12/01/2006

On Liars, Mistletoe, and Lack of Respect for Colleagues

By Mel Tucker

“The sheepdog must not, can not and should not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb should be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

(Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, "On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs," Police Marksman, Nov/Dec 2005)

I returned to my office on September 22, after testifying in North Carolina as an expert witness on behalf of a female officer who shot and killed a suspect that was trying to run her down with a vehicle. The week before, I testified in Louisiana as an expert witness against a female officer who shot and killed an unarmed suspect. I immediately began making preparations for my next two trips out of town—one to a western state to conduct an 8 hour training program for 60 police chiefs and sheriffs on the legal, professional and ethical standards regulating police officer use-of-force and another to the midwest to deliver a presentation to a defense lawyers’ association on how to best use law enforcement experts in defending police use-of-force cases.

I then picked up my copy of The Police Chief and learned of the passing of former Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis. Chief Davis had been my hero when I was starting my law enforcement career and I attempted to pattern my actions after his. Chief Davis spoke out when he thought we, as a profession, were taking the wrong path. He advocated for representative policing and equal protection under the law when many police departments were still enforcing segregationists laws. I called him frequently. He accepted my calls, answered my questions and offered guidance even though I was just a young chief in a small department at the time. In 1974, when then Boston Police Commissioner Robert J. di Grazia criticized his fellow police chiefs by calling them “pet rocks,” Chief Davis jokingly responded by saying “the only rocks he saw were in di Grazia’s head.” He did not call him a liar nor did he tell him to kiss the mistletoe on the back of his pants. He didn’t because he respected his colleagues and valued debate and discussion regarding our profession.

Then I read my e-mails and saw the guest editorial entitled Werewolves Among Sheepdogs. As a new member of ILEETA, I was disappointed. Everything I have ever heard about Ed Nowicki has been positive. I know he has contributed greatly to the law enforcement profession in the past. His editorial, however, was not a contribution to our profession, but instead, a threat to any person who provides expert witness services to people who believe they were wronged by the police.

I do not know who, in particular, Ed may have been addressing in his editorial. By my count there are 236 former and current law enforcement officers, in addition to myself, providing litigation services for a fee including such distinguished individuals as Geoffrey P. Alpert, Ph.D., Professor of Criminology at the University of South Carolina and the author of textbooks on police use-of-force; Thomas J. Aveni, M.S. a deadly force researcher/trainer/consultant who established the Police Policy Studies Council; William A. Geller, who co-authored Deadly Force: What We Know; Greg Meyer, recently retired captain from the Los Angeles Police Academy; and Neal Trautman, Ph.D. Director of the National Institute of Ethics.

Recently I testified that a law enforcement officer was wrong when he used a Taser on a citizen during a consensual encounter, I believe my testimony was proper because he had no lawful authority to use any force. The officer retained a highly regarded retired deputy chief of a major police department to present his side of the issue. However, the jury agreed with the plaintiff and returned a civil rights judgment against the department and punitive damages against the officer. The retired deputy chief that testified for the officer was neither a liar nor an apologist for the conduct of the officer, and I was not a liar or an antagonist of the officer or his department. I have great respect for the retired deputy chief and understand, as he does, that reasonable people of like experience and qualification can review the same set of facts and disagree as to the appropriateness of the conduct. That’s proven regularly when the US Supreme Court renders a 5-4 decision.

I testified recently that it was improper for a law enforcement officer to engage in sex with female members of his department’s police explorer post and that the department was negligent when they refused to investigate the complaint after it was brought to their attention. I believe strongly that my testimony was proper. The former officer is still serving a statutory rape sentence. I also testified recently for a female officer in Texas that had been sexually harassed and discriminated against by her department. I told no lies when I opined that she had been harassed and discriminated against. The jury returned a verdict in her favor. Although she was the plaintiff and I was the plaintiff’s expert, I looked at the case as defending a female officer’s right to be treated the same as male officers by her department.

Yes Ed, I wish these acts of misconduct never occurred. But they did. I wish I could always testify on behalf of law enforcement officers. But we should do exactly what Dave Grossman said we should do—punish those who discredit the profession by their misconduct. To do otherwise would make us apologists for our profession and destroy our credibility with the “sheep” we are sworn to protect. To attack those who offer their testimony, both for and against law enforcement officers, does a disservice to our profession and is nothing more than a manifestation of the code of silence.

Mel Tucker began his law enforcment career as an FBI Agent and later served as a police chief for four cities in three states. He retired as Chief of Police for the City of Tallahassee, Florida. Mel currently resides in Morristown, Tennessee, and serves as a council member.  

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