Posted 1/20/21

COP? TERRORIST? BOTH?

As America polarizes, some police officers leap into the arms of “Q”


     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Here’s an extract from the probable cause for the arrest of two of the participants in the storming of the Capitol on January 6th:

    ...Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker were photographed in the Capitol Building making an obscene statement [middle finger] in front of a statute of John Stark [American Revolutionary hero]...In social media posts, Defendant Robertson is quoted as saying, “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business”...A now-deleted Facebook post by Defendant Fracker [says] “...Sorry I hate freedom...Not like I did anything illegal…y’all do what you feel you need to…”

Robertson and Fracker were charged with illegally entering a Federally-restricted building or grounds (18 U.S.C. 1752[a]) and being “violent and disorderly” on Capitol grounds (40 U.S.C. 5104[e][2]). Both are misdemeanors.

     What’s unusual, or might have once been unusual, is that both are cops. Their employer, the Rocky Mount (Va.) Police Department, reportedly placed the duo (they’re out on bond) on “paid administrative leave.” In a joint statement, police and township leaders decried the assault on the Capitol and affirmed their opposition to “illegal or unethical behavior by anyone, including our officers and staff.”

Click here for the complete collection of terrorism essays

     Alas, Sergeant Robertson and Officer Fracker aren’t the only cops whose behavior at the Capitol struck a sour note. Former Houston police officer Tam Pham – the eighteen-year veteran resigned under pressure a week after the storming – said that all he did was observe and “take pictures.” And while former officer Pham insists he regrets having been there, his chief, Art Acevedo, was hardly in a forgiving mood. After all, officer Pham didn’t just attend the pro-Trump rally: he “penetrated” the Capitol:

    There is no excuse for criminal activity, especially from a police officer. I can’t tell you the anger I feel at the thought of a police officer and other police officers thinking they get to go storm the Capitol....

Tam also faces Federal misdemeanors.

      According to the Washington Post, which kept tab on Federal prosecutions relating to the incursion, “at least thirteen” off-duty cops participated in the storming. Even more disturbing, “more than a dozen” Capitol cops are being investigated. “Several,” according to their acting chief, have been suspended. One posed with an insurgent for a “selfie”; another was pictured in a “MAGA” hat while leading rioters outside.

     NPR estimated that “nearly 30 sworn police officers from a dozen departments” were at the rally. Actually, for some, being there – and only there – is their best defense. Consider, for example, Bexar County, Texas Sheriff's Lt. Roxanne Mathai, who called January 6th. “one of the best days” of her life. Now under both “criminal” and “administrative” investigation (her boss wishes she “not...ever return to work”) Lt. Mathai insists that she only went for the rally, and that social media photos depicting her on the Capitol’s steps were taken after those despicable rioters cleared out.

     There’s no doubt that Canadian County (Okla.) Sheriff Chris West was at the rally. But that doesn’t mean he participated in the assault. No way. That was an “egregious” crime: “I rebuke all of that, every bit of it.” Still there’s little question but where his heart lies. Here’s the sheriff’s since-deleted Facebook post:

    If they’re okay rigging an election and foreign help to steal the white house and control of WeThePeople, then I’m okay with using whatever means necessary to preserve America and save FREEDOM & LIBERTY. [caps his]

     Likewise, Philadelphia police detective Jennifer Gugger. She reportedly followed up her attendance at the rally with a tweet accusing Vice-President Pence, who refused to anoint Trump as the victor, of being a “traitor and a cabal operative and pedophile.” And of “the deadly sin of greed.” And of selling his soul to the devil. That’s consistent with the Inquirer’s finding that detective Gugger used another name while endorsing Q-Anon online.

     Peacefully (even loudly) calling for an election’s reversal is no crime. Forcibly breaching the Capitol’s walls is something else. While he insists that “I do not want to limit anyone’s ability to lawfully participate in First Amendment activities,” Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz placed two unnamed cops who were at the pro-Trump rally on “administrative leave” while he investigates whether they went further:

    The large number of people who forced their way into the Capitol, connected to the earlier political rally, presented too much of an unknown about whether any of our employees had potentially violated federal law. That is why I had to act.

Same goes for the seven Philadelphia Transit Police cops who were supposedly at the rally. Did they breach “any area where a police line was established prohibiting entry”? Chief Thomas Nestel is “very concerned”:

    It’s pretty clear that a riot occurred and that there was an attempt to overthrow our government and we want to make sure our members weren’t a part of that.

     Well, maybe “overthrow” is an exaggeration. Still, even if all a cop did was attend the rally, examining their motives might be a wise move. But as for those who got truly weird: were they always Q-Anon material? Or did something drive them goofy?

     Cops undoubtedly find these times challenging. Three days after a Wisconsin officer shot and crippled Jacob Blake, Mick McHale, the Florida cop who leads the National Assn. of Police Organizations, explained why the nation’s police unions had unanimously aligned with Trump:

    The violence and bloodshed we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance. It’s the direct result of refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities...The differences between Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris are crystal clear. Your choices are the most pro-law-enforcement president we have ever had or the most radical anti-police ticket in our history.

For NAPO, which twice endorsed the Obama/Biden ticket, that may seem a bit odd. But in a campaign speech delivered a few days after the death of George Floyd, Biden promised that as President he would promptly launch a “national police oversight commission” and outlaw the use of chokeholds. But Joe was mum about the sharp increase in gunplay and murder that beset America’s cities, and the risk this unfortunate state of affairs poses to cops and citizens each day. As Politico suggested, the influence of progressives may have led a traditional supporter of law enforcement to change his tune.

     Police may have found Biden’s apparent change of heart troubling. Sure, cops traditionally trend conservative. Even so, there might be empirically-sound reasons for their dissatisfaction. Here are some comparisons between 2019 and 2020:

  • Chicago: 762 murders as of 12/27/20 (55% increase from 491 in 2019)
  • Los Angeles: 343 murders as of 12/26/20 (33% increase from 257 in 2019)
  • New York City: 447 murders as of 12/27/20 (41% increase from 317 in 2019)

As a recent L.A. Times headline breathlessly announced, 2020 had truly been “a year like no other.” Rapes and robberies went down. But murder increased dramatically, while shootings surged “nearly forty percent.” According to Chief Michel Moore, the mayhem was most pronounced in minority-majority areas:

    Nearly all of the loss of life and shooting victims are centered in the Black and brown communities. The lack of jobs and supportive services, a sense of hopelessness, easy access to firearms and ineffective parts of the criminal justice system have created a perfect storm to undermine public safety gains built over the last decade.

Many predominantly minority communities – say, South Los Angeles – are chronically beset by violence. Recent years, though, had brought some relief. Alas, the mayhem’s apparently returned. Here’s the chief’s January 16 tweet:

    Continued surge gun violence South LA first 2 weeks of the year. 59 shooting victims compared to 7 last year. Officers have made 105 arrests of individuals with firearms. 130 firearms taken from street. Gang intervention trying, but we need our community and elected officials.

     Chief Moore was upstaged by one of his own. According to the LAPD Captain who runs the Compstat program, arrests and police stops during 2020 plunged by 25 percent. Calls for service, though, only receded five percent. In his opinion the increased gunplay was due to a diminished fear of being caught with a gun, an effect he attributed to the defanging of the agency’s stop-and-frisk program. That move, which Chief Moore took in October 2019, was prompted by complaints from citizens and civil libertarians that LAPD officers were using pretexts to justify stopping Black drivers and pedestrians. And in fact, some were.

     But then came COVID. And in March, the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police. And in May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. And in June, the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta cop. And in August, the crippling of Jacob Blake by an officer in Kenosha. Fallout from these and other tragic police-citizen encounters propelled moves to “defund” police and shift key functions to civilian teams. Burdened by anti-police sentiments and the pandemic, cities across the U.S. redirected sizeable chunks of their police budgets to other uses. LAPD sustained a $150 million cut, reducing its sworn force by 358 positions. Minneapolis, where the City Council voted to do away with police altogether, ultimately kept its cops but trimmed their budget by $8 million.

     Bottom line: “hot spots” policing, which even some academics had come to favor, seems dead in the water. Proactive strategies often lead cops to areas predominantly populated by minorities. Blunders and misconduct, though, are no longer so easily overlooked. An easing of criminal sanctions, partly brought on by the pandemic, has been accompanied by a tougher approach to officer discipline. Illinois, for example, seems about to pass a broad package of criminal justice reforms, from eliminating cash bail to making it easier to decertify cops (click here for the bill’s text.) Police-friendly prosecutors are giving way to more socially attuned sorts. George Gascon, L.A. County’s new, progressive D.A. has directed that his assistants only ask that bail be imposed in cases of violent crime. He’s forbidden seeking enhanced sentences except in extreme cases, and promises to vigorously prosecute officers who use excessive force.

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     That last message certainly didn’t get lost on the cops. During a recent coroner’s inquest into the June 2020 shooting death of an 18-year old by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy, the hearing officer was met with silence by the officer who fired the fatal shots and, as well, by the two Sheriff’s detectives who investigated the encounter. All three took the Fifth.

     Back to square one. In a recent piece about the storming of the Capitol, NPR asked “an officer in the Midwest” where police sympathies really lie. Here’s a brief extract from the cop’s response:

    There is a siege mentality in police-land. It says the left is just going to keep pushing until we get rid of cops.

There’s a lot more, but the message seems crystal clear. Officers feel under the gun. While the overwhelming majority undoubtedly remain true to their calling, some have forged alliances with the Devil. Joe Biden might not be everyone’s cup of tea (if you must know, we voted for “Howie”), but hopefully he’ll find a way to steer all Americans – cops included – to a common high ground. It’s the least one could ask.

UPDATES

10/16/21  One day after the Capitol assault, veteran Capitol police officer Michael Riley messaged a rioter who had posted video and text about his role: “im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance. Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to charged. Just looking out!” Riley later advised the rioter to get off social media. On Oct. 14 Officer Riley was indicted on two counts of obstructing justice, a felony.

10/2/21  An “anonymous hacker” released an online membership list for the Oath Keepers that includes “several New York law enforcement officers and public officials - including at least two active members of the NYPD.” When approached by journalists, three of the named “public officials” reportedly confirmed that they were past members. But the two NYPD officers - one is a Sergeant - refused to comment.

7/28/21  Thomas Webster, a former Marine and retired NYPD officer (he once helped guard the city’s mayor) is being prosecuted for assaulting a police officer on the grounds and “trying to gouge out his eye.” An old friend noticed that Webster was embittered by the Presidential campaign. He became “quite animated, quite hyped about the current state of affairs and liberal bias.” According to prosecutors, Webster had body armor and a handgun, which he left in his motel room. Federal case details

7/21/21  Mark Sami Ibrahim, 33, a military veteran and rookie DEA agent, was charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds while armed, then lying about it when questioned. Ibrahim, a fervent right-winger, carried a “Liberty or Death” flag, had his DEA-issued pistol, and wore his badge on his belt. He had already given DEA notice that he would soon resign. For the complaint with pictures, click here.

6/16/21  In a major policy address, A.G. Merrick Garland identified “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, and militia violent extremists” as America’s major domestic terrorism threats. Their access to social media, encrypted communications and firearms poses significant challenges. But DOJ’s enforcement focus will remain on violence, not ideology. “In America, espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful. We do not investigate individuals for their First Amendment-protected activities.”

6/12/21  Karol Chwiesiuk, a twenty-nine year old Chicago cop proudly shared a photo of himself wearing a CPD hoodie inside the Capitol office of an Oregon senator. According to a Federal indictment, Chwiesiuk  broke in during the assault, then bragged about it to his buds. His texts cautioned, “don’t snitch.”

6/11/21  Six Southern California men and a Texas resident were indicted on Federal conspiracy and other charges for entering restricted areas of the Capitol and encouraging others. Three claimed on social media posts to be members of the Three Percenters. Two others, Alan Hostetter, a former police chief in La Habra, Calif. who became a yoga instructor, and Russell Taylor founded the “American Phoenix” project, which claims the recent Presidential election was stolen and promotes conspiracy theories.

4/26/21  Should all Capitol defendants be treated alike? Slapping down a lower court’s blanket denial of bail, an appeals panel distinguished between two types of accused: “In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.”  NY Times

4/20/21  According to DOJ, more than 400 residents of forty-five states have been arrested in connection with the breach on the Capitol. Of these, more than 350 face charges of trespass, and more than one-hundred are being prosecuted for assaulting Federal officers. Thirty-five face weapons charges. Click here for a list of defendants, with links to each case.

3/3/21  In the New York Times, the powerful, first-person account of a Black Capitol police officer who exchanged words with rioters - and endured their slurs - as he fought with them inside the building.

3/2/21  Lynda Williams, president of NOBLE (Nat’l Org. of Black Law Enf. Execs.) told The Crime Report that White racism has been embedded in police work since the very start. That, she and present and former Black cops said, can make it impossible for Black officers to progress unless they keep quiet and go along. It’s even worse for Black female cops, who are vastly underrepresented in the ranks. Click here for the 2006 FBI report on White extremists in policing.

2/16/21  Chris West, Oklahoma’s 2019 “Sheriff of the Year” proudly acknowledges he flaunted a Trump flag during the march on the Capitol. “I went as a citizen, as Chris West, the individual” he announced at a news conference on his return. But he insists he didn’t breach the walls. His actions have split the citizens he serves. “Several thousand” have petitioned for his removal, but even more insist that he stay.

2/13/21  Described by one officer as “scarier than two tours as a soldier in Iraq,” the assault on the Capitol severely tested the mental health of its police. “Several” officers reportedly contemplated suicide in subsequent days, and one turned in their weapon. Mental health has now become a priority. But a move to classify the two officer suicides that took place as “line of duty” deaths lacks official support.

2/3/21  Two Capitol police officers who were present during the assault have committed suicide. On January 9 Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood, 51, who had been on the job fifteen years, killed himself while off duty. He is the son of a former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. On January 15 officer Jeffrey Smith, 35, a 12-year veteran, killed himself while on his way to work. Officer Smith had been injured during the attack. Assault on the Capitol special topic

1/27/21  According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI’s focus has shifted from the near-term to the long. Beyond documenting and prosecuting individuals who intruded into the Capitol, large teams of agents are poring over evidence, including social media, to craft conspiracy cases alleging that organized extremist groups planned the assault well in advance.

1/25/21  Participation of off-duty cops in the storming is reportedly leading police managers across the U.S. to reassess and implement measures, such as FBI screenings, to keep applicants with extremist leanings from being hired, and to help usher out those presently in the ranks. But such changes face liberty and legal obstacles, and officer unions will certainly become involved.

1/21/21  Joe Biden must have read our essay. In his inaugural address, the 46th. President intoned Americans to “join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature”:

    Let us listen to one another...We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment....”

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