Tuesday, June 16, 2009

That Viral Oklahoma Cop Video

I generally refrain from posting about police brutality incidents because William Grigg over at LewRockwell.com does such an excellent job of doing so that in most cases I would just have to parrot what he says. Today he had one about the "choke-hold seen 'round the world" which seems to me so astute that I'll just paste the whole thing in below.

State Trooper Daniel Martin, whose foul-mouthed, petulant assault on paramedic Maurice White, Jr. was recorded and widely disseminated on the Web, “is an Iraq war veteran who returned from the Middle East about a month before the May 24 incident in Paden, 40 miles east of Oklahoma City,” reports the AP.

Martin, who was speeding in a frantic rush to get nowhere in particular, had his feelings hurt when the ambulance — which was actually providing a useful service by ferrying Stella Davis to the hospital — didn’t pull over for him. He then compounded his useless rage by imagining that the driver flipped him off.

When he finally pulled the ambulance over, Mr. White — a man of amazing patience and dignity — intervened to explain that the ambulance was carrying a patient. This prompted a tantrum from Martin, who assaulted White twice and threatened to arrest both him and the driver. That attempt failed, but not before Martin actually placed a hand on White’s throat to choke him as the patient’s family looked on in stunned, disgusted disbelief.

Later, at the hospital, Martin actually said in the presence of witnesses that he was prepared to pull his gun and use lethal force against White. [LH: I'd like to add, though, that to Martin's credit, he did apologize to these people at this time. He had enough sense to realize that what he had just done, in front of two cameras, was probably a very poor career move.]

This, according to Martin’s attorney, is “a good man…. He’s not this ogre, this depriver of people’s rights.” Ogre he may not be. Petty tyrant with a gun he most certainly is. And both he and his tantrum make the case for two badly needed reforms.

First, assuming that we’re stuck with government police agencies, nobody who has served in the military should ever be permitted to work as a civilian police officer. Martin’s conduct is typical of a solider in an army of occupation; perhaps he thought that Mr. White, a black man, could be treated like a “Haji.”

Second, the states need to restore the legal protection for the common law right to resist unlawful arrest. If an actual criminal resists arrest, this could be taken into account for the purposes of enhancing the sentence for an actual crime against persons or property.

According to Gary James, Trooper Martin’s attorney, “One thing that police officers are taught is that a person that will fight a police officer is an extreme danger to the public.”

As to which party to this assault (called, in typical fashion, a “fight,” “scuffle,” or “altercation,” rather than by its proper name) is an “extreme danger,” the public can watch the video. To use the proper legal expression, res ipsa loquitir.

Mr. White’s calm, dignified resistance in the face of Martin’s splenetic, adolescent rage was genuinely inspiring. His was the conduct of a citizen, rather than a “submitizen.”

All I would add to or subtract from this:

I think I would demote the suggestion about people who have served in the military from a requirement to a rough desideratum, directed toward peopled charged with hiring new police officers. It is one factor that surely could be offset by other considerations. Also, I would further modify it to specifying only that the candidate not have served recently in an occupying military force. If he/she served at a desk in Ft. Dix, then I don't think that would by itself be relevant to whether they would be a good bet as a cop.

I am shocked to hear that resisting an illegal arrest is not already a right. Years ago, a student of mine who was a captain in the army at the time (he now
happens to be a general) told me that every soldier, believe it or not, has a perfect legal right to disobey any illegal order. The military doesn't publicize this very well, but it is the law just the same.

This makes sense to me. After all, a legitimate order imposes a legal duty (to do what the order commands) on the part of the person to whom it was issued. Under the rule of law, the source of that duty is not the personality of the individual who issues the order, but the legal system that backs them up. In that case, an order that violates that system would be void and could not impose any duties.

Surely the same reasoning applies to an arrest. An arrest is nothing but an order that alters my duties and rights ("come with me"). Resisting arrest is nothing but disobedience. (It does not necessarily involve assaulting or even touching the officer.) Shouldn't we civilians have the same right that a soldier has?

Come to think of it, I should add one more thing. In addition to the occupying army explanation for Martin's behavior (which was suggested by Martin's own account) there is another possible contributing factor. He had his wife with him in the front seat of the patrol car (which I would imagine is illegal) and may have been enraged by the thought that someone had "flipped him off" in front of his wife. Primitive as this is, some men do go ballistic about stuff like that. (My wife would simply have flipped back, but she probably would not be entirely at home in small-town Oklahoma.) I just thought I should point that out before someone else did.


Daniel Shapiro said...

Thanks Lester. The whole incident leaves me almost speechless.

Lester Hunt said...

What amazes and disturbs me the most (since we already know that power will be abused) is the fact that some of the talking heads on TV defended Martin. It just shows what a powerful urge there is in the human soul to respect authority figures, no matter how petty.

One lawyer on CNN said, as a reason for "siding with the cop on this one," that since the ambulance's lights weren't on (thus indicating that the trip was not an emergency) the cop was within his rights to stop the vehicle. This of course is irrelevant to the issue. As far as I know, no one has a problem with him stopping the ambulance, the problem is his unprofessional behavior, which begins apparently the instant he gets out of the patrol car.

Doug said...


I hope I'm not nitpicking here, but one thing I would modify: A military member has not just the right but an obligation to refuse to obey illegal orders.

I was glad to see you soften the proposed ban on hiring former military members as civilian police officers, but are you still trying to fix what may not be a problem? I suspect that in some communities you will find a large percentage of the police force with former military and current reserve duty. What percentage of them are problems, and how does that compare to those who lack military experience? It is, for instance, plausible that the high pressure and disciplined environment that many in the military endure could actually help them react more calmly and professionally in stressful situations.

The part about LTG Dubik being a former student of yours brought a smile to my face. (I don't know him personally, although I spoke with him a couple times in the course of staff duty.) The military needs to send even more of its bright young officers into rigorous civilian MA/PhD programs. I think it can serve to educate well both the military member and his civilian mentors and peers.

Lester Hunt said...


Of course you are right about the duty to disobey an illegal order. Admittedly, this suggests that the case for applying the principle to military orders is much stronger than the case for applying it to illegal arrest. An illegal order often would require one to do an injustice to another person ("Sergeant, shoot this man!"). That would probably be rare in the case of an illegal arrest -- although, given that in the OK case the driver and medic had a patient on board, I can easily imagine a variant scenario in which they would have an obligation to do something like, eg., getting into the ambulance and saying "chase us to the hospital, officer, and we'll have to sort it out there!" That would probably count as "resisting arrest."

That's cool that you met LTG Dubik. He was an excellent student -- he published a paper he wrote for me in the journal "Philosophy and Public Affairs"! -- and I'm sure he's a fine soldier.