Do Police Always Lie, Or Does It Just Seem That Way?

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Maryland resident Shawn M. Leake was enjoying an evening drive near Hyattsville on May 25, 2008 when he caught the unwelcome sight of a police car behind him, its running lights on.

When he pulled over he was accosted by Prince George’s County Police  Corporal Steven Jackson, who told him that he was following up on “inquiries” about Leake’s auto insurance. Jackson later claimed that he stopped Leake because the windows of his Cadillac were tinted.

Much about the ensuing conversation, which was captured by Jackson’s dashboard camera, remains unclear. A few minutes into the stop, after Jackson’s backup arrived, the corporal ordered Leake from the car. Puzzled and wary, Leake hesitated, asking why this would be necessary.

“Step out of the car now, or I’ll have you out of the car,” exclaimed Jackson.

“You yelling, but you have to give me a reason to step out of the car,” protested Leake, pointing out that he was trying to comply but his foot was caught on an obstruction.

When Leake finally exited the car, a shaved fraction of a split second transpired before Jackson slugged the taller motorist twice before bull-dogging him to the pavement. During this whole time, as the video clearly shows, Jackson did nothing to provoke the violence; he neither hit nor threatened the officer, nor did he assume a “fighting stance.”

After the two of them hit the ground off-camera, a hissing noise and choking can be heard suggesting that the tax-feeder had pepper-sprayed the driver. Jackson is heard accusing the motorist of hitting him and tackling him.

“You hit me in the f*****g lip,” grumbled Jackson petulantly.

“I did not hit you, man,” Leake replied in a remarkably composed voice. “You hit yourself when you tried to knock me out.”

“Dude, it’s all on tape,” countered Jackson. In his official report, Jackson stuck with his story that Leake “immediately took a combative stance and struck me with a closed fist uppercut to my face”; he then supposedly “continued to fight me and even tackled me to the ground into the next lane of oncoming traffic.”

On the strength of this account — since, as we all know, police never lie — Leake was originally charged with assaulting Jackson, as well as reckless conduct and failing to obey a “lawful” order. Those charges were dropped after the tape made it plain that it was Jackson who slugged the motorist repeatedly before tackling him “into the next lane of traffic.”

That’s right, dude: It was all on the tape.

One would think that Jackson would find himself confronting a perjury charge. One would be wrong, since police apparently have permission to perjure themselves about incidents involving violence.

“When an officer is involved in a violent incident, he’s going to use his best recollection when writing up the statement of charges,” insists Major Andy Ellis, a spokesliar for the Prince George’s County Police. “If there’s a discrepancy, that should be clarified in court.” And, presumably, if it’s the word of a perjurious police officer against that of a mere mundane, well, the “best recollection” of the former would prevail, correct?

Vince Canales, president of the local police union, insisted that the assault on Leake was justified because the video “clearly shows he was resisting arrest.”

Bear in mind that police are taught to treat any uncooperative gesture or behavior, however brief or innocuous, as “resisting arrest”–even displaying a facial expression considered “menacing” by the high-strung, fragile creatures who populate police agencies.

Leake has ample reason to be wary of the police: On one previous occasion he had been arrested for resisting arrest, a charge that was eventually dropped. That spurious, bootstrapped charge is often used to justify petty police harassment of people who haven’t actually done anything wrong.

The, ahem, heroic Officer Jackson, on the other hand, went on three months later to shoot and kill an unarmed man in Langley Park. In that incident, Jackson reported that he was trying to arrest 43-year-old Manuel de Jesus Espina for carrying an open container of alcohol, and Espina — like Leake — put up “violent resistance.”

Eyewitnesses insist that Espina put up no resistance as he was beaten with a baton, pepper-sprayed,  and eventually shot by Jackson.

Jackson is on paid vacation (aka “administrative leave”) while the Espina case is under review. If he eventually faces criminal charges in that case, it will probably be a result of the fact that Jackson, at the time he murdered Espina, was moonlighting as a security guard, rather than acting in an official capacity.

12:09 pm on July 3, 2009
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