harm the community and the police. Likewise, it’s not the business of the police to care about the content of bumper stickers. Their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution applies to the First Amendment too.
(2) Any supervisor receiving such citations from officers should immediately invalidate them for all of the reasons I’ve noted and because it is minimum professional supervisory practice. They should take all necessary disciplinary and corrective actions.
(3) Any higher ranking officer learning that such tickets were being written and such unprofessional harassment was taking place, and that first line supervisors were doing nothing should take appropriate action against all involved, which should include invalidating all tickets.
(4) The heads of the two agencies involved should immediately see that this harassment is stopped, that those involved are disciplined, and that it never, every happens again to anyone. The chief or sheriff of any professional agency should be horrified at the public relations damage of such cruel, degrading behavior on the part of their officers. They should take all necessary disciplinary and corrective actions.
(5) The prosecutors involved should immediately dismiss all citations and make it clear that they will cause outside state and federal investigations to occur if the behavior does not immediately cease.
(6) Should none of this happen, should the entire criminal justice system in Las Vegas be so hopelessly corrupt, any judge before whom these tickets come should dismiss them with prejudice and make it clear that the judiciary will not countenance any such behavior in the future.
There is no excuse. There is no explanation. The police are doing lasting damage to themselves and their community, damage that will have tragic consequences.
UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS:
It appears that it was Metro Det. Jensen, not Det. Calos, who testified that the bullet that struck Erik Scott in the thigh also struck the Ruger pistol supposedly concealed in his pocket. Should this be the case, as it now appears to be, I sincerely regret the inadvertent error and make correction here. There is no doubt, however, that the Police through their detectives, did present this testimony.
There also appears to be conflicting information relating to the existence of Police photographs depicting Erik Scott’s cell phone and .45 handgun in a single photograph. However, there seems to be little or no doubt that those two items did not appear together in the crime scene diagram that did depict the position of the .45. It was this diagram that Det. Calos explained had no position for the Blackberry because he picked it up, apparently preventing its accurate measurement and diagramming.
In previous updates, I have referred to Metro Officer “Start.” I am told, reliably, I believe, that the correct spelling of his last name is “Stark,” and have made those corrections in Update 7. This error was based on the incorrect spelling of his last name in local media, and I regret the inadvertent error. Should I still be in error, I welcome contact from Off. Stark in order to make the appropriate correction.
A reader wondered if it was possible that Erik Scott carried his wallet, which his family described as very thick, and a Ruger LCP .380 pistol in his right front pocket. While this is potentially physically possible, it is unlikely. It is unlikely first because it would be ridiculously uncomfortable. It is also unlikely because it would be tactically self-defeating. The handgun would be almost impossible to draw if necessary and would be prone to accidental discharge while being drawn. It would contradict the purpose and necessary utility of carrying a concealed handgun. Erik Scott was, by all accounts, more than tactically aware enough to avoid this. It is also unlikely because the best information available strongly suggests that he was not carrying that handgun at all.
One of the greatest difficulties and frustrations in this case is not being able to write with complete and accurate information. Even videotape and transcripts from the Inquest are far from accurate and complete–more than likely on purpose–and the Police are not releasing any additional, clarifying information to the media, and certainly not to a little known blogger in a distant state. One cannot expect such information from the Scott family either as their lawyers, as would any good lawyer, will certainly keep what they know under wraps until they are ready to use it in a civil trial.
As always, our goal is to provide analysis and background information that will help the public to better understand what has happened and what may be happening. As I have never been shy about saying, any theory or analysis is limited by that lack of complete factual information and may very well be incorrect in ways small or great. I have not, do not and will not present such analysis or theorizing as fact, and I will do my best to make corrections whenever better information becomes available. Metro officers or others having pertinent information are welcome to comment or to contact us directly, and we always appreciate the comments and insights of our astute readers.
A reader, responding to Update 7, suggested that the theory of the case outlined therein was a “paranoid fantasy.” Tragically, I fear he is mistaken because not only is the theory possible, it’s probable. There are no known facts relating to time, people or any other variable that would invalidate it, and there are far too many unusual, difficult to explain actions and omissions on the part of the Police and other authorities that are well illuminated and explained by the theory. Occam’s Razor applies: The simplest, most direct explanation is likely to be correct. Perhaps additional facts will emerge that will allow portions or all of the theory to be altered, deconstructed or confirmed, but it is also likely that the entire truth will never be known. This leaves all of us, citizens in a free society, the employers of all of our elected officials and public servants, to ponder, discuss, and theorize in the hope that justice will be done, and that such tragedies never again occur. This, ultimately, is our hope and potential service, a service far from paranoia or fantasy.