Never, Never, NEVER Go to the Police for “Help”

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Several years ago, after catching one of my children trying to steal a small toy from a convenience store, I took him to the local police department to arrange a mini- “Scared Straight” lecture.

A young, polite, and very professional officer explained what can happen to people who get caught shoplifting. I had taught my child the importance of property rights, and my intent was to impress on him the seriousness of violating those rights through theft.

Although that melodramatic little exercise turned out well, as I recall that episode today I can’t help but wonder if I had momentarily taken leave of my sanity.

Every encounter between citizens and law enforcement, even those involving cooperative parents trying to correct wayward children, is pregnant with the possibility of unprovoked criminal violence under the color of state “authority.” Witness the infuriating case of Kathleen Copelin Pastula.

Mrs. Pastula, a mother of four from El Dorado, California, made the tragic mistake of turning to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department for help with her daughter’s drug addiction.

Pastula’s daughter had acquired a large quantity of Xanax she intended to trade for narcotics. On February 10, 2008, Pastula visited the Sheriff’s office in the hope of discussing the matter with Sheriff Jeff Neves. When that request was rebuffed, Pastula refused to leave, out of desperation to help her daughter.

Within seconds, Sgt. Jeff Dreher “threw [Pastula] into a glass-faced display case, twisted her arm and forced her face-first” into the floor, recalls Stewart Katz, the woman’s attorney. “It went from zero to 60 in 10 seconds. Instead of trying to run her off, why didn’t he tell her the sheriff was not even on the premises, which was true, or just give her a complaint form to take with her and fill out?”

After being assaulted by Dreher, Pastula was taken to a jail in Placerville, “where she was tasered, forced to remove all her clothing, and denied emergency medical and psychiatric care,” Katz continued. When she refused an order to remove all of her clothing, Pastula was dragged into an isolation cell. The next thing she remembered was “waking up nude, covered in urine and excrement and covered partly by a `safety’ garment.”

When she begged for a blanket, the jail guards “simply laughed at her,” recounts Katz. The traumatized mother “spent the evening praying, believing her life was in imminent danger.”

As is common in such situations, Pastula — the victim of unprovoked police violence — was charged with the non-crime of “resisting arrest.” That charge was quickly thrown out by El Dorado Superior Court Judge James R. Wagoner, who explained: “I just do not see how a reasonable jury, having heard this information, this testimony, and evaluating the conduct, could find that Mrs. Pastula” had committed a crime.

Pastula filed suit against the county on June 8, and received a taxpayer-funded $127,000 settlement on August 13. Notes the Sacramento Bee: “The resolution came so quickly the county had not yet responded to the suit.”

Horrible as Pastula’s experience was, it could have been much worse if she lived in Sacramento and had sought help from the  Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Several years ago it was revealed that numerous people detained by the Department on minor charges were left crippled or otherwise permanently impaired when they were strapped down for prolonged periods in “restraint chairs.

If you’re a conscientious parent seeking help with a troubled child, the last place you should seek that help would be from the state’s armed enforcers.

(Thanks to LRC reader Kirk Bolas for the tip.)

9:17 am on September 28, 2009