[Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of Joseph J. Julicher’s story, which he has been publishing at his personal blog “Hung by the Thin Blue Line.” Julicher is a former police officer, who has been invited to blog about his time as a cop on CopBlock.org. Julicher’s other posts at CopBlock.org can be found here: “Meet Telly Heath,” “Not this Again!,” and “Flanagan Confronted.”
It seems that his last post (below) is a little more sporadic, yet, still provides some insights into the training, mindset and upbringing of a LEO. I’ve taken some heat for sharing Joseph’s story here but I’m more than willing to give him a change to share HIS side of the story before passing judgement. Of course, I don’t condone every action he’s partaken in, according to his own words, but if this (blogging and my posting it to CB) provides him the ability to possibly reach another LEO who feels the same way, then I’m fine with the decision I’ve made.]
I’m hoping this blog is bigger than just one man’s experience in fighting an injustice created by a corrupt organization. It’s a classic good versus evil, David versus Goliath, truth versus lie struggle. It’s a story about personal growth and the choices that we make in attempting to attain it. It’s about sticking to one’s principles, being able to look one’s self in the mirror, and the costs associated in order to be able to do so. Personally, I’ve paid by having everything that I’d ever worked for stolen away from me. However, it’s more than that…
During the spring of 1989, I was witness to a seemingly innocuous exchange that gave me an uneasy feeling about what I had just walked into. “On loan” from the police academy for our Field Training portion of instruction, I walked into the PD accompanied by my training officer. Slightly behind us, another veteran police officer scurried hurriedly in the door.
He rushed past us visibly rattled, prompting my training officer to ask “Everything OK, Jim?”
“Uh, yeah, just have to go see the Chief”, he replied, reluctantly.
My FTO nodded knowingly.
See, I was the outsider; I couldn’t understand this exchange. Here I was, in the midst of a life-changing year. I had begun the previous twelve months on Paris Island, South Carolina; Marine Corps Recruit Depot. While attending boot camp, I had received the letter indicating that I’d been granted the opportunity for an interview to become a police officer in my hometown. Through delayed communications with my mother, I learned that the Chief would NOT hire me if I maintained my six-year commitment to the Marine Corps Reserves. He explained that while he was obligated to provide me time off to attend my required training, he was NOT obligated to hire me in the first place. He claimed that hiring reservists created too much of a scheduling conflict for his department. I should have known that I was walking into a backward-assed system, but I was young and naïve. The appeal of attaining solid, middle class, civil service employment clouded my judgment, but I couldn’t help but have a pit of my stomach feeling about why I had to burn the Marines. I did so by failing successive physical fitness tests, in order to obtain an entry-level separation. I wasn’t just flunking out of boot camp; I was giving up on a life-long dream to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, who had served with the Sixth Marines during World War II. Again, there was that sinking feeling in my stomach.
Attending the Police Academy revealed that similarly minded people were attracted to military and police careers; generally, type-A, masculine, dominant men, most likely physically fitness inclined, and marginally intelligent. I just happened to be an outlier in the last category; I had been fairly successful academically.
The exchange in the hallway had me puzzled; weren’t we all cops? Didn’t we share that “macho” attitude; a take charge, center of attention, courage under fire type thing? Yet, here was this GROWN MAN visibly shaken about having to enter into a conversation with another grown man. I mean you’re going there to talk, not fight, right? Even then, so what? Was there going to be gunplay? I mean we’re trained for that too, no? Weird, I thought. But then again, I hadn’t been exposed to their system of governance.
Intimidation! That’s the only word to appropriately describe the supervision of the Town of Tonawanda Police Department (TTPD). It was thug-like and pulled directly from the script of a bad Hollywood mafia movie. It was surreal; there were many times that I had questioned whether the words and actions that I had been exposed to had actually taken place. Since they were so over the top, they were hard to digest as reality. However, these people actually believed their own press! They actually believed in the caricatures of themselves that they had created! I was a square peg in a round hole from day one. I didn’t buy in to the whole intimidation thing; I mean, not being arrogant, but I’m just un-intimidate able. Want to debate? I’m cool with that. Want to have an intelligent conversation, sit down and discuss our differences; fine. Wanna’ fight? Lets go. It didn’t matter to me, I felt completely capable in every arena, so I just wasn’t going to be intimidated. Unfortunately, they took that for cockiness and arrogance instead of supreme confidence. In fact, I was condemned for being “too smart” for my own good. Here I was my entire life being rewarded for my intelligence, yet in this place, it was held against me. Wow, there’s that pit of my stomach feeling again.
I had thought that I was entering a profession built on truth, justice, public service, loyalty, esprit-d’-corps, and a handful of other moral superlatives. Basically, I was a wet-behind-the-ears, optimistic kid! Boy was I wrong, what a morally bankrupt collection of scumbags! There were tales of yore that included countless cases of domestic abuse, drug use, drug sales, larcenies, and double dipping. No, not what we dealt with on the streets, these were the guys wearing the badges! It was my personal estimation that seventy-five percent of the place had a wife AND a girlfriend. I found the vast majority of them to be morally reprehensible. It seemed that the moral deprivation escalated with the higher the rank attained. I respected their position, but not the “men” who held those positions. For me, that was impossible to do and they couldn’t reconcile that. Nice combination; bullying, arrogant dumbbells in seats of power. I had a particular contempt for those assholes, the kind of contempt that stirred that pit of my gut feeling again!
Another idiosyncrasy of the old TTPD was the caste system of the haves and have-nots. If you were connected, you could do no wrong and get away with just about any indiscretion, as mentioned above. However, if you were an outcast, your feet would be held to the fire for even the most idiosyncratic behavior. Guess where I ended up?
In the spring of 2004, the officer at the center of this escapade, Joe Flanagan, was promoted to Captain and took charge of my platoon. What followed was a six-year surreal journey including latent acrimony, open hostility, a cover-up of a civil rights investigation cover-up, threats of violence at the hands of a supervisor, a retaliatory arrest by my own department, a punitive Child Protective Services investigation, the dismantling of my family, an unprecedented cross-state journey to investigate a violation of law, a material witness warrant issued for my own wife when she wouldn’t cooperate with their witch hunt, our relocation out of state to avoid her arrest (including plans to move out of the country when they turned up the heat), two attempted terminations, a protracted legal battle as directed by my disinterested council, one arbitrated and two State Supreme Court decisions overturning said termination attempts, THREE independent medical evaluations with alternating results, allegations of drug use against myself, financial decimation including illegally withholding my paycheck for four years, and the canceling of the medical insurance for my young family that included two children under two; in short, a trampling of my Constitutional, parental, employment, and civil rights! What happened in the end? I was fully exonerated, took a meager out of court settlement, was reinstated to my former position, and retired unceremoniously. However, it’s the details in the middle that are the story of interest!
It’s been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely; I need no further proof that that is the truth! This story is so outlandish, so unbelievable, that it’s hard to comprehend that it occurred in modern day America. As luck would have it, I have the goodwill with all who know me to be an honest, straightforward, no nonsense, and righteous man; every word of it, as unbelievable as it may sound, is the gospel truth!
Why am I writing this? Well, there are several reasons, with many levels;
First, as mentioned above, I’m writing it at the prompting of friends. Next, it’s an exercise in clearing my good name. I was once a well-respected member of my community and also in the eyes of my co-workers. Since everything went crazy, I’ve been subject to sideways glances by many. Municipalities seem to love to air your business in a very public forum when they are making allegations, yet are completely silent when you’ve been cleared of all wrongdoing; I guess it was on me to do that.
I had served my community with dignity and respect for sixteen unblemished years; this blog is another attempt at public service. The events that happened to me could happen to ANYONE, anywhere. Even worse, they might not be as familiar with “the system” as I had been. We’ve all heard tales of woe from people who have felt that they have been “railroaded” by those in a position of power. Generally, they are dismissed out of hand, but I have first hand knowledge of how the dominoes can line up, fall, and ruin one man and his family’s lives! So, this is also a cautionary tale.
I’m also hoping that it’s somewhat inspirational; you CAN fight city hall! However disgruntled I was with my own council, I once held him in very high regard. At the beginning of our journey, he uttered words that kept my focus throughout this struggle, “Fortunately for you, you own the truth.”
A righteous man, armed with the truth, is a very powerful weapon! I’m hoping that that is a concept that I can impart upon my own sons!
Another “lesson” that I’d like to pass along is one of ethics, and more particularly dealing with the position of being a whistleblower. During this entire fiasco, I had returned to my studies (well before there were any problems at work). The program and profession are very ethically based. Numerous times we were exposed to the mantras of “do the right thing” and “if you see something, say something”. While those are very admirable statements, they need to be marked with an asterisk! The professors gave glowing endorsements of ethical and righteous behavior; all I could do is sit in silence and bite my lip. Academia is hell-and-gone from the real world. Many times I wanted to burst out of my seat and give the “kids” (as I affectionately referred to my classmates as) the straight skinny. However, being the old-guy wasn’t really fresh to begin with and they weren’t here to learn from my crusty, old ass! Instead, I promised myself that if I’d ever pursue my doctorate, I’d do my thesis on whistleblowers and the adverse effects that they had suffered, but I digress…
My point? Be prepared for ONE moment in time! One moment in time can change a life, forever. As a young person, you have to decide “who you are” before you get to your one moment in time. I’ve lived my life through a pre-programmed metric since I was a little kid. I only came to realize that as I’ve seen my oldest son grow up; he has it too. He is self-guided and pre-programmed to “do the right thing”. When it comes to that one moment in time, you have to rely upon your own constitution and respond instinctively; this is not going to be a situation where you have time to think. However, life is dynamic; sometimes you’ll make decisions that go against your own grain. If you’re remotely human, they’ll give you that pit of your gut feeling that I’ve mentioned previously. So, you have a choice to make; go with your gut and follow your own makeup OR compromise and take your chances. Additionally, whatever choice you make in your one moment in time, it needs to be made with ultimate commitment. If you happen to eschew your own principles, you have to live with that for the rest of your life. Therefore, there are two contradictory lessons afoot. First, do the right thing and follow your gut. Next, if you decide to “look the other way”, keep doing it and never look back! Now, that is not to say that it’s going to be easy, in fact, it’s going to be the exact opposite. If you’re anything like me, your moment in time, if handled incorrectly, will haunt you for the rest of your life!
Don’t believe me? Go ahead, I dare you, try it for yourself. Maybe someday, you’ll be writing a blog about something that happened eighteen years ago. Maybe you’ll be an expectant father who takes an inventory of his life, attempting to decide who he is, what he stands for, and what he’s going to teach his unborn child. Maybe you’ll be so conflicted that you keep returning to that one moment in time and feel so passionately, that if you don’t address, apologize for it, and attempt to make amends that you’re not going to know how to live with yourself! Trust me…
In the end, this blog is part of making those amends! I compromised an oath that I had taken; “To Serve and Protect”. Worse, I failed a fellow human being. I did that all in the name of the “Thin, Blue Line!” That kid, lying on the ground, with a gun stuck in his mouth by a raving psychopath; he had rights, and I failed him. I’ll NEVER forgive myself for not standing up for him. I blew my one moment in time, what will you do?