Bakersfield is full of the nicest people in the world but they seem easily swayed by the ranting of an attorney bent on stirring them against their police department. The current raging lawyer is Mark Geragos. The recent shooting of a Bakersfield Police Department informant is concerning but may have a legitimate explanation. After 20 years as a police detective and 35 overall years as a police officer, I have seen this lawyer ploy countless times. Lawyers use radio, television and the newspaper to stir the citizenry with ideas that the ranks of their police department are filled with jackbooted thugs bent on bloodying city streets. These accusations are most often made before any investigation is completed or a determination may be made as to what really happened, such as did any police misconduct occur?
The lawyer seeks to adjudicate the case in the court of public opinion, not to reveal the truth of the matter. He seeks to goad police officials into making premature public statements which, because the investigation is often not complete, turns out to be either totally or partially wrong. Geragos is well versed in such dynamics.
Before the investigation is completed and any reports have been released, Geragos talks as if he knows exactly what happened. He has now challenged Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson to a debate, knowing full well that the case is still under investigation and any statement the chief makes may help any case Geragos files. The chief is in a lose--lose situation: His hands are tied because of laws pertaining to personnel matters. The chief cannot even discuss the actions of the informant because he was arguably a limited city employee and may therefore fall under some of the same personnel rules. Was he a paid informant or was he just helping the police out of the goodness of his heart? The informant's motivation may be quite germane to the investigation but cannot be discussed.
Geragos mentioned in a recent radio rant that police officers must immediately make a statement to internal affairs investigators. This is not necessarily true.
Officers have the option of either making a statement or writing a report concerning their activities. Officers can also request a period of time in which to submit statements based upon any heightened emotional state they may have beed in following a shooting. Shooting someone in the line of duty is a gut wrenching experience. If the deceased was a law enforcement assistant these emotions may be far more pronounced. It's understandable if the involved officers took a few days to allow their emotions to settle. This does no harm to the criminal investigation because the criminal investigators have no access to the internal affairs statements. These statements are compelled outside of the Miranda decision.
But Geragos can gain access to these statements through what is called a Pitchess motion and use them to impeach officers if they happen to word something a bit differently at trial thereby allowing Geragos to claim the officers are untruthful. How would you like to be asked specifically what you said years after you said it? Then, if you word your answer a bit differently, be accused of lying.
Geragos contends the police should have known the passenger was an unarmed police informant because he was in the process of texting someone on his cell phone at the time of the shooting. Think about this. While the police are ordering the suspect and the informant to comply with their commands, the suspect opens fire at the very time the informant is holding his dark cell phone and texting someone. If you are the police officer and you see a dark item in the hand of someone at the same time the other involved party is shooting at you what would you think? What would you do? We still don't know how or why this transpired, which is precisely why we should wait for the facts to become known before speculation taints the whole case.
Logan Carter is a retired sheriff's captain from one of the largest sheriff's departments in the United States. He was a homicide detective and undercover narcotics officer for 20 years. He lives in Bakersfield with his wife and elderly mother.