[Note: In all accounts of this trial, I’m using fake names for the people and locations.]
While I can’t second guess your decision, since I didn’t hear all of the evidence, it surprises me how important you felt that Jose claimed the cop didn’t let go of him when the cop pulled him out of the car. After all, Jose apparently had a language problem, and was nervous in testifying. Maybe it was a translation issue: i.e., he maintained contact with me the whole time, even though he sifted hands and/or positions. Maybe it was an issue of: I am so nervous, I can’t exactly tell you what I am saying now, let alone three seconds ago. Lastly, it may have happened so quickly, that he didn’t realize the cop let go and grabbed him again.
Sigh. I was afraid of this.
I’m not afraid of Bill’s question. It’s a reasonable question that I’ll get back to shortly. No, what I’m afraid of is that as time passes, I won’t have the answers to questions like that…and that I’ll begin to ask some of those questions myself.
It’s already started. I find myself reading the allegations that friends of Chicago police officer Anthony Abbatte threatened to plant drugs on innocent people if they didn’t help cover up Abbatte’s beating of a young female bartender, and I wonder if my verdict would have been different if that story had come out before Jose’s trial.
I had similar concerns reading about the lawless cops who killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a drug raid that federal prosecutors allege was a fraud from beginning to end. Before that, I heard rumors that Brixton police were harassing a business owner by faking solicitation arrests of customers on his lot.
I have to keep reminding myself that we convicted Jose not so much because we thought the cop was credible (although we had no reason to believe he wasn’t) but because we simply didn’t believe Jose’s story. Incidents of terrible police lies and misconduct don’t change the fact that Jose’s story had some problems.
More generally, I have no doubt forgotten quite a bit about the testimony and our deliberations afterward. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll start second guessing myself if something gets me thinking about the case. I have to keep reminding myself that I was a lot closer to the case back when I was in the jury room than I am now, so I shouldn’t let it worry me.
As for Bill’s concerns, all I can say is that none of those things seemed likely at the time. Jose seemed a little nervous, but not that nervous. He had a bit of a language problem, but his testimony about the incident was pretty detailed. It would have taken more than just a couple of misused words to cause the level of misunderstanding that Bill is suggesting, especially when you consider the rather detailed re-enactment Jose did with his lawyer.
The blood is a bigger issue. He should have had some evidence of the blood and/or the injury. What were the doctors listed as witnesses for? I wonder if the state was going to call them, or the defense. It does make it seem like there really wasn’t much of an injury to him.
Yeah, we never did find out what that was all about. However, the question does remind me of a somewhat unpleasant theory that some of the jurors had about the case.
One of the things that bothered me later about Jose’s story is that it seemed like more of a lie than he needed to get a not-guilty verdict. Instead of claiming the cop pulled him out of the car, he could have admitted he got out and confronted the cop. That’s not wise, but there’s no crime in that.
Officer Reyes had testified that he put his hand out and firmly told Jose to get back in his truck, but Jose kept advancing until he bumped up against the Reyes’s hand. Jose could have claimed that Reyes put a hand out and shoved him. Reyes said Jose swung at him, but Jose could have countered that he brought up his hands to defend against further attempts by Reyes to shove him. Then Jose could have testified that the cop grappled with him until they happened to bump heads, at which point Jose quit struggling. The cop said he saw Jose cock his head back before the headbutt, but Jose could simply say that they were both jerking back and forth during the struggle.
If that had been Jose’s story, then the biggest differences in their accounts of the incident would have been what each thought the other was trying to do, and the most important question before us would have been whether the headbutt was intentional or an accident. With the officer saying it looked intentional and Jose saying it wasn’t, I don’t think we would have known who to believe. That’s enough reasonable doubt for a not-guilty verdict.
So why the elaborate story? Well, I suppose one possibility is that it was the truth, and we convicted an innocent victim of police brutality. For all the reasons I’ve given elsewhere, we were pretty confident we hadn’t done that.
While we were finishing up the paperwork for our verdict, one of the jurors speculated that Jose was hoping to sue officer Reyes and the town of Hybernia. I don’t know the legal rules for when a local government can be sued, but I’m pretty sure they can’t be sued when an officer is just doing his job, even if someone is hurt. I think the officer would have have to break the law in some way in order to create the opportunity for a lawsuit.
This means that a civil suit would have to begin with a complaint from Jose alleging that officer Reyes had attacked him first, a clear violation of the law and therefore not part of his official duties. Such a complaint wouldn’t survive very long if Jose had contradicted it during his sworn testimony in the criminal trial, so Jose would have to make sure his criminal defense story matched his future story as a civil plaintiff.
Let me be clear that this is just a wild theory. We the jury didn’t spend any time discussing it during deliberations. I dismissed it when I first heard it, but as I was thinking about the trial later, I realized that it explains a few things that had puzzled me.
It explains why Jose used an elaborate story about police brutality instead of a simpler story about a misunderstanding, and it explains why he was motivated to testify vividly about how much he bled after the incident and the delay in receiving medical care: He wanted to establish that the police knew he was injured but did nothing about it, which sounds like it would help a civil case.
I can see a couple of problems with this theory. First of all, it doesn’t sound like something Jose could have come up with by himself. He’d almost need help from his lawyers to work out the details, and I have trouble believing your average private lawyer would suborn perjury quite so easily, especially since this would be such a small case. That’s the second problem with the civil suit theory: Jose’s injuries consisted entirely of a nosebleed. I don’t know how these kinds of lawsuits work, but it doesn’t sound like there’s enough money here for a lawsuit, and certainly not enough money to attract the kinds of legal sharks that would help Jose concoct a story.
Bill has a little more to say:
There certainly was not much of [an injury] to the cop. Actually, that (the lack of injury to the cop, a paltry three stitches) is what bothers me the most about this case. The case should not be an aggravated assault just because the victim is a cop. A cop is no more important a person than any other citizen.
Illinois law says otherwise.
It’s my understanding that in some jurisdictions A&B on a cop is just a misdemeanor. I think the theory is that physical confrontations are part of a cop’s job and so not every person who struggles a bit should be charged with a felony. I suspect this is also a tacit admission that anyone who punches a cop is going to be punched back, at the very least.
For minor crimes against cops, this makes some sense. However, I think anyone who launches a serious attack on a cop is demonstrating strong anti-social behavior and should be treated more harshly than for a similar attack on a civilian. Cops stand for law and order, so someone who attacks a cop is attacking part of the system needed to maintain our civilization. (Note that it’s the officer’s role that’s important, not the officer himself. If the officer is attacked for reasons having nothing to do with being a cop—stabbed by his own wife, for instance—then there’s no justification for an enhanced criminal charge.)
However, I think turn-about is fair play. If we insist on harsher punishment for people who commit crimes against cops, then we should also insist on harsher punishment for cops who commit crimes against other people. Crime committed by cops acting under color of authority is at least as harmful to an ordered society as crime against cops.
I’m not talking about those hard-to-judge cases where the lines between justified force and brutality are a little vague. I’m talking about cops who rip off drug dealers, burglarize stores on their beat, sodomize suspects, or kill people for money. In a soundbite, if we’re going to execute cop killers, we should also execute killer cops.
I’ve wondered whatever happened to Jose. On the day he was supposed to be sentenced, I tried calling the deputy to see what had happened, but I couldn’t reach him. The clerk’s office told me the case had been continued, but I don’t know what that really means. Perhaps it’s some form of judicial supervision? Or maybe it really was just a postponement. Heck if I know.
I also tried an online inmate search under Jose’s real name for both the Cook County and statewide corrections systems several times over the intervening months and he never turned up, so I don’t think he did time, or else he was in and out very fast.
If anybody reading this knows how I can find out what happened to Jose, let me know.
I was kind of disappointed at having to convict Jose. I’d been hoping for an acquittal. It’s not that I planned to vote “not guilty” regardless of the the evidence and testimony, but rather that I was hoping the evidence and testimony would not be enough for a guilty verdict. I like to think of myself as something of an anti-establishment rebel, and I had been hoping for a chance to “stick it to the man.”
No such luck. Oh well, there’s always next time.
Update: I found out what really happened to “Jose.”