Respect my Authorit-tay!


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent Monday and Tuesday at the Miami-Dade County Criminal courthouse, first on Jury Duty and then in the gallery at the trial of freelance photographer and journalist and fellow blogger Carlos Miller.

Carlos was being charged with four counts stemming from an incident in February of 2007. While working on a story for the now defunct Category 305 web site, Carlos stumbled upon some police activity on Biscayne Boulevard, heard a policeman shouting and started snapping pictures. He approached the scene and continued snapping pictures until one of the officers asked him what he was doing. Carlos identified himself as a journalist and the police officer asked him to leave the area. On this, all accounts agree. If you believe the police’s version Carlos was standing on a public street and was asked to move for his own safety and the safety of others. If you believe Carlos he was standing on a part of the road that was being resurfaced and off limits to regular traffic. Both sides agree that Carlos told the officers that he didn’t have to move, though how he said it is in dispute.

Carlos continued taking pictures of the officers until he was “redirected to the ground” as one of the State’s attorneys euphemistically called it.

The four counts Carlos was charged with were:

1. Obstructing a public roadway (the least serious of the charges but the charge upon which the rest of the case against him was built. The jury was not even permitted to decide on this charge because it does not rise to the level of jury trial.

2. Disorderly conduct.

3. Resisting arrest without violence.

4. Disobeying the lawful commands of a police officer.

During the trial the police officers apparently contradicted each other’s testimony (I didn’t get to see all of the testimony but was made aware of the inconsistencies in closing arguments). The Jury found that Carlos was not guilty of the disorderly conduct and the disobeying charges. They found him guilty of the resisting arrest charges and the judge found him guilty of the obstructing the public road charge.

Photo by Carlos Miller

I’m really disturbed by the outcome in this case. I’ve come to the conclusion that the system is set up to prosecute hardened criminals that are usually guilty of what they are charged with, offering them opportunities to plead to lesser charges along the way. It is definitely NOT set up for non-criminals who believe they are innocent to vindicate themselves. From the beginning Carlos felt than an injustice had been committed against him. That his rights as a journalist and a citizen had been violated. He started a blog and has begun to document similar incidents around the country. He is working on a documentary about this episode and others like it. Ignacio Vazquez, the State Attorney used these facts to base his prosecution on a theory that Carlos intentionally created the incident to derive notoriety for himself. In fact he began his closing argument by saying, “Andy Warhol predicted that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, and that future is now.”

Now it’s true that Carlos could have avoided this whole thing if had “played ball”, if he had just followed the officers’ commands. But the question is whether or not the police have the authority to tell you to move simply because your presence causes them some discomfort. There is no doubt that Carlos identified himself as a journalist. It’s true that Carlos could have avoided the incident but its also true that the police officers could have avoided it too. When they realized Carlos was a journalist they could have accepted that fact and left him alone. After all, what was he doing? He was taking pictures of public servants conducting their business in a public space. But Carlos was guilty. He was guilty of not respecting their authority. They did not want their pictures taken, and their desires took precedence over his right to stand there and document what was going on.

I’ll never forget the testimony of one of the police officers on the witness stand. He was describing the incident and said, “that’s when I decided he was going to jail.” Read that again, “that’s when I decided he was going to jail.” Not, “that’s when Mr. Miller broke the law,” or “that’s when Mr. Miller began engaging in disorderly conduct,” but, “that’s when I decided he was going to jail.” You see the officer gets to decide whether you go to jail or not. Later they’ll figure out which nebulous crime you committed. In this case he was obstructing a public roadway. For the record, both sides agreed that Carlos was standing behind barricades on a section of road that was being resurfaced and thus closed to regular traffic. But the police gladly explain that there were businesses on that side of the street and that cars could conceivably turn onto the gravel area where he was standing to access one of those businesses. It was a safety risk you see, it had nothing to do with a desire by the officers not to be photographed. “That’s when I decided he was going to jail.”

Carlos insisted on taking the case to trial. He refused deals that he was offered in which he would have to say he was guilty of anything. He testified in court though he was not required to do so because he wanted to have his say, to tell his side. We learned after the trial that Carlos did not help himself on the stand, the jury was set to acquit him. But he took the stand and was excited, a little high strung and with the State Attorney he was a bit combative. I can’t blame him. Imagine having these charges hanging over your head for a year and a half. Carlos did not respect the State Attorney’s authority.

After the jury rendered its verdicts, the state asked the judge to sentence Carlos to 3 months probation, 50 hours of community service, anger management, and $250 in court costs. The judge, Jose Fernandez, instead threw the book at Carlos relative to the crimes he was convicted of. He cited Carlos’ “cavalier” attitude when he gave him 1 year of probation, $540 in court costs, anger management and 100 hours of community service. Carlos did not respect the judge’s authority.

So there you have it folks. The moral of the story is that in Miami-Dade county the important thing is to respect authority. You should never question it unless you want to spend the next year picking up garbage at a public park and reporting to a probation officer who you must notify if you want to cross county lines. Respect authority people, even if that authority is being misused.

20 thoughts on “Respect my Authorit-tay!”

  1. I never thought I would register to comment on Babalu, but I just had to say that you nailed it.

    It was all about their authorit-tay.

    From the cops, to the prosecutor, to the judge.

    You know damn well they would love to have the authority to keep me from blogging about the case.

  2. Ditto. This is such a BS abuse of power from the police and the judge. And you nail it when you say the system is setup to process criminals through with minimum hassle. If you are an innocent person, the legal system is the last place where you’ll get justice. If you insist on standing up for your rights you are just a nuisance and better be prepared to spend thousands of dollars.

  3. Henry, thank you for blogging about this. This is a complete travesty and something I’d expect to see in Cuba, not here in our country.

    Carlos, I think you should appeal out of principle.

    These policemen are abusing their authority, and we can’t just roll over and let it go by without speaking out.

  4. Hopefully this incident and its resulting travesty of justice will serve to open the eyes of the far too many people who habitually defend the system because they believe it to be whatever they want it to be and what they believe it is, uninformed opinions are a dime a dozen and are not reflective of reality, far too many habitually jump on the bandwagon of siding with the finest as a matter of quasi-patriotic habit while not only ignoring the pleas and plights of the victims of the system’s bad apples, but also participating in slanderous and libelous accusations, persecutions and outright passing of judgment and convictions of the victims without having taken the time to find out what the facts truly are. Good luck to you Carlos.

  5. This is why people hate the police! They abuse their power. Rather than go by the letter of the law they are able to persecute people according to their whims. Wifey-poo busted Officer Blockhead’s balls this morning so first guy he see’s going 1 mile over the speed limits going to jail, man! Ah, but last night Ol Officer McIrish got tail from his girlfriend so he’s feeling nice and generous today. Going 25 over the limit in a school zone? Ah, he’ll let you off with a warning. Just don’t let it happen again.
    These nazi bully boys have too much power. They should only be able to enforce the law, not use their badge to harrass people cause they feel like it.
    Sadly, Florida is not the only place this happens.

  6. If the “disobeying of a lawful order from a police officers” is in reference to stop photographing – it is baseless. Photographers are indeed protected when capturing images on public property – provided they are not becoming an impediment to the safety of others. Case closed on that count.

  7. Court systems generally seem to be biased in favor of conviction, and it appears that the cops, prosecutors and judge in this case have inappropriate attitudes and abused their power. Miller might have been arrested if the incident on the street had occurred in another city, but there are also many places where he probably would have been left alone, or at least where the State wouldn’t have pursued the case if the cops arrested him.

    Miami’s civic and political culture tolerates a lot of bad behavior by public officials. (It’s tolerated in the police chief, so why should anyone expect low-level police officers to behave any better?) Miami isn’t as bad as New Orleans in this regard but it’s worse than are most big American cities. The situation will not improve until voters start to care. Who knows if this will ever happen, but more publicity about abuses can only help.

  8. You don’t mention whether Carlos had a laywer representing him when he went to court. He should have, and assuming he had a decent lawyer, followed his attorney’s advice. It’s better to have the last laugh in court, and he probably could have gotten off if he just had not taken the stand.

    I know, the injustice of it all galls! My husband went through a similarly unjust situation many years ago when we were young. Thanks to the lawyer we hired, he got off with a year’s probation and a $500 fine. Thank heaven there was no such thing as “anger management” in those days.

  9. Elena,

    He did have a lawyer and I’m sure the lawyer probably did not want Carlos to testify. But this wasn’t just a case against Carlos it was the principle of whether or not a legitimate journalist has the right to photograph the police while they are doing an ordinary part of their job. The decision on whether or not to testify always is in the hands of the defendant. In this case he wanted to. From a strictly strategic point of view it was probably a mistake but Carlos wanted his version to be on the record.

  10. In hindsight, I should not have testified, but I really can’t kick myself for it because as Henry said, I’ve been dying to get my side of the story on the record.

    My lawyer did not advise me against it. We discussed it, even went over a mock examining the night before by phone, but I was sitting at home in a much more relaxed mood.

    He felt it would not backfire.

    But taking the stand made me a little nervous, as I have not taken the witness stand in about 20 years, and in that case, I was a witness in a civil matter.

    And I tend to be naturally high-strung and the prosecutor’s badgering did not help this inborn personality trait.

    It’s really a mute point to play Monday Morning Quarterback. If I would not have testified and then have been convicted anyway, I would have kicked myself for not testifying.

  11. How did the jury find him guilty of one thing (“They found him guilty of the resisting arrest charges.”) and the judge find them guilty of another charge? (“The judge found him guilty of the obstructing the public road charge.”)

    Isn’t it up to the jury to decide guilt or innocence on all charges? I’m not very familiar with the system.

  12. There are certain types of charges that are not even misdemeanors. Such charges might be like jay walking or parking violations. You can have a hearing but the nature of the charge is so minor that it does not rate a jury trial. In Florida routine traffic violations are settled by judge trials not jury trials. So Carlos had a total of four charges against him but only three rose to the level of jury trial. The jury found him not guilty of two of them. The judge ruled against him on the obstruction of a public roadway. If the Jury had ruled in his favor on all three charges then Carlos would have only been guilty of obstructing a public roadway. Needless to say all the judge could have sentenced him to was a fine. Carlos would have in essence won. But since he lost on the resisting arrest charge, the judge had a lot more flexibility to sentence him more severely.

  13. “…it was the principle of whether or not a legitimate journalist has the right to photograph the police while they are doing an ordinary part of their job.”

    Everybody has the right to photograph the police, or anyone else, in public. Neither journalists nor police have any special privileges in this regard.

  14. Jonathan, agreed. But the point is that journalists should get a little extra consideration from law enforcement because journalists often have to cover the same beats as cops and should understand that the journalist is doing his job just like the cop is. It’s not just a nosy citizen (who may have the same right) that has more chance of actually interfering with an investigation as opposed to theoretically interfering with one.

  15. “Jonathan, agreed. But the point is that journalists should get a little extra consideration from law enforcement because journalists often have to cover the same beats as cops and should understand that the journalist is doing his job just like the cop is. It’s not just a nosy citizen (who may have the same right) that has more chance of actually interfering with an investigation as opposed to theoretically interfering with one.”

    Exactly, you are absolutely correct Henry, there’s also another side to that coin, that is the demeanor and discernment ability of the civilian(s), look, during the Giuliani years the NYPD embarked on various strategies to combat crime which was at ridiculous levels throughout NYC as a whole and even more so within specific neighborhoods, I mention this because John Timoney was part of the command structure back then, at the time I worked in the field and some of my clients were in the city, I witnessed the change in demeanor of police officers, they became more aggressive and even behaved in a way that I would characterized as adding fuel to the fire of whatever situation(s) they either encountered or created, instead of calming things down a.k.a. “community focused policing.” Therefore, it became necessary to be even more polite and respectful when dealing with the police (the civilian demeanor factor) and having the ability to discern the mood of the cops at any given time in order to prevent being the one that would be at the receiving end of the frustration and anger that had been caused by someone else.

    All of this brings me back to the potential source, these types of conduct do not flourish within a law enforcement agency that has the right people commanding it, the bad behavior comes from the top down, you Miamians need to find the way to get rid of Timoney, he is a bad apple and he spoils the good apples around him, Bill Bratton would had done much better for all of you, make him the right financial offer and you might be able to convince him to leave Los Angeles.

  16. Bill Bratton would had done much better for all of you, make him the right financial offer and you might be able to convince him to leave Los Angeles.

    I live in LA. You can have him.

  17. HENRY! Call me because I have a guy who charges very little to do appeals that are usually written and no oral arguments unless asked for, and then usually 5-10 minutes. Dejarme saber!

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