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Police perjury taints criminal justice system

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Dec. 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm with 7 Comments »
December 12, 2011 5:36 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

A slap on the wrist. With a feather.

That’s what two Pierce County sheriff’s deputies got Friday from the very criminal justice system they betrayed by testifying falsely under oath last year at a pretrial hearing last year.

Convicted of first-degree perjury in September, 48-year-old Rex McNicol and 36-year-old Jeff Montgomery will have to serve three weekends in jail – they can skip Christmas weekend – plus 79 days in home detention and 40 hours of community service.

Granted, McNicol and Montgomery were first-time offenders, and Superior Court Judge John Hickman’s lenient penalty was within the state’s sentencing guidelines.

But their prosecutor, assistant state attorney general Melanie Tratnik, pointed out that they were not common criminals, and their falsehoods were not common crimes. The sworn lies of police officers send ripples of damage through the legal system.

Most criminal cases stand or fall on the credibility of the police. Officers make judgments on probable cause, request search warrants, arrest suspects, gather evidence, write official reports and testify in court. The entire process assumes that the police are honest.

Kick out the stool of police integrity, and charges collapse. That’s precisely what happened here. In a child welfare case two years ago, the deputies were dispatched to a home where a convicted felon reportedly kept a rifle. They arrested him on a weapons charge. In their report, Montgomery wrote that they’d entered the felon’s house.

In court later, McNicol swore that they hadn’t gone into the house, and Montgomery backed up him. It appears that McNicol feared the evidence would be suppressed and was trying to save the case. The discrepancy between the initial report and their testimony killed the charges against the felon.

If only the harm from such police perjury cases stopped there. When the testimony of a few officers is exposed as dishonest, some members of the public will assume that most officers routinely break the rules. If enough officers discredit themselves, the result can be a widespread distrust of what happens inside the courthouse.

The only way to preserve public trust is to respond decisively to corruption. Some big cities – such as New York and New Orleans – have tolerated bad cops, to their shame.

That didn’t happen here: McNicol and Montgomery were charged, suspended, convicted and fired. The only weak link in the chain was the sentence. Regardless, their prosecution should stand as a sobering lesson for any officer who might be tempted to dispense with the rules to put a suspect in jail.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. olgraybeard says:

    Give me a break these men have lost there lively hood at a age and in a job market where minimum wage jobs are hard to find. They have mortgages to pay, families to support. Their crime is trying to protect and serve you. Never mind there was a 15 year old child at risk, with 2 armed drug addict parents in the house. Can you even imagine going to the door in a remote location in the area where a man in your same department was shot and killed, on a weapons complaint. Trying to keep the suspects apart while trying to find out where the weapon was. These men risk there lives trying to protect the community and this is the thanks they get. Shame on you!!!

    Rick Smith
    Eatonville, Wa

  2. Chippert says:

    Those who wield extraordinary power, as do the police, do so at our behest to protect us. But along with that comes extraordinary responsibility to be scrupulous and moral. When a law enforcement officer lies in a case for any reason, it is not simple perjury. It is a betrayal of the trust that society has put in them and an abuse of the power entrusted. As the article says, such an incident is far-reaching. In this day when trust of the police is at an all time low, we cannot afford incidents like this. Yes, police are human but that means that they have to be even more careful to be above reproach. It is unfortunate that their families have to suffer as well, but that was the terrible choice these officers made when they chose to lie. In my opinion, given the gravity of the offense, the punishment was orders of magnitude less severe than it should have been.

  3. Exactly what Chippert said. These two men(and I use the term loosely) are the scum of the scum. They twist and pervert our justice system while at the same time destroying the public trust in the good officers out there protecting us daily, putting their lives at risk. 6 months to a year would have been acceptable, but the law should be changed to specifically make perjury by a cop carry a harsher sentence than for anyone else(like teachers raping their students carries a harsher penalty)

  4. LibertyBell says:

    “But their prosecutor, assistant state attorney general Melanie Tratnik, pointed out that they were not common criminals, and their falsehoods were not common crimes. The sworn lies of police officers send ripples of damage through the legal system.”

    Evidently, those perjury cases in Spokane, Bellingham, Everett, Vancouver, are still a bit confusing in the Court Records, both State and Federal, with the City Managers, Mayors, Governors, and Police Chiefs too…

  5. LibertyBell says:

    And evidently after TR, left Union Station…those scales of Justice from Montana, never returned…

    “Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense.”… “We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.””The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.”
    New York State Fair, Syracuse, September 7, 1903

  6. LibertyBell says:

    Though shall not lie?

    No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.
    Theodore Roosevelt

  7. LibertyBell says:

    Perjury “IS” a party, known best for another lie..

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