While there are many good law enforcement officers out there, there are just as many that are terrible. Some of the worst are worse than the criminals they purport to protect society against. This is no longer about the “good cops,” it is what are we as a society going to do about the “bad cops?”[i]
Without a doubt, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line everyday to ensure that everyone can be safe and sound. In many, many instances, law enforcement officers do unbelievable good things for the communities they serve. Unfortunately, there are those amongst the enforcement community that believe that the “ends justify the means”[ii] and use deplorable methods to intimidate citizens they police. And it is these law enforcement bullies that we can do without.
By way of recent example, a very reputable, criminal defense attorney (and former state prosecutor) was pulled over the other night by three Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies. This in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. According to his account, the deputies approached his car from both sides. They requested and were supplied his driver’s license and registration. The attorney complied and waited with the deputies surrounding his car.
Under the United States and Florida Constitutions, all traffic stops must have “reasonable suspicion.”[iii] In simple-speak, it means that the officer must be able to state a reasonable reason for pulling the car over that includes some justification for the traffic stop- like he believes a crime has occurred. An officer may not pull over (or detain anyone) on a mere hunch, conjecture, or speculation. The Florida Supreme Court explained, “In order not to violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights, an investigatory stop requires a well-founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Mere suspicion is not enough to support a stop. Carter v. State, 454 So.2d 739 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984).” Popple v. State, 626 So.2d 185, 186 (Fla. 1993)
As they began the traffic stop, they then asked him why he was in such a hurry. Unsure of the purpose of the question, the attorney asked them what they meant because he was not speeding or otherwise driving erratically. What happened next shocked the attorney to his core.
The deputies then claimed that they witnessed the attorney run a red light and squeal his tires. Assuming this was a mistake (and giving the deputies the benefit of the doubt), the attorney pushed back and told them that was not true. The attorney then asked the deputies which intersection he had supposedly run and/or squealed his tires. The deputies appeared dumbfounded and could not provide the information.
A few minutes later after running the information in their computer, the deputies learned that the attorney was a former state prosecutor and current defense attorney. They returned to his car, immediately apologized, and informed him that they had not seen any of the criminal activity that they originally claimed, but that his car was in a “high crime” area.[iv]
They informed him that they had lied. In fact, they never had any “reasonable suspicion” to pull his car over. They just did it because they could and because they wanted to investigate for suspected criminal activity.[v]
The supposed “high crime area” was the Courtney Campbell Causeway which connects Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.[vi] They were interested in investigating and making narcotics arrests. They returned his documents. Again, the attorney pushed back, told them what they were doing was highly illegal, and that they should be ashamed of themselves. At that, he was free to go. As the attorney proceeded to leave, the same deputies pulled over the very next car in the same fashion.
Oh, and the attorney was “white.” Just imagine if the driver had been anyone else who was black or brown. Would they have gotten the same treatment? No one can say for sure, but it begs the question. And it is doubtful. It is not okay. It is not 1963. It is 2021 for crying out loud. This type of police activity is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anymore.
This is law enforcement corruption at its finest and it defines what it means to be a “bully.” Make no mistake, this is the modus opperendi and when they get the matter to court – believe you me that they count on the judges believing their word over the defendant’s. That is why they do it. And they did not just start doing this. It is safe to assume that they were shown this by some supervisor or authority figure.
Illegally pulling automobiles over under false pretenses is unconstitutional, not sanctioned under the Fourth Amendment, and it is not lawful policing. At the very least, it is, inter alia, false imprisonment,[vii] a third-degree felony. It could be a number of other crimes. Those sheriff’s deputies should be arrested and lose their law enforcement certifications. It is also a massive abuse of public trust.[viii]
Anthony Candela is the Trial Dog and a Board-Certified criminal trial attorney. He opened the Candela Law Firm, P.A. in 2014 and handles criminal trials and appeals (as well as estate planning, wills, and trusts). He received his J.D. from Duquesne University School of Law in 2000 and his B.A. in Political Science from King’s College in 1996. As an expert in criminal law and procedure, he has tried over a hundred cases to verdict. Since 2008, he has been certified and recertified by the Florida Bar in Criminal Trial three times. He has also argued several dozen appeals. In the federal system, he is admitted to the Middle District of Florida and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal. #candelalawfirm #thetrialdog
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[i] We can no longer stick our collective head in the sand and ignore the problem. Black and brown people all over America are harassed on a daily basis. It is not acceptable and we as a society can no longer tolerate this behavior.
[ii] “A Machiavellian Perspective. A characteristic behavior in today’s society is the belief that the ends justifies the means. This means actions people take are justified regardless of how they go about achieving their desired end result. For example, some students I have taught justified lying on their resume because it could help them get a job.” https://www.ethicssage.com/2018/04/do-the-ends-justify-the-means.html#:~:text=A%20characteristic%20behavior%20in%20today’s,achieving%20their%20desired%20end%20result.&text=The%20statement%20that%20the%20ends,traced%20back%20to%20Niccolo%20Machiavelli.
[iii] See Popple v. State, 626 So.2d 185, 186 (Fla. 1993) (The second level of police-citizen encounters involves an investigatory stop as enunciated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). At this level, a police officer may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Sec. 901.151 Fla.Stat. (1991). In order not to violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights, an investigatory stop requires a well-founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Mere suspicion is not enough to support a stop. Carter v. State, 454 So.2d 739 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984).))
[iv] See Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 120 S. Ct. 673, 145 L. Ed. 2d 570 (2000) (Headlong unprovoked “flight” (fleeing) from law enforcement can form the basis of “reasonable suspicion” in a “high crime area.”) It is important to note that the United States Supreme Court has never defined “high crime area.”
[v] This is beyond outrageous. This is no different that being stopped and told, “Your papers, please?” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_papers,_please Duncan Long (1 January 2007). Protect Your Privacy: How to Protect Your Identity as Well as Your Financial, Personal, and Computer Records in an Age of Constant Surveillance. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 223–. ISBN 978-1-59921-687-4.
[vi] The causeway is a beautiful stretch of property between Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. It is surrounded on both sides by water. People fish along the causeway. There are a couple beaches and trails for people to walk, bike, and run. At night, there are a few who illegally race their cars along the causeway. Occasionally, there have been some horrific sex crimes and/or homicides in the mangroves along the causeway. Additionally, there is sometimes underage drinking or narcotics use on the causeway at night. Whether it qualifies as a “high crime area” is highly doubtful, but who knows?
[vii] 787.02 False imprisonment; false imprisonment of child under age 13, aggravating circumstances.—
(1)(a) The term “false imprisonment” means forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will.
(2) A person who commits the offense of false imprisonment is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
[viii] It is also why judges and prosecutors should not simply take law enforcement officers at their word.