Thursday, July 14, 2011

Not Being Servile Enough Is Fast Becoming The Worst Crime In The US

Put Down Your Rights and No One Needs to Get Hurt

"Few activities are as dangerous as watching a cop too closely, as John Kurtz knows well. Kurtz is the founder of the Orlando, Florida, branch of CopWatch, a network of activists in the United States and Canada who patrol the streets on foot or in a vehicle to monitor and document police activity in order to spotlight misconduct and brutality.

Kurtz’s recent arrest for “obstructing justice” and conviction for “resisting arrest without violence” spotlight a growing trend in law enforcement. Police are arresting peaceful people virtually at will based on vaguely worded laws that are an invitation to rampant abuse. Such laws have become a standard police intimidation tactic.

Consider “obstruction of justice.” The typical definition as it relates to police officers is “the interference with an officer who is discharging his duty.” Depending on the state, obstruction can include providing a false name, the interception of police radio communication to avoid detection, eluding a police officer, and refusing to assist an officer or to comply with a command.

In reality, obstruction charges have been laid for arguing with a policeman or asking him questions, gesturing in almost any manner, invoking the Constitution, refusing to produce I.D., and recording a police officer even when it is legal to do so.

The penalties vary widely not merely from state to state but also on the type of obstruction being charged. Non-violent obstruction is usually a misdemeanor punished by a fine but some acts are deemed felonies, punishable with jail time. As the case of John Kurtz illustrates, however, both the bringing of charges and the ultimate punishment often depend not on the actual “offense” but upon the desire to pound authority into the non-subservient. Disrespecting authority is fast becoming the worst “crime” in society.

The case of John Kurtz

On January 1, 2011, Kurtz was in downtown Orlando when he observed police officer Adam Gruler arresting a man on a domestic-violence charge. The arrest involved “the use of tasers, a violent take-down and the pepper spraying of a man already subdued and in handcuffs.” Kurtz announced himself, stood to one side, and began recording the incident. Florida law allows in-person recordings in public places where there is no expectation of privacy; it further allows the recording of police officers as long as it does not obstruct the enforcement of law. Nevertheless, Gruler demanded Kurtz cease recording. When Kurtz informed Gruler that he “knew his rights,” the officer threw Kurtz to the ground and arrested him as well.

Kurtz was charged with three offenses: obstruction of a law-enforcement officer; battery on a law-enforcement officer; and resisting arrest without violence. The latter charge can refer to any nonviolent “resistance” to arrest, from running the other way to asking, “What am I charged with?” Resisting arrest without violence is another increasingly popular intimidation tactic used by many police departments. Of the Orange County, Florida, police department that conducted the Kurtz arrest, local news channel WFTV reported as early as 2006,

Defense attorney David Bigney says he rarely sees a case now where resisting isn’t a charge. “All these people want is to know why, what’s going on here, but the officer decides I’m just going to arrest you," said Bigney. And often it’s the only charge. In more than 25-percent of the 4000-plus cases Eyewitness News tracked, resisting was the only charge. That begs the question: if there’s no arrest for something else how could they be resisting arrest?

Kurtz had an advantage, however; he taped the entire incident. But, somehow, during his subsequent processing at the police station, Kurtz’s camera went missing and never showed up either in evidence or in his returned belongings. Fortunately, a Big Brother street camera captured the incident; it discredited the police account and agreed with several witnesses who claimed Gruler committed the only violence that occurred. The camera evidence was most fortunate because Kurtz faced a 6-year prison sentence for the three charges and, in the absence of hard evidence, the court tends to believe police officers. Gruler’s initial report on the arrest stated that Kurtz was too close as he and another officer restrained the first man (obstruction) and that Kurtz pushed him (assault). With the street camera evidence, however, Gruler’s initial account of the event changed significantly. But, as a press release noted, the street camera “effectively disproves all three versions of arresting officer Adam Gruler’s story as to where, when and how the supposed battery took place."

Thus, on June 30, a jury found Kurtz not guilty of battery on a law-enforcement officer but guilty of resisting arrest without violence. (The obstruction charge had been dropped.) The judge imposed the stiffest penalty possible upon the unrepentant Kurtz: 30 days in jail (less 7 days served), a one-year probation, and a 12-month restraining order to stay at least 100 feet from police officers engaged in duty. Typically, resisting arrest without violence receives a slap on the wrist; a sentence such as Kurtz’s is almost unheard of. Moreover, Kurtz commented, “In the multiple plea deals I was offered, jail time was never mentioned, in fact my last plea offer didn’t even include probation and this is when I was charged with a felony, as well as resisting arrest without violence.”


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