The stupidity and dishonesty of Alabama police officers is on glaring display in the video that captures the body slamming of Sureshbhai Patel, a grandfather from India who was in the state to help his son and daughter-in-law take care of their newborn son. (See video above.)
Similar stupidity and dishonesty would be on display if a video of my arrest in Shelby County, Alabama, ever is made public. I saw the video during my bench trial for resisting arrest in January 2014. At the time, it was under the control of assistant district attorney Tonya Willingham (firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-669-3750), and as public property, it still should be in her possession.
Let's consider the Patel video first, and two mind-blowing elements of it jump out at me:
(1) Almost from the moment the officers confront Patel on a sidewalk in Madison, Alabama, it's clear the older gentleman does not speak English. The 10-minute video, from the first police cruiser, shows this. In the first 1:30 of the encounter, an officer says, "I can't understand you, sir," and Patel mentions India and appears to point toward his son's house, a seemingly clear sign that he is not from this country and does not speak English, but has legitimate reasons to be here. Despite that, officers keep badgering Patel and giving instructions in English--acting baffled when he doesn't respond well and tries to quietly walk away. The encounter should have ended there, with no sign of a crime on Patel's part, but that's not what happened.
(2) At about 2:10 on the longer video, Officer Eric Parker tells Patel: "Do not jerk away from me again, or I will put you on the ground. Do you understand?" About four seconds later, Patel does not appear to be moving and certainly is not jerking. But Parker grabs him by the back of the neck, trips him, and thrusts him forward to violently land on his head.
(3) After all of this, the cops still don't seem to get it. "He don't speak a lick of English," one cop says. "I don't know what the problem is," another says. (See 3:26 video at the top of this post.) After the officers have almost broken Patel's neck by jamming his head into the ground, they seem amazed that he can't walk. "Stand up, stand up," one of them says. "You can walk," says another.
Let's consider a few elements from my encounter with Shelby County officer Chris Blevins:
(1) In his incident report, Blevins states that he has two warrants for contempt of court in his vehicle. But the video shows that they stayed in his vehicle, and he never showed them to me or mentioned that he had them. (See incident report at the end of this post.) He reports walking inside our garage to tap on the trunk of our car--all without showing he had any legal authority to be there or verbally stating why he was there. Despite that, Blevins apparently was surprised when I got out of my vehicle and, in his words, "began yelling for me to get out of his house." Gee, can't imagine why I would do that. An armed stranger, who has shown he has no legal grounds to be there, is walking right into my house--even after being told to get out. Why would that concern me?
(2) Blevins admits he made the initial physical contact after I put my right hand in my right front pocket. Apparently, he thought I was reaching for an assault weapon. (News flash: I was putting my car keys in my pocket, where they always go when I get home.) Blevins also noted that I pushed a button to close the garage door behind us. I don't remember doing that, but I do remember thinking, "Don't close the door because you want this guy out of here." It's possible I reflexively pushed the button because I've been doing it that way when I've come home for 25 years.
(3) Blevins then writes, "I told Mr. Shuler that I had a warrant for his arrest," but this is a lie--and the video proves it. He never mentions an arrest, his apparent purpose for being there, until after I've been knocked to a concrete floor three times and maced in the face.
(4) On the video, Blevins can be heard repeatedly saying, "Don't fight me, don't fight me" as he is shoving me around. But according to Blevins own words, I wasn't fighting him--it was the other way around. The only physical act that Blevins describes of me is putting my arms in front of me--an effort to try to protect my face and glasses from his flailing arms.
(5) Blevins admits throwing me through boxes, to the floor, three times. Never does he say I took any offensive action against him, other than raising my arms in front of my face.
(6) At my resisting-arrest trial, before District Judge Ron Jackson, prosecutor Willingham was ordered to turn over copies of any warrants as evidence. Her reply? "Your Honor, we don't have any." And she didn't ask for a recess, so that she could go find the warrants in her office, which is in the same building. As of now, it's a matter of court record that no warrant existed for my arrest. And that raises a whole bunch of disturbing questions under a landmark U.S. Supreme Court that we will be discussing in upcoming posts.
My entire arrest was captured on video, although it has some flaws. Blevins' vehicle was parked at about a 45-degree angle to our garage, so when we go inside the garage and the door closes, the dash cam loses sight of us and mostly shows our backyard. Audio, however picks up the whole thing--and that shows that Blevins entered our home without showing, or saying he had, a warrant. Blevins' own words, show that he initiated physical contact, and I never lashed out at him; I never cursed or threatened him, and I never tried to run away. Also, after Blevins and I exit the garage, Officer Jason Valenti can be heard threatening to break my arms.
The video should be made public.
Meanwhile, how in the world did I get charged with resisting arrest from all of this? Even conservative legal analysts, such as Ken White at Popehat blog, have said the preliminary injunction against me was prohibited under the First Amendment, and that means my arrest for allegedly violating the injunction was unlawful. On top of that, I contested service in the lawsuit--I did not ignore the court's order, as has been widely reported--and I'm aware of no hearing at which proper service was established. Without that, the court did not even have jurisdiction over me.
Maybe that's why no warrant has turned up. Perhaps no one wanted to sign a warrant for a citizen over whom the court had no jurisdiction.
Popehat is based in Los Angeles, and over all that distance, attorney White smelled something funny about my conviction for resisting arrest. He wrote:
It's not clear from the reporting how the prosecution proved the elements of the offense. I'm not talking about my standard skepticism of police claims that a suspect improperly resisted. I'm talking about proving that the arrest was lawful in the first place.
Under Alabama law resisting arrest is an attempt to prevent a lawful arrest. Resisting an unlawful arrest is not, as I understand Alabama law, a violation of the resisting arrest statute. To make a lawful arrest under Alabama law, a peace officer must have an arrest warrant, or must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, or must observe the suspect commit a crime. Shuler apparently argued at trial that the arresting officer didn't have a warrant and didn't observe any crime, and that therefore the arrest was not lawful and Shuler could not have committed the crime of resisting arrest. . . . Regrettably the news coverage of the brief bench trial doesn't clarify how the prosecution proved (if it did) that the arrest was lawful in the first place.
Popehat raises a powerful question: Can you be charged with resisting an unlawful arrest?
We will address that question shortly.
(To be continued)
(Note: Below is Officer Chris Blevins' incident report on my arrest. I have not run this previously because I've seen an Alabama Attorney General's opinion that says only the front page of an incident report is public information; the back page, including the narrative, is considered officer work product and therefore is not public. However, as the subject of the arrest, I am entitled to have a copy of the report, so I believe that overrides any work-product privilege that Blevins might assert. Anyone who wants to challenge this is welcome to contact me, but under the circumstances, I believe the following document is public information, especially since it all took place inside my home.)