Merely Being Arrested Can Ruin Your Life

by William Norman Grigg

Recently by William Norman Grigg: Sympathy from the Devil

“You never have a ‘right’ to resist arrest,” insists Des Moines-based attorney Harley Erbe (who is wrong, of course). There are two reasons why Mundanes must immediately submit to “commands” issued by the state’s costumed enforcers, Erbe explains:

“First, officers’ safety is a [sic] paramount consideration. People always think that their arrests are unfair or unlawful; if citizens then had a right to duke it out with law enforcement every time they held that belief then a lot of officers and citizens would be hurt.”

The word “paramount” means “supreme.” Thus Erbe is saying that whenever an armed state functionary decides to abduct you at gunpoint, his safety is always the foremost consideration.

Second, Erbe continues, “the streets are not the time or place for a debate on the legality of an arrest or whether the arrestee has committed a crime. Those are matters to be determined in courtrooms by judges and juries.”

This is a variant of the advice that used to be offered to rape victims: It’s safer to submit than to fight back, because resisting will only make matters worse. It also ignores the fact that merely being arrested is sufficient to ruin an innocent person’s life – or at least to steal a considerable portion of it. This is underscored by the case of Pittsburgh resident Sara Reedy, who was both the victim of a sexual assault and an unlawful arrest.

Eight years ago, Reedy – at the time a 19-year-old expectant mother – was robbed and sexually assaulted at gunpoint while working at a convenience store. When the police interviewed her in the hospital, they refused to believe her account, insisting that she had invented the story in order to cover for the theft of about $600 from the till. Rather than pursuing Reedy’s assailant, the Pittsburgh police detective – who belonged to an agency known to harbor rapists in its ranks – arrested her and charged her with robbery and "false reporting." Although Reedy wasn’t prosecuted, she lost her job – and, eventually, her marriage.

Some months later, the criminal who assaulted Reedy was arrested after he forced himself on another victim. The perpetrator eventually confessed to a number of earlier assaults, including the one against Reedy. She spent seven years and a great deal of money seeking redress through the courts, eventually winning a large civil settlement that fell short of adequately compensating her for what she had experienced.

A recent investigation by the Gainesville Sun found that local police agencies make hundreds of entirely unnecessary arrests every year. The victims are arrested without charge, but the arrest is instantly noted in databases that are used for background checks for employment and housing. Even if the victim’s criminal record is expunged, the digital trail cannot be erased.

Many of those arrests are summary punishment for “contempt of cop.” Others are made for cynical reasons related to career advancement within the state’s punitive priesthood.

Officer Jeff McAdams of the Gainesville Police Department, who is president of the Gator Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Sun that GPD Chief Tony Jones expects his officers to “take control of their zones” – which means making exemplary arrests intended to send a message, rather than led to criminal prosecutions. He also explained that needless arrests of this kind are “encouraged” by supervisors and that building a statistically impressive arrest record is a key to receiving “officer of the month” awards and similar honors.

As defense attorney Craig DeThomasis told the Sun, “We currently live in a world where an arrest destroys somebody’s life.” That’s a small price to pay, apparently, to ensure the safety and enhance the career prospects of the incomparably precious people who compose the state’s enforcement caste.