Skip to comments.Accused drug dealers get off - Judge agrees racial profiling was at play
Posted on 05/31/2006 7:49:33 AM PDT by LurkedLongEnough
DANBURY In a decision Superior Court trial referee Robert Callahan "agonized long and hard over," he ruled in favor of two accused drug dealers who claimed they were stopped outside the Sheraton in Danbury in 2004 only because they were black.
In a written decision dated May 17 and received Friday by defense lawyers, Callahan said he came to his decision, which essentially guts the state's case against the men, "reluctantly" and after "soul-searching."
Lawyer James Diamond of Danbury said his client Demetere Taft, 30, of Beaver Street, is "obviously very pleased that the judge has agreed with the arguments he made."
"The judge has thrown out all the evidence against my client," Diamond said. "There's nothing left to proceed on, unless this Constitutional decision gets overturned."
"There's no basis for the police officers to search my client. There was no reason to believe he was violating the law," Diamond said.
Joseph Mirsky, the Bridgeport defense lawyer for the other client, Jamar Crawford, 29, of Waterbury, agreed there was no reason to stop the men.
"It was a very, very, very weak case for the state," Mirsky said. "So I think this decision was great. It took months and he gave it a great deal of thought."
The arrests occurred Oct. 5, 2004, when Danbury detectives went to the Sheraton on Old Ridgebury Road to look for anyone who might have had information about a fatal shooting in Waterbury that happened about 15 hours earlier.
The men were taken into custody as they left the hotel separately shortly after 3 p.m.
Crawford had more than 30 grams of crack cocaine and heroin in his luggage, according to police. He also was carrying about $1,000 in cash, police said.
Taft had 3.5 ounces of powder cocaine, more than two ounces of crack cocaine, and two handguns, according to police.
The men face multiple charges, including possession of narcotics, possession of crack cocaine and possession with intent to sell.
Diamond, who said he has never before raised the issue of race in his decade-long career as a Danbury defense lawyer, said he is not surprised by the decision.
Prosecutor David Shannon was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. He could appeal the decision. He also could decide to drop the charges against the defendants.
Shannon's boss, Danbury State's Attorney Walter Flanagan, declined to comment.
"I'm in no position to say anything," Flanagan said.
The two detectives involved in the arrest, Joseph Norkus and James Lalli, could not be reached.
In December a Danbury police spokesman, Capt. Dan Mulvey, said he knows the two detectives who caught the two men and he doubts the arrest was based on race.
The defense lawyers aren't convinced.
"If my client was a white male walking out of the Sheraton hotel with a suitcase in his hands, he never would have been stopped and searched," Diamond said.
Diamond said he had not yet heard whether Shannon plans to appeal the decision from Callahan, who was the state's Supreme Court chief justice before becoming a trial referee after retiring in 1999.
Person number one was walking out of the hotel with a suitcase in hand. Cops, seeing someone who was the same race as someone suspected in a shooting that happened in another city 15 hours earlier and 20 miles away, decides he will stop the person for questioning. During the stop, the drugs are found. Was this search/seizure justified?
Shortly thereafter, another black male, carrying a similar suitcase, was also seen coming out of the same hotel. Presumably, the drugs on the first man had already been found. Possibly, the police would have been justified in searching this man since they had already found the drugs on the first. However, since the search of the first man was probably unjustified, they would not under ordinary circumstances have had any reason to stop/search the second.
Sometimes you "just know." It can't be explained and it can't be taught.
It's like the BS meter on FR, sometimes you "just know."
And some felons have as much chance getting by a veteran cop as sunrise does getting by a rooster.
A white guy in a black neighborhood or a black guy in a white neighborhood . . . or an asian guy in a white neighborhood, or a white guy in an asian neighborhood . . . constitutes probable cause, i.e., "information sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime (for an arrest warrant) or that evidence of a crime or contraband would be found in a search (for a search warrant)?"
You sure about that, or are you just being bombastic?
Cops are tasked with finding law breakers. To attain that goal they have to be allowed to look. Yes, there should be punishments when they go over the line of reasonable search but when they find something like what these guys found I offer to you that the evidence shows the search was warranted.
Even if it was not by some argument made that does not change the FACT that these fellas were indeed caught breaking the law. Now the argument is that the cops broke the law right? So they have to be punished right? Well, I agree they should be but I disagree with the idea that punishing the cops while allowing the criminals to go free is proper.
If the cops are to be punished for a criminal act then why not those clearly found with evidence proving their guilt as well?
Many times I am read as if I only seek to punish the criminal while giving the cops a complete and unquestionable right of way. That is not even close to the position I take. I am 100% for enforcment of the law towards all law breakers. Letting the guilty go free in this way while punishing those that are trying to root out criminals seems awfully backwards to me.
In a nutshell all law breakers should see punishment for theiur actions....equally. It is not justice when the guilty go free and the cops alone attain punishment for actions taken.
Hmmm... well, a 'stop' would give the police inherent privilege of a frisk for the sole intent of seeking weapons in order to protect themselves during the stop. Searching the suitcase would be pushing that privilege in my estimation. Unless, during the frisk - drugs were discovered on the perp... that would lead to probable cause to search his suitcase, but; since the perp was under the officer's control at that point there was no danger of evidence being destroyed and a warrant would have been a better approach.
Now, the perp with the guns... that's a whole new ball of wax. Assuming at least one of the weapons was on his person - that charge, at least, should have stuck.
This all boils down to fruit of the poison tree ... basically, everything that happens after a mistake that reasonably would not have happened without the mistake is not admissible. The officers apparently botched this one pretty good, unfortunately. Hopefully more information will come out that illuminates the initial probable cause so we can better understand why this happened...
It's like the BS meter on FR, sometimes you "just know."
Granted. But... "your Honor, I just had a gut feeling based on my well refined senses from 22 years of law enforcement experience" won't hold much water in our legal system. Or should I say, at least it's not supposed to. Your point is well taken though.
A cop can stop and search anyone he or she wants to based on reasonable suspicion, that is, a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts, that a person is about to commit, is commiting, or has committed a crime. Call it a hunch that you could explain to a reasonable person, if you will.
Giving police the power to search based on a hunch alone would be extremely dangerous. Since a hunch is not based on a reasonable belief, or on articulable facts, a hunch could be anything you wanted to be. In a perfect world a hunch would be justified, but in the real world, a justified, unarticulable hunch is no different from a race-based hunch or a prejudice-based hunch or simply an asshole-based hunch.
Doesn't even come close to the standard required to stop and search someone.
Army, lets say they did botch it. Does the cops botching it equate to these guys being innocent rather than guilty?
I would offer to you that it does not. If the cops bothced it and punishment is due, hey man, I am all for it. They should not be above the law and indeed should be held to account.
Put them in jail. Remove them from the policing authority. Fine them. A whole host of punishments are out there to deal with a cop that does something wrong. We should not be hiding truthful evidence of guilt in order for the guilty to go free. We should not do that to allow cops to go free and we should not do that to allow a civilian to go free.
How can one expect a jury (or a judge in a bench trial) to come to any kind of informed decision when they are clearly disallowed all known information? I pose that all available truth should be presented to the jury in order that they make the best decision that anyone can possibly expect them to make.
Example: Some claim the Invasion to remove Saddam was unlawful. Should all evidence against him be hidden away like it never existed? All the translations of captured documents be ignored? Surely noone will agree that they should be.
If cops know they are done being a cop if they search unreasonably then they will not do so. Simply hiding evidence in one case will not disallow them from continuing to be a cop in other cases.
Our law may have worked in the past but today it only works to see the guilty go free and we should adjust it so that stops happening.
Well, the good news is that at least the drugs are off the street... even if the search and seizure was tainted.
Yep. The evidence used to substantiate the gut feelings. Isn't it wonderful that evidence doesn't mean anything anymore?
Wonder if the judge returned the drugs to the two "victims" of profiling since it was obviously fruit of the poisoned tree.
Doesn't that pretty much say that 22 years of experience is worthless? I would offer that reality should be recognized that when a hunch turns out to be on the money it is time to congratulate for a job well done rather than hide away the truth that was gained.
If they are held accountable to punishment when their hunch doesn't turn out the way they thought it would what is the danger?
I in no way call for cops to be immune or for them to have a free lunch when it comes to searches performed. Indeed they should be held accountable for the actions they take.
Cops have a job to do and it is silly to say hunches cannot play any role whatsoever. That is a hamstringing effort to stop them from succeeding in the task they are there to perform.
The bad news to go along with that good news is that the ones with the drugs were just taught that they can get out of punishment even when they are captured red handed.
That is the worst message that can be sent when it comes to the rule of law and it is one of the main reasons for the levels of crime we have in this nation today.(IMHO)
May be just semantics here, but this is more appropriately explained as 'stop and frisk.' Frisk is the least intrusive 'search' and the intent is to secure weapons to protect the officer's safety - it is not intended to arbitrarily seek evidence of a crime. It generally does not involve going into pockets or carried items that can be isolated from the person being stopped. Generically, this is a 'pat down' because that's basically all that is supposed to happen... those places where a weapon could be concealed are patted and if something the could be a weapon is felt - that particular spot is further investigated.
So I should have been arrested when I lived in a Black neighborhood? Or when I am driving through one? Your viewpoint is goofy at best.
Don't know all of the facts of the case, but it seems like the correct decision if they didn't otherwise establish PC.
If that were the case, do you think the cop would risk his career and his neck to search on a hunch? Or do you think he might be damn sure of his hunch first, and be able to explain it if questioned about it . . . i.e., "reasonable suspicion"?