09 July 2006

My Old Kentucky Home:
Police on MySpace

I know, I know, it's usually Skelly who looks thru MySpace to find out who's being dumb enough to post things which can get them into trouble. But he talks about how police are patrolling MySpace to catch the bad guys. I am going to post about what happens when police post on MySpace.

In Lexington, Kentucky a group of officers started posting on MySpace using their real names. They called each other gay, made fun of cripples, had fun congratulating one officer for arresting a country music star, called the citizens of Lexington snobby, and labeled the local government the "Lexington Fayette Urban Communist Government" (for those not from Kentucky, the city of Lexington and Fayette County are merged and that should say County).

Actually, I think the last is rather funny. I remember growing up with friends who referred to Kentucky as "The People's Democratic Commonwealth of Kentucky." Not so much for the same reason as the officers are calling Lexington communist (the powers that be are considered very liberal). We called it that because it was a perfect example of a one party State - just like all the communist countries around the world. Anyway, I digress . . .

This is another example of the thing that happened in San Fran, where the officers got in trouble by making humor videos of themselves and posted them on the web. And again I say that the proper way to handle this is with a supervisor telling them to take it down and giving them a little counseling (translation: white shirt yells at them for being boneheads). No need to go further.

But, of course, the powers that be did go further. A day after the local newspaper published the story:
Police officers Joshua Cromer and Gene Haynes were "relieved of sworn duty with pay" pending the outcome of an investigation into Cromer's Web pages on MySpace.com, Lexington police said yesterday in a written statement.

Cromer was charged administratively with unbecoming conduct. Haynes faces an administrative charge of unbecoming conduct and intervention.

Three other officers face an administrative charge of unbecoming conduct. A fourth officer faces charges of public appearance and statements violations.
BTW, Haynes sin was that he put a photoshopped picture in comments on Cromer's page. The picture started life as an adoring fan and the country music star Cromer had arrested. Apparently, Haynes put Cromer's head on the fan's body.

While under the initial suspension, both of these officers issued the obligatory, ritual apologies. These were, of course, completely voluntary:
"Cromer and Haynes decided to apologize on their own," Lexington police Chief Anthany Beatty said. "There was no requirement that they do so."
Punishments started coming down in June. For posting comments:
Gene [Haynes] and [Adam] O'Quinn have been disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and suspended for 80 hours without pay.

Haynes is suspended an additional 240 hours for interfering in the prosecution of a case.

Both must also undergo sensitivity training.
[addendum: It appears O'Quinn's site was the one which posted the Communist Government comment.]]

Last week three more officers were punished for commenting on the webpage:
Aaron Noel, Richard Sisk and Paul Stewart each received an 80-hour suspension without pay and were ordered to undergo sensitivity training. They were administratively charged with conduct unbecoming of an officer.
. . .
Lexington Police Chief Anthany Beatty said officers already receive sensitivity training, but the cited officers will undergo enhanced training.
No punishment has come down yet for the officer who was actually publishing the site.

Let me say that all of that strikes me as a little over the top. On the other hand, it might be a bad idea to let all the officers know that if they want a two week vacation all they have to do is say something on the internet which the PC police might not like. If the officers are anything like the ones I know the most painful part of all this might be having to attend sensitivity training: "Remember, you must empathize with the plight of the redneck with his rotweiller. It's not his fault that he's driving a truck which is burning so much oil that there is a two block smoke screen behind it. And that quivering, slathering rotty in the back of the truck straining against that frayed 1/4" rope to get to you is just following his nature. This is all society's fault for oppressing him and we must learn to forgive the faults society forces upon people like this." Well, okay, maybe it won't be quite that bad. Maybe.

The only part I think looks like it might be too light is the punishment to Officer Haynes for "interfering in the prosecution of the case." An officer obstructing a legal investigation is an extremely serious offense. Unfortunately, none of the articles I found say exactly what the interference was. It could just be that he published under a pseudonym and when asked if it was him exercised an exculpatory no (he wouldn't fess up), but if it's much more than that - if he took active steps - he got a gift.

I really cannot get fired up about this sort of thing. Everybody complains about their boss (in this case the local municipality), I grew up in Lexington and went to Bryan Station - I know there are snobs in Lexington who look down on people they think they are better than, and police blowing off steam by being a little crude or making fun of people they've arrested ain't exactly shocking. Anyone who works in criminal law develops a dark sense of humor, including the lawyers ('tho most, unlike yours truly, are too smart to publish it). It doesn't mean they don't take their job seriously; it means they are blowing off steam. The officers' mistake was that they did it where others could access it.

I'll say again what I said of the San Fran officers - the main problem here is that posting things like this online gives guys like me good impeachment material: "Officer, you called your friend "gay" three times on this board, didn't you? You meant that as a derogatory term, didn't you? And you knew my client was gay when you rousted him on the street corner and pre-decided he was guilty didn't you? Because you don't like gay people, do you?" It's the Mark Furman mistake (he let himself be taped saying the unsayable word and causing an issue for the OJ case) and it's unprofessional. Of course, that doesn't seem to be the reason they're in trouble; they're in trouble because they aren't sensitive enough.

With thanks to the brother formerly known as "Taz" for the heads up on this story.

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