ABC Reporter Matt Gutman has been banished to the opposite side of the world, and Sanford Police Department Detective Christopher Serino has been reassigned/demoted as a patrolman working the midnight shift.  Two apparently unrelated and insignificant events?  Actually, both are directly related to the Trayvon Martin case, and will have a significant impact on two distinct realms: the court of public opinion and the actual courts of Florida law.

But first, let us revisit Update 8 (May 30, 2012) where I wrote of breathless news and blog coverage of Sanford Police security video of George Zimmerman apparently walking—gasp!—unescorted in what was obviously a portion of the Sanford Police Department accessible to the general public–probably the main lobby–in the days immediately after the death of Martin.  The original Lamestream Media report was made by—you guessed it—Matt Gutman.

I patiently explained that when depicted in the despicable and outrageous act of walking up a staircase in the video, Zimmerman had not been arrested and was still cooperating with the Sanford Police, and any citizen–Zimmerman included–could enter any publically accessible area of a public building.  But one question remained: How did ABC get routine security camera footage of the SPD lobby, and who gave it to him?  I wrote:

NOTE:  I have e-mailed the Sanford Police Chief asking him to confirm that this video is the Sanford Police Department, and asking how this security camera footage came to be in the hands of the media.  As of the posting of this article, I have not received a reply.  If one is forthcoming, I’ll post it.

I suspect it will surprise no one to learn that I’ve never heard from the SPD about this matter.  However, I also suspect the SPD was surprised to see their security camera footage in the hands of ABC News and was interested indeed in finding out who gave it to them.  Now we know: it was probably former Detective Christopher Serino.

THE LAW, ETC.:

To better understand what is happening here, let’s turn to Florida law.  There are two specific statutes that could have some bearing on the topic of discussion:

838.21Disclosure or use of confidential criminal justice information.—It is unlawful for a public servant, with intent to obstruct, impede, or prevent a criminal investigation or a criminal prosecution, to disclose active criminal investigative or intelligence information as defined in chapter 119 or to disclose or use information regarding either the efforts to secure or the issuance of a warrant, subpoena, or other court process or court order relating to a criminal investigation or criminal prosecution when such information is not available to the general public and is gained by reason of the public servant’s official position. Any person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

And the second:

839.26Misuse of confidential information.—Any public servant who, in contemplation of official action by herself or himself or by a governmental unit with which the public servant is associated, or in reliance on information to which she or he has access in her or his official capacity and which has not been made public, commits any of the following acts:

(1) Acquisition of a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction, or enterprise or gaining of any pecuniary or other benefit which may be affected by such information or official action;

(2) Speculation or wagering on the basis of such information or action; or

(3) Aiding another to do any of the foregoing,

shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

In addition, like virtually all states, a state-level organization regulates who is allowed to be a police officer, the processes by which one is certified to be a police officer, maintains that certification, and establishes rules of conduct for police officers.  In Florida, that organization is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has:

Officer Requirements

Law Enforcement Officer Ethical Standards of Conduct

Principle Eight

Police officers shall observe the confidentiality of information available to them due to their status as police officers.

Rationale

Police officers are entrusted with vast amounts of private and personal information, or access thereto. Police officers must maintain the confidentiality of such information to protect the privacy of the subjects of that information, and to maintain public faith in the officer’s and Department’s commitment to preserving such confidences.

Rules

8.1 Police officers shall not knowingly violate any legal restriction for the release or dissemination of information.

8.2 Police officers shall not, except in the course of official duties or as required by law, publicly disclose information likely to endanger or embarrass victims, witnesses or complainants.

8.3 Police officers shall not divulge the identity of persons giving confidential information except as required by law or Department policy.

What all of this means is that there are potential consequences in three distinct realms for police officers who, without proper authorization, release information to those not authorized to possess it. 

(1) The first realm consists of the rules and regulations of the involved law enforcement agency, in this case, the SPD.  The SPD, like all law enforcement agencies has its own internal rules, regulations and procedures.  In terms of the release of information of all kinds, such rules are virtually identical from agency to agency.  State laws routinely give the public access to police records, with the exceptions of active cases (cases still being investigated), personnel files, any records ordered sealed by a court, and a few other narrowly construed types of information.

What this means is that there are a number of routinely available police records handled in an entirely routine way.  A citizen needing a copy of a traffic accident report or a report about a theft from their property, for example, can appear at the police records section, pay a minimal copying fee, and walk away with a copy of the report they need.  Such matters are covered by normal regulations and require no special permission.

However, all agencies have regulations about information released to the media or others.  Generally, only specific people designated by policy or by the Chief of Police or Sheriff are allowed to make such releases.  Large agencies have designated media liaisons.  Others, such as patrol officers, when asked questions by the media are under orders—through their rules and procedures—to refer the media to the proper persons and to say nothing.

These regulations are necessary and make complete sense.  They ensure that only accurate information is released and that no information that might compromise investigations, impede the proper progression of cases through the criminal justice system or endanger officers or citizens is inadvertently released.  Agencies take these rules seriously indeed, and officers learn very early in their careers the necessity and wisdom of being able to keep secrets.  For the most part, the general public simply doesn’t need to know everything the police know, and seemingly harmless information in the wrong hands can be very harmful indeed.

Officers releasing information without authorization can—and do—face departmental discipline, which can range from a bracing posterior-chewing, to a letter of reprimand to various types of suspension to firing.

(2) The second realm involved is state level police officer licensing and regulating authorities.  This would normally not come into play unless a police chief or sheriff believed that an officer’s behavior was so egregious they should not be allowed to work as a police officer.  Only then would they be reported to the state authority with the goal of revoking their certification.  If their certification was revoked, no law enforcement agency in that state could hire them.  Practically speaking, anyone whose police certification is revoked by any state is unemployable everywhere.  In this case, section 8 of the Florida Ethical Standards of Conduct would be implicated.

(3) The third realm would be criminal law, in this case, sections 838.21—a felony–and 389.26, a misdemeanor.  This step would normally be the third in the process and would not be taken unless there were obvious and serious negative consequences to the agency, the criminal justice system, or individuals as a result of the unauthorized release of information.  It would usually never be taken for an accidental or mistaken release of information, but only for intentional, egregious misconduct resulting in actual damage.

From what is currently known, there is insufficient information to say with any degree of certainty that Serino has violated either statute.  It’s simply not possible to fulfill the necessary elements, and while Special Prosecutor Corey seems not to care about the elements of the law, I do. Obviously, at this point, the SPD would seem to agree as he has not been prosecuted—though there could be valid–currently unknown–reasons for waiting.  In fact, in this case, Serino’s actions would seem to be favorable to the prosecution, so it would be quite unlikely that the special prosecutor would bother to prosecute him.

NEWS ACCOUNTS:

First, I must give a well-deserved pat on the back to reader “Zane” for bringing this matter to my attention.  The Orlando Sentinel, in a June 26 report, wrote:

The lead Sanford police investigator in the Trayvon Martin shooting was transferred Tuesday from detective work to being a simple street cop, the department confirmed.

Chris Serino had asked for the change, the department said.

He will become a uniform patrol officer and work the night shift, said police spokesman Sgt. David Morgenstern.

Serino is not being demoted, Morgenstern said, and his rate of pay is unaffected.

Interim Police Chief Richard Myers was not available for comment.

Serino, a 15-year department veteran, is the detective who led the investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting that killed the unarmed black 17-year-old from Miami Gardens.

The gunman, George Zimmerman, 28, told police he acted in self-defense. Serino headed the much-criticized investigation that, once it was concluded, left police department managers convinced they did not have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman.

They had no credible evidence to counter Zimmerman’s version of what happened, Serino said in March.

In a June 26 story, the Miami Herald added:

…Det. Chris Serino believed Zimmerman jumped to a ‘faulty conclusion’ about Trayvon, an unarmed teen who he said never used deadly force when he battered Zimmerman and caused him to frantically scream for help 14 times.

Days after several recorded interviews between Serino and Zimmerman were made public, the detective got a new job: On July 7, he starts in his new assignment as a uniformed patrolman on the graveyard shift, at the same pay.

‘It’s not a demotion,’ Sanford Police spokesman Sgt. David Morgenstern said of Serino, 45, who has been with the department for 15 years. ‘There isn’t any more prestige in being a detective. We have officers who love uniform patrol. This was of his own free will.’

The new assignment was announced less than a week after the former Sanford Police chief, Bill Lee, was fired over the public outcry that resulted from the department’s handling of the case. And it was revealed hours after State Attorney Angela Corey released another batch of evidence in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial, raising speculation that Serino’s move to patrol was directly related to the controversial case.

Indeed, and that speculation is almost certainly accurate.  The Herald continued:

His [Serino’s] sworn statement recommending a manslaughter charge was signed March 13, before the anti-Zimmerman protests had swept the nation — and after his chief publicly said there was no probable cause to make an arrest.

Serino said the relative size of the two fighters, coupled with the fact that neither had specialized training in hand-to-hand combat, meant Zimmerman was not at any ‘exceptional disadvantage’ when the two scuffled on the ground.

But he acknowledged that no one could refute Zimmerman’s story that Trayvon attacked him without provocation [emphasis mine].

Serino’s statement made note of the fact that Zimmerman had called police to report the ‘suspicious’ presence of a black male on at least four prior occasions. Just a few weeks before the killing, one of the black men had broken into a neighbor’s home.

‘Zimmerman, by his statements made to the call taker and recorded for review and his statements made to investigators following the shooting death of Martin, made it clear that he had already reached a faulty conclusion as to Martin’s purpose for being in the neighborhood,’ Serino wrote.

He said Zimmerman spotted Trayvon twice, but didn’t use the opportunity to introduce himself. Zimmerman said he was afraid, but Serino was skeptical.

‘His actions are inconsistent with those of a person who has stated he was in fear of another subject,’ Serino added. ‘Investigative findings show that George Michael Zimmerman had at least two opportunities to speak with Trayvon Benjamin Martin in order to defuse the circumstances surrounding the encounter. On at least two occasions, George Michael Zimmerman failed to identify himself as a concerned resident or a neighborhood watch member to Trayvon Benjamin Martin.’

The story also notes that Zimmerman took not one, but two lie detector tests, passing both.  Serino’s official statements also appear contradictory:

An unedited version of Serino’s sworn statement shows he believed the injuries were ‘marginally consistent with a life-threatening violent episode described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force was deployed by Trayvon Martin.’

Serino recommended a manslaughter charge, and explained in his report that Zimmerman was initially released because his account ‘appeared generally consistent with the facts and circumstances known at the time.’

I’ll delve into the substance—such as it is—of Serino’s statements shortly.  It might also be worthwhile for readers to reacquaint themselves with the first article in this series, where I discussed the reality that police officers often disagree about the nature of evidence and about whether a given person should or should not be charged with a given crime.  None of this is unusual, and various checks and balances exist to ensure, to the greatest degree possible, that the innocent are not prosecuted and that the guilty are.

DEMOTION/REASSIGNMENT:

SPD Sgt. Morgenstern tells us that Serino has not been demoted, but merely reassigned, and that he will keep the same rate of pay, and that he requested the “reassignment.”   This is likely essentially true but entirely misleading. Here’s why:

In most agencies, investigators enjoy far greater prestige than patrol officers, even patrol supervisors.  They are specialists, generally considered to be far more capable, experienced and wise than patrol officers or even administrators.  Becoming a detective is normally a promotion, and is not normally bestowed until one is recognized as being much more proficient in the skills necessary to function as an investigator than patrolmen possess.

While detectives do not normally outrank patrol sergeants or lieutenants, when they are called to a crime scene, sergeants and lieutenants defer to them.  In fact, each division in an agency has its own sergeants, lieutenants, etc.  A detective sergeant would normally be accorded higher prestige than a patrol sergeant even though they commonly have the same rank and pay.  And while detectives are often on call for some portion of any year, they have many much-coveted perks, such as working essentially 9-5, Monday through Friday, having holidays off, having clothing allowances to purchase required suits, far more flexible working conditions than patrol officers are allowed, often their own offices and other goodies.

All of this is one aspect of policing that TV and the movies actually get mostly right.  Once an officer becomes a detective, returning to patrol is normally considered a demotion and a serious loss of face.  Detectives either remain detectives for the remainder of their careers, or they go into supervision or administration, becoming sergeants or higher ranking officers, in which case a return to patrol to supervise a shift is not automatically considered a step down or loss of face.

It is true that in some agencies, pay scales do not significantly differ and a detective might return to patrol with no reduction in pay or benefits, however, this ignores the reality of pecking order and prestige associated with many police assignments.  For example, a patrol officer who is a member of a SWAT team will almost always enjoy greatly accented prestige over his non-SWAT colleagues, though he makes no more money and enjoys no higher rank in comparison to them.  The truth is, while some people do enjoy patrol work, and are highly intelligent and capable, patrol officers are considered the bottom of the ladder in experience, ability and often, intelligence in any police force.

Few officers, once detectives, willingly return to patrol.  Fewer still would return to the midnight shift.  Patrol work revolves around three shifts: days, mids and midnights.  The day shift might work from 0600-1400, mids from 1400-2200 and midnights from 2200-0600.  Generally, the most experienced, senior officers work days, which provides a lifestyle most like the rest of the public.  That shift is usually the least frantic in terms of types and volume of calls.  Mids is often the most frantic shift and officers can find them selves essentially running from call to call and compiling huge amounts of overtime in report writing when their shift ends.  This shift is obviously not conducive to a happy family life.  Midnights are likewise difficult, because one is essentially entirely out of synch with the rest of the world, sleeping when they’re awake and working, and dealing only with the creatures of the night.

During my patrol days, I loved midnights.  I’ve always had excellent night vision and my biological clock favors that time.  This made me popular with my colleagues as it opened one mid or day slot for less senior officers.  However, I was absolutely in a very small minority of officers who shared the same sensibilities.

While what Sgt. Morgenstern says may be possible, even technically correct under SPD rules and pay scales, very few detectives would ever voluntarily return to patrol, and fewer still would choose the midnight shift as they would likely have the seniority to choose days.

FACT AND SUPPOSITION:

The Conservative Treehouse continues to do excellent work on this case.  In a June 26 post, they recount the story of the video of Zimmerman, in handcuffs, in a police garage the night of the shooting, used by ABC News to claim that Zimmerman had no injuries.  It was, of course, quickly proved that the grainy, blurry video was fraudulently used and Zimmerman had real and obvious injuries, facts ABC was hastily forced to admit.  Guess who was responsible for that report?  Right again: Matt Gutman.  Here’s a screenshot revealing a Twitter exchange from Gutman on June 26:

TCT contacted the SPD—as did I in regard to the lobby security video—and wrote:

Now we know that recording was done by Lead Detective Chris Serino who was also the source of numerous exclusive ABC leaks.

Chris Serino was obviously disciplined and given the opportunity to resign from his position and take another position as  ‘Night Patrol’, where he can wait til his retirement.

ABC’s Matt Gutman has exposed ABC to considerable litigation risk and has been reassigned to a foreign coorespondent role.   He was shipped out of the country by ABC and tweeted this morning from Tel Aviv.

Everything Matt has reported on this issue is now suspect. Including the ‘exclusive’ DeeDee recording interviews.

In a June 27 post, TCT speculated on how Serino, Gutman and the now-fired Chief Lee fit into the situation. TCT hypothesized that Serino held a grudge because of Zimmerman’s loud, effective and persistent support of Sherman Ware, a black homeless man beaten by a relative of a SPD officer (which was not good for the “Zimmerman is an anti-black racist” narrative).  It’s also possible he didn’t like Zimmerman because he considered him a vigilante and do-gooder usurping traditional police roles—an attitude common among police officers.  TCT also suggests that Serino knew Zimmerman didn’t violate the law, but could—by doing some things differently—have entirely avoided the situation.

TCT’s take on Gutman is concise and accurate:

Matt Gutman – Matt’s role was easy.  All he had to do was accept the leaked information, package it to fit the tasty “exclusive” narrative, and sell it to ABC producers and executives who heralded the brilliance of his investigative reporting. Lights, Camera, Action lots of face time on TV stations around the nation explaining the story. The Crumped up story.

Gutman’s relationship with Media Consultant Ryan Julison endeared him to the Scheme Team. He was given even more exclusives when Benjamin Crump introduced the heavily made up “DeeDee” factor.  I mean, c’mon.  What valid reporter would accept an interview opportunity where they were not allowed to ask questions and then sell it as journalism?  Matt Gutman would, and did.

Oh how delicious and tantalizing those days of lead headlines were. The spotlight was intoxicating, and the nation was filled with high praise for his advocacy. The race baiters loved him, the wool-eyed kool-aid drinking sheeples loved him, life was grand.  It was easy too. Unfortunately, too easy; and incredulously too obvious for an objective viewer.

As for Chief Lee, political excrement often rolls uphill too, and in this case, TCT posits—correctly, I believe–the politics did him in.

The invaluable Jeralyn Merritt at Talk Left also wrote about this situation.  Her article focuses on the various leaks and news “exclusives,” and is, like the work of The Conservative Treehouse, very much worth your time.

Here’s the conclusion of her post:

My point is there have been a lot of leaks in this case. Matt Gutman has gotten more exclusives than anyone else, but I’m not sure all his information comes from Serino. I believe him that he would never (intentionally at least) burn a source. So maybe someone besides Serino told him Serino was the leaker, or maybe the leak he was blaming on Serino wasn’t the police arrest video.

I’d rather know who leaked the substance of Zimmerman’s post-shooting statements and medical records to the media than his arrest video. A defendant’s statements and medical records are protected from disclosure by law. If law enforcement leaked those, in my view that officer or agent should be fired, not just transferred.

On the other hand, perhaps it was Serino who leaked the arrest video to Gutman, to counter the leak of Zimmerman’s statements that he was attacked by Trayvon to the Orlando Sentinel, which in turn prompted the Sanford Police Department to release the full video of the arrest at the station, which did show injuries, causing ABC and Gutman to eat some crow.

The Orlando Sentinel reported the leaked information on Zimmerman’s post arrest statements on March 26. On March 27, Gutman tweets ABC confirms State Attorney rejected police recommendation to arrest Zimmerman after he shot ‪#Trayvon‬ Martin”.

There likely was no such recommendation, at least not in writing. Serino’s capias request wasn’t until March 13. On March 27, the same day Gutman made the claim, the Sanford Police denied it. Gutman then revealed the leaked police station arrest video which ABC believed showed no injuries on March 28. These all seem related.

All in all, it’s another chapter of As the Worm Turns in the mostly pro-prosecution coverage of the George Zimmerman case.

Indeed.

ANALYSIS:

What likely happened?  It’s highly unlikely homicide detective Serino suddenly developed a longing for the midnight patrol work of his youth after 15 years on the SPD.  Patrol work really is for the young for good and compelling reasons.  Some police officers look for the one case that can “make” their reputation, that can catapult them above and beyond their colleagues.  Perhaps Serino thought the Martin case would be his up elevator to stardom.  It is equally possible, however, that he is one of those personalities that does not take well to being wrong or overruled, whose sense of propriety was so offended by the fact that his recommendation for a manslaughter charge was denied that he took it upon himself to make everyone see that he was right.  It’s also possible that he’s one of those people (not uncommon in law enforcement) who, when they take a dislike to a suspect (or others) do all they can to see they get what they believe is coming to them regardless of fact, law or rationality.  It’s also possible he’s just a good cop who really believes in his work, but then again, good cops tend not to leak information harmful to their agencies to the jackals of the national media.

As I’ve often written, the Martin case is truly unremarkable.  Similar cases occur every day and are handled professionally and quietly by the normal investigative and prosecutorial processes of the criminal justice system.  In such a case an investigator like Serino—if he truly is a negative, obsessive type of personality (also not uncommon in law enforcement)—would have few options.  The case would be over, and he could engage in some local grousing and name calling, perhaps a bit of behind-the-scenes undermining of those he considered to lack the proper respect for his opinions and abilities, but no more.

Ah, but this case was different.  For Sanford—and perhaps for Serino—it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and like Mr. Obama, he would not let a crisis go to waste.  Local grousing, name-calling and undermining could have effects on a national scale and if done right, there would be nothing but bad consequences for those he opposed (mark Chief Lee as one notch in the grip of his Colt .45) and vindication, shining rectitude, even celebrity, for him.

If this scenario is accurate, Serino didn’t understand the nature of those with whom he was dealing.  The pushers of the narrative–the race hustlers, the lawyers, and media, cosmopolitan morally and intellectually superior beings all– could care less for any mere “local,” particularly any local cop, even one that is momentarily useful.  They would encourage and use Serino—or anyone in his position—until their usefulness expired, and throw them to the wolves in a millisecond.  E-mails and calls would suddenly not be accepted or returned.  Hubris always invokes Nemesis.

Political Realities In The Court of Public Opinion:  Now we come to the really interesting—and sordid—speculation.  The City of Sanford, beaten with the ugly stick of racialism, spending huge amounts of non-budgeted money, facing untold numbers of frivolous lawsuits, its elected officials the objects of scorn, likely death threats, and unwanted scrutiny and publicity the likes of which none of them imagined in their most vivid nightmares, surely wanted it all to go away.  They likely knew—in at least some sense—that the SPD made the right call in the Martin case.  They knew that Zimmerman was not chargeable.  They knew that morally and rationally, they had an obligation to support their police department, and that they should not involve themselves in law enforcement decisions, for so doing would have grave and long-lasting consequences for the independence of law enforcement and the necessity of its freedom from politicized policing.  They knew all of this, but then along came the Martin case, and…damn!

So Chief Lee voluntarily stepped aside shortly after the case went national, but they remembered their ethics and proper role and brought him back and supported him.  Until, that is, the whole mess didn’t blow over, and leaks started appearing, and the temperature increased, and they eventually threw him completely overboard.  But that didn’t solve their problems.

The case being tried in the court of public opinion wouldn’t leave them alone, and that lunatic special prosecutor wouldn’t leave things alone either.  Day after day, new and embarrassing developments appeared, and even though many didn’t specifically target Sanford or local politicians, they were inevitably going to be collateral damage when the case was over and the media circus went away—if it ever did.

And along comes the revelation that Serino has been leaking information to the media, in essence, stabbing his fellow officers, the local prosecutor, and local politicians in the back.  Yet, he’s an integral part of the official Martin narrative, the one, brave cop daring to tell truth to power.  And as the lead investigator who is inevitably going to have to testify, he couldn’t be tossed over the side with an anchor affixed to his ankle, at least not just yet, as angry as those in power almost certainly were with him.  If anything, in the court of public opinion, Serino’s stock suddenly skyrocketed upward to new heights.  As the apparently lone police voice in support of the narrative—and now a true believer made to suffer for his racial and social justice purity by “the Man”—Serino couldn’t be overtly punished or silenced.

On the other hand, such a loose cannon was even less likely to stay on the reservation.  More or less immune to firing—at least that’s something to be avoided for the moment lest he really become a martyr and The Narrative supporters chip in to file a wrongful termination lawsuit on his behalf–he would almost certainly be more rather than less likely to continue to leak, and to leak even more embarrassing materials.  What to do? Here, gentle readers, is how it’s done in the real world of law enforcement:

(1) Resolve, once the entire mess eventually died down and the media and narrative purveyors could care less, to see that Serino gets what he truly deserves.  But for now, file that under “future just desserts.”

(2) Remove him from any role in the Martin case whatever, and further remove him from anyone with any knowledge of or any access to materials about that case.

(3) Put him somewhere with as limited access to people—particularly the media—as possible, where every moment of his time and location can be accounted for.

(4) Explain to him in unmistakable—and likely forcefully obscene–terms that if he does not keep his mouth shut and if he does not immediately cut any and all contacts with the media and other assorted parasites, the “future just desserts” file will become the “whup your ass right now” file, with the implementation of consequences in all three realms—departmental punishment, criminal charges and revocation of police certification–mentioned at the beginning of this article.

(5) Give him the option of “voluntarily” choosing banishment to the midnight shift as a patrolman–with the unspoken possibility of quietly finishing the last years of a 20-year career and an equally quiet retirement and pension–or the immediate imposition of number 4, with all of its decidedly unlovely probabilities.  Maybe he’ll get the real message and resign and just go away. 

Thus has homicide detective Christopher Serino, semi-famous lead investigator of the notorious Trayvon Martin case, decided to quietly—and immediately–retire to the relative serenity and obscurity of the midnight patrol shift in the previously unremarkable city of Sanford, Florida.

Realities of the Real Courts:  For Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, Serino is almost certainly a star witness.  If Corey has any professional acumen—and her actions thus far suggest reason for doubt—she would realize that Serino’s primary value is in the court of public opinion, not in the real courts.  Not only was he overruled by his superiors and by the local prosecutor, the evidence, and the convoluted reasoning of his reports, would make him a liability rather than an asset in a real court of law.

For example, consider these quotations from the aforementioned Miami Herald story:

An unedited version of Serino’s sworn statement shows he believed the injuries were ‘marginally consistent with a life-threatening violent episode described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force was deployed by Trayvon Martin.’

Serino recommended a manslaughter charge, and explained in his report that Zimmerman was initially released because his account ‘appeared generally consistent with the facts and circumstances known at the time.’

I could go into exhaustive detail about Serino’s reports, but these few comments will provide sufficient understanding.  Serino clearly understands that Zimmerman is not chargeable, but his ego won’t allow him to let it go.  On one hand, Zimmerman’s injuries were “…consistent with a life-threatening violent episode,” but only “marginally” consistent and it was a “life-threatening violent episode” without “…a deadly weapon nor deadly force.”  This is bizarre language indeed in any police report.

Police officers, particularly investigators, detest uncertainty and lack of clarity.  They want to know, without doubt, what happened, who did it, why, and what they deserve as a result.  Injuries are consistent with a life-threatening assault or they are not.  Notice how Serino avoids calling it an “assault.”  Notice how he avoids placing any blame for the “episode” on Martin, who did not use a deadly weapon or deadly force, yet still somehow produced injuries consistent with a life-threatening assault.  What, one wonders, would have been required for Serino to remove “marginally” and to change “episode” to “assault?”  An open skull fracture?  Broken bones (more so than Zimmerman’s broken nose)?  Some degree of hideous permanent disfigurement?

And most amazingly, Serino writes in a report that despite his recommendation for a manslaughter charge, Zimmerman was not charged because his account “appeared generally consistent with the facts and circumstances known at the time.”  The mere fact that Serino wrote anything like that in a police report is outside the realm of proper police writing, indicative of improper bias against Zimmerman and equally indicative of an unprofessional lack of objectivity in this case.

It’s important to know that every police officer, from virtually their first day in uniform, is drilled that police reports contain only facts, no opinions, no literary descriptions and flights of fancy, just facts.  Officers write about what they saw, heard, and did, and about the actions of others they can prove.  They do not write suppositions, try to justify their opinions, or make points against fellow officers with whom they disagree.  That a detective, a man with 15 years of service with the SPD, would do this is particularly disturbing.

It’s equally important to understand that no judge in his right mind would ever allow Serino, or any police officer to express his opinion on the guilt or innocence of a defendant; such testimony would be blatantly prejudicial.  The determination of innocence or guilt is reserved for the jury.  Likewise, no officer would be allowed to express his opinion on the validity of charges.  That’s the territory of the prosecutor, and would also be prejudicial.  I’ve little doubt Ms. Corey will try to get such improper and plainly prejudicial testimony on the record.  If she succeeds, that alone could be sufficient grounds for a mistrial.  If the judge is so unprofessional or unaware as to allow such testimony, that would easily constitute reversible error in an appeal–if necessary,

Let’s put Serino’s extraneous explanation in real police language, which in this case coincides exactly with common sense and every day language.  Zimmerman wasn’t arrested and charged with manslaughter because his account was fully supported by all known evidence, and there was no evidence—none–to contradict his account.  In other words, he had a valid self-defense claim that was not in any way refuted by any actual evidence.  In law enforcement—to say nothing of everyday reality—this means no criminal charge: the end.

Serino’s qualification “known at the time,” is also unnecessary and bizarre.  When he wrote that phrase, the SPD investigation was, for all intents and purposes, over.  Detectives are constantly pushed to close cases, to write a final report to that effect so they can move on to other cases, and there are always other cases.  While it is always possible to re-open a given case if new evidence warrants it, this case was done.  As I noted in Update 3, which recounted the testimony of special prosecutor investigator Dale Gilbreath at the initial, April 20, 1012 Zimmerman bond hearing:

* Gilbreath admitted that he did not interview Zimmerman.  [This means that everything he and his fellow investigator knew about Zimmerman’s statements came from the materials collected by the Sanford Police. He has no new evidence in that part of the case.]

* Gilbreath could not justify the use of the word “confrontation” in the affidavit and looked very evasive in avoiding it…

* Gilbreath admitted he had no idea who started the fight.

* Gilbreath admitted that he had no evidence that conflicted with—no evidence to prove otherwise–Zimmerman’s statement that he was walking back to his truck before being assaulted by Martin.

* Gilbreath admitted that he had no evidence that conflicted with—no evidence to prove otherwise–Zimmerman’s statement that Martin assaulted him first.

* Gilbreath admitted that Zimmerman’s injuries were consistent with his account of the attack.  Amazingly, he also admitted he hadn’t read Zimmerman’s medical records from that night and that he had never requested a copy of those records.

In other words, even for the special prosecutor, the SPD investigation—and particularly the complete cooperation of George Zimmerman—would be the last word on what happened that night.  They had no evidence to prove that Zimmerman’s self-defense claim was invalid, rather, all the evidence gathered by the SPD and all of the evidence subsequently gathered by the special prosecutor revealed the same thing: Martin initiated and pursued an assault, put Zimmerman in genuine fear of serious bodily injury or death, and Zimmerman acted in lawfully justified self-defense.  Serino’s obvious dislike of Zimmerman and his need for self-justification could not change the facts.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Serino may yet have some utility as a sort of social justice martyr for the purveyors of the narrative still working the court of public opinion.  However, it’s equally likely that given their general dislike for the police, he may already have less value to them than yesterday’s protest flyer.

And so, like Dee Dee, former detective Serino has become practically radioactive.  No rational prosecutor would want to put either of them on the witness stand, as their testimony would be far more harmful than useful.  Any competent defense attorney would have no difficulty in using Serino’s own mutually exclusive words to portray him as unprofessional, obsessed and irrational.  They would also have no difficulty in exposing why detective Serino became patrolman Serino, and would be able to call the police and city officials having knowledge of Serino’s “reassignment” to absolutely obliterate his credibility.  It’s one thing to maintain a fiction for public consumption for political reasons, and quite another to commit perjury to protect the professional reputation of someone like Serino.  The true reasons for his “voluntary” transfer to the midnight patrol shift would inevitably be exposed.

Yet, I fully expect Corey to put Dee Dee and Serino on the stand—if the case ever gets that far—imagining that she alone can use them to devastating effect.  From what I’ve learned of her and her methods, I suspect her ego would allow no less.

As I’ve previously written, in a normal case, this matter would never have been charged, as it initially was not.  If it was charged, it would never reach trial, Zimmerman’s unchallenged self-defense claim prevailing and mandating a dismissal, perhaps even a dismissal with prejudice (preventing a future re-filing of the case).  Unfortunately, any judge will consider the social and political upheaval inherent in this case and will not want to be held responsible for the almost certain violence, rioting and other consequences of a dismissal.  He will almost certainly bind the case over for trial and let the system fully deal with it–let a jury take the blame–even though there is insufficient probable cause for a trial.

There are many potential lessons to be learned from this case, but I’ll defer them until the dust has finally settled on the state criminal portion.  If Barack Obama is still in office in 2013, there will almost certainly be a federal case for violation of the civil rights of Martin.

Oh yes—what about Matt Gutman?  It would appear to be almost impossible to embarrass the Lamestream Media, or to cause them to feel any shame about their obviously unprofessional and biased actions.  When the heat dies down, it’s likely Mr. Gutman will return to America and have a long and biased career at ABC News, just like the majority of his peers.

POSTSCRIPT:  On 06-30-12 I watched a segment on Det. Serino on Fox News during the late afternoon.  The segment discussed Off. Serino’s transfer and featured two “experts” who “analyzed” that transfer, but what was entirely missing was any information about why he was transferred.  There was no mention whatever of the fact of Serino’s leaking information to the press–the Fox talking head obviously had no idea of that essential aspect of the story–and so the “experts” opined that Serino’s transfer seemed fishy and political.  You don’t say!

I’ve generally found Fox to be far superior to the other media choices in terms of content and balance, but they sometimes miss the boat, as they did here.  We should all be grateful to Dan Rather.  Without his lack of journalistic ethics in the Rathergate debacle, it may have taken much longer for the public to understand the news value of the blogosphere.