Friday, July 12, 2013

Excessive Force

Snippets from a fascinating article on modern law enforcement.

Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn't a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.

Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. "To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends," a friend of Culosi's told me shortly after his death. "None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation." Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that's when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn't slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi's heart.

Sal Culosi's last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: "Dude, what are you doing?"


Indeed, that's exactly what happened to seventy-two-year-old Aaron Awtry in 2010. Awtry was hosting a poker tournament in his Greenville, South Carolina, home when police began breaking down the door with a battering ram. Awtry had begun carrying a gun after being robbed. Thinking he was about to be robbed again, he fired through the door, wounding Deputy Matthew May in both arms. The other officers opened fire into the building. Miraculously, only Awtry was hit. As he fell back into a hallway, other players reporting him asking, "Why didn't you tell me it was the cops?" The raid team claimed they knocked and announced several times before putting ram to door, but other players said they heard no knock or announcement. When Awtry recovered, he was charged with attempted murder. As part of an agreement, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. Police had broken up Awtry's games in the past. But on those occasions, they had knocked and waited, he had let them in peacefully, and he'd been given a $100 fine.


In 2010 a massive Maricopa County SWAT team, including a tank and several armored vehicles, raided the home of Jesus Llovera. The tank in fact drove straight into Llovera's living room. Driving the tank? Action movie star Steven Seagal, whom Sheriff Joe Arpaio had recently deputized. Seagal had also been putting on the camouflage to help Arpaio with his controversial immigration raids. All of this, by the way, was getting caught on film. Seagal's adventures in Maricopa County would make up the next season of the A&E TV series Steven Seagal, Lawman.
Llovera's suspected crime? Cockfighting. Critics said that Arpaio and Seagal brought an army to arrest a man suspected of fighting chickens to play for the cameras. Seagal's explanation for the show of force: "Animal cruelty is one of my pet peeves." All of Llovera's chickens were euthanized. During the raid, the police also killed his dog.


But Stamper says that like many aspects of modern policing, dog shootings may have had a legitimate origin, but the practice has since become a symptom of the mind-set behind a militarized police culture. "Among other things, it really shows a lack of imagination. These guys think that the only solution to a dog that's yapping or charging is shooting and killing it. That's all they know. It goes with this notion that police officers have to control every situation, to control all the variables. That's an awesome responsibility, and if you take it on, you're caving to delusion. You no longer exercise discrimination or discretion. You have to control, and the way you control is with authority, power, and force. With a dog, the easiest way to take control is to simply kill it. I mean, especially if there are no consequences for doing so."

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

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