Ramon Perez: One Good (and brave) Cop

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Ramon Perez, a homeschooling father of four beautiful children and a part-time lay preacher, was a rookie police officer in Austin, Texas when he responded to a domestic violence call in January 2005.

On arriving at the address, Perez discovered that the squabble involved an elderly couple. The woman had been pushed down the stairs; the alleged assailant, an elderly man in frail health, was leaving the scene. One of Perez’s associates “lunged” at the man, took him down, and ordered Perez to shoot the elderly man with his Taser. Perez, fearing that the suspect wouldn’t survive, refused to do so, choosing instead to take him into custody with “soft-hand” tactics.

Perez believed the use of potentially lethal force in that situation was unwarranted, unconstitutional, and illegal. It would also have violated the “use of force” policy established by the Austin Police Department. Nonetheless, his refusal to carry out an illegal order would cost him his job.A few weeks after that incident, Perez was summoned to an interview with department psychologist Carol Logan. He was told the meeting was about “improving communication with his superiors.” That was a lie: He was covertly being subjected to a “fit for duty” review.

Logan concluded that Perez was unfit for duty because of the inflexibility of his religious and moral beliefs: As a Christian, Perez’s beliefs were an unacceptable “impairment” to functioning asĀ  a police officer, because — as demonstrated by his refusal to obey an order to subject a non-violent elderly suspect to a potentially fatal Taser shock — he believes in a moral duty beyond mere obedience to his superiors.

Given the choice of being terminated “for cause” and losing his peace officer license, or resigning and finding work elsewhere, Perez chose the latter. He then filed a religious discrimination suit against the APD. His former superiors sought dismissal of the suit based on “qualified immunity,” that magical claim that makes official misconduct disappear. But in this instance the incantation failed.

On September 8, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s denial of the qualified immunity claim, allowing Perez’s lawsuit to proceed. The appeals court observed that “there [is] a genuine issue of fact as to whether Defendants terminated Perez for his religious beliefs,” one that a jury should decide, rather than being dismissed prior to trial.

Irrespective of the outcome of Perez’s lawsuit, two things are quite clear:

First, although extraordinary efforts are made to retain police who commit crimes of violence against innocent people under color of “authority,” police who refuse orders to commit such acts can expect summary termination;

Second, Ramon Perez is a man of uncommon integrity, and his example should inspire other honorable men in law enforcement to interpose themselves between the public and the rising tide of official lawlessness.

9:17 am on September 23, 2009