What is important. What is real. What you need to know to survive the 21st Century. How to live a million years and want more.
Reality, What a Trip
Published on December 19, 2009 By Phil Osborn In War on Terror

Police Brutality


Incidents I have witnessed re police abuse:


Preface: I'm 61 years old, and have been involved in one kind or another of radical politics since around 1966.  During the period from 1974 to 1981, I was arrested three times in conjunction with political activities and spent three nights in jail.


Well before those incidents, in the ‘60’s, while getting my physics degree, I used to use amphetamines to get thru finals, as I was working full time as well as being a full-time student.  I recall going to the local speed dealer, who had been supplying bennies and black beauties, etc., to the University of Georgia students for many years, to stock up for exams.  We were having a little conversation, in the foyer of his house, where he cared for his aged, infirm mother, when there was a knock at his door.


The dealer told me to get into the side room and not make a sound.  Then he answered the door and I heard a conversation in normal tones and assumed that everything was cool.  So I walked back into his living room, where I witnessed a man paying the dealer for 8mm film reels.  The guy looked panicky when I entered and hurried off furtively with a box full of reels of film.


When he was gone, the speed dealer turned to me angrily and shouted, “Do you know who that WAS?”


Of course, I didn’t, but the man who he named was familiar to me.  It was the head of the Athens, Georgia police narcotics division.  I later discovered that this same person who was renting the then illegal pornography also played poker every Friday night with the largest local marijuana dealer.  He always won. 


Such was my introduction to the world of cop corruption. 


Probably a couple years later, I and a couple of my out-of-work college buddies decided that since jobs were scarce, and most of the people we knew used recreational drugs, such as marijuana or LSD, that we should just try our luck at dealing the drugs, thereby having plenty for ourselves as well as supporting our lifestyle – which was only a couple of cuts above welfare.  We weren't starving, but we didn't eat out very often.


We drove to Atlanta and met with a higher level dealer who immediately pulled out his badge as a member of whatever the DEA was called back then.  He explained to us that he had plenty of drugs from confiscations, but the feds were not interested in penny-ante college dealers, and had little interest in the recreational drugs in general.  They were after heroine.  So, if we ran across any information regarding heroine sales in the course of pursuing our new career, we would be rewarded for passing it on.


The drugs that the federal agent supplied us turned out to be of very low quality, barely covering our costs and expenses, so that ended my attempts to become a pusher.


After my graduation in 1970, the job scene looked pretty bleak.  After trying restaurant management and construction, both paying very little under the Nixon wage-price freeze, I took a teaching job in a small rural Georgia town, where I immediately got into trouble from both the black power people and the clan, as I refused to treat students differently on the basis of race or sex. 


During that stint, teaching English and Earth Science, with about half my students of either race, at one point a couple of the white girls in my middle school class showed up unannounced at the house I shared with another teacher.  Inviting themselves in, they proceeded to behave provocatively toward me.  I finally got rid of them, when they couldn't come up with a legitimate academic reason for being there, but then they started phoning me.


I mentioned it to my roomie, who had some connections in the local power structure, evidenced by his invitation to the local country club.  He investigated the strange incident and finally got an answer.  A local deputy sheriff had become annoyed at my “race mixing” behavior.  I don't know how he found out, but given the local culture, in which everyone was related to everyone else, there were no lack of possible venues.  So, he had something on these two 9th grade girls and used that to blackmail them into virtually throwing themselves at me.


From an early '60's introduction to the John Birch Society when I was in middle school, to my conversion over the next few years to being a follower of Ayn Rand, to my reading of the libertarian anarchists in the late '60's, I had steadily moved in the direction of considering my real career to be that of professional revolutionary.


During my short career as a middle school teacher, I had become increasingly involved in radical libertarian politics, culminating in my 1971 move to Columbia, South Carolina, to join up with a radical group of Randian anarchists, who were starting the city's first Montessori School (which is still in existence). 


My first arrest was for discharging a weapon in Burlington, Iowa in 1974.  It was an emergency.  The people who used to be my friends but had gone crazy in their little anarchist cult had sabotaged my pickup truck and were approaching me with drawn guns.  I fired into the air in the hopes of summoning police to a scene that almost certainly would have involved a homicide (Me!), had I not done so.  It worked.  The police swarmed the scene.  Nobody was hurt.  I spent the night in jail and paid a $50 fine and agreed to leave town, which was exactly what I wanted. 


If I had it to do over, I probably would do the same thing.  A year later, I left the East Coast entirely and moved to Long Beach, CA, where I spent the next 27 years involved with other libertarian anarchists of various stripes, and participated or instigated a number of major projects, including:


The "Computer Gang" project, which I originally instigated as computer training from Data Equipment Supply, run out of Sheenway School in Watts and ultimately financed by Richard Prior;


The organization of the 2nd Future of Freedom libertarian conference series, spearheaded by Larry Samuels (the original series had been the project of then anarchist and now Federal Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher);


The organization of the first non-sectarian home schooling conference on the West Coast, together with Cathy LeVesque of Keys to Learning.


By 1980, I had acquired a certain level of political visibility due to my work in instigating the Computer Gang Project, as well as my planning for and convincing Elliot Mintz to make his famous call to the American Embassy in Teheran, from the local Pacifica radio station, KPFK, which started the media circus that gave Carter his excuse to seclude himself in the Rose Garden and not start a war. 


Then there was my on-air discussion with Umberto Ortega, Daniel’s brother in charge of Nicaragua’s military, in which I spelled out the measures to take to prevent Reagan from invading – which worked.


Not satisfied with pissing off a whole lot of powerful people with muscle on tap - the State Dept, the FBI, the Savak, (the Shah’s murderous secret police), and of course the local leftists who wanted another war to jumpstart their moribund movements, to name a few, I decided to go after the IRS on April 15th.  So, I made up a poster and a banner and trucked on down to the Long Beach Main Post Office, at 3rd and Long Beach Blvd.


One side of the large poster on a stick read something like “Support the American Banking Empire: Contribute Tonight,” while the other side was similar, but read something like “The Death Squads need your help: Donate Now.”  I parked my pickup truck in front of the IRS lane that went around the block and attached a banner across the back of the camper shell, with the message, “Turn Right Ahead to Support Nuclear War.”


Then, for the next couple hours, I marched up and down in front of the Post Office and the bank just to the north of it.  I noticed bankers in suits peering out at me and jabbing their fingers in obvious anger.  After an hour or so, several other tax protestors from the "Your Heritage Protection Association" (YHPA) joined me, but their posters were comparatively tame.


A week later, I was arrested in Bixby Park by the elementary school principle of Burbank Elementary, at the advice of the Long Beach Police, and accused of “Loitering with Children.”  (I had visited his elementary school in an attempt to contact a friend who had her kids there and who had mysteriously disappeared.)


No particular children were ever alleged, or any actual criminal acts, and I discovered later that the police, before advising the principal to make the citizen’s arrest (as the police knew that the arrest itself was false, and were not going to have it on their record) had been investigating me ever since my IRS protest. 


Among other pieces of “evidence,” they had interviewed park employees who testified as to seeing me with a camera in the park while children were present (which was pretty much always).  I had my film held by Thrifty Drugs, where it was being processed, until a paralegal agent could pick it up, so that I could demonstrate that no pictures of children, except by sheer accident, were on the film.  It was apparently just serendipity for the cops that the principle was paranoid about my visit and called them with my name and license plate number, although I suspect that they would have come up with an alternative reason to arrest me, regardless.


A year later, all charges were dismissed and the Judge wrote on the verdict, “Defendant Exonerated,” meaning that I had not merely NOT been successfully prosecuted but positively found NOT guilty.  The resultant losses to me, due to having to abandon a major business venture while dealing with this, plus the legal fees, I estimate came to something on the order of a minimum of $50,000.  In addition, there were the social consequences and the stress, which probably took a year off my life.


At random over the next year, the Long Beach cops would pull up next to me in their black and whites as I was driving and yell over their amplifier things like “How does it FEEL to be a FELON?”  The Future of Freedom libertarian conference series, which I had helped restart and whose first conference was almost entirely designed by me, sent me a letter saying that, due to my arrest, I would not be allowed to do my scheduled “Children’s Rights” workshop. 


And, for decades after, my enemies told people that I was a “convicted child molester,” and that reputation followed me in libertarian circles.  One guy couldn't understand why I would get upset when he requested that I "prove my innocence" before I would be allowed to teach his kids how to use the computer.  (The State code under which I was cited was actually designed to go after drug dealers on high school campuses.  Only much later did it come into play in going after child molesters.) 


For those readers who may never have been arrested and spent a night in jail, allow me to enlighten you as to what it is like.


First, there is the immediate impact.  Probably you have spent your entire adult life up to that point doing what you choose, within limits.  When you want to go somewhere, you get in your car and drive.  Imagine that you were crippled or had lost your car and were unable to go to work, the cinema, or anywhere not within easy walking distance. 


When you are faced with someone who has violent intentions toward you, you normally leave the scene, lock your doors, grab a weapon or otherwise prepare to defend yourself, and/or call the cops.  Imagine that you had no weapon and you are surrounded by a hundred enemies waiting for your first slip-up to beat you up, perhaps crippling you, for which YOU will be blamed.  Jail is all that times 20.


Suddenly, you are reduced to a child or a slave.  What you want doesn’t matter.  Your life is not your own.  You passively wait for other people who will injure or kill you at the slightest excuse, as these are not your parents or your friends.  These are people who like to bully other people, otherwise why would they have taken the job, especially in the notoriously corrupt Long Beach Police Dept.?*  You are legally “presumed innocent,” which is a great comfort as you are treated as scum who should be terminated with prejudice.


*During this period, I ate dinner regularly at the counter of the Orbit restaurant in Long Beach, a facility that catered to the local aerospace industry.  Most of the patrons were engineers.  One of them was a newly inducted Long Beach cop.  I tried to explain to him how corrupt the Long Beach PD was, and, for the next several months, he dismissed my claims disdainfully.  Then he stopped objecting.  Then he quit the force, telling me that no one could last more than six months there without being corrupted.


When I was taken to the Police Dept. and then to the jail, at one point I was put into an elevator with what appeared to be another inmate.  The elevator doors closed, and then nothing happened until the “inmate” pulled out a joint and lit up, right there in the heart of the Long Beach PD.  He offered me a toke, which I declined, and a few minutes later, the doors reopened, and I exited from an elevator car that apparently went only one story in five minutes, along with a cloud of unmistakable pungent smoke which none of the cops took any notice of.


Then I was put into the tank, a large cage, basically, perhaps 30 feet on a side, with one publically viewable commode with no seat and no toilet paper.  The other inmates consisted of about 20 guys who had been busted as Johns in a street prostitution sting operation, plus one “trustee,” who immediately set about educating us as to our duties as prisoners, making everything a joke, handing other inmates the broom and teaching them how to sweep the floor, demonstrating proper form in doing pushups, how to suck up to the guards, etc.


Finally, after several hours, the guards – all obese cops – rolled this enormous steel telephone box across the floor to the bars of the cage.  The thing was the size of a phone booth and trailed wires behind it.  It took three of them just to roll it, it was so heavy.  Then we took turns attempting to contact our families, friends, attorneys, anyone to bail us out.  However, the cops standing around and monitoring everything we said got a big laugh out of a slight problem with the phone.


The strange phone was not properly grounded, and ran on AC house current.  The cage bars were grounded.  We had to reach through the bars to hold the phone whose cord was not long enough to completely go through, forcing us to jam our heads against the bars.  Thus, wherever the paint had worn off the bars, there was a perfect circuit to ground for the AC house current, the other element in the circuit being the inmate’s body. 


The cops did not think it necessary to warn us of this problem.  Instead, one victim after another would be observed talking to whoever and then their sweaty (it was HOT) arm would touch a bare metal spot on the cage and they would suddenly be flying across the cell in spasms, which would bring other spasms - of laughter - from the cops.


By the next morning, I had been bailed out by my banker, Anthony L. Hargis, who ran a gold depository in Fountain Valley (for about 25 years until the feds seized everything around 2004, and put him in prison for 6 months for posting the suggestion on his business website that the Federal Reserve might go bankrupt and refusing to give them the personal info on his customers without a warrant).  I lost seven pounds over that one day and night, and I'm sure that that stress alone took a lot much more than one day off my lifespan.


I attempted to fight my case pro per, with the paralegal assistance of various libertarian and “patriot” individuals.  Their advice was generally pretty good, and they had copies of all kinds of court filings.  My paperwork was better than anything that the D.A. submitted.  But it had to be, whereas theirs could be total garbage and the judge would wave it through.  (Who pays the judge’s salary?) 


However, just to teach me a lesson, when I submitted the paperwork – demurrers, etc. - that legally should have resulted in a dismissal of my case on the spot, as the cops had no victims and no evidence, the D.A. responded by piling on additional equally  unsubstantiated charges that moved the case from being a misdemeanor to being a felony.  At this point, I panicked and sought an attorney.


My attorney – recommended by my doctor - was one of the crew who were on good terms with the system in the Long Beach Courts, which meant that he could not pursue my case aggressively or risk losing his relationship, which he let me know in no uncertain terms.  At one point, passing by the judge’s chambers en route to the court, I overheard him arguing with the judge, who I heard say, “Well, I can’t GIVE YOU Osborn.”


Fortunately, the friend who I had been trying to locate at the school finally reappeared and saved the day with her testimony, in spite of efforts by the prosecution to force her to lie in court and claim that she had never met me.

(Odd that I had her phone number and address somehow and knew the names of her kids and much of her life history.)


On a related note, however, there was a teenage black woman – Loretta - who had served us dinner at a Carl’s Jr. before my friend disappeared.  She remembered us well and was prepared to testify, as the D.A. was claiming that I had completely made up my friend and my relationship to her.  This young woman had a very positive attitude and great plans for her future when we first met.  Then, suddenly, right after she was included as a witness for the defense, someone from one of the Long Beach gangs contacted her and got her hooked on coke, resulting in her being kicked out of her home, and then becoming a dope dealer for the gang to support herself.


From my side, all I knew that she had now disappeared, leaving me without a critical witness, as I still had heard nothing from my friend.  After several months, I finally located her, and went to her apartment.  There, she showed me a sawed off shotgun that she kept in her closet and invited me to get high, which I declined.  Then her gang liaison showed up, an older black guy, who pulled out ID identifying him as Navy security.  He implied that he also did jobs for the Long Beach police on a freelance basis.  And, of course, he implied that he knew all about “my case.”


Then Loretta once again disappeared without a trace.  A couple years later, I ran into her again in downtown Long Beach.  She was only in her late teens by then, but looked to be in her forties.  Slender and athletic when I met her, now she was an overweight physical wreck, with a permanent expression of angry misery stamped on her face. 


All the evidence points to the Long Beach D.A.’s office and the police being responsible for everything that happened to poor Loretta, who, I’m guessing, is probably long dead from her lifestyle, which I believe the cops introduced her to just to eliminate her as my witness. 


While the court record reads “defendant exonerated,” the judge only agreed to the acquittal on the terms that I would agree not to contact my friend who had disappeared.  It was she, who, despite the pressure from the DA, ultimately refused to sign off on his lies and who finally exonerated me.  It took me several years to realize that the judge was simply cutting off any means for me to sue.  I would have to contact the woman in order to get her testimony, which would be critical to my lawsuit. 


The police were already largely off the hook, because the arrest was a citizen’s arrest by the school principal, never mind that the cops had convinced him to do it and driven him to the park in their squad car.  However, they had the discretion to have simply issued a citation or warning, depending upon their own independent assessment.  So, there was still an element of culpability, along with the DA’s choice to prosecute, his attempted suborning of witnesses, the failure of the judge himself to preempt further process, etc.


Simply forcing me to agree not to contact the woman, ever, who was my primary witness, would make any lawsuit much more chancy.


A slow learner, around 1982, still awaiting a verdict in the Long Beach case, I attended a meeting at the Velvet Turtle restaurant in Woodland Hills, to the North of Los Angeles, where the organizer announced his plans to create a "safe house" for the street kids in the Hollywood area.  This seemed like an admirable plan to me and so, on the way back to Long Beach in my camper, I decided to take a couple of days to investigate the situation on the ground.


I parked my camper at Hollywood and Vine on a side street next to a liquor store and set out to walk the street, simply observing the general scene.  At the intersection across the street, while I was crossing it, a van pulled up in front of me, blocking the walk lane, and a half dozen or so black hookers piled out and started walking toward me.  Behind me, another similar group approached.  The two groups surrounded me, swarmed all over me and grabbed by trucker’s wallet and fled.  During the process, I accidentally hooked my arm through the strap of one of the hookers' purses, and held on, in the hopes of using it to barter for my wallet and my IDs, etc.


Instead, that hooker, alone now, followed me, producing a knife.  I had a pocket teargas dispenser and used it on her to little avail.  Then I noticed a group of pimps approaching from where they had been loitering in front of the liquor store.


By luck, I managed to flag a cab in the middle of the street and circle the block, coming up behind my camper.  I got out and attempted to summon the police via the payphone in front of the store.  The dispatcher told me that there were no police in the area and that it might be 30 minutes before anyone would be available.


At that point the pimps and the hooker, still clutching her knife, were approaching me, the pimps yelling, "Give the lady her purse! M..F..er!"  I managed to get the door to the camper open and rummaged under my bed for a .38 revolver.  Just in time, I found it as the first pimp showed up at the entrance.  When he saw the gun, he motioned to the others and they all backed off in a hurry.  I returned to the payphone and called the police again.  I got the same response as the first time until I said the word "gun."  At that point, the dispatcher shouted back to me "A GUN!!!" and the police car that was supposedly 30 minutes away came bouncing up over the curb, nearly running me down, and I was faced with two guns pointing at me.


The Hollywood cops, so far as I know, never once made any attempt to go after the hookers or pimps involved in the mugging and robbery.  In fact, they pretended as though somehow I had just gone crazy and called them in order to be arrested with a gun in public.  At one point, however, one of the cops suddenly switched from being sarcastic and insulting to being super-polite.


As in, "Uh, sir? When you grabbed the lady's purse and later, did you happen to notice anything inside the purse?


I replied that I had opened the purse during the brief cab side, hoping to ascertain if there was any ID inside, but had only seen some costume jewelry, a dollar bill, and some loose change.  He replied, "Oh, well, that's all we found, as well."


Of course, that doesn't go very far in explaining why the hooker and the crew of pimps were so excited about the purse.  And, I did notice that the walls of the purse seemed way too thick.


On the way to jail, now about midnight, the cops stopped to investigate a shooting, leaving me handcuffed in the rear seat.  While waiting, I overheard on their radio and later was able to confirm that two other pedestrians had been robbed and mugged in the hour or so after my experience, all using the same MO.


At the police station, after telling an officer the details of what had happened to me, I was placed in a tiny - perhaps 5 feet on a side - cell with only tiny - perhaps 6" wide - bench to sit on, and my handcuffs were left on at my rear, making it impossible to sit without bending way over, or to stand up straight.  While I was sitting there in misery, the cops brought some guy right before the cell door, and had a big discussion with him about civil rights.  There was nothing but my cell in the area of the hall, and no reason to stop right there.  I can only conclude that it was done for a purpose, but am still mystified as to what.


After listening to the nonsense, however, it occurred to me that I could step through my handcuffs, bringing them to the front, and allowing me to sit semi-normally.  Within ten seconds of my doing so, the door burst open, and the cop yelled at me, "And now you're going to put them back behind you!"


Finally, about 4 AM, I was taken to the office area to view the report on my robbery.  I read through the report and noticed that it completely contradicted the facts.  There was no mention of the robbery or the chase on the streets.  Somehow, once again, I had simply gone crazy and pulled a gun and then called the police to arrest me. 


The officer apologized profusely for his error and then told me to sign the report and he would then make the corrections.  Stupid me.  I signed, out of a sense of desperation and deathly stress fatigue.  Anything to get out of there!


Of course, the recording officer didn't change the report, and I suspect that the reason had something to do with the thickness of the hooker's purse's walls.  The Hollywood police dept. was notoriously corrupt, and it had apparently been a couple of vice officers who had initially arrested me.  I'm just guessing that the purse probably had drugs concealed in the thick walls, and they wanted the drugs but had to deal with the inexplicable fact that the hooker plus pimps had chased me around for less than $2 and some cheap costume jewelry. 


It didn't compute.  So, change the facts to reflect what they wanted.


In my camper, I also had some bags of silver coins, the 40% junk silver from the '60's that everyone was buying on margin.  It was only a thousand dollars worth, I think, but the cops suggested that they could just pay me the face value if they felt like it.  Silver was around $16 per ounce at that point, I think, which would have given them several hundred dollars profit.  As far as I know, I did get all the silver back, but don't we like to play our little games when we have the upper hand?


Remember, you may think that being innocent means something, but the cops’ job records are based on successful convictions, not on innocence or guilt.


After I was released on bail again, I was angry, and I looked for an attorney who would really represent me.  The local Pacifica Station, KPFK had run a program on police brutality, mentioning the phone number of an organization of lawyers who specialized in false arrests, beatings by police etc.  I called them and got the number of a black female attorney who agreed to take both my cases, including my lawsuit against the city of Long Beach for false arrest and imprisonment there.  She took about one thousand dollars from me up front and then didn't do a thing more.


After all, she had the money, and I was going to be in jail from the Hollywood arrest, so what could I do to her?  Days before my court appearance, realizing that she was about to throw me to the wolves, I asked around my libertarian friends and got the number of Don Franzen, then a corporate attorney, who had the case dismissed without any major effort.


So, one plea on my arrest in Iowa, resulting in a $50 fine, and two arrests resulting in acquittals or dismissals.  That's still considered a criminal record, folks, and even though you can be arrested, falsely or otherwise, at the discretion of any crooked officer, that record was enough to keep me out of teaching as a career for several decades.


During the period following my Long Beach arrest, while awaiting trial, I had an epiphany.  I often hung out at the local Denny’s at 6th Street and Long Beach Blvd. with a book or magazine and shot the bull with my fellow coffee addicts.  Naturally, they heard my sad tales of misfortune.  What surprised me, however, was how many of them had similar tales to relate.


Even with my anti-political anarchist beliefs, I had still grown up with the same TV culture as most Americans, constantly fed the idea that the cops are there to protect us.  And, to be fair, often they do, especially in emergency situations.  However, that badge is a lot of relatively unchecked, unsupervised power, and it is very easy for a bully to make it as a cop.  A successful cop, who gets promotions and good job slots, is one who makes successful arrests, meaning arrests that result in lucrative – for the courts – pleas, fines or jail, in the case of trouble-makers like me.


I heard tale after tale, once I had broached the subject, from my coffee pals, for example, of arrests of traveling salesmen who simply couldn’t afford to stay and fight charges.  The cops knew this and so would arrest some guy staying at a motel, beat him up a bit, and then offer a plea.  He would pay some money on the plea, agree to leave town, and the cops would attribute a series of burglaries or purse snatchings, etc., to him, meaning that those cases were now listed as solved.  So, the cops and the D.A. got credit for solving a bunch of small crimes and some money as well.


In the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, for five years, I worked full time as a Teamster warehouseman and ultimately as shipping clerk for the largest health food warehouse on the West Coast.  A bunch of my coworkers discovered the YHPA in the early ‘80’s, and started filing income taxes claiming multitudes of exemptions or other ruses, based on the advice of this tax resistance organization.  I personally thought that they were all going to be busted big time, but I felt ashamed, as a libertarian, to let them take the fire for me, so I joined in.


After I lost that job in 1983, due to squabbles with the management (who ultimately destroyed the entire business), I had a slight problem with working above ground, in that the IRS or State Franchise would likely seize anything I made in short order.  I was an early adopter of computers, however, so I went into the gray market, offering word processing and paralegal services freelance.  It ultimately was not enough to sustain me, so, starting in 1985, I went from there to driving a taxi part time, which lasted until early 1991.


I drove the Santa Ana barrios during the drunk hours of the crazy ‘80’s, Friday, Saturday and Sundays, starting around 7PM and getting back around five or six AM.  Santa Ana then was about as wild as it gets in the U.S.  There were virtually daily gang shootings, and I could count on at least one serious knife fight at one of the downtown bars.  I witnessed a double shooting at one bar and had the shooter attempt to get in my cab for his getaway.  On another occasion, someone was shot dead and left in a pool of blood on Harbor Blvd. near 1st Street, and his body lay in that huge pool of blood all night for passersby to see, as the police investigated.  The Santa Ana cops at that point had ONE bilingual person in their homicide squad, for a city that was then at least 75% Hispanic.


Most of my customers spoke very little English and almost all of them were drunk.  However, they always paid their bill.  The first generation ethnic Hispanic considered it a sacred obligation to pay his debts.  I could drive into some pitch dark alleyway behind a low-rent complex, with wall-to-wall drug dealers, and the guy, having spent his last buck at the bar, would politely say “un momento, por favor” and then disappear, only to reappear with his $4 or so fare five minutes later.   Without exception!


In five years, I had not one single run-out from any first generation ethnic Hispanic, although I did have a 50% run-out rate from the 2nd generation kids, until I learned to always get money up front from them.  Most of the kids who took cabs late at night, of course, were gang bangers or wannabes, unlike their hard-working parents.


Early on in my career as a Santa Ana cabbie, I picked up my first fare at the downtown jail.  He was a young black man who wanted to go to Watts from Santa Ana.  This was a serious fare – about 50 miles - and a risky one, as well.  If I had been leasing the cab, I probably would have turned him down, as he had no money.  Promises don’t pay the rent.  However, at that point, I was working on a share basis, and the dispatcher told me that it was up to me, whether I wanted to take him.  If he couldn't pay, then most of the cost would be to the company, while if he did, I would have earned much more than my typical $50 take for the night.


So, we headed for Los Angeles.  One the way, he told me his story.  He was on his way home, he said, and he got on the wrong bus and found himself at the main bus depot in Santa Ana, instead of Watts.  This was hard to believe, but I noticed that his speech patterns did not match his appearance, but were more like those of a young kid. 


Also, at one point he asked me what had happened to all the soldiers.  I discovered that he meant the soldiers back from the Vietnam war, which had been over for a decade, of course.  He was seriously puzzled at their disappearance.  I discovered that he was actually in his thirties and was clearly not quite right in his head.  However, he never projected any kind of threat.


I asked him how he had ended up in jail.  He related how he had left the bus depot without any money to take another bus and was attempting to figure out where he was and how to get home.  He said that this had happened to him before, but his parents would always eventually pick him up.  As he was wandering around downtown Santa Ana, he entered a shop, where his demeanor convinced the shop owner that he must be drunk or on drugs. 


The shop owner called the PD, and officers then arrested the man for being drunk in public, even though he said that he never drank, because of his religion.  The cops were not interested in his story, however, and so he ended up in jail.  He could not eat any of the food that they provided him, due to his religious training, and so he spent three days over the weekend fasting.  He also didn’t have the money for the long-distance call back to his parents in Watts.  I suspect that he didn’t know how to use the area code prefix, either, and the cops had no interest in helping him.


Then he went before a judge who told him to get out of town.  The cops took him to the bus depot again.  There, he was approached by a man who said that he had something to show him and asked him to walk over to an alleyway, where the man dropped his pants and exposed himself, at which point the cops cruised by and arrested them both.


Now he was charged with lewd conduct, even though he had done nothing, and went back to jail for another three days of fasting.  Once again the judge ordered him to get out of town, and the cops, in a stroke of cop genius, realizing perhaps that he could not take a bus with no money, called the taxi company.


So, my fare had been in jail for no good reason for six days and nights without food. 


His parents were not at home, and the sarcastic kids who hid behind a heavy steel mesh door refused to call them or anyone else.  We drove to his church, but no one was there, either.  The dispatcher was telling me that I had to either get the money or bring him back to jail, to be charged with theft of services for not paying his cab fare.


I explained the situation to him.  As far as I was concerned, he could just walk away and go home on his own.  However, the cab company would then file charges, using the jail information to get his name, etc.,  and there would be a warrant out on him.  Probably nothing would happen, but those were the facts.  He listened quite seriously and then said emphatically, “Take me back!” 


I asked him twice more if he were sure, but he was adamant.


So, I took him back to jail.  On the way, we stopped by a grocery store and I loaned him money to buy some food, which he wolfed down like a man who had not eaten in a week.  A week or so later, I was credited with my share of his fare both to Watts and back to Santa Ana, as his parents finally discovered where he was and came to get him.


That was one of the least brutal encounters I had with the jail and Santa Ana PD over the five years of my cabbie career.  As a cab driver, I never had any problem with the cops.  This was before cell phones, but cab drivers had radios, which meant that they could be relied upon to call in fires, serious fights or assaults, or other emergencies.  Thus, the cops treated us like part-time help, more or less on their side.  A cabbie in trouble could expect priority treatment – most of the time…


The exception came when I drove a strawberry from the jail to a crack house and she ran out on her fare.  The drug house was less than a mile from the jail, right off Ist Street, the main East/West drag in Santa Ana.  It was a textbook crack house, with bars on all the windows and doors, stretch limos pulled up in the cul de sac, and a crew of young druggies hanging out in the front yard, soliciting money or drugs for sex.  I called the dispatcher and requested the PD.


In fact, I could have easily just written off the tiny $3 fare, but I was intrigued by the entire scene.  How could there possibly be a blatant crack house less than a mile from the PD and virtually right across the street from the Civic Center complex, including the jail and Sheriff's Office?  I wanted to see how long it took the PD to get there and what they would do when they did.


It normally took less than three minutes for the PD to show on a cab distress call, even during the busy drunk hours.  In this case, however, it took well over 45 minutes, less than half a mile from the PD headquarters, and well past the bar closure at 2AM, meaning that there were plenty of them available.


Finally, a black and white showed up at the entrance of the cul de sac, and the cop motioned me over to his car, where he informed me that “This is not a safe place for you to be.”  I told him that I was there to collect my fare, and would appreciate his help.  He told me that he was not there to help me collect the fare and only wanted to ensure my safety.


During the intervening time, while I awaited the PD, several of the ostensive “strawberries” came over to my cab, where the meter was running and got into both the front and back seats, not asking permission.  They very seriously – and totally unlike druggies – asked me why I was there.  I told them, and they scrounged around and came up with $5 or $6.  The meter was at $7+.  I told them that I wanted the full fare, but they didn't collectively have it, so I told them that I would wait for the PD.  After an hour and a half, I gave up, put down my book and left.


A year or two later, the OC Register exposed the fact that the Santa Ana PD had been running its own crack sales operation.  They were even brewing up crack cocaine from ordinary coke seized from druggies.  Of course, all this was in an attempt to identify the real druggies. Uh… huh...  The supposed strawberries were doubtless police explorers, high school kids getting their exposure to cop work.  I hope they learned something.


It seemed like every other time that I picked up at the jail, there would be some kind of strangeness.  Often, I would get guys who had clearly been beaten up, their faces bruised and bleeding.  Almost invariably, they would attribute the beating to the arresting officers or the jailers.


A few cases stood out as paradigms:


One night, around 3AM, I was carrying a fare to the hotels around 1st St. and the 5 Fwy, heading Eastbound on 1st Street.  As I passed Broadway, I was hailed by a tall black man in a three piece suit, with a huge afro, carrying a briefcase.  I waved back to indicate that I would come back for him.  When I returned westbound, I noticed three cop cars pulled up at Cypress or Orange and 1st, two on 1st. 


I assumed that they were harassing my fare, and, sure enough, there he was on 1st Street, his legs spread, emptying a multitude of papers out of his briefcase into a pool of water left from an earlier shower onto the sidewalk.  I turned around at Main and pulled up behind the cop car on Orange.  One of the cops walked over to me and asked, “Sir, do you have any BUSINESS here?” 


I smiled brightly and answered, “Well, yes, in fact, this guy is my fare.”  The cop's face fell. 


My fare, a businessman, was not happy, to say the least.  His car had broken down on the way from San Diego to L.A. and he was walking to the same motel I had just dropped off at.  Of course, walking while black was bad enough during the day in Santa Ana, and constituted a potential capital crime at 3 AM – for real.  I hoped for a big tip, having just saved my fare from a likely beating, but I guess he was not in the mood to pay extra that night.  He did say that his attorney would be in touch, but I never heard from him.


The game here is to bargain, with the cops and D.A. holding the choice cards from the start.  Without witnesses, other than the cops, who is to say just who started the mayhem?  Amazing just how many people somehow think that they are going to kick some cop butt, isn't it?  At least to hear the poor cops relate it.  And if nothing else works, you pile on more charges.


One poor guy who I picked up at the jail looked like his face had served double duty as a punching bag.  When he told me where his car had been left, I immediately informed him that there was a virtual 100% chance that his car had been looted and trashed.  It had been, up to that night, a cherry 280Z.  According to the guy, he had gotten lost trying to get back onto the freeway on his way back to his home in Ontario (California). 


In his search for the Freeway entrance, he ended up in a low income projects area just South of the freeway which was notorious for gangs and drug crimes, and, realizing his error, made an illegal U-turn, right in front of the cops.  That was enough to get him arrested, beaten to a pulp, and to have his car – with its $500 stereo system - left in an unlighted cul de sac in the middle of prime gang territory.


Normal procedure in such a case would be to have the car towed and impounded.  The cops involved could not have not known the consequences of leaving it there.  Of course, if they were getting a cut of the action, then everything makes perfect sense.


On the way to the car, the guy discovered that his car keys were missing, as well.  He had turned everything over to the property room upon being jailed earlier that night.  Half of his cash was also missing, which was par for the course.


So, all we could do was inspect what was left of his beloved Z.  Both windshields were smashed in, the stereo was ripped out, every piece of the upholstery was slashed, just for fun, etc.  Amazingly the motor and tires were still there, but without keys there wasn't much more we could do.


So, we went back to the jail, where he attempted to locate his keys. The property room guy of course knew nothing.  When the guy tried to ask if he could contact the arresting officers, on the theory that they might have his keys, he was told that that would be interfering with their ongoing duties.  When he asked for their number to call them, or just their names, he was told that of course they wouldn't give that out, as he might track them down and kill them.


By then – around 4 AM, the guy was starting to lose it.  He yelled at the property guy and then left the building.  I was sticking with him on the chance that he might well need a cab to Ontario.  Outside the jail, he ran into another released inmate who he had met earlier that night inside.  As they compared notes, I saw two deputies stick their heads out the door, like in some bizarre comic strip. 


One of them was tall and fat.  The other was quite short and fat. Thus, the short deputy was able to poke his head out directly beneath the tall ones.  I immediately assumed that they would be attempting to re-arrest my potential fare on grounds of harassing the property room guy.  Then more of his money would be stolen, while he was again beaten up.


Sure enough, they walked solemnly up to us and addressed the guy, studiously ignoring the other two of us, “Sir, why were you harassing the property room guard?”


Then, before he could start to answer, the deputy swung towards me and the other former inmate, as though just noticing us. “Do you gentlemen have any BUSINESS here.”


This time, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear.  “Yes,” I answered gleefully, “I'm his cab driver!”  Again, their faces fell in dismay.


Suddenly very polite in the face of a witness with legitimate business, they then asked the guy again what seemed to be his problem.  When he explained that his car had just been destroyed because the arresting officers had not seen fit to have it towed out of a dark cul de sac in the middle of a high crime area, the deputy responded – and I'm not making this up, “But just because it was a high crime area, why would they have assumed that the car would be vandalized?”


His next stop was to the police station to report the damage to his car as theft and vandalism.  At first, the officers on duty simply refused to give him an incident report to fill out.  Then they relented, possibly because I was taking notes, and told the guy that they would only accept a damage report if he listed the damages as totaling to less than $50.  By then, it was getting towards 6AM and I had to turn in the cab or pay a penalty, and it didn't look like the guy was going to Ontario immediately, and I was beat.  So I left him arguing with them about his right to file an incident report.


The worst case, however, was the jail rape.

Early on in my cabbie career, I accepted a call for the jail, and picked up a short middle-aged man in a rumpled business suit.  He had a high pitched voice and looked totally out of shape physically.  As I was driving him home, I glanced in my mirror and observed that he was weeping uncontrollably. 


I asked him what the problem was.  He related that he was supposed to be married in two weeks.  His buddies had invited him to a bar for a little bachelor’s party, nothing radical, just drinks. 


At the bar someone unconnected with his group started a fist fight and the cops were called.  They arrested everyone in sight and he was taken to jail, where a female jailor assumed that he was gay, because of his general appearance and high-pitched voice.  So, she thought it great fun to move him to a cell housing a notorious jail rapist twice this guy’s size, who proceeded to rape him, while the jailor watched and applauded.


Now he did not know what to do.  He might now have AIDS or some other disease.  What should he tell his fiancé?  I told him to get to a doctor immediately, but I have no idea if he followed my advice.


Then there was the night in the mid ‘90’s, long after the end of my cabbie days, when my motorcycle started sounding a little funny on my way home from the gym and I pulled into a parking lot to check it out.  It was clear that the lot had video surveillance, as within a couple of minutes, three Costa Mesa cop cars, six officers total, pulled up and surrounded me and my motorcycle as I was preparing to check the oil level. 


It must have been a slow night.  Or perhaps Sony, who owned the building where their repair division was located, contributed big bucks to some cop charity.  In any case, it appeared that they were out to make as much out of the situation as possible.


So, for the next 45 minutes, I stood in the cold while one cop went through my backpack piece by piece, looking for something incriminating, while another one walked round and round me, slapping his night stick repeatedly onto his other hand.  Of course, I had nothing illegal and some of the letters in my backpack should have alerted them that I was not someone to trifle with.  Perhaps some of my correspondence tipped the balance, as I was finally allowed to leave unharmed, except for the cold that I caught.


Lucky me.  An encounter with the cops and not beaten up!


I should say that to be fair, your mileage may differ.  I personally have never had any problems with the Santa Ana police or the Tustin police, in the several fender benders and the like that have involved them over the years.  There is a cop culture, and some departments, such as Long Beach, Signal Hill, or Hollywood, are notorious for the corruption of that culture.  However, while some are better than others, it is clear that the cops cannot police themselves.


When I got back from a Libertarian Party conference in San Jose, sometime in the early ‘80’s, I discovered that my other car had been towed.  It had only been two days, and supposedly the City of Long Beach had to give three days notice of road work, but there it was.


So, I located the tow yard, in Signal Hill, and went to pick up my car.  When I entered the facility, the first thing that I noticed was a whole line of police badges pinned to the wall behind the counter.  The guy in charge wanted money up front, and refused to allow me to see my car first.  I insisted and finally he relented, but angrily told me that under no circumstances could I start the motor.


So, I went to the car and started the motor, immediately getting a dash light.  I checked and discovered that somehow the tow had drained my radiator.  The petcock was turned.  Meanwhile, the guy is cursing me over the intercom loud speakers.  I went back and explained that the radiator was empty and could I please get some water?  Of course, he refused. 


So, I drove to the used car lot next door without any water in the radiator.  The sales guy there was not surprised by my account of my experience.  He told me that the funny thing was that the tow yard, which was exclusively used for Long Beach police tows, was run and owned by off-duty Signal Hill cops, while the corresponding tow yard in Long Beach, which was the exclusive Signal Hill tow yard, was owned and operated by off-duty Long Beach cops.


Who watches the watchers?  Nobody.  Without empowered civilian oversight, the examples that I have given will be the norm and continue, no matter how many cleanups and reforms there are.  How does a cop personally stay honest when you have a crook like our last Sheriff, Michael Carona, over him, setting the standard.  All too often, he doesn’t. 


I attended a seminar in 1998 on police brutality and corruption, featuring the local lead public defender and various civil rights attorneys, where I was informed that the OC jails and the police had been cleaned up, from what they were when I drove my cab. 


Right.  Then we have the guy murdered in jail while the deputies who set him up are playing video games forty feet away.  Who needs crooks when we have these clowns?  We need civilian oversight NOW!

on Dec 20, 2009

Inspiring. I guess police brutality is were you find it.

on Dec 21, 2009

Fortunately, while I have visited LA, I have never lived there.  But I do have relatives there.  And then there is the Changeling movie.  I dont know if all the cops are like those, but clearly LA cops are some of the dirtiest.

on Mar 03, 2010

Dr Guy,

I don't think that the L.A. area has any monopoly on police brutality.  I did see "The Changling."  What a great movie!  Certainly, particular police departments can be systemically bad or good (maybe).  Living in the OC, I've personally never had any serious problems with the cops here, although there were a couple of instances that were rather unsettling with the Costa Mesa police, as when they injured my wrist, assuming that I was the perp, after someone called them on a "gun displayed" case.  I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they jumped to conclusions.