Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights laws, cont’d

Caleb Brown interviewed me for the Cato Daily Podcast on the rise of union-backed legislation in more than 15 states throwing up procedural barriers to investigating or firing police officers charged with misconduct. Maryland was the first state to pass such a law, back in the 1970s, and it has now been debating proposals to trim it back, which have intensified in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray story in Baltimore. Earlier on LEOBR/LEOBoR laws here and, generally, here, and be sure to check out Ken White’s annihilating post on the concept at Popehat, with comment discussion.

P.S. Perhaps not unrelated: charged officer “had been accused of theft four previous times” but was still on the Baltimore force [AP after surveillance cameras in federal sting operation allegedly showed officer pocketing thousands of dollars in a hotel room]


  • The Freddy Gray case goes against Mr. Olson’s argument. One officer was who simply driving the paddy wagon was charged with murder. What is with that?

    Mr. Olson did great reporting on the role mental illness played in Seung-Hui Cho’s mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Mr. Gray was retarded, or near retarded, as evinced by his school placements. He got caught up in a cycle of arrests and probably did not want to go to jail. Rodney King knew jail was coming to him if he was taken into custody. Mr. Gray may have been banging against the side of the van to tip it over or he could have charged the back door of the van in hope of getting away. There is not enough room in the van for a scuffle to break Mr. Gray’s back. The tragedy is that Mr. Gray was not institutionalized for mental defect.

  • William Nuesslein wrote May 15, 2015 1:25 PM:

    One officer was who simply driving the paddy wagon was charged with murder. What is with that?

    Perhaps you’ve never ridden a bus standing room only, but without a strap or rail to hang onto.

    Shackle a person so he can’t brace himself with hands or feet. Put him into a space with hard surfaces and protrusions, large enough for him to bounce around.

    Drive as wildly possible, swerving around corners, hitting as many potholes and curbs as possible, stopping and starting as jerky and unpredictably as possible. Bounce him around as much as you can.

    Police call it “the rough ride” or “the nickel ride”. It’s just another method of extrajudicial punishment for people who policemen find annoying.

    Any ordinary citizen who drove a vehicle and killed another person in such a manner would be charged with murder. Why shouldn’t a policeman?

    • En Passant takes us through imaginary sequences where normal driving hazards are able to break a relatively healthy man;s neck. My understanding is the the paddy wagon was part of city traffic, so I don’t see how one could generate the impulses needed to break a neck. Banging oneself deliberately against the side of the van or against the back door could. I remember Amadou Diallo’s kick of Eddy McMellon, where Eddy cleared the steps into the apartment house and landed on his tail bone. Legs are powerful.

      • “Banging oneself deliberately against the side of the van or against the back door could.”

        A person attempting such a thing would suffer very severe pain long before causing fatal injury.

        1. Personally, I think this is far sell likely than a fatal “rough ride”.
        2. Even if it was a self inflicted injury, the officers were still negligent for not securing the prisoner properly. Negligent homicide is still a valid charge in this case.

        • For Matt S:

          Christopher Reeve, the Superman accident, hurt himself from a single event – a fall from a horse. Certainly the relative severity from a fall from a horse and slamming yourself against a door would be similar. Mr. Gray’s injury could have come from a single slam.The “rough ride” like “Hands up; Don’t shoot” is just make believe to transfer fault.

          We do not know if police officers offered to seat-belt Mr. Gray. He would have a de-facto right – through resistance – to reject the seat belts. Yes, seat belts reduce the probability of a fatal accident given that there is such an accident. If one drives from New York City to Los Angeles, one has a much greater chance of dieing in an accident than if one uses an airline for the trip. Would a highway death be negligible homicide? Of course not. The probability of a traffic death from a paddy wagon would be much too low to be legally foreseeable.. .

          • “Christopher Reeve, the Superman accident, hurt himself from a single event – a fall from a horse”

            He was thrown from the horse, he didn’t just fall. The horse’s legs are a lot stronger than Mr Reeve’s.

            “Certainly the relative severity from a fall from a horse and slamming yourself against a door would be similar.”

            No, you would be wrong, even if he did just fall, his body weight would provide more force, and in any case, Mr. Reeve’s injuries were less severe than Mr Grey’s as evidenced by the fact that Mr Reeve is still alive.

          • William,

            A new rule enacted by the police 9 days prior to the incident required that the occupants of paddy wagons be secured with a seat belt. The officers did not follow that rule. Gray would not have had the right to refuse to wear the seat belt as once in custody the police have a duty to protect the heath and safety of the arrestee. Also, it is interesting to note that you think that Gray was so mentally deficient (a fact I have not yet seen) and “should have been institutionalized” but the police allowed this mentally deficient man to make decisions on his health and safety.

            I don’t think your points are logical. In essence you seem to be saying that the police would allow violence in order not to restrain someone in the wagon even though that violence could potentially end up hurting the officers and the arrestee in the long run.

            Secondly, you seem to think that a person that could barely walk when he was arrested could run or bang their head against a wall to cause harm but yet a sudden stop from 30 mph could not have produced sufficient force to cause a spinal injury. The physics don’t support that conclusion.

            While you seem to think that the foreseeability of something like this causing death may be low, there is little doubt that the police were aware of the risk of injury to unrestrained occupants within the wagon. I would argue that knowing the risk plus knowing the risk of general car fatalities would easily overcome any foreseeability issues.

  • Aside from our own previous links on the rough rides phenomenon, here is a National Review piece sympathetic to the police which nonetheless does not deny that rough rides go on and inflict “grievous” injuries, even if the practice has not been as common in Baltimore as in, say, Philadelphia and Chicago:

  • Cameras can reduce police misconduct through being watched, or it can reduce police misconduct through disproving false accusations. My sense is that the second mechanism dominates because presumption of guilt occurs so much, especially when guilt is associated with big paydays.

  • Christopher Reeve died in 2004. The horse halted at a scheduled jump.The horse did not kick Mr. Reeve. The media went through Mr. Gray’s schooling that was centered around special ed. That would be consistent with retardation, although it would not be absolute proof thereof. Certainly a retarded or near retarded guy might do something irrational. When a fire broke out in an upstairs bedroom the retarded fellow who lived near me went into a hall calm down. Another member of his family figured out that is what he would do, and our firemen confined the fire to a single room so the young man suffered no harm.