“…and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The Lord’s Prayer
When I was a boy reciting this prayer I took this particular excerpt to simply mean I should steer clear of trouble. But what if, like Pierce County deputies Montgomery and McNicol, your job is to steer straight into trouble?
As the recent Trib article relates, a Pierce County jury returned a guilty verdict on Friday for two the two deputies accused of perjuring themselves in March 2010. Fortunately, this shameful scene, two law enforcement officers in the defendants’ chair, is a rare event. But when it happens it is painful to watch, especially for those of us in the same profession.
The criminal justice system in which we work is an imperfect format. Cops (myself included) often criticize the process for its loopholes, limitations and one-size fits all approach. In most instances, however, we are there to see the system work well (or at least well enough).
I am operating under no more information on this case than the average reader. For myself, I can only be assured that the two deputies appeared to have been given fair treatment, were well represented and received judgment from a jury of their peers. In other words, you can’t support the system when it’s working for you and then bitch about it when it goes against you.
There is, however, that nagging question: If it weren’t for the job they were performing would these two ever have been branded a felon in our society? The answer is that no one, except for perhaps the two men themselves, can possibly know.
What I do know is that performing the duties of a police officer is not unlike the plight of Damocles. This legendary figure gratefully accepts the temporary authority of a king only to find that it comes with a sharp sword suspended over his head by thin horsehair. Too dramatic? Maybe.
But there is a heavy liability associated with the job. Since every call for service requires a reasonable decision–based on legal and procedural knowledge as well as an individual’s work ethic and moral standards–each call also holds the potential for departmental discipline, a civil lawsuit, or a criminal investigation. Not many positions come with that type of job description.
Such were the circumstances under which deputies McNicol and Montgomery labored when they took custody of a felon in possession of a firearm almost three years ago. I could suggest that, had it not been for their sworn duties,that these two men might not be awaiting sentencing for a felony conviction of perjury. Without taking on the added risks (or temptation as the Bible puts it) inherent in their authoritarian roles they would be simply two guys living their lives.
That would be ingenuous. Like the rest of us who voluntarily swore an oath, they knew the risks. Ultimately, the jury decided that both men failed in their role to faithfully and truthfully discharge their duties.
The vocal minority who relish in the public drubbing of cops have already taken this as an opportunity to resurrect past corruptions, such as Jankovich and Brame, two former Tacoma police chiefs whose careers (and in Brame’s case the life of his wife and himself) ended on a repellant note. But that dog, as they say, won’t hunt.
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office was quick to pick up on the inconsistency of the deputies statements. The Sheriff placed the two on unpaid leave, and this trial was aggressively pursued by every involved agency. In the end the system worked.
There is a reason the statue of Lady Justice has a blindfold. When the criminal justice system cuts both ways there is hope that the system actually works.
For all of us.