David Sobelman, 23, was going to buy a pack of cigarettes from the Petro Mart on College Avenue in Columbia, MO on February 28th of this year. Thanks to the two Columbia Police officers who were moonlighting (term used when cops work as security for private businesses) at the gas station that night, this trip to buy a pack of smokes could very well be the last time Sobelman will see the free(r) world.
Sobelman faces 10 years to life in prison, thanks to enhanced drug offender laws, over allegedly possessing 1 gram of marijuana and a TRACE amount of cocaine. Yet, the issues surrounding his arrest have many more questions than those brought up regarding the insane sentences handed out thanks to the war on drugs.
Like why are two Columbia Police officers moonlighting in full police uniforms even though they are being paid for by the gas station? Do officer’s who are moonlighting have the same ‘authority’ as police who are actually on duty? Or why did they turn their attention to Sobelman and how does minor drug possession turn into the possibility of life in prison?
Sobelman has been stuck in the system since he was 17 years old when harsh drug sentencing laws first affected his life. Some would say that he got stuck running with the wrong crowd and was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. While others would say he’s a victim of the never ending war on drugs where productive people become victims of the state’s prison industrial complex. Had Sobelman lived in Colorado he’d be a well respected member of the community with with no criminal record. Instead, his early arrests would trigger a series of events that would keep him in the system for the next four years. In fact, Sobelman was to be released from parole on April 7th, 2016 and free from the state’s demands for the first time in his adult life.
Instead he now faces a Class A felony and will most likely have his probation violated. The arrest was for a Class C felony but was enhanced by Spencer F. Bartlett – the prosecutor – to a class A felony. The law the prosecutor used to enhance this felony was deemed unjust by Missouri lawmakers recently and is set to expire on January 17th, 2017. Nevertheless, Bartlett pushes this enhancement that could very well send Sobelman to prison for the rest of his life.
So why was Sobelman being targeted by police officers in the first place? He didn’t drive to the Petro Mart, he didn’t steal anything and he wasn’t creating a disturbance. So, why was he arrested for drug possesion by two cops working security?
According to Sobelman one of the officers started to follow him upon walking into the store. As he waiting in line the officer stood behind him but went over to talk to his partner before they both positioned themselves by the door. After Sobelman made his purchase he went to leave the store and tried to walk in between the two officers. That’s when they grabbed his arm and said, “you’re coming with us.” Sobelman asked, “why” but it was too late. The officers twisted his arms behind his back him and pushed him out the door. Of course the officers claim that Sobelman tried to get away but he says he was being pushed and was slammed to the ground for no reason. While one of the officers put his weight into Sobelman’s back the other put his knee into his head. As you can see in the video below this caused injuries to Sobelman’s face and legs.
After the arrest one of the officers stated he seen marijuana in Sobelman’s pocket and that if he didn’t “pull away” he would have just gotten a ticket. Why are moonlighting cops concerned about a man who walked to a gas station with a little bit of weed, in a college town, is beyond me. It also brings to question the legality of off duty cops conducting a search and seizures of people on private property.
Can officers who are being paid for by a private business – as confirmed by Briton the Petro Mart manager – have the same authority as those who are actually on duty? Also, should officers who are moonlighting for additional money be in full uniform with taxpayer funded items?
I reached out to Latisha Stroer, the public informations officer of Columbia, MO, but have yet to hear back from her or any of her colleagues. Her information is included at the end of this post.
I personally don’t need to hear her answers, though for laughs I hope they do respond, because I don’t believe anyone has the right to assault someone because they have an item in their pocket. That this is just another example of the war on drugs really being a war on people. Sobelman wasn’t harming anyone, he wasn’t creating a disturbance and if he had 100 lbs of drugs on him it shouldn’t be anybodies business. No one should have been able to stop Sobelman as he left the business. Not a ‘real’ cop, rent-a-cop or anyone else.
I also find it completely ironic that off duty cops are hired in high crime areas to lessen crime. While I fully support replacing government police with private ones this example taints that arguement. While some might read this story and say, “see, this is why you can’t have private security. They will harass you just like this.” Nothing could be further from the truth. If Petro Mart decided to hire their own security guards you can bet the farm that they would never have a customer arrested for drug possession. Let alone assaulted and hauled off to jail for life.
While what lead up to the use of force and arrest of Sobelman by these officers remains a mystery, it’s a mystery that should NOT be at all. The state has in its possession the security footage from the gas station and has been refusing to release it. This goes against a judge’s order to do so and one can’t help but wonder what that video shows.
Did the officer’s target Sobelman for the wad of cash he had on him? Did they intend to rob him like the criminals they are? Or were they really just trying to keep the community safe by taking a man with marijuana in his pocket off the streets?
It really doesn’t matter what their intentions were, this is still a horrible reality for a person who clearly isn’t a harm to society. Like the millions of other people locked in jail cells for drug possession Sobelman’s life could be ruined because he dares to defy the state’s laws and puts what he wants into his body. Or because a prosecutor wants to ensure an excessive force case can be countered with the threat of a life sentence.
It’s a dirty game and it’s played with people’s lives.
Whatever the truth is it’s not that David Sobelman is so dangerous that he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison. If anyone should be jailed here it’s the two police officers who stole property, assaulted a man and the prosecutor who is actively withholding evidence from not only the defendant but the public as well.
You tell me, who would you rather live next too?