Monday, June 27, 2016

Due Process Transposed

The first time I ever dealt with law enforcement on a direct level was as a teenager. Unlike the conventional situations of many a wayward youth finding themselves talking with a cop mine came in the form of a grisly rape and, murder of a twelve year old girl.

Just a few days before my sixteenth birthday the body of Che Sims had been found in a creek bed. Her attackers after gang raping her, strangled her to death and, then to keep the forward motion of evil going they mutilated her body before leaving her.

It was one of those murders that gripped the Saint Louis area, one that was not, in 1990, exactly crime free. Her case, Che's, got the full court press from law enforcement, no stone was going to be left un-turned and in the next couple of weeks I'd be one of those stones. 

That came when the cops finally got solid leads and a sketch of one suspect was released to the paper. As the sixteen year old me read through the article my eyes at last fell upon the face outlined in graphite and, reprinted for the world to see. Che Sims, a young girl I never met, and I were now forever connected because I knew one of her killers and his face looked up at me from the newspaper. But it was a secondary detail from the article that solidified it for me.

She had been found with post-mortem cuts on her arms, and whether it was clear misdirection or an actual theory the police were running with, the article stated that the cops believe the cuts were made in an attempt to revive her via pain, after being strangled. The reality that was eventually revealed at trial, was that her killers had cut her, they had carved into her young body in order to make a blood oath to one another to never tell the world what they had done.

While I knew the face, I couldn't place the name exactly but I also knew that, the face went along with a troup of guys who carried the old style Buck 110 folders on their hips. It wasn't an uncommon thing for a teenage boy in the late 1980s or turn of the 90's but in this instance 2+2 = someone I had known.

Over the next couple of days I poured over that sketch with an obsession. I made photocopy after photocopy in the school library adding my own details to the face trying to jar something in my memory until it finally clicked and I matched it against the only data-base I had at the time. A middle school year book.

And there he was.

A day later found me sitting in a small room near the principal's office talking with two detectives from the Saint Louis Major Case Squad. No doubt for them it was likely just another false lead, some teenage boy playing junior detective. They would sit and talk to me and get on down the road to the next "witness".

Then, some weeks later Saint Louis County Police arrested four men, Jeffrey Grice, Matthew Funke, Chris Johnson, and Brian Faulkner.  Funke would later be tied to killing another person just seventeen days after Che's murder.

If me identifying one of the suspects ever meant anything or not to the cops I'll never know. No one from STLCPD ever called. There were no thank you cards, no ham at Christmas, no recognition whatsoever.

In the coming years of my life where my work help put over a dozen criminals into prison no law enforcement official would ever thank me in any public fashion. Whether it was a federal agent, local cop, or in one case, an Assistant U.S. Attorney General.

It is, as they say, what it is.

While my career has always been, shall we say, unconventional it always came with the idea that it was about doing the right thing. This despite having never carried a badge, or never served in any official capacity of governmental service. No one ever gave me a license to kill, or for that matter the license to arrest anyone.

In 1354 the 29th Clause of the Magna Carta was redefined and the world was introduced to the phrase "due process of law" and over the course of following centuries England and the Magna Carta would diverge from one another. It, the Magna Carta, however would become the base layer of American law when the Constitution became the Supreme Law of the Land in the 18th Century.

So important was the idea of Due Process to be made law, it was included into the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

The wording being precisely this...

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Yet like it always does, the Bill of Rights proves that if the men who seek to seize power and control over their fellow man are viruses, then the Bill of Rights is anti-viral and due process it's firewall.

As stated by United States Senator Joe Manchin, whereupon he said when pushing for more gun control through terror watchlists.

"Really, the firewall we have right now is due process. It’s all due process. So we can all say we want the same thing, but how do we get there? If a person is on a terrorist watch list, like the gentleman, the shooter in Orlando? He was twice by the FBI — we were briefed yesterday about what happened — but that young man was brought in twice. They did everything they could. The FBI did everything they were supposed to do. But there was no way to keep him on the nix list or keep him off the gun-buy list, there was no way to do that.

So can’t we say that if a person’s under suspicion there should be a five-year period of time that we have to see if good behavior, if this person continues the same traits? Maybe we can come to that type of an agreement, but due process is what’s killing us right now."

So much for him protecting and defending the Constitution.

The reality is that, it's not killing us. Domestic terrorism is still a very rare thing here in the United States and our gun crimes continue to drop. Ironically given the rise numbers of new gun owners and continual push to relax gun laws and gun carry laws throughout the America.

So what of it.

Wouldn't it be wise to restrict the rights of someone under FBI investigation?

We have to remember that being under "investigation" does not mean guilty. I myself conduct investigations all the time and the idea of investigative work is to gather information in order to draw conclusions based upon fact.

Facts, John Adams said, are stubborn things.

A little over a month ago I was loading up my truck to head out to do just that. Investigate. As I walked back to the house I saw two vehicles come roaring up in front of my home. Matching vehicle manufacturer, dark windows in the front and back, hard brake-to-a-stop.

It was very classic law enforcement. I also realized that they had come to talk to me, atleast most likely. As to the why I had no idea. In all honesty it was a startling thing. The flipside of the coin is that there was some sense of relief when the car windows did not roll down with full automatic gun fire to follow. After all, I have some "fans" all over the world who are not fans. And they aren't friendly either.

Not sure of anything I called my Business Partner, who was on a field trip with his kid that day, to see if he knew something I did not.

The pounding on the door had begun.

When he did not answer I called The Wife. Because frankly in case she came home and for some reason I had been taken into custody I wanted her to have some idea of what happened to me. Even if I was not sure what was happening to me.

The pounding on the door had stopped and had moved to the picture window. I walked over to the glass and asked if I could help them. They asked if I was me. I confirmed that I was, indeed me. They then asked if we could speak outside.

At that point I asked who they were and they identified themselves as Federal Law enforcement, specifically with what agency. I asked if they knew what I did for a living and they said that they did not. So I went ahead and told them. I also told them I was armed and was going to take my gun off and leave it on the table that was within their view.

As I walked to the side door to meet them my mind ran through any number of reasons the "Man" would be wanting to talk to me. I came up with zero answers in the next fifteen feet.

When I stepped out, I greeted both of them and they introduced themselves and I followed with "what did I do to get on your radar?"

"Were you parked in front of the FBI building downtown a couple of weeks ago?"

I laughed. I knew exactly what this was about. "Yep. I was working a surveillance watching the hotel across the street." And then I began giving a general overall of the the case. I mentioned how at different times both my Business Partner and myself joked about what a bad idea it was and wondered if they were listening in on our walkie talkie communication."

This quickly became a non-issue by all appearances.

I had been parked on a public street, next to parking meters as a matter of fact, given them the reason and explanation for being there, my contact information, the name of my company, my business partner, et cetera, et cetera and while being parked in front of the Bureau's building wasn't probably smart by all accounts, at the time it afforded us the best surveillance advantage point and potential to conduct a mobile surveillance in downtown rush hour traffic.

Ah yes. I see you. Shaking your head in disapproval. Thinking "say nothing! Call the attorney!".

You may do as you wish. I saw reasonable questions that held reasonable answers therefore held no qualms in talking with them. Are there times when one should "lawyer up"? Absolutely. I've written about that before. This situation was not one of them.

As it would turn out, the situation also wasn't over.

Two weeks later they returned.

The questions were different only because I was told that "nothing" I had told them "had checked out." Not my phone number, not my company, and not my Business Partner's name. It turned out that they were both on an FBI task force.

"I have my cell phone right here. Call it."

The phone number had been transposed.

A number I might add that is readily found with my name and a google search, along with what I do. Even this blog.

They misspelled both the name of my Business Partner and business. Then stated they could not find any information on the later.

This was getting cleared up today. I called my Business Partner and put him on speaker phone. We discussed back and forth between us whether or not for them to call our Client who had hired us for the job that now had me under the watchful eye of federal law enforcement. Both agents assured us that it wasn't necessary and they had things right now. I offered up copies of our state business filings and gave the address to our office.

Perhaps the real caveat was my Business Partner mentioning that he was a former federal agent.

So much for governmental databases.

All, I was assured, was now a-okay. Things had been explained out. Answers given and now verified even further. It was never unfriendly nor unprofessional between them, or me.

Mistakes happen, people have off days at work. I know I have had them.

Man have I had them. So I don't begrudge either of them.

But here in lies the rub. I have no idea if the file that was opened on me is closed. I have no idea if I'm on some list for anything because for all I know some tech clicked the wrong box someplace on some bureau inter-agency file form. No law was broken. I literally was parked on a public street and sat there for four and five hours over the course of a few days. Something I have done for thousands and thousands of hours in twenty years.

The problem isn't two federal investigative agents just doing one more case in the middle of the day. The problem is that if people like Senator Manchin get their way my due process, my rights, are just gone because I parked in front of the wrong building.

To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven "taking away a man's rights is a hell of a thing. It's all he's got. And all he's ever going to have."


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