Flex your rights, redux

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Radly Balko talks today about Terrance Crossland’s failed appeal over his arrest and conviction for assault on a police officer. Which sounds like a pretty slam-dunk Bad Action, though maybe marginally less so when you discover it came after an inappropriate detention and search.

The officers, who were in full uniform, stopped appellant and his cousin Joseph Womack, both of whom were standing near the corner, as part of their effort to gather information about a rash of recent shootings and drug sales in the area. Officer Baldwin acknowledged that neither man was “doing anything unlawful” when the officers stopped them. The officers instructed both men to place their hands on a nearby fence for a weapons pat-down. Appellant “initially” complied, but quickly became “agitated,” telling Officer Baldwin words to the effect of “Fuck this shit. I’m tired of this.”

Whether Crossland actually physically resisted after that point is in dispute, but the case also mentions a sad fact you should know: just because an officer is violating your rights doesn’t mean you have any right to physically resist – a delightful little clause in a 2001 DC law that says “It is neither justifiable nor excusable cause for a person to use force to resist an arrest when such arrest is made by an individual he or she has reason to believe is a law enforcement officer, whether or not such arrest is lawful.” (emphasis mine)

In other words, once that officer tells you you’re under arrest, shut up and take it. In 2008 the Dolson case upheld that law when it was applied to a man who held a gate shut against an officer – after telling the officer he did not consent for the officer to enter without a warrant – and, after the officer forced his way in and reportedly began choking him, broke the officer’s nose. Whether or not fighting back against an officer while being raped is similarly illegal – assuming they are simultaneously arresting  and assaulting you  – is still an open question.

Before that point, however, both you and Crossland can do yourself some good by avoiding being in that circumstance in the first place. The excellent Flex Your Rights, an organization in Baltimore, has several great videos and publications to help you navigate your encounter with the police, no matter how wrong they’re being. Rule #8 from their Ten Rules for Dealing With Police is clear: NEVER TOUCH A COP. If Crossland had refused the search initially and the officers had gone ahead and assaulted him there’d be less uncertainty over whether he had resisted arrest.

Consider yourself warned, however: the DC prosecutors have made is clear they think you’re likely a sleaze if you’re interested in “Ten Rules” – “The typical citizen would not need to know detailed information as to US Supreme Court case law regarding search and seizure because they are not transporting illegal substances in fear of being caught,” said Officer [Redacted]. I guess he just left off “or are mowing your lawn.”

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


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