Cops Putting Themselves Above The Law, Again
'Sovereign Citizens' and Government’s Monopoly on Crime
Robert Paudert refers to May 20, 2010 – the day his son Brandon was killed – as the "worst day of my life, ever." Given that losing a child is the most horrible thing that can happen to a parent, Paudert isn’t exaggerating.
Brandon Paudert was an officer in the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department. At the time Brandon was killed, Robert was the town’s police chief; Brandon’s partner, Officer Bill Evans, was his cousin.
Until about 11:00 a.m. on that fatal day, Officers Paudert and Evans, who were assigned to the narcotics interdiction team, had maintained surveillance on what they considered to be a "suspicious" rental truck. It turned out that the vehicle wasn’t being used to ferry narcotics; it was filled with household possessions belonging to a pleasant grandmother who was probably puzzled by the unwanted attention she had received from the local police.
Chief Paudert, who had been called to the scene, chided his son and his nephew and told them to "get off their butts and back on the interstate," where they had a better chance of finding a vehicle carrying contraband – or perhaps a sizeable amount of cash that could be seized and "forfeited." Crittenden County, where West Memphis is located, has become notorious for this officially sanctioned variety of highway robbery.
A few minutes after hitting the highway, Evans spied a white minivan with unusual license plates and conducted a traffic stop. He called Brandon to back him up as he went to interrogate the driver, 45-year-old Jerry Kane. Within a few minutes a scuffle ensued, and Kane shoved the officer into a ditch.
Jerry Kane was not a drug smuggler. As an adherent of a loosely organized movement referred to as "sovereign citizens," he insisted on exercising his freedom to travel without obtaining government licenses, permits, and similar bureaucratic impedimenta. A former long-haul trucker, Kane traveled the country in a minivan organizing seminars in which he taught dubious methods of avoiding foreclosure.
Shortly before the fatal encounter in West Memphis, Kane had been arrested – and fined $1,500 – for driving without a license in New Mexico. His money was dissipating even as trouble with law enforcement continued to accumulate.
When the traffic stop degenerated into a shoving match, Kane’s 16-year-old son, Joseph, emerged from the minivan armed with an AK-47. Evans reached for his sidearm, but before he could draw he was shot several times. Taking cover behind his vehicle, Brandon got off several shots before he, too, was fatally wounded. Roughly two hours later, the Kanes were killed in a shootout with police that took place in a Walmart parking lot.
The funeral for Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans was attended by hundreds of police officers from several states. "I hope that no parent has to suffer through what we’ve been through," Chief Paudert commented a few weeks after that sorrowful observance.
There is nothing worse than the death of a child, and every parent who has experienced such an unfathomable loss is entitled to sympathy. It’s worth pointing out that there is no record of Chief Paudert extending condolences to Debra Farrow, the mother of 12-year-old DeAunta Farrow, who was murdered by one of the officers in his employ.
DeAunta Farrow, who was unarmed and was not a criminal suspect, was fatally shot on June 22, 2007 by West Memphis Police Officer Erik Sammis. The twelve-year-old was walking home from a convenience store at about 9:30 PM with his 14-year-old cousin, Unseld Nance.
Sammis, who was commander of the Special Response Team (the West Memphis equivalent of a SWAT team), had staked out the neighborhood. He and Officer Jimmy Ellis were parked in a dark gray, unmarked pickup truck. They were wearing gray shirts, camouflage pants, and black bulletproof vests. They did not wear badges or other police insignia visible from the front.
As the two boys entered an apartment building, one of the officers saw what he thought was a gun in the waistband of Farrow’s pants. In fact it was a plastic toy. The officers came boiling out of the truck, ordering the kids to hit the ground. According to Nance, neither Sammis nor Ellis identified himself as a police officer. Nance also insisted that Farrow, whose hands were raised and whose toy gun remained in his waistband, "was fixing to get on the ground when they shot."
Within seconds of screaming at DeAunta to hit the ground, Sammis fired two shots.
"It’s a toy gun," the fatally wounded youngster told Sammis as he bled to death.
Nance was taken into custody and interviewed the same evening by the Arkansas State Police. Sammis, who sought shelter in the protection of the "Garrity" rule – which dictates that disclosures made by a police officer can only be used for departmental investigations, rather than criminal prosecution – didn’t speak for the record about the incident until a month later.
Roughly five months after DeAunta Farrow was killed, a special prosecutor announced that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge Sammis with a crime. Debra Farrow filed a wrongful death lawsuit that was immediately challenged on the grounds of "qualified immunity" – the incantation deployed by police and prosecutors to shield themselves from the consequences of culpable misconduct.
In a 2009 ruling, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, observed that "the officers approached Farrow and Nance without identifying themselves as police officers … the toy gun was tucked in Farrow’s pants throughout the entire confrontation … Sammis only said to drop the gun and get to the ground, and … Farrow may have raised his hand or hands while trying to get to the ground before Sammis shot him twice without warning."
Since those facts "could establish the excessive use of force," the court concluded, it would be improper to grant the officers’ request for a summary judgment on the basis of "qualified immunity." In April 2011, a federal jury in Jonesboro, Arkansas found in favor of Sammis and Ellis, accepting their claim that the summary execution of an unarmed, cooperative 12-year-old who was not a criminal suspect was, in some sense, "reasonable."
Sammis, it should be pointed out, was responsible for training other members of the West Memphis PD in the use of deadly force. Chief Paudert described his work in that role as "outstanding."
"It’s tragic, but in my mind, it’s not wrong," Sammis had told investigators during his belated debriefing in July 2007. "I did what I had to do to survive and protect my partner. I feel confident that any officer in the same position would have done the same thing I did."
Here’s an important question: If Sammis was justified in gunning down a terrified, unarmed, compliant 12-year-old, why was it morally wrong for Joseph Kane to shoot an armed police officer who was perceived as threatening his father?
Read the rest of the story with all the supporting links at Pro Libertate