T. Greg Doucette on false arrest and police brutality

This post is not from me, but is a remarkable rant from T. Greg Doucette, an attorney in Durham, NC, who took to Twitter to share his experiences defending a young client from charges of reckless driving to endanger, a serious crime in North Carolina. (Greg, if you’re not okay with me collecting these here, let me know and I will take it down.)

I’m sharing it because, as the child of a legal aid defense attorney, I remember growing up with loads of stories like this, and having these stories shape my understanding about law enforcement, criminal justice and power. My father used to frequent courtrooms and offer to defend people facing charges without counsel precisely because stories like this are extremely common.

A couple of things. Greg mentions that this situation is wrong whether you’re Republican, Democrat or undecided, but you may be assuming that he’s a Dem. He’s not – he’s a Republican and a libertarian, and is running for state senate as a Republican.

You may also assume that he’s African American. He’s a white dude, who happened to go to a historically black law school and who runs a law firm with two female lawyers of color. And while he’s getting lots of Twitter love today, he points out that he’s been blogging about these issues for a long time – see this post on prosecuting abusive prosecutors where he features a friend he went to NC State with.

But while Greg’s an interesting figure, what’s important about his rant – IMHO – is that he doesn’t address this as a case of a rogue cop potentially ruining a young man’s life. He sees this as a systemic problem, and as a form of police brutality. Greg’s take may focus on this as a manifestation of a greedy and out-of-control state (he is a libertarian, after all), but he’s absolutely right to point out that when court systems are forced to become partially or entirely self-financing, there’s a strong pressure to increase prosecutions, even when those prosecutions are entirely bogus. Even if Greg’s rant ends up somehow leading to the arresting officer being sanctioned or otherwise punished, the problem he identifies is a systemic one – set up a system where courts need to prosecute people to survive and they will prosecute a lot of people.

I was especially struck by Greg’s identification of this arrest as a form of brutality. It’s a form that’s hard for most white people to see – this young man wasn’t beaten up, wasn’t imprisoned, wasn’t shot. But he was terrified. And his encounters with law enforcement going forward will be colored by the knowledge that power can and will be exercised arbitrarily based on his status as a young black male.

When we look at questions like whether predictive policing is fair and ethical, we need to understand that not all encounters between citizens and police are handled in the most ethical and professional manner we’d like to see. Populations that have grown up with a long tradition of being harassed and brutalized by police are understandably concerned about strategies that identify “hot spots” and promise additional “attention” to those areas, which often turn out to be communities of color.

In watching debates about policing after Ferguson, it’s hard not to be struck by the importance that imagery can have in disputes between police and citizens. Without his mother’s photographs, Greg’s client would likely have been convicted based on the officer’s testimony. Without Feidin Santana’s video, we would never have known that Walter Scott was murdered by officer Michael Slager. And so it makes sense that activists – and the President – would push for officer-worn body cameras.

But imagery alone doesn’t change flawed systems – the video of Eric Garner choking to death wasn’t enough to indict the officers who arrested him in Staten Island. Greg Doucette’s story points to the fact that problems with criminal justice in the US are problems of structural injustice and racism, that a system where power is not held accountable will veer towards abuse and where financial incentives to prosecute crimes leads to unjustifiable prosecution. Props to Greg for identifying this as a structural problem and looking for ways to fix it, and to all defense attorneys who work hard, with little recognition, to fight for the rights of their clients in a system that is often biased against them.


Also published on Medium.

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9 Responses to T. Greg Doucette on false arrest and police brutality

  1. Nate says:

    Convenient how Mr. Doucette can’t provide any corroborating information: Agency, Officer, Report Number, Court, Etc.

    If the Officer blatantly lied he’d have been Brady listed (if not charged, which happens frequently). And Mr. Doucette would have had a professional/ethical obligation to see to that that either of those two things happened.

    Those tire friction marks were not caused by someone swerving from the middle of the roadway to avoid a cat, nor did they occur simultaneously.

    There is something very odd that is not adding up. I think he fabricated the story.

  2. David says:

    Nate, if you actually read his twitter he explains why he doesn’t disclose the officer’s name etc to the public, systematically. It has to do with how he actually manages to defend clients and work with the DA, and the evidence that he legally has access to. His conversation with the DA about the lying officer and the photograph was how he got the case thrown out.

    Not sure where you’re getting that bit about the tire friction marks, I’ve made those same kind of marks when I was a teenager having to stop impulsively to avoid wildlife.

    I’m not sure why you have such a knee-jerk reaction to this story, but this sort of thing happens all the time.

  3. Jim Parlow says:

    Dear Mr. Doucette,
    Your “I’m jumping on the bandwagon of ‘what police brutality looks like’ moved me to let you know what I think. First lets assume everything you blog about this case is true; did you file a complaint with the DA or agency? You are an officer of the court and if you find this blatant disregard of the truth and the courts you are obligated to do something more than sit on your hands and shout on social media. If you did file a complaint the officer would be investigated and if found that he lied as you allege, he would be discredited losing his integrity and credibility, and therefore become unemployable by any reputable agency. BUT…
    Did you yourself go to the scene and look- tire marks can’t be just washed away. Did you speak to the person that actually called the police to have them show you where the incident took place? Did you talk to a skid/tire mark specialist? I agree with Nate, these are not normal ‘avoiding a cat’ marks. What is the speed limit in a residential area as these show a speed greater than acceptable? What other info did you use to come to your expose’ opinion on this incident that your client was telling the truth? Was it more than tears and some photos supposedly taken right afterwards or at some undisclosed location? Was this even the same area that it occurred at?
    As far as the DA, most are overworked and yes they at first glance may have said, it’s just one less trial and less work for me, dismissed. However THIS is one that should have been brought before a jury, for your clients sake and the officer’s. This is a trial without a trial, something that occurs way too often in our overloaded court system.
    I would welcome a public examination of the complaint and the officers response. Either clear his name or charge and boot him off the department. But dishonesty, laziness and blind believing cannot be tolerated in your profession as well.

  4. Tim says:

    @Nate sure….. I can’t honestly believe that you believe that police don’t often embellish or flat-out lie on reports. They do it all the time and the DA never charges them. Just google Jason Desisto for an example that was caught on tape where the affidavit is completely contradicted by video evidence (a security camera). Its also the link for my name. All charges were dropped, but their were no charges against the officers for lying on a official document.

  5. m says:

    Regardless of whether these tire marks look like a ‘cat-avoiding swerve’ or not, one thing is for sure: there are no ‘clear 360 circles’.

  6. @Nate: Raleigh Police Department, Officer D B Moreland, Citation 65239F0, Wake County District Court.

    I *am* flattered that you think I have the time and attention-to-detail to fabricate a story like this though.

    ***

    @Jim: There were more photographs than just the one we released at the time. The address on the mailbox in two of the other photos matched the address of the complaining witness.

    There’s also nowhere in the neighborhood with roadway wide enough to do donuts – the street is just under 24′ wide, and the car is 15.5′ long (meaning a ~29′ diameter donut from the front wheel base to the rear wheel base). No grass or mailbox damage means no donuts. Period.

    No need for a skid mark specialist, just high school geometry.

    ***

    Prof. Z: *THANK YOU* for the kind words — you’re kind of a legend among those of us with computer science degrees :)

  7. Nikita Katenga-Kaunda says:

    Police have a difficult job. In fact, a very difficult job. And I truly do believe most of those cops are decent. But it’s the minority of unscrupulous officers that are ruining it for the rest. And I agree entirely with Greg – it’s a systematic problem. It’s actually akin to a basketball or football fraternity. What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. Many bad cops lie or embellish the truth and even the good cops are aware of it. But they won’t whistleblow – they can’t otherwise they are ostracised and become department pariahs.

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