Sunday, November 4, 2007

Oregon Cop plays fast and loose with the Truth, his DUII arrest record soars

judge, jury, and executionerThis week the Corvallis Gazette-Times reports that city is being sued over a DUII arrest of a completely sober citizen earlier this year. Officer David Cox is widely recognized for the number of DUII arrests he's made- 27 of the total of 35 for the entire Corvallis police force in May of this year, for example. Now he's become recognized for the lousy quality of those arrests. Six of the 27 he arrested had BAC's under the legal limit and were not found to have been using drugs. About a quarter of those he arrested were either not prosecuted by the DA's office or had charges dismissed by the court.

The police department and the courts failed to rein in this cowboy and he finally busted someone who decided to sue. Cox could not smell intoxicants on the driver's breath but insinuated that he'd been drinking and smoking marijuana. The man passed a field sobriety test, blew 0.00 on a breathalyzer, and submitted urine for a drug test that found nothing but a trace amount of codeine from cold medication. He was stone cold sober.

Undeterred by lack of factual evidence, Cox wrote a highly embellished description of the man's appearance and behavior in a police report. 22 of his 27 May police reports repeated the same creative writing almost word for word. Four of the remaining five spun the language a little differently to support Cox's suspicions that drugs were involved instead of alcohol.

This incompetence would be pathetically funny if those people didn't still have DUII arrests on their records. Oregon law does not allow arrests for motor vehicle violations to be removed from a driver’s record, even if the driver was never charged or convicted. Arrest records are accessed every time a law enforcement officer stops someone, for any reason. Employers see the records when screening prospective employees, and a DUII arrest, justified or not, can have a negative effect.

“An arrest for traffic is not expungeable,” said Corvallis defense attorney Jennifer Nash. So when innocent people are arrested, “There is actual damage.”

Courts give greater weight to the testimony of an officer than to the arrested party. There are too many Coxes in uniform to tolerate this bias. In Livingston County, Illinois, where I live, similar official sleight-of-hand is common. When juveniles are stopped for suspicion of possession of marijuana and released for lack of evidence, the police report records a “street resolution” of the incident; that is, the juvenile was released at the officer's discretion. No record is made of what has not been found. The wording is deliberately chosen to avoid this and create an impression useful to the court. The report remains in the record and is considered damning by the court when the juvenile's record is reviewed. This allows the justice system to dance around the letter of the law. You will find that this is common and occurs to some degree where you live.

Let's hope Corvallis listens to its citizens. Read their comments to the article cited above on the bottom of the paper's webpage. Cox should lose his job, as should his immediate supervisor; his department should be censured, and the DA's and judges who became aware of police malfeasance when these junk arrests came before the court should be punished.