font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": How Crooked "Coppers" Get Around the Inconveniences of Probable Cause, Search Warrants and that Other Inconvenience... THE LAW!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How Crooked "Coppers" Get Around the Inconveniences of Probable Cause, Search Warrants and that Other Inconvenience... THE LAW!

Every day we hear stories about how another “copper” (my term for a corrupt & crooked cop) has been caught and arrested because of malfeasance. I just read another story about a Baltimore copper violating ANOTHER individual’s civil rights. Let’s discuss just what it is that these “Scumbags” do to get around these, oh-so-inconvenient laws. First, though, I’m going to let you read excerpts from the latest story that I’ve just read.

This story is courtesy of "" from Nov. 06, 2013. Special to the Chronicle by Houston based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, this is Part 8 in his continuing series of stories about prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption in the drug war.

In an unusual recent case, the US 4th Circuit Appeals Court overturned a conviction in a crack cocaine case despite the defendant having pled guilty. The case involving Baltimore drug dealer Cortez Leon Fisher was not overturned because the plea agreement was coerced or not voluntary- the usual standard- but because it was based on the lies of a corrupt police officer.

The case -- but not this tale -- began with an October 29, 2007 raid on Fisher's home executed by Baltimore police officer and DEA drug task force member Mark Lunsford. The search turned up crack cocaine and a loaded weapon. To avoid a decades-long stretch behind bars, Fisher copped a plea to one count of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Federal District Court Judge Frederick Motz then sentenced Fisher to 10 years in federal prison.

Fisher subsequently appealed to overturn his plea agreement after Lunsford was indicted on theft and perjury charges involving his use of bogus informants to falsely arrest and rip off drug dealers. In July 2010, the crooked cop got 20 months in federal prison for his crimes.

Lunsford's arrest and conviction uncovered a pattern of fabricating evidence to enrich police officers and selected informants, who received payments in cases in which they had not provided information. Reward money was fraudulently awarded to undeserving informants, and the proceeds were split between Lunsford and the snitches.

But it gets worse. Lunsford also had a long history with Fisher and some of his family members whom he had previously arrested on drug charges, some of which had been dismissed. In this light, Lunsford's pursuit of Fisher takes on the appearance of a personal vendetta.

Unquestionably if the defendant had known of Lunsford's misconduct he would have filed a motion to suppress, and the motion may well have been successful," Motz wrote in denying the appeal. Nevertheless, "the defendant does not deny he was in possession of a firearm (as he admitted under oath during his Rule 11).Under these circumstances, I cannot find that a failure to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea would result in a 'miscarriage of justice.'"

Fisher appealed that decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his appeal, Fisher wrote that Lunsford "set me up and arrested me unlawfully." The informant in the case, Fisher said in the appeal, "never gave Lunsford information concerning drug activities at Fisher's home." Citing prior arrests of Fisher by Lunsford years ago, the appeal went on to say that after Lunsford arrested Fisher in 2007 in the current case, "the officer returned to my apartment later, stole a safe containing all my jewelry specifically numerous diamonds with blue and red design, including a diamond watch."
The 4th Circuit overturned the trial judge. The key question for the court was whether a police officer's misrepresentations of facts invalidated a guilty plea under the due process clause. The court noted that in order to invalidate a plea, the defendant must show that egregious impermissible conduct preceded the entry of the plea and that the misconduct influenced the defendant's decision to plead guilty.
While one member of the three-judge panel voted to dismiss Fisher's appeal, arguing that "natural reaction of extreme distaste to Lunsford's criminal act does not instantaneously transform Fisher's guilty plea into some form of due process violation that permits him now to withdraw his plea," his was a dissenting opinion.

Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd disagreed. Lunsford's lies influenced Fisher to cop a plea and his perjury "undermined the entire proceedings, thus rendering the defendant's pleas involuntary, and violated his due process rights," they wrote. "A plea based on law enforcement fraud is invalid even if the person is guilty," the court held in its ruling in the case.

Cop v. Drug Dealer
Baltimore police officer Mark Lunsford despised drug dealer Cortez Fisher. Their adversarial history stretches years to when Lunsford rode patrol near Baltimore's notorious Murphy Homes Project, where Fisher and his brother called "Midget" sold drugs, according to court documents.
In a search warrant affidavit dated October 29, 2007, Lunsford wrote that he received reliable information from a snitch that Fisher was selling drugs out of his house. Then, based on that false report, Lunsford claimed he personally saw Fisher sell drugs from his car. It was all a lie.
Court records filed in Fisher's case include a redacted FBI document dated October 23, 2009, where Lunsford admits that he fabricated source information in Fisher's and numerous other narcotics cases that sent citizens to prison. Lunsford told FBI agent that, fully aware of Fisher's involvement in the drug trade, he had lied when he said the informant he had named in the affidavit was the source of his information about Fisher.
Fisher may well have had a career as a drug dealer, but as the 4th Circuit noted, "even the guilty can suffer a miscarriage of justice."
Cortez Fisher remains imprisoned as he awaits word on what prosecutors will do. In the worst case, he will stay there until 2017. Meanwhile, the crooked cop whose perjurious information led to Fisher's arrest and subsequent plea bargain is a free man, not on parole, and not in the clutches of the criminal justice system.
For the guy from the mean streets of Baltimore, there is nothing left to do except to start over -- again.
"They took everything I had," he explained.

As you can see, this copper had no qualms about doing whatever he wanted to do in order to arrest and convict Mr. Fisher. Most cops start their careers realizing that, if they want to arrest the people they know are guilty, they SIMPLY CAN’T ABIDE BY THE LAW. A police officer is taught that to stop someone, the officer must have probable cause. Probable cause is a very “pliable” law. Although it is found in the Fourth Amendment coppers have, for decades, shaded this concept to suit their needs of getting a stop and an arrest. An individual can be stopped for such “credible” things as; a traffic violation, an officer seeing an individual make a hand to hand exchange of drugs and money (NOT to be confused with one individual handing another money because they are lending it to them BUT our wonderful coppers use that as “probable cause” because even though there wasn’t the actual sight of drugs, they simply say there was!) or being seen running from a car that has just had it’s alarm set off. These are all legitimate reasons for stopping someone. Here comes the shady stuff. According to one of my sources, a BIG and favorite excuse for probable cause is someone acting in a suspicious manner. My source tells me that after some time in the field a cop realizes that he’d almost never make an arrest without shading these “probable cause” examples. As far as I’m concerned, the minute a “police officer” does this, he becomes a “scumbag copper”. If you take a few minutes and look at different people who are out and about, you can usually find someone who you can say might be considered “suspicious” or is acting in a “suspicious manner”. The conditions that need to be met for “probable cause” are very pliable! Suspiciousness, my source says, is every dirty copper’s favorite probable cause excuse. He goes on to say that after a while, the copper won’t even consider probable cause. Yes, he knows he’ll need to present it in court but he has plenty of time (weeks usually) to invent something! So, when he arrests someone who knows they haven’t done anything wrong, and they want to know what his probable cause is, the copper’s response is a smack in the face and a kick between the legs. You don’t get smart with a dirty copper! That’s right; asking the rational question, “What’s your reason for stopping me?” is getting smart to a dirty copper!

I'd like to take some time. now, to discuss the actions and decisions of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Fisher's appeal was initially rejected by his original trial judge, Judge Motz. That's normal, 99% of judges won't admit they've made a mistake. He next appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ended up overturning his conviction. Whatr I found disturbing, though, was the fact that the decision to overturn his conviction was NOT unanimous! Yes, he did win 2-1 and you take what you can get but it seems to ne that this appeal was a no-brainer. To have one judge say, "natural reaction of extreme distaste to Lunsford's (the copper) criminal act does not instantaneously transform Fisher's guilty plea into some form of due process violation that permits him now to withdraw his plea" just blows my mind. In layman's terms, the gist of all our civil rights rests on the fact that they are there, in the first place, to protect everyone from any form of misconduct whatsoever! For this judge to say that, however distasteful the copper's ILLEGAL act was, it really doesn't matter when all is said and done, is a disgrace! A complete and utter disgrace!  Thank God we don’t allow one judge to make these monumental decisions and make no mistake, they are monumental. In the future, this decision will be referenced by another lawyer who is fighting for the freedom of his client. The fact that this decision will affect all other similar cases, make it monumental. Judges Wynn and Floyd, the remaining two judges summed up the reversal this way, "A plea based on law enforcement fraud is invalid even if the person is guilty". I added the emphasis at the end of this quote because this is the most important part of the ruling, as far as I’m concerned. I realize that this particular doctrine is controversial. There are people out there who believe in things such as, “The ends justify the means”. Applying that phrase to this ruling means that because this man is guilty, it doesn’t matter that ILLEGAL “means” were used to convict him. That’s just not how our justice system is setup to work. The fact that the “Bill of Rights” were the first amendments to our Constitution automatically make a person’s “Civil Rights” the MOST important factor in our justice system, overriding anything else (new laws, etc.) that may be enacted. When a decision is to be made such as this one, everything else becomes subordinate to civil rights! Consequently, the fact that this man was guilty means nothing if his civil rights are violated.   

Americas aversion to “unreasonable searches and seizures” goes back prior to the Revolution. In fact, this grievance was one of the major causes of our decision to declare our independence. One of the major causes! We were tired of the King’s army busting into the homes of our citizens, whether they were members of “The Sons of Liberty” or just plain old “Joes”. “The Sons of Liberty” were America’s version of what we refer to nowadays as “terrorists”. This group formed as a result of the King’s institution of the “Stamp Act” as well as other oppressive acts. They were thought to have burned down the homes of the British civil servants who governed in America at the King’s pleasure. The British army never had “just cause” or even the slightest hint of propriety when they “came a callin’ and a bustin’ in”. These particular instances formed the basis of the “probable cause” and the “unreasonable searches and seizures” clause in the fourth amendment. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure a lot more Americans will agree, this amendment is the most important one. Knowing that I’m secure in my home and property are the basis for a safe and secure life. Knowing that as long as I’m doing what’s right, I can be assured that I’m safe in my home without someone busting in under the pretense of legality, is a must for a civilized citizenry. Yet, when coppers lie about informants in order to get search warrants that trust begins to erode. Soon enough, people stop trusting coppers, AS WELL AS POLICE OFFICERS (the good ones). When you read this story, you see that, not only did this copper lie to arrest Mr. Fisher; he lied in order to get into his home to steal his safe and other items of value.

One thought in closing. Remember, if you can, back to when two bank robbers, dressed in body armor, robbed a bank in Los Angeles. When they were leaving, the police showed up and the robbers, who were loaded “for bear”, decided it was time to shoot it out with the police. The bad guys shot policemen, civilians, even cars when they got in their way. I remember coming away from that news footage with two feelings. The first was a feeling of pride and appreciation that the police officers, who were paid to “serve and protect”, did just that. Those police officers protected the injured civilians as well as their own wounded officers. The other feeling that I came away with was this feeling, after trying to put myself in the shoes of those citizens, of utter hopelessness and despair! Imagine being one of those civies, who was laying there injured and helpless, and you know in your heart that the people who were hired to protect you were NOT ABLE TO PROTECT YOU because they too were injured and hurt! There’s this almost indescribable feeling of UTTER HOPELESSNESS when you realize that the world has suddenly been turned upside-down. No longer are you safe from that nut with an AK-47! Well, that’s the same kind of feeling that I get when I read these stories of dirty coppers. Let’s face it, when we KNOW we’ve done something wrong and we’re arrested, legitimately, there’s a certain acceptance of our fate. However, when we haven’t done anything wrong, and we’re wrongly arrested and/or convicted, that’s basically the same feeling of hopelessness and despair that we get when we realize that there is nothing in place anymore to protect us from these illegal arrests. Now, I know that Mr. Fisher was actually caught with the drugs and the gun. I also know that there are people out there who believe that those facts right there justify whatever acts, however illegal, are used to arrest and convict Mr. Fisher. In America folks, that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be and that’s as old as the constitution and as solid as our country! Unfortunately, there are coppers out there who have found ways around that constitution and we need to shed the light of day on the “scumbags” or it’s just gonna get worse and that feeling of hopelessness and despair will pervade every mile of this beautiful country and that just can’t happen. Like the article says, ‘Fisher may well have had a career as a drug dealer, but as the 4th Circuit noted, "even the guilty can suffer a miscarriage of justice." ‘. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s only justice for the innocent and NO JUSTICE for the guilty, we have no right calling ourselves a civilized society!

And that's, "As I understand it now... 'til it changes".
Thanks for reading,
Michael K. Stichauf.