Friday, March 06, 2009

Power relations between police and accused can lead to sexual abuse

A former law enforcement officer from El Paso, now working as mall security in Olympia, WA, stands accused of coercing a pair of teenage girls allegedly caught shoplifting to expose themselves and let him take pictures, reports the Seattle Times ("Teens: Security took topless photos, March 5):

A loss-prevention officer at the J.C. Penney store at the Capital Mall was in jail Wednesday after two girls, ages 17 and 18, accused him of coercing them into exposing their breasts and soliciting them for sex after they were caught shoplifting.

The girls said Michael Anthony Olivas, 35, told them that if they took off their clothes, he wouldn't call police about the shoplifting. They said he then took their photos with his cellphone camera while they were undressed. Olympia Police Lt. Jim Costa said Olivas' cellphone is being processed for evidence at the State Patrol Crime Lab.

Olivas was being held Wednesday at the Thurston County Jail with bail set at $10,000 after Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor found probable cause to order him held on suspicion of one count of unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation. ...

According to court records:

The girls initially reported to Shelton police that Olivas took them into custody for shoplifting and "threatened and pretended to call the police."

"Olivas took their cellphones and looked through them for 'dirty pictures' and asked them questions about their boyfriends," court papers state. "Olivas coerced them into exposing their nude breasts and semi-clothed groin/buttocks areas to him so he could take pictures with his cellphone to avoid going to jail."

The girls said "they were held by Olivas from 4 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. when they were released."

This behavior reminds me of the Montague County Sheriff in North Texas who caught a young woman with meth and essentially turned her out, forcing her to perform oral sex and act as his snitch to avoid prosecution.

It's also hard not to be reminded of vice cops coercing sex from escort service employees to allow them to remain in business. One study out of Chicago found that 3% of tricks by street prostitutes without pimps were freebies given to police in exchange for protection.

The common theme: officers abusing authority given them to protect the public to instead victimize women for their own gratification. This guy in Washington was an ex-cop, not a current officer, but he was still allegedly using the coercive power of the police state for his own benefit instead of enforcing the law.

Committing a crime does not negate one's humanity nor mitigate one's constitutional rights. Teenage girls caught shoplifting may have exposed themselves to criminal liability, but it certainly shouldn't obligate them to expose anything else.

13 comments:

TxBluesMan said...

Grits,

You did note that it said "former" police officer and "mall security"?

You are making an extreme stretch. Maybe Washington State should just outlaw mall security and require that they hire off-duty police officers...

You know, the ones that are still real cops...

TxBluesMan said...

That is not to say that they shouldn't through the book at the bozo in Montague County...

I think you know that I am appalled by that idiot...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bluesy, check the other links in the post if you think this never happens with "real cops." For that matter this jerk likely honed such behavior working on the job in El Paso. (I'd love to know why he was let go.) They didn't teach it to him in Sunday School.

Also, while you say you're "appalled" at the Montague Sheriff, such sentiments do not, by a longshot, represent the thrust of your comments at Grits when discussing police misconduct. Instead, you object even to investigating allegations (as with Sen. Carona's bill), much less actually holding bad cops accountable.

Anonymous said...

"I'd love to know why he was let go."

Good point. If the employer did not do a background check and his separation was similar to his current charge, the employer may as well get ready to part their wallet.

TxBluesMan said...

Grits, I have stated a number of times (although not lately) that if an officer breaks the public trust that they should face the consequences of their actions.

I have a problem with the bill because of the multitude of investigations that officers have to go through as it is now.

There are too many levels of investigation, and regular citizens would be in an uproar if they were subjected to that number of investigations in their lives.

I believe that the officers have rights too, and that the approach that you take is focused on eliminating those rights. I know that you don't see it that way, but these guys do a job that they don't get thanked for and get kicked in the teeth on a regular basis. My role is to help limit the number of teeth that they lose.

I believe that in many cases, the administration and the politicians throw the officer under the bus because it is expedient. You and I both know that I can cite case after case as examples of that.

Anonymous said...

If they want to be "thanked" for merely doing their job over and above the generous pay and benefits, then perhaps they should look for another line of work outside of the public teat. Police officers are rightfully subjected to more investigations that the general public because we authorize them to use deadly force--an authority generally denied the general public except in rare circumstances.
Rather than some sort of anachronistic "blue wall of silence," officers who truthfully desire to see a higher quality of officer and enhanced appreciation from the general public should whole-heartedly embrace more accountability and yes, the concomitant investigations.

gravyrug said...

What Sheriff Keating did was rape. Any non consensual sexual act is rape. The use of legal authority as a threat means there was no consent. I wish more news stories would report it as such.

TxBluesMan said...

Anon 12:07,

Outside of the major cities and suburbs, police officer pay is not overly generous, as a matter of fact it can be almost non-existent as far as even being close to a livable wage. In many cases, merely doing their job gets them seriously hurt or killed, and no amount of money can compensate for that. Most do it out of a sense of public service, not for the money.

Officers don't have a problem being investigated - but in some instances they can go through five or more such investigations over one incident and now you want to add another one?

Why not just keep doing investigations until they find out that they did something minor and completely unrelated 7 years ago and fire them for that? Or bring back some of the old tests we used for witches, like tie them up and see if they could swim (if the could they were guilty - and could then be burned at the stake, if they drowned they were innocent).

If you truly wanted to be fair, you would talk to Corona about amending the law so that the officer could face no more than three investigations - an internal affair / public integrity unit investigation, a local criminal investigation, and a federal investigation.

Otherwise, it's just another witch hunt...

Aris said...

Weird combination, as Levitt the freakonomics guys scatter about Sudhir Venkatesh observation, it bring shocking matter

David C said...

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? We don't even know if police found anything explicit on the cell phone. I find it hard to believe that the two girls would be so stupid as to let themselves be abused like that over a small shop lifting incident. Leave the guy alone until something a little more conclusive comes out.

markm said...

"In many cases, merely doing their job gets them seriously hurt or killed, and no amount of money can compensate for that." TxBlues, there's a list of the most dangerous jobs on the internet somewhere, and you ought to look it up. Police are down near #10. Policing is more dangerous than the average job (more from the exposure to car accidents that comes with spending lots of time on the road than from criminal attacks), but nowhere near as dangerous as night clerk in a convenience store[1], taxi driver, pizza delivery, lineman, lumberjack...

[1] Some convenience stores and all night gas stations give free coffee to uniformed police officers after dark. It's a cheap way to buy a little extra protection.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Markm, your info on dangers of policing is a little dated. The rate of police officer fatalities on the job actually increased by the double in last decade, for reasons I've never seen adequately explained. The comparison to convenience store night clerks would have been more valid ten years ago, but today police officers are 6.5 times as likely as other workers to die on the job as average workers - mostly from traffic accidents.

That said, it's true many common occupations are more dangerous than policing. Here's a sampling of dangerous occupations taken from the 2007 US Census of Occupational Fatalities. Occupations more dangerous than being a patrol officer include: Fishermen, farmer, logger, pilot, roofer, steel worker, coal miners, and truck drivers.

Anonymous said...

David C - Blame the teenage girls for the adult sexual predator???!!!
Teenage shoplifting is far from a new or unusual crime. I venture a guess that 8 out of ten people probably had "sticky fingers" at least once as a kid. This ok's some disgusting pervert the opportunity to exploit them sexually??!! I am a true beleiver in "innocent until proven guilty", however, blaming the victim???!!!