Treated Like a Criminal for Being in Public After Drinking
June 6, 2007 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Advice about "Drunk in Public" charges and how to handle my complaints of excessive force and (possible)restriction of my civil rights.

Early Saturday Morning(~2:30am), I was arrested for being 'drunk in public'. Earlier I had drank 5 or 6 beers at a local pub for some friends wedding anniversary starting 7 hours previously with food in between(2-piece fish & chips). I was at the local mini-mart/7/11 when I accidently bumped against a lady who took offense. I apologized, but she acted like I had really accosted her and I went outside basically saying "whatever(I don't want to deal with you, goodbye)". She called the police(btw, my brief impression of her was that she was a bitter, slightly crazy, older lady, but not homeless).

When the police arrived, I was eating crisps outside the store. I cooperated with them by giving all of my information. AS SOON AS I asked if I was "being detained"(a standard question recommended by civil-liberty organizations), and with no further words, I was forcefully handcuffed and put into the police car.

After I was driven 30-some miles south to San Jose I was asked by the 'receiving officer' at the main jail to sign a document. I proceeded to read it and was then told to "sign it, don't read it". I kept reading and said, "I need to read it and understand before I sign". He said, "Just sign it!" and PUT HIS HAND OVER the text. I proceeded to try and write that I had NOT read and understood this document. Once I started this, he gave his buddies the "signal" and I was put in forceable wrist locks by two guards and then put in ankle and wrist cuffs locked to a plastic chair for 7 1/2 hours. The document was probably a standard form and relatively innocuous, but I did not recieve a copy and still do not know what it said. He wrote "refused" or "refused to sign" for all the further questions on the "pre-booking" sheet I was given after I was shackled.

Both of my wrists and one finger are sprained pretty badly and I have a limited abililty to work for the next week or so since I use my hands so much for my livelihood.

They not only sprained both of my wrists and a finger, but they deprived me of two reasonable requests(rights?): Asking whether I am free to go, and the necessity of reading a contract before I sign it. More-so, they PUNISHED me for exercising these "rights".

I am always cooperative and respectful with police. I was neither rude nor threatening to anyone in the course of the night.

I have had my primary-care physician(my chiropractor) document the damage. Pictures are useless as the damage is internal and not terribly visible; slight swelling and some redness.

I'm hoping to find a lawyer who will take me on as a charity case as I have no money. I will also be making complaints with the Office of the Independent Police Auditor in San Jose, and the Palo Alto PD(which doesn't seem to have an citizen oversight organization).

What else should I know? Is this lawsuit worthy? What should I know about initiating complaint processes against the officers?
posted by a_green_man to Law & Government (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your word against theirs, and you were intoxicated and they are the police.

When exactly did they sprain your wrists?
posted by smackfu at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Contact the ACLU.
posted by scody at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2007


IANAL, but I did used to work for the ACLU. No one will touch these kinds of cases (including the ACLU) unless you first follow the appropriate internal affairs complaint procedures that exist for this jurisdiction. However, the ACLU in New Mexico might be able to give you some information about how to file a complaint.
posted by kimdog at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2007


Whatever your eventual course of action, go to the doctor now so your injuries will be documented.
posted by Benjy at 2:15 PM on June 6, 2007


ooops, missed that part. Ignore the above comment...
posted by Benjy at 2:15 PM on June 6, 2007


Response by poster: A couple of clarifications:

"Intoxication" is a relative term. At that point, I was nowhere near being drunk and was fully in control of my actions and remember every detail.

They hurt my wrists immediately after I started writing that I was not able to read and understand the form before signing it. Basically, after I started writing, 2 men behind me each grabbed a wrist and put them in a 'control' behind my back and over my head. I was forced to my knees and held there for ~30 seconds while I repeatedly said "I'm compliant".

This was in California, sorry for missing that point.

OK, so my first priority needs to be approaching the charges against me so that a) I get them dropped, and b) I have the best chances of justice against these officers. Is this correct?

Please continue with the answers. I want to know as much as I can as I pursue this. Considering that it's well known that this sort of thing is rife throughout the system, I don't want to just drop it.
posted by a_green_man at 2:17 PM on June 6, 2007


Jury trial.
posted by rhizome at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2007


Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think the assessment of a chiropractor will hold up in any court. Get thee to a real doctor who can look at and document any contusions, joint sprains, etc.

Without hearing both sides of the story, it's hard to understand exactly what happened here, but it does appear the police tried their damnedest to intimidate you. I wonder if your question about whether you were being detained was seen by them as drunken belligerence. I've never met a police officer with a nuanced understanding of civil rights laws, and just a few episodes of Cops will tell you that trying to outsmart or question the decisions of testosterone-fueled policemen never ends well.

Also, because this will be asked if you end up in court, why were you still hanging around the 7-11? Why didn't you just get your crisps and leave?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:33 PM on June 6, 2007


yikes... I sympathize, but the fact that you had 5 or 6 drinks, by your own admition, will probably make this difficult. Your story and the cops' story will be very different - they may have seen you as belligerent and threatening. You would certainly be asked how you can be so sure you were calm, and if maybe your recollection is a bit generous towards your side. You may claim you were in control but they may claim otherwise.

What I think you really need is something to corroborate your story: witnesses. The old lady, the clerk at the store, friends at the wedding (or preferably someone objective, like a bartender) who can attest that you did not appear to be intoxicated. The problem is, the old lady was freaked out enough to call the police, which probably gave the cops reason to believe you were violent or belligerent. I would think this gives the cops a bit of leeway.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:38 PM on June 6, 2007


If you were taken down to the booking station, request the videos from your interrogation and booking. This should clear up a lot of the he-said/they-said issues pretty quickly, one way or another.
posted by unixrat at 2:46 PM on June 6, 2007


Were you arrested? Were you read your rights? Did you notice - and do you remember - the badge numbers and/or name tags of any of the officers who dealt with you? Once at the station house, did they breathalyse you or make you do any of those DUI tests (standing on on foot, walking a line, etc.)? Were you charged? Do you have a court date?

Follow the complaint procedure - every police station has one. Many (criminal defense) lawyers offer a free 1/2 hour consultation; call around and talk to some of them. You may not have a case. You may have a case, but there isn't anything that can really be done.
posted by rtha at 2:55 PM on June 6, 2007


Best answer: PA's police website has an online personnel complaint form or you can make your complaint by phone to the Watch Commander at (650) 329-2142.

The Office of the Independent Police Auditor in San Jose reviews accountability for the San Jose City Police Department officers, not Santa Clara County jail/correction officers.

While it's understandable you are upset, it would probably help your case if you error checked your details. Being driven 30 miles south to Santa Clara County's central booking means you would have to have been arrested somewhere in San Mateo County as the northern-most part of Palo Alto is only 20 miles north of the jail...just saying accuracy helps your credibility.
posted by jamaro at 3:10 PM on June 6, 2007


Response by poster: M.C. Lo-Carb!:
To my knowledge, a chiropractor is a real doctor in the sense that she can act as my primary care physician, document car accident injuries, etc.

"drunken belligerence" - Asking "Am I being detained/"Am I free to leave" is recommended by the ACLU as a way of clarifying your current relationship with the police.

I stayed around because I wanted to watch the activity around there and was hungry :)

PercussivePaul:
I was calm. I know this because I was far closer to the sober side than the drunk side. I hadn't had a drink in an hour and a half at that point.

No chances at gathering witnesses at the store. The pub was busy and gives lousy service in the first place. I can not only get 4+ people I was with to corroborate my story, but could get dozens of sworn statements from long-term friends that I am always gentle and respectful of people around me.

unixrat:
The video is something I have thought about, but haven't looked into if there actually are cameras there.

rtha:
I don't think being arrested comes into play at all. It is a misdemeanor here and I think the detainment and transport to the main jail is supposed to be to keep you off the street until you sober up. No breathalizer or tests, evidently it is entirely up to the officers judgement and testimony. I only have the arresting officers' name, the transporting officers' name and the recieving officers' name(guy who told me to "sign!"). I go to court on July 17.
posted by a_green_man at 3:26 PM on June 6, 2007


Response by poster: Thanks jamaro! I really looked at their website, did a search, etc and came up with nothing. Considering I spend a fair amount of time in that town I was hoping to initiate the process without any direct contact to avoid retaliation.

Thanks to everyone else also. I know there is slim chance that this wrong will be righted, but I still need to know all my options and if I have missed anything.

Anything else I should know past the above?
posted by a_green_man at 3:31 PM on June 6, 2007


However, the ACLU in New Mexico might be able to give you some information about how to file a complaint.

kimdog, I live in NM and am wondering why the ACLU office down the road would be the go-to folks for this? Are they just that awesome? Should I send them more money?

posted by yohko at 3:42 PM on June 6, 2007


To my knowledge, a chiropractor is a real doctor in the sense that she can act as my primary care physician, document car accident injuries, etc.

Yabbut it sounds flaky. If a judge or jury need to be convinced that you were injured, it'll sound much better coming from an MD.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:48 PM on June 6, 2007


Listen to the corpse, green man. If I were on a jury and you had a chiropractor testify about your injuries I'd be inclined to believe you were scamming.
posted by Justinian at 3:53 PM on June 6, 2007


Yabbut it sounds flaky. If a judge or jury need to be convinced that you were injured, it'll sound much better coming from an MD.

Exactly.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:53 PM on June 6, 2007


Response by poster: I understand about the chiropractor, guys, but an MD would cost me hundreds out of pocket. Something I simply can't do atm.

This isn't the place for a debate re: chiropractic, but a DC is far more knowledgeable about joint damage than any but the most specified MDs since they are essentially MDs who specify in spines, joints, ergonomics etc.
posted by a_green_man at 4:01 PM on June 6, 2007


it's well known that this sort of thing is rife throughout the system

Um...what?
posted by davidmsc at 4:10 PM on June 6, 2007


Wait, is your chiropractor an MD, or is he a guy with a chiropractor degree?
posted by Snyder at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2007


I was calm. I know this because I was far closer to the sober side than the drunk side. I hadn't had a drink in an hour and a half at that point.

respectfully, I don't doubt you when you say you were calm, but my point was you are going to have to prove it and it is your word against theirs, and they are police officers and thus trump you in the courtroom. Character statements from friends are not relevant because they don't prove anything either way. Your word will be questioned because you had been drinking. Judges probably see tons of cases where people exaggerate events in their own interest and the burden is on you to show you are not just another one of those people. I simply can't imagine a judge would risk tarnishing the career of a few police officers without something stronger to go on.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:18 PM on June 6, 2007


I had drank 5 or 6 beers at a local pub for some friends wedding anniversary starting 7 hours previously

What size were these beers? Try to estimate what your blood alcohol content would have been at the time. Type up your calculations and bring them to court.

I understand about the chiropractor, guys, but an MD would cost me hundreds out of pocket.

I think you are overestimating the cost. I actually visited a hand surgeon (yes, an MD) in the U.S. for a diagnosis less than a year ago. Given your current situation you could probably find one who would do it for free.

In no sense are chiropractors "essentially MDs" with a specialty in joints. Frequently the chiropractic understanding of even joints and spines is based on ideas which are not supported by science and are rejected by mainstream medicine. I think a judge is unlikely to see a chiropractor as being as credible as a medical doctor. That's what you're up against.

If you're really broke, then start a legal defense fund and ask your friends if they would contribute.
posted by grouse at 4:23 PM on June 6, 2007


I actually visited a hand surgeon (yes, an MD) in the U.S. for a diagnosis less than a year ago.

I meant to say that it only cost me $60, which is probably less than her prevailing rate. And I didn't have a story like yours, nor was I broke, just underinsured in the U.S.
posted by grouse at 4:25 PM on June 6, 2007


No one will touch these kinds of cases (including the ACLU) unless you first follow the appropriate internal affairs complaint procedures that exist for this jurisdiction.

If you're saying, "wait until IA finishes its investigation before you pursue a civil remedy," I don't agree with this. Internal affairs departments exist for disciplining police officers; in my experience, they provide no mechanism for compensation of victims of excessive force. The avenue for seeking compensation for your injuries is the civil justice system (i.e., a personal injury/civil rights lawsuit). Internal affairs and the civil justice system are separate and completely distinct, with different purposes. There's no reason to wait on your civil lawsuit until the internal affairs process is complete.

Having said all that, I think this case will sound, to most plaintiff's attorneys, like bullshit and not worth getting involved in. A drunk idiot who says he was roughed up by an officer and claims a minor injury, will not be worth pursuing by any decent plaintiff's attorney. The plaintiff is not credible and there's not enough money at stake, so the case is a loser on both counts.
posted by jayder at 4:29 PM on June 6, 2007


Let me clarify, I didn't mean to say a_green_man is an idiot; I was speaking more generally, a kind of shorthand.
posted by jayder at 4:34 PM on June 6, 2007


When the officers showed up at the scene, did they walk up to you, or did they drive? If they drove, you may have been videotaped by the squad-car camera. When I was arrested, my attorney and I went to the courthouse and watched the video from the scene. I'm not sure how such a video can be used in court (especially since I'm not in California), but it may be worth checking out.
posted by bluishorange at 4:54 PM on June 6, 2007


Oops; if you were put into a police car, they must have driven. So I guess the question is, were you standing in front of the car when you were talking to them?
posted by bluishorange at 4:55 PM on June 6, 2007


Best answer: Don't try to manage this process yourself. There are lots of lawyers who do police brutality cases; in an intake session they'll be able to tell you whether you have a case, and will be able to tell you what kind of preliminary evidence you need to assemble, and what administrative or internal complaints to make, if any. Among many other things, they'll know whether or not your personal chiropractor is sufficient as a medical witness. (I'd guess not, but who knows what might fly in California.)

You need to be aware that for this kind of matter there is no such thing as a "charity" lawyer. The police brutality lawyers you'll find will be very interested in the profitability of your case, but they'll work on contingency -- you pay them only out of what you get paid. This is actually healthy -- the way you can be sure that you don't have a case is if the people whose livelihood depends on taking winnable cases won't take yours.

ACLU and other public interest lawyers who don't charge you are also not charity lawyers -- they work for donors who are interested in changing public policy, and will take your case on to the extent it might be a vehicle for such change. Public interest lawyers take a tiny fraction of cases that get brought to them, and only when they have good looking facts -- the public intoxication facts you've got don't look terribly good from a policy-making perspective.
posted by MattD at 6:10 PM on June 6, 2007


I have no idea on any of the legal issues, but just from a distrust-of-chiropractors-in-general perspective, you should really see an MD. You should be able to see an MD at an immediate care facility for <$150.
posted by Alterscape at 6:39 PM on June 6, 2007


FWIW--some years ago I was arrested for some pretty heinous charges. The arresting officer was a family friend. On tape, yes *on tape* they read me my rights, and the officer answers for me, saying that we've discussed it and I'm not going to call my parents. I never answer. Furthermore, ON TAPE, I'm advised against my rights and told that he'll make sure everything works out ok. Guess what, it didn't. Also, my lawyer made no motion to throw out the video taped confession, even though the cop was on film talking about how he told me not to call my parents or a lawyer and about us being friends, etc. *awesome*

Anyway, your best bet is that the receiving/holding areas of jails *usually* have video tape, mostly to help the po-po raise further charges for belligerent individuals, and to protect them against claims such as yours. However, you're not going to get that tape w/o a subpoena, and then it'll most likely be lost.

Contact a civil lawyer in your area, as well as a criminal one. However, do NOT contact a criminal lawyer from your town if it's a small one. Find one from somewhere else in the state, as small town lawyers won't really fight for you. I bet that a ballsy bulldog lawyer will get you pled down to some minor misdemeanor simply by making a mountain out of what is, to them, not a case worth pursuing---they'll drop it. Of course, it might cost you $2-10,000. At that point, you might want to consider lawsuit---but I almost guarantee you it won't go anywhere.
posted by TomMelee at 6:46 PM on June 6, 2007


It looks like your state Attorney General's office's civil rights division handles complaints of police misconduct. I'd call the AGs.

Another thing to consider: while I agree with the folks who have said that you may not have a lot of luck with the private bar on this one, this is the sort of case that certain kinds of laywers eat up. These folks are often members of the National Lawyers' Guild. I'd shoot them an e-mail. Emphasize that you're interested in protecting your rights in the best way possible, and that any information or referrals they can give you will be helpful. You may have to be a rather squeaky wheel with the NLG-- the people involved are often law students, or busy attorneys who are volunteering on top of a full time job.

Finally, assuming that you're actually charged with the alcohol offense, when you go for your arraignment, you'll probably be assigned to a public defender. That person probably won't be able to represent you in your civil case, but as with the NLG, she may prove to be a good source of information and direction.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2007


Best answer: I'll try relate my own experience in Greenville, South Carolina. The short version is that you're probably fucked unless you get a decent lawyer.

I had a similar experience: I was picked up walking home from a bar, about 200 feet from my apartment, by a belligerant city patrol cop. The reason the cop approached me was that I was still wearing an "over-21" wristband from the bar. He got angry when I declined to tell him where I was coming from, and he handcuffed me when I declined to show him my ID. (I told him my name and my address, even pointed to my apartment.) Cops at the station told me I "should have just driven [the 1/4 mile] home"; that's how un-drunk I was. Also, they informed me that I have "no right to walk anywhere in the city after dark" and "I was just asking to get picked up" by doing so.

Mirroring your experience with being coerced to sign a document at the station: I was told that they would hold me until I signed the release for them to send my fingerprints to the FBI. Direct quote: "We'll keep you a week, 10 weeks, or 10 years, if that's how long it takes for you to sign this." I caved after 4 hours. (How the hell is that any kind of consent??)

So, like you, I was really pissed off about the whole experience. I saw a lawyer shortly thereafter. (Write down EVERYTHING before you forget!) He said he could probably get me off for $1000 in lawyer fees. If I wanted to sue the city, which I did (I didn't want money, I wanted a shithead cop out of work), it would cost me $10,000 and I would most likely lose unless I basically had video of them beating me up. (Which there was no police brutality in my case -- although being assaulted and kidnapped by an armed assailant is pretty bad in my book.) And even if I won, the cop would only get a minor slap on the wrist, and any money judgement would be paid by the taxpayers. Ten grand for a $60 ticket. No thanks, I decided to just suck it up and defend myself.

I thought I had a very strong case going in. I was never given any sort of sobriety test nor a breathalizer. I was literally just walking home, on the sidewalk, at 1:30am. Public Intoxication, at least in my town, requires that you be a.) drunk, and b.) a clear danger to yourself or others. I met neither criteria, IMO. I actually expected the cop to get a bit of a talking to for harassing a citizen with a frivolous arrest.

So I get into court, I told the judge I had 4 or 5 beers over 4 hours. Works out to about a 0.06% BAC for my weight. I then read the law aloud, just to be clear on what I was being charged with, including the part where being "drunk" (which I argued that I wasn't) was not sufficient, that I had to be acting dangerously in some way.

Oh no. The judge said, "If you had more than two beers, you were DRUNK, and [this part just kills me] you don't remember WHAT you were doing!" (This summarily invalidated any and all of my own testamony. Neat, huh?) And he's yelling this at me from the bench. I promptly STFU, because at this point, I believe the judge is not rational and I didn't want to argue myself into a contempt charge over a $60 ticket.

There was exactly zero testamony given that I was acting dangerously. Didn't matter. Guilty, pay the fine. :gavel crack:

grouse: What size were these beers? Try to estimate what your blood alcohol content would have been at the time. Type up your calculations and bring them to court.

Bad idea. (see above) I did exactly that, and that's what hung me. The cop said I was drunk, and I admitted I had more than 2 beers; that was enough. In this court, alcohol metabolization was *literally* too advanced a concept. Apparantly, two beers and a 210lb guy blacks out. Yep.

Maybe that's the best reason to have a lawyer -- so you don't have to answer for yourself. Or maybe you could say, "I couldn't tell ya" or "I don't recall" or LIE and say "Just one drink" when asked how many drinks you had. (Doesn't seem worth the risk of perjury to me though.) I'm pretty sure taking the fifth and not answering the judge would have gotten me a contempt charge.

(The judge demonstrably snorted at me when the testified said I declined to produce an ID, even though I stated my name and POINTED to my home. Any ACLU ninja action was the WRONG MOVE, as you found out for yourself. I suspect that the belligerant police street culture in your area mirrors the local judicial culture.)

My guess is that if you defend yourself, the cop(s) will say in court that you were uncooperative, belligerant, physically resisted, and that you were only injured by your own actions. The judge will believe them over you, period. You *might* do better with a jury, but that's a crapshoot too.

If you can't get a lawyer, just pay the fine and join the cop-hater's club with me.

From the bottom of my heart, good luck!!!

posted by LordSludge at 7:12 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


You sound like a Brit in America. Not sure how it works across the sea, but here, cops can do pretty much what they want and there's not much anyone can do about it. Cops are pricks. Let it go.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:42 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Um...what?:

Here, for starters. Also, many people I have spoken to about this specific incident have either had this happen to them or someone they know, or simple aren't surprised at all that this happened. Shocked, but not surprised.

It seems some of you are confusing the two separate instances. The first was the arrest, which contained no excessive force. At worst it can be considered partly overzealous cop and partly a "contempt of cop" arrest("contempt" here could only be because of me trying to exercise my right to understand whether I was being detained). Anecdotally, DIP charges are commonly dropped in court. Though LordSludge confirms my suspicion that it entirely depends on the judge you get.

The second was the submission hold applied to me for attempting to read and understand a document before I signed it. C'mon now everybody, forcing someone to sign a document unread under threat of pain is not what a free country should allow. I'm outraged, and all of you should be as well. Whether the judicial system is actually fair or not is a moot point. I am a smart, caring person with a clear sense of right and wrong and this was wrong. The fact that many of you are pointing to me shows the depths to which this repressive(Right-wing), capitalistic(privatized prisons) government has convinced the general public that the criminalization of common, harmless citizens is OK(and no, I don't talk like this around cops. I'm assertive and unlucky, not stupid).

That said, I know the system is against me; both for being poor as well as not being one of the privileged class that is allowed to use violence on a whim with very little oversight or repercussions.

Wanna print up some Tshirts, LordSludge? ;)
posted by a_green_man at 8:04 PM on June 6, 2007


Best answer: Here's the resource you should probably start with -- Bay Area Police Watch (a project of the Ella Baker Center). They have self-help materials on line, can give you referrals to lawyers, and can tell you where to take your stories (to which public agencies, which public officials). Their groovy lawyer-advocate guy is Van Jones. If you search "Van Jones" on sfgate or similar sites you can probably find more about their work.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:04 PM on June 6, 2007


Best answer: Here, for starters.

Again, for the sake of precision (which will serve to bolster your assertion that you are relaying your story accurately), it would be best to compare apples to apples.

The SFPD, which is the focus of your link, is not the Palo Alto PD (the officers who arrested you), nor the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections officers who booked you in San Jose. Also note that Santa Clara County DOC is not the same organization as the San Jose PD nor the Santa Clara County Sheriff Dept (though the later handles SC-DOC transport).

Here are some articles about officer misconduct within the SC-DOC.

Also, this is the closest thing Palo Alto has to independent police oversight. There is an analogous organization in Santa Clara County, but its efficacy is debatable.
posted by jamaro at 9:23 PM on June 6, 2007


The fact that many of you are pointing to me shows the depths to which this repressive(Right-wing), capitalistic(privatized prisons) government has convinced the general public that the criminalization of common, harmless citizens is OK

Who is "pointing to you?" What does that mean? It seems to me that almost everyone is sympathetic, but you asked if it is "lawsuit worthy" and "what should [you] know." It seems your chances for a civil lawsuit are weak and they are made weaker by the fact that you cannot afford appropriate legal assistance and refuse to find appropriate medical assistance.
posted by grouse at 4:31 AM on June 7, 2007


I don't know if you'll be open to this, but let me chime in here from a neighborhood watch perspective. "Drunk in public" (or more usually "disorderly conduct", you didn't say precisely what your charges were) is a catch-all designation that falls very much on the judgement of the arresting officers. It's the kind of thing that allows them to stop you on the street, the way a broken tail-light allows them to pull over your car. It's also a fallback charge when there's nothing else.

The breathalyzer issue is seen as a magic determinant of drunkenness by the public, but in criminal courts it's just another piece of testimony that can be impeached and cross-examined. An arresting officer, by contrast, can testify that his N years of experience on the street gives him expertise in knowing who is arrestably drunk.

I can't speak for cops in every town, but the ones here are pretty reasonable. If they encounter a drunk on the street, as they did in our front yard last week, if there isn't a complainant ("he pissed in my yard/kicked my dog/started a fight") they'll try to get him to go home first and foremost. The main thing is that you have to stay cool and copacetic during the encounter.

Ironically, though, this probably starts with acknowledging that you're drunk. "I had a few beers, I just need to get home." You were in a dicey situation with the woman, because she could very likely have charged you with battery. (I'm assuming she did not in fact place any charges, otherwise your treatment would have been even more unambiguous.) The fact it started with a confrontation -- even one-sided -- that was called in was a strike against you from the beginning.

Anyway, speaking to your situation and LordSludge's simultaneously, these establishments (the 7-11 and the bar) may already have been on short leashes due to ongoing citizen complaints. Maybe the neighbors got tired of even non-violent drunks stumbling home after hours, and the local cops were getting shift orders to be especially aggressive in discouraging that sort of thing. I know it's one of the things our NW brings up on a regular basis. These days the "neighborhood bar" is usually owned by somebody who lives elsewhere and is hated as much as the neglectful absentee landlord. They make money, the area around the business suffers.

So, this isn't much comfort, but I feel obligated to let you know there's another side here, and that's the people for whom the public drunkenness laws were passed in the first place. "Treated like a criminal for being in public after drinking"? Hell, you just admitted to the crime. That's how it's defined. Pay the fine, apologize to the judge and the arresting officer, and go home.
posted by dhartung at 5:04 AM on June 7, 2007


Best answer: Pay the fine, apologize to the judge and the arresting officer, and go home

And what, just forget about the fact they essentially tried to force him to sign an unknown document, without reading the thing, with the power of the government behind them? The way I read the situation, that was what made the whole thing into something that can't reasonably be taken lightly--Totally aside, of course, from the notion he was not, in fact, drunk. I mean, for the good of God and Country, we should kiss ass, suck up, and take our undue lumps? Comrad, what country are you from?
posted by Goofyy at 6:04 AM on June 7, 2007


Best answer: It blows my mind that it's somehow considered illegal to drink, any amount, and then dare to be out in public. Get back to work, citizen, and don't create such a disturbance next time!

Realistically, you're probably fucked because you live somewhere where enjoying yourself is seen as a crime, but you owe it to yourself and to others who will come after you to file an internal complaint, then see a lawyer. Then, after you have your existentialist protest, move somewhere where people actually live their lives without being in fear all the time.

New Orleans is particularly nice this time of year. Hurricane season just started, we're the murder capital of the country, but at least if I want to go down to the local bar, I can have as many drinks as I want, in the company of friends, served with a smile and a hello. I can even take my drink with me when I leave. I can go out, hear live music and have a couple drinks every night of the week, and not be considered an alcoholic. Sure, I might get mugged walking down the wrong street, but I'd pick liberty over security anytime.

Percussive Paul and dhartung, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Apologies for the rhetoric this early in the morning, but this is how liberty dies.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:04 AM on June 7, 2007


Best answer: One way to find experienced police brutality lawyers is to call one such lawyer (even if they don't take your case) and ask them for referrals.

Probably the most high-profile police brutality lawyer in the Bay Area is John Burris (he's a somewhat controversial person in the legal world, but has been the face of nearly every major police brutality case over recent years). You could start with his law firm.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:30 AM on June 7, 2007


Best answer: a_green_man: [F]orcing someone to sign a document unread under threat of pain is not what a free country should allow. I'm outraged, and all of you should be as well. Whether the judicial system is actually fair or not is a moot point. I am a smart, caring person with a clear sense of right and wrong and this was wrong.

I completely agree. *ANY* coercion to sign a document is wrong, IMO, and should invalidate the "agreement". The fact that they were publically funded authority figures (with a license to harm or kill if you try to defend yourself) makes it worse.

The problem is that in court, I'm pretty sure your own testamony will be called into question (or dismissed outright) because you had been drinking. You know what happened, and I believe you, but cops won't tell the story like it happened. They will say "...suspect became belligerant, we were forced to restrain him, he resisted and injured himself in the process". And, well, it's sorta-kinda true, and they may even believe it themselves, but it's awfully misleading. Your word against theirs. Several good public servants vs. a drunk. You lose.

You literally need video of them beating the shit out of you to have a winnable case. (And in many places, it's illegal to videotape cops. Nice system, huh?)

dhartung: "Treated like a criminal for being in public after drinking"? Hell, you just admitted to the crime. That's how it's defined.

Depends on the law, but in my area, no. The law is written to be very specific about this. You must be drunk + a clear danger. The judge in my case couldn't be bothered to read, or even listen to, the law as written however.

Can't find the statute for your area (heck, I can't even find it for mine anymore), but it's probably somewhere in here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html

I dunno about t-shirts, but I wanna print up some of those "Thin Blue Line" bumper stickers, overlaid with the text "I support police corruption." Of course, I would never put one on *my* car...
posted by LordSludge at 7:30 AM on June 7, 2007


Excuse me? I told him he needs witnesses and stronger evidence if he wants any hope of making a case. This is how liberty dies?
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:15 AM on June 7, 2007


Oh, if you are referring to my comment re: police getting leeway, let me clarify that I don't believe what happened was right (I never said that). Only that a court is likely to recognize that police sometimes need to treat suspects roughly while making an arrest - this is part of the job, especially drunk/disorderly, because often they struggle and resist. If you were pulled off the street for no reason, it's one thing, but having a woman call to complain about you gives the police reason to believe you may be violent. Thus it is not a stretch for a judge to beleive your injury occured during the arrest in the course of standard police work. This sets the bar higher in terms of what you have to prove. Therefore you need stronger evidence. That's all I meant to imply.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:27 AM on June 7, 2007


Best answer: Any ACLU ninja action was the WRONG MOVE, as you found out for yourself.

Not to further derail this train wreck, but an "ACLU ninja" move is not an either-or thing that keeps you from being arrested or not. There are certainly times when asserting your rights will cut short a discussion and result in your immediately being arrested. You're making the incorrect assumption, however, that not asserting those rights will result in not being arrested.

In reality, if the officer has decided that s/he already has enough to charge you then they may simply be on a fishing expedition to see if you'll incriminate yourself or let them rifle through your things. The choices may be get arrested now or get arrested in five minutes after you've said something stupid(er).

Green man may or may not have made some bad moves here but the only one I'd cite in this specific manner is he should have not asked "Am I being detained?" but "Am I free to go?" The first seems too much like a suggestion for my taste.
posted by phearlez at 12:07 PM on June 7, 2007


It blows my mind that it's somehow considered illegal to drink, any amount, and then dare to be out in public. Get back to work, citizen, and don't create such a disturbance next time!

Oh, fuck off. The law isn't there for some fantasy form of social control, it's there because quite often, drunk people annoy actual citizens -- you know, the people who have children, have to go to work in the morning, and who on occasion vote.

... you should be ashamed of yourselves. Apologies for the rhetoric this early in the morning, but this is how liberty dies.

The OP is already, to put it mildly, making a mountain out of a molehill. He admits to having been drinking, he admits to an encounter with someone leading to a police call, yet he admits to no possible reason why he might reasonably have been arrested -- hanging it all, somewhat fantastically, on his asking the cops if he was "being detained". Seems from their wordless reaction (at least, no further words are reported) they had already made that determination. Some things are suspicious, Thoreau once said, such as a trout in the milk. I really don't think we're getting the full story here.

While I have modest sympathy for the OP's bruised wrists and ego, the obvious answer to the signature demand is "not without my lawyer present", and the lack of resort to that maneuver again raises the question of why not, if there was all this jackbooting going on.

What, he's indigent? Well, then the OP has some choices to make. Sounds like the OP chose the hard way every time he had a choice.

If you want to make your stand for "liberty" that won't "die", maybe starting with a dubious arrest for public drunkenness is not your ideal test case. And I agree -- if the object is to have a rollicking good time, I'd pick Nawlins over Santa Clara County every time. Maybe that's just me. Or maybe that's a lot of people, and that's why Nawlins is the Big Easy and Santa Clara is suburbia.
posted by dhartung at 9:45 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that almost everyone is sympathetic,

I take this back.

Sounds like the OP chose the hard way every time he had a choice.

dhartung, being told to sign a document unseen while in police custody is totally wrong. Doing so may seem like the "easy way" but we've seen how people get screwed repeatedly for cooperating with the police, especially by signing documents they didn't understand.

The question now is what can the OP do about it, and it seems they can really only submit a complaint.
posted by grouse at 2:20 AM on June 8, 2007


I suggest paying the fine and putting this behind you. There is little you can do to seek further justice at this point. The cops have the upper hand.

In the future, try to avoid getting into this type of situation.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 6:40 AM on June 8, 2007


There is little you can do

they can really only submit a complaint


Well, that's why there are community groups that organize around police misconduct. They try to make sure that complaints are taken seriously and investigated, get the attention of public officials and the media, figure out if there are particular departments/precincts/officers causing the problems, etc. Clearly they are not always successful, but they are an important influence.

Some of the responses here seem off -- nearly by definition, to be subjected to police misconduct you have to be detained or in custody, which nearly always means you are not-perfect. (And "drunk in public" by itself is not even a crime and seems pretty mild.) There may be more outrageous or violent examples of police misconduct. There may be the rare perfect chuch-lady victim of police misconduct. But that doesn't make the OP's more typical story beyond concern or unworthy of attention.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2007


Best answer: "The law ... is there because quite often, drunk people annoy actual citizens -- you know, the people who have children, have to go to work in the morning, and who on occasion vote."

Awww...did some nasty kids mess up your perfect lawn?

There might be nothing the OP can do because that's how life is, but it's still unacceptable, and to advise him to accept it and move on is equivalent to agreeing that it should be against the law to be drunk in public.

You probably have already willingly given up that right, among many others you're not even aware of. I'll continue to walk down the road, singing, drinking, and dancing. My wife and I, that is, and only after we're done working and voting, of course.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:09 AM on June 9, 2007


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