A pair of stories this summer from Bakersfield, California illustrate the dual justice systems we operate under as a police state that prohibits the cultivation and sale of a crop our founding fathers grew.
Yesterday, a U.S. District Judge handed down a sentence of probation with no jail time for two former Kern County Sheriff’s Deputies, Logan August, age 30, and Derrick Penney, age 34. The two were involved in a conspiracy with another cop to steal drugs from the evidence locker, pounds at a time, for sale on the criminal market.
August and Penney cropped the tops off marijuana plants seized by the sheriff’s office, then stored the buds for curing at Penney’s house before they were trimmed and sold.
These thefts continued over a nine-month period, as August and Penney stole about eight pounds of marijuana. August would then have a former snitch of his sell the marijuana, and they all split the profits.
The crimes they were convicted of carried a maximum possible sentence of five years, but the prosecutors recommended only nine months of jail time for August, to “deter police corruption.” For Penney, who prosecutors say committed only one theft, they recommended only probation.
During the sentencing hearing, August and Penney’s wives cried before the judge, who remarked that, “being the wife of a law enforcement officer is not easy [but] being the wife of a fallen law enforcement officer is even more difficult.” Moved that the wives had taken “the brunt” of the suffering caused by their police husbands, the judge kept their families together by keeping the men out of prison.
On the other hand, two months ago in Bakersfield, Raymond Arthur Gentile, age 56, was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Gentile was convicted on marijuana production and sales charges relating to his operation of an unlicensed dispensary and given the mandatory minimum sentence.
How is it that a guy running a storefront where adults shop of their own free will gets a mandatory five years, but cops who steal contraband evidence from criminal cases and sell it illegally get the judge’s discretion?
Whatever happened to that old Spider-Man saying: “With great power comes great responsibility?”
We entrust our law enforcement officers to walk and drive around with the power to disobey traffic laws, take citizens into custody and even harm or kill us under certain, seemingly increasing, circumstances.
We back up that trust by providing law enforcement with “qualified immunity,” the doctrine that makes it so we can’t sue them for the harms they cause us in the performance of their duties in all but the most extreme cases.
We even hold their lives in greater legal esteem by punishing those who attack or kill police officers—be they human or canine—with stronger punishments than we mete out for attacks and murders of civilians and especially their dogs.
But when we get a case like this one in Bakersfield or recent cases of police corruption in Baltimore, we see cops who get administrative leave—paid time off!—who are rarely indicted, and who, when they are convicted, get a slap on the wrist compared to what citizens who commit similar crimes receive in punishment.
Then, we see those disgraced criminal police officers simply move on to work as police in some other jurisdiction or, worse, get re-hired by the department that fired them for malfeasance.
Being a police officer is a sacred trust with society. If that trust is broken, society should never allow that person to be a police officer anywhere ever again. Letting these bad cops return to policing is as reprehensible as the Catholic Church’s shuffling of pedophile priests who got caught.
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