As a true crime investigator/journalist, I have been honored to interact with some of the most selfless and dedicated law enforcement people in America, and have also worked on projects with two of the admittedly most corrupt cops in the NYPD — Ken Eurell and Michael Gourdine (he’s #3 after Michael Dowd and Ken Eurell). It is one thing to write about police corruption, it is another thing to experience it.
I live in a townhouse complex in Stevenson Ranch, California. Among my fellow residents is a lovely family with a bright and talented son in his early twenties. Admittedly, he has issues: a heart condition and Systemic Lupus. It is not surprising that he also had some teen behavioral issues–a habit of artistic graffiti. Well, he got in trouble for that a few years back and was placed on probation. He had to check in at a kiosk in city hall between the first and the tenth of the month. No problem, as he is conscientious about such things, plus he had a good job that he wouldn’t want to jeopardize.
A couple summers ago, he made the tragic error of checking in at the kiosk one day EARLY — the 31st rather than the first. On the morning of the 11th, there was a knock at the door. His mother, 8 months pregnant with twins, opened the door and had a shotgun shoved in her face by an armed and masked member of Santa Clarita law enforcement. Why the mask? Oh, the cops will tell you that it isn’t to conceal identity, but is for safety reasons if the dispatching officer believes there might be a danger of toxic chemicals — the most toxic chemical in these townhouses is a used Swifter.
Several of these armed masked men pushed past her, stormed up the stairs to where her two sons were sleeping and dragged the oldest one from his bed and took him to jail. He was held without charges and without bail for a solid week before being brought before a judge. As there were no charges, the judge didn’t know why the kid was even there and sent him home to his distraught mother who, going into premature labor (no doubt from the shock of the experience) lost one of her babies. The surviving child, born too soon, had special health and care needs. Maintaining a calm and near sterile environment was imperative — hence the “arrested son” could not return lest there be more such incidents. Of course, he lost his job because he had vanished for a week. Jobless, pretty much on his own and relying upon the kindness of cousins and associates not known for their exemplary lifestyles, it wasn’t long before our friend developed more health problems including both medical and non-medical dependence and checked himself into a treatment center whose program he had to abandon when he discovered that there was now a warrant for his arrest related to his signing in a day early at the kiosk. Insane? Sure. Now, I haven’t given this case the famed Burl Barer in-depth investigation but even if I have condensed and simplified the story, the essence of it is 100% accurate. Law abiding young man dragged out of his home at gunpoint for being over-conscientious and held without charges long enough to lose his job.
Now, I would say that this was an isolated incident of police absurdity were it not for the Thanksgiving Day Starbucks visit by my daughter and her boyfriend who had recently come into town from Colorado. My daughter walked over to Starbucks on Valencia and her boyfriend, joining her made the foolish mistake of walking across and stopping briefly on the meridian. The next thing he knows, he hears police barking orders — one of them was not to him, but to the cop’s female partner “Call in for overtime!” It was about 7 minutes before five p,m. Yes, a potential jaywalking ticket is worth overtime pay, but is it really necessary to PULL A GUN ON AN UNARMED YOUNG MAN VISITING FOR THANKSGIVING?
Yes, the officer put his gun in the kid’s face and threatened his life before issuing him a citation for blocking the flow of traffic. I encouraged him to contest the citation so he could tell the court how his life was threatened at gunpoint. The cops didn’t show up in court so the matter was dismissed.
I met these officers myself a few months later when a friend drove me home late one night. We were stopped as we were about to turn into the driveway. The police demanded to know where we were going and why. We are going here because I live here! I endured several more minutes of interrogation before they let me go home. As I am seventy years old, I must have looked like a criminal preparing for a rampage.
Now there is no direct tie between these three little slices of life in Santa Clarita, but it certainly raises concerns about the ethics and attitudes of our local law enforcement. They may not be as corrupt as the NYPD back in the day, but the first two incidents had me pretty damn worried during #3.