Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Questions on Police Procedures

Balko has a few interesting observations on a Florida case.

Singletary, you'll remember, is the elderly man in Florida who, upon seeing drug dealers on his lawn, came out with a gun to scare them off.

Unfortunately, they weren't drug dealers, but undercover cops posing as drug dealers. They shot Singletary dead. Even the police and town officials concede that Singletary was involved in no criminal activity, and was merely attempting to protect his property from what he thought were criminals.

It now looks like the cops who killed Singletary won't face criminal charges. I'm a bit conflicted on this one. But if there are no criminal charges, there should at least be some disciplinary action, at least if that "new professionalism" Justice Scalia was telling us about means anything at all.

The disturbing parts of this case:

The undercover narcotics officers were trespassing on Singletary's private property. And they were doing so to engage in drug activity. I doubt this is legal. And if it is, it shouldn't be. Unless they have a warrant, and are investigating Singletary himself (they weren't).

The state's attorney investigation found the police actions justified because Singletary "was an armed civilian who refused orders to drop his gun." But the same report criticized the police for not announcing themselves as police before they fired on Singletary. If both of these things are true, then the state's attorney is saying Singletary should have obeyed orders to drop his gun from armed men he understandably believed were dangerous, and trespassing on his property. If Florida's
new home defense law means anything at all, one would think it would mean the right to hold your ground when armed men are on your property.

Singletary was shot four times. Once in the back.

The state's attorney chose to believe police accounts of who fired first (they say Singletary) over the account of a witness who says the police fired first, because the witness is a convicted drug dealer. Seems reasonable. Except when you consider that (a) one of the police investigators changed his story about who fired first, (b) attorneys for Singletary's family have found four other witnesses who contradict the police account (why didn't the investigator talk to these people?), and (c) police take the word of convicted drug dealers as gold all the time when it comes to securing warrants for drug raids, or to prosecute other drug dealers.

Just as an aside, why isn't the National Rifle Association all over this case? I've been told they won't get involved in the Cory Maye case because of the minuscule amount of marijuana (a burnt roach) found in Maye's apartment. But Singletary was an innocent man gunned down for defending his home from what he thought were criminal trespassers. Isn't what he did what the NRA is all about?

Balko holds the Libertarian position that the "War on Drugs" is inane and silly. I don't share that view.

But they're interesting questions, anyway.

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