Friday, July 25, 2014

In Re J.G. (Cal. Ct. App. - July 25, 2014)

I guess I can buy the officer's testimony that he decided to drive his car over to talk to 15-year old J.G. -- who was walking across a parking lot towards his brother, D.G. -- for absolutely no reason, merely because he "stops and talks to people all the time."  The officer asks the boys what they're doing, and they say they're going to a party.  Fine.  I'll view that as a nice, consensual, friendly talk.

It gets less friendly when Officer Woelkers asks for their identification.  Less friendly when another police car drives up and a different officer gets out to monitor the situation.  Less friendly when the officers run a record check on the boys.

Still, no reason to suspect anything, right?  Just a "nice friendly chat" for "no particular reason".

Then the officer asks the boys if he can search them.  Presumably because he does that all the time too, right?  That's certainly my experience as a 48-year old white male.  The police are constantly stopping me in parking lots, asking what I'm up to, requesting my identification, and then asking me if they can pat me down.  For no reason.

The boys say yes, and the officers search them.  Nothing.  Meanwhile, another cop car arrives, and two more police officers join the fun.  That makes three police cars and four officers.  For a nice little chat.  Because they "stop and talk to people all the time."

Then the officers ask the kids if they'd be willing to sit on the curb.  Which they do.  Again, the police ask me to sit on the curb all the time.  Then they ask permission to search the backpack.  And the boys say yes.

Lo and behold, there's a gun in it.  The fifteen-year old gets arrested.

On the one hand, clearly Officer Woelkers suspected that something was up, and it's great police work.  He suspected that the kids were up to no good, might even have a weapon, and rather than just driving around all day, decided to do something about it.  Great job.  That's the kind of guy I want to hire.  As opposed to a guy who'd rather sit around in a parking lot, or at a doughnut shop, talking to his fellow officers or surfing the internet on his cell phone all day.

On the other hand, I'd also appreciate a little honesty.  Particularly when placed under oath.  We tend to care about that from those in authority.  Officer Woelkers didn't (IMHO) just stop these kids because they were merely one of many people he talks to every day, no different than any of the others.  He instead had some sort of suspicion.  Maybe based on their ages.  Maybe based on their race.  Maybe based on what they were wearing.  Maybe just based upon an inchoate "hunch".  But there was a reason why he stopped them.  Of that I'm confident.

But he didn't want to testify to that.  Because that might get the search suppressed.  So he instead said that he stopped them because he "talks to people all the time."  No particular reason.

Yeah, right.

I'd prefer forthright testimony as moral matter.  It also may be more efficacious.  Because the search here gets suppressed.

Great police work.  Stuff I appreciate.

Except for the stuff that came after.