Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission: A corrupt cop's best friend?

Former Milwaukee police chief Nanette Hegarty may have done some dumb things during her stint at the helm of the seemingly rudderless ship but she wasn't always wrong.

Hegarty did the right thing when she fired Officer Alex Ayala for covering up that his younger brother falsely assumed the identity of a dead cousin to work as a Milwaukee police officer.

Specifically, she accused Alex of lying to federal agents who were investigating his brother, Oscar, by saying that Oscar lived in Mexico when, in fact, Oscar, also a Milwaukee officer, was using the assumed identity of Jose Morales.

Oscar, an illegal immigrant, was later successfully prosecuted for falsely representing himself as a U.S. citizen. He received one year federal probation and was ordered deported.

As harsh as it might seem to some, the chief did the right thing by canning Alex. The Fire and Police Commission, however, reversed the chief and ordered a ten-day suspension.

Ten day suspension? That's not even a slap on the wrist. It's a tickle.

While it's hard not to feel a little sympathy for the Ayala family, the problem isn't just about one brother trying to cover up for the other. It's not that simple. It's not about sympathy.

What Alex did was compromise his ability to be an effective police officer, period.

The duties of a police officer include not just suppressing -- or trying to suppress -- crime on the streets but cooperating in the prosecution of accused lawbreakers and that means testifying in court.

Every time Alex is called to the witness stand the law allows him to be impeached by his untruthfulness, and, in the vast majority of arrests, the evidence boils down to the word of the officer vesus the accused.

Think about it. Routinely an officer might testify that he or she saw a driver cross the center line, or speed, or that a suspect orally confessed or gave permission for a search. In many, many cases there will be no corroborative evidence so it's the word of the officer vs. the accused who claims that he wasn't speeding or didn't cross the center line or she didn't confess to beating her child or giving permission to search her car for drugs. When that officer has a demonstrated history of untruthfulness -- especially in the context of a criminal investigation -- then who should the jury believe?

In our criminal justice system, an accused criminal does not have to prove that he or she is innocent. The burden is on the state. Further, juries are instructed that if they can reconcile the evidence with any reasonable hypothesis consistent with the defendant's innocence, they should do so and return a verdict of not guilty. When the arresting officer has a documented history of untruthfulness a jury is within its rights to disregard all or part of uncorroborated testimony.

True, Alex didn't beat Frank Jude or allow Dahmer to go along his merry way. But he nonetheless destroyed his own credibilty and with it his ability to be an effective police officer. As such he does not belong on any police department.

But the nitwits on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission are either too dumb and/or corrupt to understand this so they put a lying cop back on the job -- one that he can't effectively perform.

At a time when this state's largest city under siege by criminals and the police department has been hit with the tarnish of highly publicized cases of police misconduct, one would think that the Fire and Police Commission would set the proper tone that corruption at any level won't be tolerated.

But they didn't. Milwaukee continues to burn because those who are running the show are either too inept or too corrupt or both.

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

Exactly my take on it.

Compare the Denver security-guard/ex-cop who was fired from her police job in MN. for lying about cussing at a bus driver in some minor brouhaha.

She was canned precisely because of impeachability--certainly NOT because the incident was major.