Cop vs. peon: disparities in our “justice” system

Admittedly, police departments and the justice system will somewhat vary across the country. Even so, I still think the comparison of two recent instances of criminal law enforcement demonstrate the glaring disparity as to justice for police versus “justice” for the rest of us peons.

As Rob pointed out in a recent Quickhit, Daniel Lopez, a police officer in the Forth Worth area, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman. After his misconduct was discovered, he continued to be employed on the taxpayers’ dime, although on restricted duty.  Lopez continued until he resigned. Criminal investigators are looking into the possibility that there is more than one victim.

Although police are paid for by the public, the police department will not reveal further details as to these allegations, and even have asked media outlets not to release Lopez’s picture. After staying on the job for as long as possible, receiving the luxury of resigning at his own convenience, and having his identity protected, Lopez finally was taken into custody and bail was set at $150,000.

Can you imagine if a Target or Ralphs employee were accused of raping a customer in similar circumstances? Likely, the individual would be immediately fired and arrested; there would be no coddling with restrictive duties or identity protection, and punishment would come much swifter. Next time the police whine about how difficult their jobs are, they ought to be reminded of how they shove the strong arm of the law down everyone’s throats, but are shamelessly babied when they commit crimes themselves.

This brings me to the comparison of Lopez’s experience with that of another alleged criminal, Jeremy Marks. Mr. Marks is a high school student who has been charged with interfering with an officer, making criminal threats to an officer, and “attempted lynching.”

Earlier in May this year, an Officer Robles confronted a 15-year-old boy for smoking at a bus stop. The 15-year-old resisted. Robles grabbed him, shoved him, and bashed his head against a window. Witnesses say Robles struck the 15-year-old’s head on the window so hard  the window  broke.  Onlookers then began recording the incident with their cellphones.

Robles alleges Mr. Marks, a bystander, yelled the name of a local gang and “we’ll kick your ass!” As per usual police antics, Robles described chaos, danger and riot when she testified in a preliminary hearing. She testified she threw the 15-year-old to the ground, pepper-sprayed him, hit him with a baton, and that during the struggle, an individual named “Victor” tried to take her pepper spray.

Student videos captured on cellphones show a portion of the incident, and do not depict the chaos Robles alleges, although it is possible things were utter riotous bedlam immediately before or after the period captured on video. YouTube videos depict Mr. Marks dressed in gray, standing in the background near a student in a white shirt. Marks’ own video of the final moments of the incident does not indicate Marks said anything Robles claimed he did, and the video also shows two students who did move toward Robles were dressed in a striped shirt, and a black shirt, not gray (see the videos here and here.)

At any rate, charges were piled upon Mr. Marks, including the attempted “lynching” charge, which people may not be familiar with.  California Penal Code 405(a) provides the following –

“Every person who participates in any riot is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

If Mr. Marks was attempting to riot, it certainly was not apparent from the videos. If anything, witness statements and videos suggest Robles was overzealous and violent. All over a cigarette. Again, next time we hear the police whine about how dangerous their jobs are, we might advise them to refrain from inciting head-bashing and other violence over trivial matters, such as a cigarette. Assuming cigarette laws were enacted to protect minors from adverse health risks, it seems ironic Robles attacked and bashed this kid’s head into a window to allegedly stop him from harming himself by smoking.

Mr. Marks’ former attorney, Angela Berry-Jacoby, brought two defense motions after the preliminary hearing. She brought a motion for disclosure of Officer Robles’ personnel records showing prior complaints of dishonesty and a motion to dismiss the interfering with an officer and attempted lynching charges. The judge ruled the personnel records were irrelevant because the officer was acting within the course and scope of her duties. “I argued aggressively that detaining a kid she knew over a cigarette was outside the scope of her duties because the law only allowed her to issue him a citation,” says Ms. Berry-Jacoby; however, the judge ruled Robles was in fact acting within her capacity as a police officer.

All 3 of the charges initially levied against Mr. Marks are considered “strikes” by California law, because each one has a gang enhancement alleged.  As such, Mr. Marks faced up to 18 years in state prison.  After a preliminary hearing, the DA’s Office made a plea offer of 7 years to one charge. “We obviously rejected that ridiculous offer, ” says Ms. Berry-Jacoby. Marks’ bail has been set at $155,000, similar to Officer Lopez’s bail – except video evidence indicates he didn’t do anything, didn’t touch anyone, and didn’t yell anything. His parents can’t afford the bail so he has been sitting in prison since May.

While she was representing Mr. Marks, Ms. Berry-Jacoby says she requested police and bus driver reports from the DA’s Office for months. For months, the DA’s Office received nothing from the the LASPD. Eventually, Deputy DA Ed Green served Officer Rea with a subpoena to appear and produce all documents related to the investigation of this matter. For whatever reason, Officer Rea was the only one writing a report on the incident, but was not even present during the course of these events. Rea did not appear as ordered, and the judge declined to press the matter further, although he had the authority to.

The night before trial was to begin, Ms. Berry-Jacoby was finally faxed 130 pages of documents and evidence by the DA’s Office.  “The DA intended on using those records of misbehavior to disparage our witnesses.  Also among the items received was the one contact Mr. Marks had with law enforcement where he was sitting in a car with someone the officers suspected was gang-affiliated.  No arrest was made and no wrong-doing was reported,” says Ms. Berry-Jacoby.

While “Victor,” who Officer Robles initially alleged tried to take her pepper spray, has not been detained, questioned or charged, Mr. Marks has been implicated. Officer Rea’s report (again, an officer who wasn’t even there) now claims it was Mr. Marks who tried to take the pepper spray.

Most recently, the DA offered another plea agreement of a 3-year prison term, which would still be another year for Mr. Marks, even with his pre-sentence credits for time served.

All this stands in stark comparison to the experience of the coddled Officer Lopez. Just so we’re clear – the police officer, possibly a repeat sex offender, is permitted to stay on the job until he decides to quit and receives special privacy privileges. The high school kid who did nothing but record an act of police brutality was immediately arrested, is subject to a larger bail, and receives no special privileges of any kind. In Mr. Marks’ case, the DA’s office takes months to turn over evidence. The “report” is written by a police officer who wasn’t even present during the time of events. The judge ruled the violent officer’s past dishonesty was “irrelevant” to the case and that viciously attacking a 15-year-old was properly within the scope and capacity of a police officer. Even if you believe  Mr. Marks did in fact yell “we’ll kick your ass!” the bungling by the so-called justice system and disproportionate treatment would still seem fundamentally unfair.

To permit this kind of disparity in the enforcement of law is to harbor the belief that certain classes of people are superior and have more human rights than others; to tolerate this is to support a caste system.

Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.