Tuesday, April 3, 2007

When cops turn into thugs

Pro Libertate has a fascinating roundup of the case of John Coffin, a Sarasota County, Florida man who defended his wife from two out-of-control police officers -- and lived to tell the tale.

Briefly, two deputies, John Lutz and Stacy Ferris, showed up at the Coffin home to serve legal papers related to a civil proceeding -- papers he'd already been served, as it turns out. Cynthia Coffin told them her husband was in the bathroom and closed the door on them. Apparently not trusting the officers to resist the temptation to enter the house uninvited, she then proceeded to lock doors and shutter windows. This seems to have enraged the officers, because they then (illegally) entered the garage, seized Cynthia Coffin, and wrestled her to the ground, dislocating her shoulder in the process.

John Coffin then entered the scene to find his wife screaming in pain. He proceeded to beat the living crap out of the deputies.

Surprisingly, once the case went to trial, Judge Rick De Furia dismissed all but one charge against John Coffin, saying he had a "right to resist." He sentenced Coffin to time served (eight days) on that remaining charge.

I say "surprisingly" because it's rare to see the legal system dredge from the depths of its collective memory the fact that mere civilians are not cattle to be herded by anybody with a uniform. All too often, the courts seem to treat a tin badge as a license to abuse and assault -- and to severely punish even the mildest resistance.

From rather humble beginnings, the police in the United States have been elevated to a stature above that of the people they are supposed to protect. Obedience to police is expected for even the most preposterous commands, police are themselves considered exempt from many of the laws they enforce, and crimes committed against police officers often carry greater penalties than those committed against average citizens.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the principles established by Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, as the necessary basis for ethical law enforcement. In particular, principle 7 states:

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Judge De Furia, to his credit, recognized that Deputies Lutz and Ferris were just people who had stepped far beyond the bounds of their legitimate authority when they invaded the Coffin home and assaulted one of the residents. As such, they were subject to the use of defensive force just as if they were any street trash who had climbed in a window.

Hats off to John Coffin for having the courage and determination to go to his wife's assistance. And kudos to Judge De Furia for remembering that the police are no better than the rest of us.



Blogger Kent McManigal said...

Excellent. I posted this on my blog. Thank you.

April 4, 2007 9:13 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

Except that the judge apparently failed to hold the police accountable for their crimes... thus, the rights of the victims here were not reall upheld-- they just got off of being prosecuted for defending themselves.

When the Judge issues a contempt order against the DA until the DA files charges... then there will be some semblence of justice.

April 4, 2007 11:09 AM  
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April 19, 2007 1:44 PM  

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