On track to replace the “race card” as the fastest way to confuse the issues and garner sympathy is the newly popular “intimidation card.” It seems when you’ve done something wrong or said too much, the best way to turn the tables is to claim that the police skeered you into it. A couple of distressing news stories have finally driven me to say my peace on the matter.
Demario Atwater is one of two suspects accused in the brutal murder of college student Eve Carson in 2008. During his initial interrogation, Atwater apparently spoke in detail to the Durham police. However, a recent development in the case has him claiming he was repeatedly bullied and abused by the arresting officers. Atwater now wants everything he said in the investigation suppressed from evidence because he claims he was “forced” to say what police wanted to hear. Strangely enough, it’s been over two years since his arrest and not one complaint or allegation on the department has been made by Atwater…until now. His lawyer is telling him he’s in deep doo-doo, he’s charged with 1st degree murder and he faces the death penalty if convicted. So here you have it: how does a lawyer defend a client whose actions were captured by video surveillance and who all but confessed to police the night he was arrested? Well, you accuse the police of intimidation and coercion, of course. With his unlikely, untimely accusations, Atwater will not only stir up criticism and suspicion of the police department, but he will potentially be allowed to “take back” the crucial information proving that he committed the murder. If he didn’t want his statements used against him, he should have held his tongue: you don’t get a second chance to invoke the Fifth Amendment. The really disturbing part is that his ridiculous claims will probably get him exactly what he’s after.
In a similar scenario, a young woman has brought a lawsuit against Pittsburgh Steeler Santonio Holmes, alleging he assaulted her in a Florida night club. Anshonae Mills claims that Holmes threw a cup at her face when she refused to move from what he said was “his seat.” In the police report, Holmes said that another woman threw the cup and that Mills had actually been the assailant, grabbing his wrist and uttering racial comments. After police had escorted both Mills and Holmes out of the nightclub, Mills requested a private conversation with Holmes, and Holmes agreed. Police say they witnessed Mills smiling and rubbing Holmes’s face and shortly thereafter, she declined to press charges. Two weeks later, Mills filed a civil lawsuit against Holmes based on the original allegations she made to police when the incident occurred. This begs the question, “why would she sue but not press charges?” People who file criminal charges don’t always file civil suits, but only an idiot files a civil suit after pressing no criminal charges. It’s a head-scratcher indeed and as this woman’s lawyer drafted the complaint, he must have realized that her mistake would severely impede any chances of recovering a small fortune from the NFL star. Attempting to salvage what could be a large windfall judgment, Mills’ attorney cleverly threw the ever-versatile and adaptive “intimidation card.” What better way to instantly revitalize her case than by claiming that police twisted her arm? And just like Mr. Atwater, Ms. Mills had never mentioned any dissatisfaction with the department until she filed her civil complaint. Hopefully this sounds fishy to someone other than me.
While there are certainly real incidences of officers acting unethically, I happen to believe that Mr. Atwater, Ms. Mills and many others are merely strategic liars trying to clean up their bad decisions in order to get what they want. But hypothetically, even if the police did bully or intimidate or coerce, what’s the big deal? Especially in Mr. Atwater’s case, what could they have legitimately threatened him with to make him confess to a crime if he didn’t commit it? He’s in much less danger of being knocked off by police for sticking to his story than he is of earning lethal injection or life imprisonment due to a fabricated confession – the decision is a no-brainer. Though it may seem harsh, police are allowed to bluff and yes, even intimidate suspects to get them to talk. This is both legal and allowable because human instinct will avoid conviction and punishment at all costs, even if a person is actually guilty. In other words, only genuine confessions are reasonably expected to be wrought through “intimidating” interrogation tactics. Officers have absolutely no intention of bullying an innocent person into falsely taking responsibility for a crime he didn’t commit.
So why is this new crutch popping up left and right in the news when it was virtually unheard of a few decades ago? Are people more deviant in the 21st century? Do police more frequently abuse their authority? Sadly, there are at least nuggets of truth in each of these theories, but the underlying cause is our culture’s shift toward premature disbelief and criticism of law enforcement, even when accusations are levied by incredible claimants. When the general public hears “police brutality” or “abuse of power,” focus and blame are immediately redirected from the Arrested to the Arrester. The “benefit of the doubt” once belonged to men and women whose solid character and sound judgment had been tested and proven within the community; it is now given instead to those who have demonstrated nothing but the inability to shut their yaps and avoid run-ins with the police. Like a mother must not run to the crib each time her baby cries, the media ought not be so quick to respond when some chump in a bind yells “intimidation.” If accusers don’t get the desired attention or results, that card will eventually lose its luster and such claims will be reserved only for instances of verifiable misconduct. Moreover, the benefit of the doubt will again be restored to the rightful owners who work so hard to deserve it.