American Justice: Small Town Sheriff Plays Favorites
My wife and I are involved in a quiet feud with a neighbor which has devolved to the neighbor apparently filing a complaint with the Bradford County (Florida) Sheriff's office about us and a relative claiming one or both of us cut his fence. (To be fair, we filed first for cutting down our trees to make way for his fence; the difference is we know he did it.) The following is a longer version of my first draft of an article I am thinking of submitting to our weekly's letter to the editor. It is longer because with Hubpages I can add more background and color to the story in order to, hopefully, make it more interesting.
The Cast of Characters
THIS ARTICLE WILL NOT USE REAL NAMES TO PROTECT both the innocent and the guilty; but it is being written to suggest there is strong circumstantial evidence that our Bradford County Sheriff's Department is playing favorites and even worse, wasting your money. The players are:
- Ms A., whose property has been broken into four times over the last several years with items stolen from both inside her house, from her yard, and from her car.
- Mr. B whose owns a very large piece of property that he recently fenced.
- Mr. and Mrs C. whose trees Mr. B cut down when preparing to put in the fence.
- Mr. D who also had his property stolen from a shed in broad daylight on Hwy 301.
- In the interest of full disclosure, Ms A, Mrs C, and Mr. D are all related.
- The Bradford County Florida Sheriff's Department
These are the ingredients in this little drama.
Ms. A's Tale of Woe
MS. A HAS EXPRESSED ON MANY OCCASIONS TO WHOEVER WILL LISTEN about her disappointment with the lack of meaningful follow-up from the Sheriff's office for any of the four burglaries she has suffered through over the years. Its not that where she lives is a high crime city; on the contrary, she lives on a quiet street with other houses with large lots in the small rural burg of Keystone Heights, FL. Nor is she alone. For years now, one scoundrel or another has been making life miserable, on a relatively frequent basis, in the 1/2 mile radius around her home.
In Ms. A's case, she has suffered:
- Dec 2008 - High school kids broke into her house in broad daylight stealing some cash and other small items, e.g. a camera; the house sits some 200' off the road.
- Jan 2011 - Someone broke into her husband's truck at night on a lit carport and stole tools and an air rifle as well as a purse and medicine from her car. The detectives refused to take pictures of the crime scene. After this, a house alarm was installed.
- Jan 2012 - Someone broke into her car at night and stole a purse with a bunch of uncashed checks in it; the car was locked, so the windows were broken, and there was no fence but the car port was lit.
- 2014 - Someone broke her newly installed gate and stole three dirt bikes from her yard one night. Two didn't work and one was a friends. Now there was a fence, but to no avail.
I want everybody to understand that these are very serious crimes, fortunately not violent, but emotionally devastating for the family. In fact, the oldest son, now 13, has just gotten secure enough to stay home alone; although he still gets nightmares.
In each case, Ms. A reported these crimes to the Bradford County Sheriff's Department and each time a detective dutifully showed up and took a report; one time, I think, they even bothered to dust for prints. In no case, to my knowledge, did Bradford County law enforcement solve anything; in fact, based on the answers Ms. A got each time she inquired, it doesn't appear anything had been done ... they didn't have the resources was the refrain; it wasn't important enough!
To be sure, Ms. A didn't let sleeping dogs lie, instead, she did her own investigating, for example, she took pictures of footprints when the investigating detectives didn't. She drove here and there looking for her property. She patrolled at night looking for people who didn't look like they belong. But, most importantly she talk to a Clay County high school resource office asking what he knew and could he keep an eye out. As a result, this Clay County official (Keystone Heights sits on three counties, Bradford, Clay, and Alachua; and Clay is a stones throw from where she lives), ended up solving two of the cases; the house break in and and stolen air rifle, where Mrs. A's pictures became critical evidence. She also forced Bradford County to coordinate with Clay County in the second case. Finally, the owner of the stolen dirt bike found it on Craig's List for sale in Jacksonville and had their police retrieve it.
To be fair, the Bradford County Sheriff did increase patrols in and about the neighborhoods surrounding Ms. A's home ... for a little while; but that was the extent of any "investigating" that Ms. A is aware of. (They were a visible presence in my neighborhood until about 2015, when, for whatever reason, the patrols stopped coming around with anything close to the same frequency.)
The point to keep in mind is that very little effort seemed to be put forth on behalf of Ms. A for fairly serious crimes.
A Chance For Redemption Missed
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, MR. D. HAD A PISTOL STOLEN FROM INSIDE HIS HOME from a secure location by someone hired to do work in the house. The Bradford County Sheriff was contacted and they came out to take a report. In this case, the thief was quickly identified, in fact, they knew where he lived in another nearby county. Upon inquiring, Mr. D. was told that yes, they did send someone out, but nobody was home. But, because of a "lack of resources" that is apparently where it ended; the weapon has never been recovered.
Then last year, Mr D. reported to the Sheriff that his shed, in a fenced back yard, had been broken into and several expensive items stolen. Once again, the deputy showed up, took a report, and left … and that was it. Nada.
The Case of the Disappearing Trees
FAST FORWARD TO 2016 WHEN MR. AND MRS. C WATCHED FROM their home and backyard as Mr. B cleared trees to make a road of sorts along the border of some wooded property he recently bought which borders the C's home; there is about 150' in common. He used a combination of machinery and power saws. Apparently this was in preparation for putting in a fence. There was no harm, no foul in his doing this, it is his property after all (just wish he had started a little later in the day, but then you can't have everything). But hear is the problem, Mr. D not only cut down his own trees, he also cut down Mr. and Mrs. C's trees that bordered where he wanted to put the fence.
Did Mr. and Mrs. C know it was him? Yes, he was the only person out there operating a power saw and other equipment the day before his handiwork was discovered. What they discovered was several of their trees had been destroyed. And, it was no accident because the surveyors states Mr. D had put in were still there and easily visible, but he evidently didn't use them as a guide.
At the end of the day, he encroached up to a foot or so on Mr. and Mrs. C's property and removed 6 to 8 trees. Granted, most of the trees were small, but they would have grown to make a reasonable sound and sight barrier to whatever he may do with his property (he once threatened Mr. C to put pigs out there). One tree, unfortunately, was over 6" across; it was already a sizable tree. When confronted about this, Mr. B at first denied having done it, then said it wasn't on our property, and when shown that it was, he said "Ms. C didn't see him do it". Actually, that is true, but the day they were cut down, as was mentioned before, he was the only one running the machinery and power saw cutting where our trees had been.
Mrs. C proceeded to call Bradford County herself to report the destruction of property and minor trespass, minor offenses to be sure, when compared to the violations Ms. A and Mr. D suffered, but crimes nevertheless. A deputy dutifully showed up, took a report, claimed he couldn’t do anything about since he didn’t personally see Mr. B. cut down the trees, said it was a civil matter and left. And that is where the trespass and destruction of property was left by the Bradford County Sheriff's Office. (It is a good thing other law enforcement organizations don't take the line that they must "see" the crime before doing anything about it.)
Keystone Heights, FL
Coming To The Punch Line
NOW WHY AM I BORING YOU WITH THIS CRIME STORY? WHAT IS THE POINT? Well, let me tell you. A few weeks ago someone cut Mr. B's fence on the far side of his property far away from Mrs. C and sort of close to Ms. A. And just like Ms. A, Mrs. C, and Mr. D before him, Mr. B filed a complaint with the same Bradford County Sheriff. But, in the big scheme of things wouldn't you think that fence cutting ranks just above minor trespass, but below cutting down trees and FAR below burglary? After all, fences can be repaired and there is no real psychological damage associated with it. Trees can't grow back (anytime soon) and the damage caused by a personal violation of ones home and property may never be undone.
So, what did the Sheriff's office do about this horrendous crime of cutting Mr. B's fence? . Well, given what transpired, I would assume a deputy came out, looked at the cut fence, and made out a report. But here is the difference, even though the Sheriff didn't see the crime committed, he must have been concerned enough to find some of those scarce resources not available to real crimes and took the time follow up with a real investigation!.
How is this known? Because Mr. C, Mrs, C and Ms A. were contacted by the sheriff's detective. The investigators apparently took the time to dig up information on these people for the detective somehow knew Ms. A and Mrs. C were related and was familiar with the tree cutting episode has well. Why did the detective know this; in fact why did she specifically seek out these three individuals? Why didn't the detective interview anyone else, even though the detective claimed that she had? Because, as was later determined, Mr. B named Ms. A and Mr. and Mrs. C in his complaint.
As just noted, the detective doing the interview "claimed" that she had met with most other neighbors on Ms. A and Mrs. C's street; apparently to hide the fact that they were being investigated. Well Ms. A contacted all of her neighbors and found the detective did not talk to them or leave a message. Mrs. C has talked to at least two neighbors on her street and this was all a surprise to them.
Further, while the veracity of the detective can't be verified in her claim she interviewed others on Mrs C's street, because she has not contacted all of her neighbors yet, she does find it very suspicious that 1) after being interviewed by the detective, she watched her drive out of the neighborhood and 2) the deputy arrived at about 9 AM after supposedly, according to the detective, interviewing people in over a dozen households on the street.. The detective claimed, like she did with Ms. A, that she had gone up and down her street asking if anybody saw anything (impossible since the damage was over a ½ mile away) and warning them to be observant. She must have got a very early start.
In addition, as briefly referred to already, Mrs. C found it interesting that the detective happened to know two things she probably shouldn't have known; 1) she knew of the relationship between Mrs. C and Ms. A and 2) she knew about the tree cutting incident when Mrs. C brought it up (she defended the deputy’s actions, or lack thereof, by the way). How did the detective know this if they had not been investigating Mrs. C and Ms A.?
OK, what is the Big Deal that the Bradford County Sheriff's Office decided to investigate this particular crime and not any of the other six that I have discussed? Well, all of the other actors in this play think that 1) Mr. B had an ax to grand with the C's and 2) Mr. B has close family links with the Sheriff's office. You might not find this suspicious, but it certainly sounds that way to me.
Was it that Mr. B was told about C's complaint to the Sheriff? Why else would he seem to have returned the favor.? Given the totality of what is known, that is the only logical conclusion that is available.
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
It's The Culture
IN DAYS LONG GONE BY, I ONCE TRUSTED THE POLICE ... I NO LONGER DO. Not because of this incident for sure; I lost my trust decades ago. It began in the late 1960s when I listened to a "friend" of mine in college in San Luis Obispo, CA relate how cool it was to "spot" a marijuana seed on the floorboard of a moving car, pull them over in order to arrest them for possession (they picked on hippie-looking young people, so the chances of finding something was high). This was my first run in with police profiling and police malfeasance. (And no, I wasn't one of those hippies, I was one of those right-wing Vietnam war supporters; still am, actually ... Vietnam War supporter that is, but, no longer right-wing.)
After 48 years of listening to year after year, report after report of police misconduct, from the planting of evidence at the O.J. trial to the pummeling of Rodney King, to the shooting in Walter Scott's back. Keep in mind I was, and still am, a law and order type, but there is plenty of reason not to assume the police won't plant evidence, lie, harass, or, in this case, play favorites, and all of the other crimes of which they have been found guilty; the few times their thin-Blue line was cracked. (I trust the prosecutors even less, btw, because of the frequency of skirting the law in order get a conviction, any conviction.)
I realize I am condemning all law enforcement, but, I am really not. I do know that the majority of police (and prosecutors) are honest, that they joined for the right reasons, that they stayed honest, and they really want to "protect and serve". But here is the problem, I don't know which ones to trust, largely because law enforcement protects its own and a lot of guilty cops get away, and because they do, there is no particular reason for bad cops to change their ways.
What I am talking about here is the culture within those whose job it is to protect us. More to the point, it is the leadership within those organzations who is failing the public, not the individual officers or officers of the court. As any manager or leader (there is a difference) knows, if management doesn't set AND enforce the standards, then nobody should be surprised that those who do the work on the ground will end up being a disappointment; they're human after all. And it is the rare human that is self-motivated enough to do the right thing on their own volition without guidance from above;.most humans take the easiest course possible if given the chance.
Simple observation shows that human beings, by nature, are prejudiced and even bigoted to one degree or another to others not of their own kind and this should not be a revelation to anybody; and this writer is no exception. It is the mature and rational person, however, who recognizes this defect in themselves and develops the virtue of overcoming it, at least in how they treat others. Unfortunately, there is way too large a segment of society, including American society, that aren't mature or rational, or worse yet, neither. Further, studies clearly demonstrate that as one approaches the political and/or religious extreme, e.g., religious fundamentalism, then the less likely one is to be either mature and/or rational.
To our point here, the more a human is drawn to believe in authority as paramount, the more their tendency is toward outward expressions of prejudice and bigoted behavior. This leads us back to - why people choose law enforcement in the first place. It seems to me it is one of two things. The first and most frequent is an honest desire to help society . to serve and protect. The second, and unfortunately way too common, is the desire to control and enforce one's own belief in right and wrong on others. Looked at another way, this second motivation is to become a legal bully.
The only force that is capable of hiring more of the former and less of the latter is senior management in law enforcement for they control the hiring and firing as well as set the standards of what is acceptable behavior. The only way these people can be influenced is by the voters, if they are elected, or by the city/county/state government; all of whom are also elected (so it comes down to the voters again).
But here is the problem, mainly in the South but certainly not limited to there, there are many communities, even States, who overtly display prejudice and bigotry to certain classes of American residents. So if the community feels this way (or at least its leadership) why should we expect law enforcement to act any differently; after all they simply reflect civic values, don't they?
Now that is a harsh reality of which I expect a lot of push back; but push back or not, this hard truth has been supported in study after study, such as these reported in this somewhat right-of-center magazine, US News and World Report, which clearly demonstrate that racism in America is not the exception but is still institutionalized. And if racism, and its related anti-social behaviors, is alive and well in America, then it must follow that it is alive and well in law enforcement where such practices are endemic.
On a final note, law enforcement is, unfortunately, seeing the results of the increased publicity generated from the ubiquitous cell phone camera in the form of more attacks, some of which are fatal, by those who are the receiving end of their bad behavior and the outward manifestations of what they feel/believe internally. Of course, this resistance is, while somewhat understandable, nevertheless reprehensible, which is made worse when one considers that the target of their rage is probably one of the many good cops.
Rodney King once asked, after being savagely beaten by a gang of rogue police, "Can't we all just get along?" The sad answer to that question is 'No', not as long as racism, prejudice, and bigotry in America is a fact of life in American society. Only when the mindset of people change can we expect the mindset of a minority of law enforcement to change.
NOTE - As it turns out, one general characteristic of Millennial's is a noticeable increase in tolerance for others.
© 2016 Scott Belford