Fed Misconduct not Confined to Eastern States

Richland, Washington. November 21, 2011.

By Snap.

When cases come to light of officers using unnecessary violence, or otherwise exceeding their authority, it is easy for the law-abiding citizen to downplay the complaints. “I’m sure that there’s more to it than that,” or, “We didn’t see what happened before the camera was turned on,” or, “That’s just an isolated occurrence.” But isolated occurrences have been accumulating, and don’t seem so isolated anymore. More and more reports, more video, more accounts of blatant and flagrant conduct by those we trust, not to abuse the law, but to uphold it. And we have seen many cases of federal officials molesting, harassing, arresting, and charging individuals for the so called crime of taking pictures in the vicinity of a federally owned building.

This brings us to my own story. I was detained, bullied and threatened, first for merely daring to snap some photos and sketch some doodles, then for my reluctance to hand over my papers. One might say the incident ended happily, because nobody was (physically) injured, nobody was cuffed, nobody was caged. But the sad fact remains that I was held without good reason for a period of time, and subjected to verbal abuse for daring to assert my rights.

So, on with my story. I have recently started going on brisk walks to get some exercise. I decided that, while on such a stroll I would conduct an experiment that would put my mind at ease: I would test the situation at the Richland, Washington federal building. I set out with a camera, on a route that took me past the federal building. As I approached, I took pictures of my surroundings. (Mostly of trees.) I walked along the sidewalk in front of the building, and took a picture of the sign out front. A uniformed security guard emerged from the building, and eyed my progress. I nodded politely, and he returned the nod. He did not follow me, but when my route circled around the back of the building, I did notice that he had come out the back door, and watched me across the sprawling parking lot.

Intrigued, I returned a few days later. This time, I brought a notepad. I specifically took pictures only of trees. I stopped on the public sidewalk in front of the building, and made sketches of some of the trees on the grounds.

The same uniformed individual approached me: “How can I help you, sir?” at the same time, another fellow appeared, in street clothes. He claimed to be “the federal government,” and refused to identify himself, (even making a show of covering his ID badge with his coat,) but demanded I show him my ID. I asked, and was told I was not being detained, and walked away. As I walked away, the “federal government” shouted something at me, but I didn’t catch what he said.

A few days after that, I went again. After an initial stroll past the front of the building, I crossed to the public park on the opposite side of the street, and sat on a park bench set some distance back from the sidewalk. As I sat, I sketched trees and pine cones.

Several people passed on the sidewalk, but one sticks in my mind. He had an ID badge on a lanyard, and he gave me a suspicious look. I nodded to him in greeting, and he nodded back, but without any sign of friendliness. He crossed the street and entered the courthouse.

I then started seeing official-looking individuals, Deputy Scott Suplus, coming out the front door of the building, looking USMS my way, and then going back in. This was repeated several times, and then, the main event began. Four armed men emerged and marched over to where I was sitting, sketching trees. Three of them were young, clean cut, fit, and serious looking. They wore matching black outfits. The fourth was elderly, and was dressed in a business suit. When they reached my bench, they fanned out and encircled me. The suited individual requested picture ID, and when I asked why, he threatened me with felony arrest. This was thirty seconds after they showed up. He then upgraded his request to a demand.

The situation deteriorated from there. I asked if he alleged criminal activity. “Yes!” he replied. “Well…not necessarily of a criminal nature, but of a suspicious nature.” What was I suspected of? “Suspicious activity!” He claimed a “right” to see my papers, and if I didn’t produce them, I would be booked for obstruction of justice, or hindering a federal criminal investigation. I was, he said, observed behaving suspiciously, and therefore he had a “right” to detain me. He called it a “Terry” stop, and mentioned the case Terry v. Ohio.

So, I explicitly asked what crime was alleged. “None,” was the reply. Then how can I be the subject of reasonable suspicion, if no crime is suspected? “It doesn’t matter,” I was told. “You have been engaging in suspicious behavior.” “Now,” he said, raising his voice, “I am asking to see your ID, for the last time!” There was no hint of doubt in my mind that he was demanding that I show my papers. Just in case there remained some confusion, one of the other individuals shouted in my ear, “Are you going to show picture ID or are you going to jail?!”

I quietly asked whether I was even required to carry an ID card with me. He sputtered for a moment before he asserted that I was “jumping to conclusions.” After all, he never said he needed to see a card, after all! ID can be written or verbal. Why was I assuming he meant I had to show something written? (Silly lad!)

So the demands for “ID” changed into demands for “name and date of birth.” I continued to suggest that I was under no duty to provide that information, and they continued to insist that they had the “right.” Please note that Washington has no “stop-and-identify” statute.

Several minutes in, I asked the question, “Who are you?” because these individuals had never even bothered to identify themselves. The suited individual’s name is Cliiford Nelson. He is a Court Security Officer. I later learned that CSOs are private contract guards hired to work the metal detectors at the courtroom entrances. The others’ names are Brian Johnson, Randall McCalmant and Scott Surplus, introduced as US Marshalls. Never mind that there is only one Marshal in a district.

Before the individuals had even bothered to identify themselves, Deputy McCalmant (I’ll refer to him as “Chew Toy,” because he kept grabbing me,) barked at me to take my hands out of my pockets, and grabbed my wrist. When I turned to face him, Nelson barked at me to pay attention. During this time, city police were also accumulating, until I estimated that there were around a dozen armed individual surrounding me. Me! An overweight, out of shape middle-aged guy. With a camera. And a notebook.

About halfway through the ordeal, It occurred to me that I ought to be recording video, so I pulled out my camera. Chew Toy grabbed me again, and grabbed for my camera, because “I don’t want you taking my picture.” When I continued, he blocked my picture with his hands, exclaiming, “I asked you nicely!” I’m reminded of the five year old child who wants ice cream for breakfast, and when told “no,” complains that “I said pleeease!”

One of the city guys, Sergeant DuBois, started trying to talk sense into me. He must have been the “good cop” sent to get me to “be reasonable.” He explained that I had to understand, how this was all extremely suspicious, what with everything going on, you know, with the threats and all. What threats? Didn’t they tell you? Oh, yeah, there have been threats…on judges…and to…blow up courthouses…isn’t that right, guys? The deputies replied: “oh yeah…yeah, that’s right.” I didn’t see any winking or nudging, but…

Eventually, I decided that it would be inconvenient to get arrested on that particular day, and I had no confidence that the deputies would allow me to leave, so I told them my name and was on my way.

When I reviewed my footage, I found that it was mostly garbage, though it did have some excellent shots of Nelson’s knees. The audio is good, and I’m (slowly) figuring out how to present the incident effectively.

After I thought about things, I came to some conclusions:

1) This stuff is a lot harder than it looks. I was stressed and raised my voice several times. I also did a lot more talking than I should have. I have watched lots of videos and thought “he should have just stopped talking,” but that’s actually pretty hard.

2) Even as they were threatening me with arrest, (“for the last time!”) they didn’t actually arrest me. I was assuming that they simply didn’t know the rules, but I now believe there’s a good chance they knew they couldn’t arrest me, and were just trying to scare the crap out of me.

3) At one point, the head deputy ran off to check out something I said. “If you’ve lied to me, “ (I hadn’t) “I can arrest you!” That tells me he didn’t have anything, even though I hadn’t coughed up ID yet.

4) In a Terry stop, besides the ability to detain someone, cops are allowed to do a frisk, or quick patdown for weapons. They didn’t do that, so I’m thinking they knew they didn’t have grounds to detain. What’s especially telling is that they wanted me to keep my hands out of my pockets, even if they didn’t feel threatened enough to frisk.

5) If they knew that the detention was illegal, then it would have been interesting to see what would happen if I just started walking away.

6) If they have such a tizzy when some guy shoots a few snapshots outside the building, their security must be awfully feeble, and the officers guarding the facility incompetent.

7) The individuals who confronted me displayed a disgraceful ignorance of the law. Either that or they wantonly ignored the law. Since the second option would require a blatant lack of professional integrity, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are ignorant. I’m probably being overly generous.

 

 


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