Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Federal judge: Leniency for criminal cops contributes to corruption

While sentencing a Mesquite police officer for stealing drug money, a federal judge yesterday complained about law-enforcement officers receiving lenient sentences that would never be available for members of the general public. He issued an above-guidelines sentence after complaining about a string of recent, light sentences for wayward police officers in thd DFW area. Reported the Dallas News ("Former Mesquite narcotics sergeant gets 15 months for stealing," June 21, behind paywall):
A judge frustrated over a string of probation sentences for dirty cops on Monday sent a former Mesquite narcotics sergeant to federal prison for 15 months for stealing money he thought belonged to a drug dealer.

John David McAllister was arrested in March after FBI agents set up a sting in which they placed $100,000 of supposed drug money in a vehicle and asked McAllister to help them seize it. Undercover cameras showed McAllister stuffing $2,000 into his pants.
DMN's Jason Trahan reports that Federal District Judge Sam Lindsay cited several instances where law enforcement officers got off light:
“This court takes the deterrent effect very seriously,” Lindsay said. “If law enforcement officials are going to break the very law they are sworn to uphold, they need more than a slap on the wrist.”

He cited several local cases in which officers got probation for committing crimes, including another Mesquite officer. A Dallas County judge in April gave former Officer David Sutton a year of probation after he pleaded guilty to a state jail felony for stealing $1,800 from the Santa Cops and Special Olympics programs. Sutton told investigators he had been having financial problems.

In May, a Dallas County jury generated waves of criticism for giving former Dallas police Officer Alph Coleman 10 years of probation and a $10,000 fine after finding him guilty of participating in the robbery of a Sam’s Club in 2008.

Lindsay also cited the case of Carlos Ortiz, who was allowed to remain an FBI agent despite being involved in two armed standoffs in 1992 and 2004. He finally received two years in federal prison after he told a friend last summer that he was going to kill his wife and the head of the Dallas FBI, Robert E. Casey Jr. It was only then that he was fired, arrested and charged.
“Those breaks would not have been afforded to members of the public,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay is right, and it takes judges with a stiffer backbone to do something about it. Yesterday in an analysis of rulings by new Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, Grits described "an opinion overturning a conviction of a Harris County Sheriff's deputy involving a telemarketing scam run on behalf of the union, using a much more defense-oriented analysis of sufficiency of the evidence than any average, non-officer defendant should ever expect to receive from her. All of a sudden, when a Harris County Sheriff's deputy was accused, her habitual deference to juries went out the window." This is the default stance for Texas state judges, from the district court level up to the highest criminal court, and as Lindsay points out it directly contributes to corruption.

Before sentencing, McAllister told the judge the nature of the job contributes to an attitude that police can get away with whatever they want: “I was the big man on campus ... The job breeds that." Corruption might lessen if judges routinely recognized that fact about police jobs, but instead, with rare exceptions like Judge Lindsay, the baseline impulse from officialdom is to routinely ignore it. It'll take more than this one case to change the perception of law enforcement that when they engage in serious misconduct, judges and prosecutors will usually have their backs.

MORE: From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and NBC-DFW.


Jefe said...

Deterrent effect? It is more like a symbolic effect. What are these judges talking about? Do they think cops break the law simply because they might not go to prison? The cop still loses his job, spends thousands on a defense, is publicly humiliated, has a felony conviction, and loses many civil rights. Cops break the law because they do not believe they will be caught, not because the stakes are minimal.

Anonymous said...

If you think that bad behaving law enforcement officers are getting off light at federal level, do an undercover investigation regarding how often State and local prosecutors "brother-n-law" corrupt law enforcement. Too many times prosecutors don't even questions this kind of activity because of the money seizure relationship with law enforcement.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jefe, that's true in part, but in addition to it being unlikely they'll get caught, cops who break the law also know a) they're unlikely to be prosecuted at all, typically at most losing their job (with the union paying for their defense, often getting them reinstated) and b) if they're prosecuted, they'll only get a slap on the wrist except in rare cases like this one.

This is true of basically everyone with a badge. Look at all the contraband cases from TDCJ - dozens of guards are caught bringing in contraband, but most aren't fired, very few are prosecuted and when they are, they get MUCH lighter sentences than, say, inmate family members who are their accomplices.

Most criminals don't think they'll get caught, but for those with a badge they also know that prosecutors and judges will usually go easy on them if they are. If you don't think tough sentences are a deterrent for cops, on what basis are they supportable for everyone else?

Charlie O said...

LEOs should instead get more severe sentences than John Q. Public. After all, they sworn an oath to uphold the law and been given the power of life and death. Neither you or I have done that or been given that power.

Arce said...

An Assistant U.S. Attorney who was a criminal prosecutor told a group of law students that every criminal case in the federal court has at least one witness who does not tell the truth, and that is a law enforcement officer. Given the number of cases and the time between investigation, arrest, etc., and trial, the officer typically has no current recollection of what happened and must rely on the notes, most of which are too cryptic to provide real context.

An example. An 18 y/o visiting his sister, arrived on Tuesday evening and was sleeping on the couch on Wednesday a.m. when the cops broke in the door and woke him. During the search they found some coke rocks on the top of the frig. No finger prints of the kid. A frequent visitor was his sister's boyfriend, who was a known drug dealer.

The boy was put on trial for possession. The police report did not mention that he was asleep when they broke in, denied having been there until the evening before, still had a packed and closed suitcase with him that, when searched did not produce any drugs, had only $4 in his possession, etc. The cop tried to testify that the kid admitted that the coke was his, but his report did not state that and the judge disallowed it.

Phelps said...

Good job by Judge Lindsay. I actually hope that they challenge this on appeal as unusual punishment and we have a chance to test the principle.

Hook Em Horns said...

An Assistant U.S. Attorney who was a criminal prosecutor told a group of law students that every criminal case in the federal court has at least one witness who does not tell the truth, and that is a law enforcement officer.

This is common knowledge. Learned this at UT. Jefe makes a valid point, however, I would guess that the incidence of LEO's actually facing prosecution for misconduct in Texas is largely unheard of.

9:04 mentions the correlation of seizure relationships as some kind of basis for misconduct. Perhaps in some cases this is relevant but this is actually only a symptom of the bigger issue which is LEO accountability, accountability by the D.A. and Texas judges not acting as a prosecutor on the bench.

Anonymous said...

In the Abilene area a police officers son was caught having sex with an underage young lady. His case did not even go to grand jury. No charges filed. OTOH, Brandon Henderson from Abilene is facing prison time for the same thing,(BRandon is black). Brandon had a full scholarship to SMU and lost it because of the charges.

Alex S. said...

I guess it depends on what part of the state you are in---if you research "dirty cop" cases out of the Western District--Del Rio Division, you will see no leniency whatsoever. I am aware of a number of cases where local PD in small cities/counties (Crystal City, Carrizo Springs, etc.) get hammered by the feds. 6 years ago I represented a small town PD officer who helped "protect" a load of "drugs" go from Crystal City to San Antonio--(of course, FBI orchestrated, fake drugs over 500 grams of sheet rock--a 5 year mandatory minimum) and we had to beg the judge to only give him 5 years. (No safety valve eligibility unfortunately). Maybe in the big cities cops get breaks but I haven't seen that happen to police officers from small cities/counties from South Texas.

Hook Em Horns said...

Alex S., in Harris County, a cop is held to a lesser standard for shooting someone then he/she is for protecting dope loads. I would counter that it depends on the allegations against the officer as to whether charges are likely or not.

Texas loathes drug smuggling cops and cops who steal while pulling people over. Shooting sometimes unarmed civilians is another matter altogether.

Anonymous said...

Alex S. "Maybe in the big cities cops get breaks but I haven't seen that happen to police officers from small cities/counties from South Texas..."

Damn near fell out of my chair and broke my neck when I heard this! Surely you are being sarcastic about "small towns in south Texas?"

As they say in small south Texas towns..."there's nothing wrong with cheating at cards or masturbating as long as you don't get caught."

Anonymous said...

A Smith County deputy was stopped a while back in a county south of Smith County after he crossed the yellow line a few times. Although he smelled of alcohol, and the officer believed he was too drunk to drive himself home, he apparently was not drunk enough to be arrested for a DWI. His passenger, a deputy constable, was arrested on a warrant.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when same deputy was found passed out behind the wheel of his vehicle at a stop sign, with his foot on the brake and the vehicle in drive, after leaving a party at a strip club attended by several other deputies. This time he was arrested. But, I wonder how that officer that failed to arrest him the first time would have felt if, the next time, he had ran into and killed a family member of his.

Anonymous said...

There is one thing that bothered me of this story. And that is if it were my brother, Dad, Son they would have gone straight to jail. This man get's a month to spend with his family.And I really don't see this as that stiff of a sentence. Considering he more than anyone understands the laws.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits, Whatsup?

'You' are on camera stuffing two large in your boxers/briefs. It's your first time to get caught. You lawyer up and find out that it's a federal case.

Q. Since you are you, how many months do you think Judge Lindsey would give you? And would you get to play & plan for 30 days or go straight to the pokey?

Q. If Judge Lindsey were to have given JDM the maximum sentence that didn't go above the guidelines, how many years would that be? Thanks.