February 20, 2013

The Right Heads Never Roll

Regarding those questions about what happens when a police officer is found to have lied on a police report, and what it would take for anything at all to happen, here's an (as far as I can see) rare instance of actual criminal proceedings in such a case.

For some unspecified motive, Officer Diego Palacios of the NYPD decided to claim that one John Hockenjos had tried to run him down while pulling into his own driveway, requiring the officer to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. The dangerous criminal was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment, for which he could have been sentenced to seven years in prison. Unfortunately for Officer Palacios, though, there was clear surveillance video showing Mr. Hockenjos's car slowly pulling up while Palacios and several other cops stand around placidly.

The video and the case got some attention, which is presumably why Officer Palacios was actually indicted rather than quietly given paid leave, a medal, and a promotion before being unleashed once again on an unsuspecting public. It was an eight count indictment, including lying in the police report, official misconduct, and perjury. News reports said he could face four years if convicted. So, it does happen sometimes.

Here's what also happened:

Officer Diego Palacios pleaded guilty at a hearing on Thursday in Brooklyn Supreme Court in exchange for a sentence of four days and his resignation from the New York City Police Department.
The four days were for time served, which is just one day longer than the time spent in jail by his victim. And since the plea bargain downgraded the offense to a misdemeanor, he is still eligible to work as a police officer, and could well be hired in a jurisdiction near you. Something to look forward to.

That's far more penalty than they usually seem to get, even when someone is actually shot or set on fire, but it falls well short, I'd think, of the kind of disincentive that deterrence requires. And what about all the other officers who are just standing around in the video? They all lied as well. Shouldn't there be consequences for aiding and abetting such a serious crime? Otherwise, they'll just keep on doing it, won't they?

I know: I'm living in a dream world for the purposes of this post. Nobody really wants to deter anything. Hockenjos says he's concerned that the remaining officers and the department will now target him and his wife for harassment or worse, and it seems to be a pretty legitimate fear. They can do whatever they want and probably get away with it, and they haven't exactly demonstrated upstanding moral character or dedication to honor and justice in this matter so far. If I were him, I'd figure out where Officer Palacios ends up being hired, sue the bejesus out of the city, and use the money to move someplace else.

added: while I agree in principle that a misdemeanor conviction per se shouldn't necessarily be a barrier to employment as a police officer, especially since in this day and age there are laws against so many trivial and random things, it does seem as though a crime like this that goes right to heart of what a police officer is supposed not to be and do should really disqualify him from ever holding such a position of public trust again. In the same way that you wouldn't want to hire an embezzler to be your accountant or an arsonist as a house-sitter, I mean.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 20, 2013 11:32 PM