Last August 26, an elderly man in northwest Dallas called the police to report that a stranger had knocked on his door and demanded money. Three officers were sent to the area -- Senior Corporals Michael Loeb and Antonio Lopez, and rookie Officer John Hoover.
The officers came across a 19-year-old man named Michael Reyes whom they briefly detained as a suspect. Absent any evidence that Reyes had committed a crime, the teenager was released, but not before the officers had a little fun.
A local eyewitness named George Gaytan reported that Lopez told Reyes: "If y'all hurt ... this old man, I'm going to come back and kill you and kill your gang members."
Reyes was then taken into the police vehicle driven by Officer Hoover; he and his partner, Senior Cpl. Lopez, drove Reyes to a nearby car wash with Officer Loeb following them.
Once at the car wash, according to the official reports filed by Lopez and Loeb, a pepper spray canister malfunctioned, resulting in Reyes being thoroughly, albeit unintentionally, doused with the asphyxiant.
Reyes offered a much different version. By Reyes's account, on arriving at the car wash, Lopez ordered him from the squad car and threw his wallet and cell phone on the ground.
When Loeb arrived, he grabbed the teenager "by the back of the neck with one hand and he used his other hand to push the back of my arm and threw me on the ground," recalled Reyes in an affidavit filed with the Dallas PD's Public Integrity Unit. "I told him that was not right and I asked him why he [had] to be doing ... s**t like that."
Loeb "pepper-spray[ed] me while I'm talking to him," continues Reyes's account. "He kicked me in my left side and on my leg, my right leg. The other two officers had come back and they saw the other officer mace me." He then "pulled out his Taser and told me to try and do something."
Senior Cpl. Lopez's account "confirmed" that Reyes was inadvertently sprayed by a defective canister.
However, Officer Hoover -- the only rookie on the scene -- offered a version that confirmed the most critical point in Reyes's complaint, namely that he was the victim of an unprovoked, deliberate pepper spray assault:
"I saw the suspect on the ground and Mike [Loeb] with his pepper spray out and a cloud of pepper spray near the suspect. As we pulled up the suspect was able to get up and move a few feet before falling back to the ground with Loeb right next to him. Loeb then gave him another spray of pepper spray.
Shortly thereafter the three police officers met at a convenience store to work out a cover story. Hoover initially remained quiet about the assault and cover-up "because I was scared and I feared retaliation." After his conscience had time to work, however, Hoover filed a truthful account.
How did Lopez, Hoover's trainer, explain the discrepancies between Hoover's version and the story presented jointly by the other officers?
"Rookie officers interpret and see things differently than more mature veteran officers," asserted Lopez in a formal statement.
Which is to say that rookie officers -- at least some of them -- haven't yet been assimilated into a culture of situational dishonesty in which lying is deemed appropriate to protect one's "Brothers in Blue."
Tanya Eiserer, the Dallas Morning News reporter who covered this story, offers the following observation:
"Many police officers differentiate between `noble cause corruption' and `bad corruption.' `Bad corruption' would be something like taking a bribe or robbing a drug dealer, and they would not hesitate to report such criminal behavior. The line gets blurry when dealing with so-called `noble cause corruption' -- the idea that police are at war and the ends justify the means, i.e. raiding a drug house without having probable cause to do so or roughing up a gang member. It's in those cases that officers suddenly get the `I didn't see or hear anything' syndrome."
What this means is that "noble cause corruption" is another facet of the martial law mind-set that has become so commonplace in domestic law enforcement: Since the police are "at war," the only thing that really matters is "victory," even if that means covering up some "collateral damage" on occasion.
And it should be remembered that "noble cause corruption" is more dangerous than the relatively petty variety, since the former involves the abuse of power at the expense of what are supposed to be our constitutionally protected liberties.