To hear is lawyer tell it, Mark Ashford was walking his dog when he saw a man erroneously pulled over for failing to stop at a stoplight. He volunteered to the driver that he saw what happened and would testify for him in court. The officers asked to see some ID. A scuffle occurred and Ashford was eventually charged with Interference and Resisting Arrest. The charges were later dropped.

Here’s the story, here’s a video taken of the incident:

 

There are a few ways to look at this. Strictly in terms of excessive force, it’s not entirely clear that excessive force was, in fact, used. This is the case, however, only if you stipulate to the apparent legitimacy of the arrest. It looks to me as though Ashford did indeed resist arrest at around (2:48) and didn’t fully stop until he was subdued.

What is not clear, however, is the legitimacy of the arrest. The officers went apespit when Ashford pulled out a camera to take a picture of the officers to document the event. Perhaps not the wisest thing to do, but not something that should be illegal (more on this in a bit). However, does the illegitimacy of the arrest which Ashford resisted absolve him of resisting arrest? I can see the merits of both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, if he did nothing wrong to warrant the action of the officers, why should he be held accountable for his actions during the illegimate police action? There seems to be something vaguely… unfair about that. It’s like trying somebody for murder, finding out that they did not commit said murder, but then finding out that they had lied about their alibi and charging them with perjury.

Of course, in this case, both the charges interference and resisting arrest charges against Ashford were dropped. Would this have happened if there had been no video account of the incident? I’m not sure. Had Ashford not fought back and had the cameraman lost interest, it’s also quite likely that this never would have garnered attention and it’s possible that he would have been convicted of interference. So in a sense, he was rewarded for fighting back. That’s not good.

It’s also dicey terrain as to whether someone should believe they are allowed to resist arrest on the basis that they believe the arrest to be illegimate. There is an argument to be made that when a police officer tells you to put your hands behind your back, you should do so. Nothing good comes from resisting. Ever. So putting this into law clarifies this a bit. Do as your told, sort it out later. The alternative is not just that people guilty of no crime resist arrest, but that people that erroneously believe that they haven’t done anything illegal resist arrest. Leaving aside the legal ramifications (because you simply convict those that did something else illegal of resisting arrest, too), the end result is a lot more people getting beat up which serves nobody.

It’s analogous, I suppose, to the rationale used by a lot of schools with regard to school fights. We were taught never to fight back because anybody caught fighting, regardless of who starts it, gets a minimum of 3 days in-school-suspension. The downside to this rule is that it was patently unfair to those that did not start fights and were expected to stand there and take it, run away, or get suspended. But the policies did have a degree of utility. Knowing that it didn’t matter who threw the first punch made you avoid baiting people into punching you. It stopped a lot of fights before they really began simply because the rules were so clear. There is a similar argument to be made, I suppose, for obeying an officer. An officer tells you to do something, you do it. If he’s telling you the wrong thing, we’ll take care of that later.

Of course, that requires a great deal of trust in law officials.

Ultimately, though, this was brought about because of something that has been getting increasing attention lately. Namely that cops really don’t like being on camera (unless it’s their own). The cameraman should be glad that he was in Colorado because had he been in Maryland or a number of other states he could have been charged with a felony. Ashford probably couldn’t have been charged because he was taking a still-photo (I think?) or if not that than because he was never given the opportunity to take the picture before all hell broke loose.

I have more to say on the subject, but I should probably avoid getting too far off track. It does seem to me, though, that whatever our laws on video-taping cops are, they need to be clearly expressed. The wiretapping laws that are being used now are dubious on the face of it because one doesn’t really know whether one is breaking the law or not when they bring the camera out. If prosecutors and cops really believe that it should be illegal to record your interactions with the police, they need to push for a law. And they have to be able to defend its necessity and fairness.


Category: Courthouse

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6 Responses to Interference & Resisting Arrest

  1. web says:

    Will,

    We were taught never to fight back because anybody caught fighting, regardless of who starts it, gets a minimum of 3 days in-school-suspension.

    My school had the same policy. The end result wasn’t, however, that simply curling into a ball did you any good in avoiding suspension. It just meant that the bullies had free hand to beat you up AND got to laugh about causing kids with good grades to get suspension.

    It looks to me as though Ashford did indeed resist arrest at around (2:48) and didn’t fully stop until he was subdued.

    I’m not sure anything he did qualifies as resisting. Both officers have him by the arms and get his wrists cuffed behind his back, then one of the officers says something and kicks the man’s dog, which causes him to turn around, at which point both officers start beating the tar out of him.

    If prosecutors and cops really believe that it should be illegal to record your interactions with the police, they need to push for a law. And they have to be able to defend its necessity and fairness.

    An insistence that interactions with the police not be videotaped is just plain indefensible. You’ll never convince me otherwise. They are public officials, doing a public job, and the best protection people have against abuse of that power is to have a full record of the interaction. Take away the ability to tape record the interaction, and the cops can just lie about it.

    My trust for cops – in traffic stops in particular, which is what this is regarding – has gone so low of late that I think mandatory taping of ALL police interactions would be justifiable.

  2. trumwill says:

    I’m not sure anything he did qualifies as resisting. Both officers have him by the arms and get his wrists cuffed behind his back, then one of the officers says something and kicks the man’s dog, which causes him to turn around, at which point both officers start beating the tar out of him.

    The timeline as I’m seeing it is:
    1. Ashford twists his body to the point that the cops lose grip of him (resisting arrest)
    2. Ashford pushes the moustached officer (assault of a police officer, if you’re an aggressive prosecutor
    3. Dog scrams from underfoot during the scuffle or maybe is kicked.
    4. Beatdown commences.

    If one disregards the fact that he shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, it looks like resisting arrest to me.

    Regarding recorded interactions, I pretty much agree. Outside of undercover enforcement, I can only think of a couple of reasons as to why recording could hinder them legitimately doing their jobs, but they are areas where you can reach a compromise. Not areas that justify throwing the videotaper in prison.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    An officer tells you to do something, you do it.

    100% good advice. Just shut your mouth and do what you are told. You can sort it out later in front of the judge.

    Using wiretapping laws in these cases is VERY suspect. As public employees, police should act in a manner that they are always on camera. Recording any interaction with any public employee should NEVER be illegal.

  4. web says:

    100% good advice. Just shut your mouth and do what you are told. You can sort it out later in front of the judge.

    An officer tells you to do something within reason, perhaps.

    An officer tells you to stop recording the interaction, chances are they know perfectly damn well they are about to do something outside the bounds of the law or their granted authority, and are planning to lie about it later.

    “Shut the camera off so it’s just my word against theirs” is not a reasonable order for an officer of the law to be giving.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    @4

    You are correct; I exchanged accuracy for pith.

    I was referring to a situation where the officer orders you to do something that doesn’t violate your rights, specifically getting arrested; just put your hands behind your back and get in the car.

    Of course, you have the right the right to remain silent, to not submit to a search with a warrant, etc. You should exercise those rights at all times, no matter what the police says. Hopefully that extends to recording encounters with police.

  6. trumwill says:

    I was referring to a situation where the officer orders you to do something that doesn’t violate your rights,

    I agree, though would revise it to say “something that doesn’t violate your rights as they are,” not as you believe the law should be or the Constitution properly applied would dictate.

    This is an important distinction on the videotaping issue, for instance, because right now in many jurisdictions we do not have any right to video tape police officers that police officers, prosecutors, and judges would recognize.

    At that point, I think that you have to take the situation as you see it and react from there. If it looks like they simply believe that you don’t have the right to record them, then it’s probably in your best interest to turn the video camera off to de-escalate the situation. If it looks like they want the camera off to beat the crap out of you, then at that point you may have nothing to lose by keeping it on. Though, if that’s their intent, they will probably take it from you anyway as obviously the law is not of particular importance to them if they don’t have a problem with pre-meditated assault.

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