Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"I got your back...We clear?"

Those who watch a lot of television--and I'm inclined to think of the glowing box as Russell Kirk thought of cars--might get the idea that the police more than rarely "save the day", entering at the nick of time to stop some wrongdoer from harming someone. Many Americans speak about policing and the need to "just let 'em do their jobs" as though policing is like The Commish, out-of-shape middle-aged men managing to stop the next crime just before it happens.

Try convincing the Arambula family of Phoenix of that. Responding on 17 September 2008 to a home invasion at the Arambula residence, Phoenix PD officer Brian Lilly back-shot Anthony Arambula six times--twice while he was on the ground! Arambula was simultaneously on the phone with 911 and holding the home-invader at gunpoint while wife Lesley was with outside with the kids, on the phone with Sgt. Sean Coutts, also via 911.

Not only is policing not ordinarily like television, police are poorly trained to charge in and save the day. (Consider how often the cowards shoot the family pet!) Lilly and partner Dzenan Ahmetovic responded after being flagged down by Lesley Arambula; Lilly didn't get the particulars of the situation--despite both husband and wife having informed the police of it via 911--before charging in and shooting, and he shot a man in the back!

That's a bit of an old story, but Courthouse News Service, a new development. While the officers were (poorly) tending to Arambula's needs, already Lilly and Coutts were discussing a cover-up:
The complaint states: "Sgt. Coutts knew that officers has just shot up and likely killed an innocent homeowner and the husband of Lesley, with whom he had spoken before entering the home, instead of the armed intruder. Sgt. Coutts was quick to commence the cover-up of their terrible mistake. Sgt. Coutts asked Office Lilly where Tony's gun was at the time Officer Lilly had opened fire on Tony. Officer Lilly admitted that he did not know where Tony's gun was: 'I don't know. I heard screaming and I fired.'"
Lilly later told a police internal affairs investigator that Anthony had pointed his gun in his direction, "in the 'ready' position," the complaint states. But Anthony Arambula says he was facing away from the officers, who could not have even seen his gun.
The complaint continues: "Still not knowing that he is being recorded on the 911 tape, Sgt. Coutts interrupted Officer Lilly's admission and apology with his assurance that the cover-up would commence: 'That's all right. Don't worry about it. I got your back. ... We clear?'"

ABC News has the 911 recording.

The Arambulas are suing for criminal damages for quite a variety of torts--see the notice of claim.

Here we have not only an instance of poorly-trained police, but police caught red-handed changing their stories and covering up each other's mistakes. Policing errors I can understand being lenient about, but such police misconduct should not be tolerated.

On David Hardy's 'blog (which I owe for bringing this story back to my attention), anonymous coward commenter "Wrangler5" writes:
Maybe there are mitigating factors not disclosed in the article, but the actions of the responding officers as reported strike me as absolutely beyond the pale. My initial gut reaction is that appropriate consequences would be criminal conviction and 5 years in the general population for the cop/shooter, if possible a conviction and time in the general pop for the partner for covering up, 7 figure civil judgments against both cops personally to bankrupt their families (as a personal message that other cops will get and understand) and 8 or 9 figure judgment against the city to get their attention focused on better officer training and on crushing any personnel involved in covering up violations of law and department policy.

I'm usually unsold on punishment. Too often it is merely revenge or catharsis, hurting the culprit because it feels good. This has no place in civilized laws. But in many a policeman's mind, thanks to the "blue line" culture, there's a bit of an informal economic calculus which is approximately the following: Multiply the loss if I get caught in a cover-up by the probability of being caught. Compare this to the loss if I do not cover this up. If it pays to cover it up, cover it up. We must tip this result back in our favor.

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