Vice Squad
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Police Discretion

The police have a lot of discretion over whether or not to arrest someone, and on what charges might be brought. That is true in all areas of the law, but generally more so with respect to vice offenses, as they generally don't involve a victim reporting a crime to the police.

A generous Vice Squad reader brings our attention to police intervention on the behalf of a friend [a friend of the officer, that is] who was, perhaps, driving while intoxicated. The events took place in Lafayette, Indiana. They are described in this article from the Lafayette Journal and Courier, with updates here and here. One reason it is unknown if the woman was driving while impaired is that the breathalyzer machine at the station wasn't operating, by golly. Rather than take her to another station, the shift commander for the Lafeyette police department decided to release her into the custody of the off-duty deputy chief of the West Lafayette police department. The woman is on probation from a September, 2003, drinking and driving incident, and she had three kids in the car with her. The deputy police chief is friends with the woman's husband, who is a trustee in his town of Wea Township, Indiana. The deputy police chief has been reprimanded for his intervention, though he has not been suspended nor will he receive any other disciplinary action. Sounds like a handy friend to have.

Via Crim Law (who in turn hat tips True Believer), we learn of another case of police discretion, only this time, the police officer is paying a high price. Last November, he stopped a car in Ashley, Illinois, where he was a village police officer. He found a marijuana cigarette but followed the instruction of an Illinois state trooper who was on the scene to forget about it, as the piddling arrest wasn't worth the trouble. Sounds like sensible advice. But the now-former officer faces two felony charges over the incident, one for malfeasance and a second for obstruction of justice. Why the charges? Well, according to the former officer, whose last name is Gibson, he managed to get on the wrong side of a local prosecutor. Here's an excerpt from the account at
Gibson said his firing from his job as an Ashley Police officer is due to a personal campaign against him by [Washington County State's Attorney Brian] Trentman. He said it stems from a drunken driving citation Gibson issued in December to the 18-year-old grandson of a Washington County board member.

The board member, who is also a Democratic precinct committeeman, complained to Trentman. Trentman had the charge tossed on grounds that Gibson was out of his jurisdiction when he issued the ticket.

Trentman, who could not be reached, has denied pursuing a vendetta and has stated politics played no role in his decision to have the DUI dismissed.

But in January after Gibson complained about the dismissal in a newspaper story, he was charged by Trentman with a felony for allegedly making an improper traffic stop several months earlier -- stopping a motorist by using an unauthorized emergency light in his private vehicle. That was the marijuana stop on the interstate.

Gibson in January publicly accused Trentman of having the DUI dropped for political reasons and the next day he was charged for having the light in his SUV. Gibson was jailed until he posted $3,000 cash on a $30,000 bond and his SUV was seized as evidence. The vehicle has not been returned.

Trentman, a former St. Clair County public defender, was then running in the Democratic primary for county judge. He lost to Associate Judge Dennis Hatch.

In the latest charges, which Gibson said resulted from his earlier refusal to plead guilty and accept probation, he is accused of tossing the motorist's marijuana cigarette in a roadside ditch near Interstate 64.
At least this prosecutor wasn't actually elected to the bench.

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