How do I help someone achieve justice after he was attacked at gunpoint by the Sheriff's buddy?
November 21, 2006 7:38 PM   Subscribe

A close relative was attacked, beaten and threatened at gunpoint, and the Sheriff and DA are protecting the attacker. How do we use litigation and/or publicity to force accountability?

A close relative was attacked, beaten and threatened at gunpoint in a very rural area. Help was sought from passersby, one of whom turned out to be the attacker's wife (so much for witnesses). When the Sheriff was summoned, he stated that he had known the attacker for ages, and that it was lucky he didn't shoot. The attacker was not arrested. I don't want to give too much detail here, but trust me when I say the attack was unprovoked. Now, the DA refuses to prosecute and Sheriff's department is not inclined to discipline the Sheriff.

I have confirmed that the victim wishes to pursue this, and not let it drop. My family is at a loss as to what to do. There was a meeting with a civil attorney, but he was not interested in the case.

I'd like to know how to make sure that the attacker is prosecuted and that the Sheriff is held accountable. I am interested in pursuing recourse through the legal process, but I am also interested in bringing public attention to the situation in order to pressure the relevant agencies to do the right thing.
posted by univac to Law & Government (27 answers total)
 
Remote it to the FBI, or whoever has oversight over local Law Enforcement (perhaps there's a state level?).

Also, get an elected official involved. They love to be tough on crime, yes?
posted by tiamat at 7:41 PM on November 21, 2006


FBI or state law enforcement or both.

And definitely find a criminal lawyer. Your family should not proceed without good legal advice.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 7:51 PM on November 21, 2006


State AG's office. And document everything.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:52 PM on November 21, 2006


Use the printing press. If you're actually serious about putting effort into this, do some research and print up thousands of flyers illustrating how the DA and sheriff are letting criminals run free. Spend a day placing them door to door, especially in neighborhoods with lots of older folks (i.e. voters). This may not have any immediate effect until elections, but at least you'll get accountability. I feel that a lot of small town areas tend to be corrupt, and the attorneys are of no help as they're in on it and do not want to rock the boat.
posted by zek at 7:56 PM on November 21, 2006


look for another civil attorney ... perhaps one that is a county or two away ...(did the lawyer you talked to say it wasn't a good case, or did he have some kind of conflict of interest or fear of involvement going on?) ... you should look at suing the attacker ... i doubt very much you will get anywhere with suing the sheriff or the d a ... believe it or not, they are under no legal obligation to prosecute a case for you

also, was this in a public space? ... a private space? ... witnesses? ... quite frankly, if this is a case of your relative's word against the attacker and his wife's word, you may as well give up on it ... in fact, that may well be why the d a wouldn't touch it, because he wouldn't be able to prove it

so, if none of the above work, i guess one could always start a website and make sure local people know the url ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:58 PM on November 21, 2006


ps ... if there were hospital bills, you could, depending on state law, sue the attacker in small claims court for costs ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:59 PM on November 21, 2006


And don't tell us what the lawyer told you or what you told the lawyer. You don't want to risk waiving privilege.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:03 PM on November 21, 2006


Tonight, at six: This man was brutally beaten, but a local sheriff refuses to take any action. Find out why, next.

In other words, call all your local TV stations (and newspapers). If you've got a shred of evidence that what you say is true (hell, maybe not even that much), at least one news outlet will force the issue and make something happen.
posted by SuperNova at 8:08 PM on November 21, 2006


So, what else is new. Cops lie all the time. They cover for friends. It is an old story. We need them. But they do what they want. They take a case or avoid it. Newspaper or politician is the best way to handle it. But, good luck trying to find someone to believe a story different than the cop says. Look at the problem from a distance. By that I mean if you heard it from someone else would you believe it. If you can't prove it just forget it. Life is very unfair. And proof has to be more than just your word. Good luck but I don't think you stand a chance.
posted by JayRwv at 8:10 PM on November 21, 2006


You should really get a lawyer before going to the media or launching a DIY flyering campaign. The urge for public justice is strong, but you could really damage your case by going public with it too soon. Plus it sounds like you could well endanger your family. Who's to say this attacker won't strike again, with impunity or even the explicit sanction of his corrupt sherriff relative?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:20 PM on November 21, 2006


There was a meeting with a civil attorney, but he was not interested in the case.

Spidey-sense tells me there's something the victim isn't telling you. If it really was as open-and-shut as you say, any right-thinking attorney would be all over it.
posted by frogan at 8:28 PM on November 21, 2006


You should really get a lawyer before going to the media or launching a DIY flyering campaign.

I concede that point, though it would be a really good idea to consult with a lawyer in the nearest city rather than in or near this county. They might put you on the right track without any vested interests fouling it up.
posted by zek at 8:37 PM on November 21, 2006


If it really was as open-and-shut as you say, any right-thinking attorney would be all over it.

I absolutely disagree. You have no clue what kind of entanglements that lawyer has, who his friends are, or if he just doesn't want the headache of tangling with the law establishment in his community, possibly endangering his other customers' cases, for a dubious fee.

Get a criminal lawyer you can trust; get references, or better, a friend of a friend. That's the best way to get the lay of the land, so to speak.

You can put the heat on the law to "investigate" the case, but if there are zero witnesses besides the complainant (besides the doer's wife, who cannot be compelled to testify against him) you might be stuck looking at the Big Shrug.

But the victim always has access to the court of public opinion (media, blogs) as a last resort.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:58 PM on November 21, 2006


One more thing: Make sure you document everything you can. Contact all relevant law enforcement (DA, FBI, plus the locals) and if they won't act after a decent interval, that's when you have a case for the media. Then at least any decent reporter can see you've tried to go through channels with the system.

In summary, to amplify: The media is a Last Resort.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:00 PM on November 21, 2006


Talk to a new criminal lawyer from a city over before you do anything else. They'll know whether and how to take this case to the appropriate, non-good ole boy authorities. Taking this to the media sounds thrilling, but square anything and everything with the lawyer before you accidentally ruin your case.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:44 PM on November 21, 2006


if they won't act after a decent interval, that's when you have a case for the media.... The media is a Last Resort.

I don't know if it's occured to anyone that if the relative has already been beaten and threatened with their life and there's been no fallout, so maybe media isn't a resort at all unless the OP and family are:

(a) very safely far away
(b) very well protected by some arm of the law, not to mention local friends and allies
(c) very much personally prepared to retaliate very, very thoroughly in kind should any further threat come up.

Using the media really isn't the last resort, but it's best to tread carefully, since in an already corrupt and volatile situation, it very well could trigger a real last-resort conflict.
posted by namespan at 10:33 PM on November 21, 2006


I absolutely disagree. You have no clue what kind of entanglements that lawyer has

You have no clue that the story described above is even real, but apparently, that's less believable than a conspiracy between a guy with a gun, a sheriff, a police department, a district attorney and an independent civil attorney. What planet are you people from?

All I'm saying is, if an independent attorney has refused the case, there's likely more to the story than what appears here. By all means, the original poster's relative should go find another attorney. But make sure the story holds water first. I can think of several instances (self-defense, trespassing, poaching, etc.) where a person could be "attacked at gunpoint" and the powers that be would be justified in doing absolutely nothing.
posted by frogan at 10:46 PM on November 21, 2006


DOJ Office of Civil Rights
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 PM on November 21, 2006


frogan, you might be right. But they might just be in a small town. We don't know enough.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:56 PM on November 21, 2006


univac: I'd like to know why the DA declined to prosecute. What were the specific reasons given? Was the case declared unprovable, or something else? This seems to be your major problem here, criminal-justice-wise. (This presupposes your relative sustained some kind of injury. There are plenty of towns -- small and big -- where someone waving a gun in your face and swearing at you doesn't get them arrested.)

And on the civil side, I'll join the chorus. Find another civil attorney who'll take the case. If your relative sustained physical injury, there's a price to pay. (But, as above, if they were just scared and their feelings were hurt, however, it's a tougher sell.)
posted by turducken at 12:07 AM on November 22, 2006


You aren't giving us the whole story here. Which is fine, but it may have something to do with why the various people above have refused to do anything, and may get in your way as you try to take further action.

If you're actually serious about putting effort into this, do some research and print up thousands of flyers illustrating how the DA and sheriff are letting criminals run free.

If you do this, please spend a lot of effort on designing and proofreading the flyers. Otherwise you will look like a nutter—I know I've seen these kinds of things before and ignored them.
posted by grouse at 1:52 AM on November 22, 2006


apparently, that's less believable than a conspiracy between a guy with a gun, a sheriff, a police department, a district attorney and an independent civil attorney. What planet are you people from?

earth ... there are actually locales in this country where it can be hard to get a lawyer who will go up against the local power structure ... this isn't the first time i've heard of people being unable to get a lawyer to sue a local power broker because they all did business with him ... it really does happen in some rural counties
posted by pyramid termite at 4:38 AM on November 22, 2006


What's the point of getting a criminal attorney again? It's the DA who has to decide to prosecute in the US. (In some other countries, you can bring a private prosecution.)
posted by footnote at 5:09 AM on November 22, 2006


Is your relative prepared to deal with several years worth of violent harrassment? Because that's what you're potentially looking at, based on purely anecdotal "evidence". You'll win in the end, but only because the criminal has gone completely off the deep end and done something the sherriff can't keep quiet (like kill your relative in broad daylight on main street).
posted by aramaic at 5:55 AM on November 22, 2006


You have no clue that the story described above is even real, but apparently, that's less believable than a conspiracy between a guy with a gun, a sheriff, a police department, a district attorney and an independent civil attorney. What planet are you people from?


Let's make this less abstract. Let's say Lawyer Bob and Cop Harry know each other for 20 years, and have a decent working relationship. Then say Complainant Joe wants Bob to take on Jake the Snake, who happens to be one of Harry's friends or relatives.

Bob doesn't tell Joe he knows of Jake indirectly. Bob tells Joe he's not interested in the case (professional conduct rules don't attach if you're not hired).

Then after Joe leaves shaking his head, Bob calls Harry and tells him that Jake has a problem.

Sad to say, attorneys in lots of places - not just small towns - have a vested interest in maintaining a close relationship with cops and prosecutors. It breaks all sorts of professional rules to do so, but I know of cases in three jurisdictions, in three U.S. states, where lawyers worked against potential clients' best interests in such a manner.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2006


FWIW I am inclined to agree with "frogan". That does not mean that an injustice has not occurred but only that we have very little information available to justify a conspiracy theory.. I am not persuaded by univac's reassurance to "trust him". He maybe accurate or he may not be. Criminal prosecution is not as easy to implement as is often thought. It would seem to me that the prudent thing would be to consult an attorney who is familiar with the venue but not part of it. Discuss options including civil recourse and accept the conclusion. Given the information presented it would seem that much hinges on the credibility of the alleged victim and physical evidence.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2006


Thanks, Metafilterians. I appreciate the frankness of some of the comments. Sorry for the lack of detail, but as some of you have acknowledged, it's probably best not to divulge too much on the interwebs right now.

This is tough to deal with because I'm a couple of states removed from the situation and am trying to help from a distance. But I'm thinking that scheduling visits with local officials might be helpful. You know, to go over the heads of the ones doing the stonewalling.

I'm particularly interested in finding out if anyone has any particular expertise in this area.
posted by univac at 11:45 AM on November 29, 2006


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