The US Police State

by Russ Stein

It's so astonishing and unbelievable, even now I can scarcely believe it happened. I want to write it all down fast, in one sitting without stopping, so I don't miss anything, and so everything is recorded accurately. Here's the exact truth, to the best of my ability to recall it, of my arrest for (and I have to look at the paperwork given to me at the jail when I bonded out, because even now I don't really know), for "concealing one's true name or identity with the intent to obstruct the due execution of the law, or to hinder or interrupt a public officer or other person in a legal performance of his duty or the exercise of his rights under the laws of the United States or of the State of New Mexico," is exactly how the charge reads on the complaint, and for – get this! – the offense of "Idling," which I never heard before now was a crime. But I learned quite a lot of new and exciting things on Sunday night.

This is exactly what happened. Back in November I bought an IBM Thinkpad with an integrated wireless LAN client. For several years now I've been fascinated with the potential of mobile internet access, for work, and to improve my life in general. So when I ordered my laptop I made sure to get one that was 802.11b compatible.

But I just moved to Farmington, New Mexico, and have been so busy with work that I haven't found time to order a DSL line for my apartment. So I've been restricted to using my computer at work, which isn't a great idea because of the disreputable and waaaay un-pc sites I frequent, and using library computers that have 30 minute time limits, which is barely enough time to check email.

So on Friday I finally spoke to the phone company people about having a high speed line hooked up. On Sunday night, wanting to learn a bit more about my laptop's wireless functions, because I was thinking of buying an 802.11b DSL router to use with it, I clicked on the Wireless Lan Client icon on my laptop's desktop.

To my surprise a window popped up which said "Signal Strenght = Moderate," and "Network Connection = Tibbitts Bridge." To me this seemed to mean that I was already connected to something, but I had no idea what. I double clicked on the Explorer browser icon, and it tried for a while, but then displayed the standard DNS error page that always comes up when you aren't connected.

So I guessed it was just some weird error. But then, as I was walking around my apartment, I kept thinking to myself, "Tibbitts – what the heck is Tibbitts?" Suddenly it dawned on me that Tibbitts was the name of the public school one block down from my apartment and across the street. I remembered the name because I drive by the sign every once in a while on my way to the gym.

I picked up my laptop and walked down the sidewalk towards the school. Amazingly, the signal meter turned completely green when I walked into the Tibbitts Middle School parking lot, and clicking on the Explorer icon caused the MSN site, the default homepage, to flash onto the screen so fast it was almost instant.

This was quite a strange situation. I was standing in the middle of an abandoned public school parking lot in a hick town in Northern New Mexico, and enjoying the fastest broadband speeds I've ever seen. Just standing there for a few minutes I downloaded the Limewire Gnutella client, and searched for bands and albums on Yahoo using a few song fragments that had been running through my head lately.

Thinking what a lucky break this was, and basically internet starved, I walked back to my car, which was parked in front of my apartment, drove back to Tibbitts, and parked in a space near the playground fence. I listened to the car radio (laptop speakers blow!), checked my accounts, updated my blog (and made plans to revise it entirely), and surfed around for some quotes from some columns that I've been looking for.

I don't know what the ethics of using an open broadband network, on public property, are. Maybe the school is giving away access to the public. Maybe (and this is what I think is most likely) the school has tech equipment that is far more sophisticated than the available teachers to run it, and have no idea they're broadcasting a wireless signal to the whole neighborhood. In any case, that's why I was sitting alone in the driver's seat of my car in the Tibbitts Middle School parking lot at about 10:30 Sunday night with the radio on and notebook computer in my lap.

Suddenly I was blinded by red and blue flashes, and I caught a glimpse of two police cruisers turning into the lot. I started my engine. Why I started the engine was because never for a moment did I think the police were there for me. I suppose I was thinking that I'd better clear out, if there was going to be trouble at the school.

It was only when an enormous (at least 6'3") Farmington Police Officer, with a military bearing, whom I'll call Patrolman Frank, strode directly up to my driver's side window and banged on the glass, that it dawned on me that the police were here about me.

I rolled down the window and the Officer ordered me to turn off the engine. He then demanded my name, and demanded to know what I was doing there. I've never been good at following orders, especially from military style bullies like this guy, so I told him that I wasn't doing anything wrong, I was on public property, and I was behaving perfectly legally. Again Frank insisted that I tell him my name. I said no. Then he demanded my driver's license, and I refused. I pretty vividly recall telling him that I was under no obligation to reveal anything about myself unless I had done something wrong.

(Whether this is legally right or not under constitutional law decisions and state law, I have no idea. But one thing even my limited experience in criminal law has taught me is that the cops have no idea either, so you just have to be assertive.)

Frank turned purple at this and ordered me out of the car. He was so furious that I complied. So we stood there in the parking lot looking at each other. Then he once again demanded my name, and where I lived. I told him that unless I was under arrest for something, I was free to leave whenever I felt like it, and then I said I was leaving and turned away from him towards my open car door.

He said I was not free to leave. And when I turned back to face him, and the other cop who had just joined him, the fresh cop, a younger guy with a big police mag light, shined it through my open door into the interior of the car. I was pretty angry at this point, and I yelled at him to cut it out because he had no reason to search my car.

(That's just basic 4th Amendment law – a government search of private property, like the interior of a car, requires some reason. At that point they had nothing, and if he had discovered anything, his ignorant incompetence at that moment would have caused the case against me to fall apart. Thank goodness for his career that the only incriminating thing in my car was a notebook computer and a pair of roller blades, and not a haul of cocaine or a dead body.)

Next I recall repeating that I was leaving unless I was under arrest, and I turned to go. Somehow during this exchange Frank grabbed my shoulder and I shook his hand off. And that was pretty much that – I was up against my car and he put the cuffs on, telling me that I was under arrest. In hindsight I suppose I could have fought him off. He was big, but pretty old and out of shape. But all my public defender clients who resist get a second misdemeanor resisting charge added to their case, so I just let him handcuff me.

Frank roughly – very roughly, out of all proportion to my compliant demeanor – patted me down, and when he felt the cell phone in my breast pocket, I said, "that's a cell phone." I was astonished when he didn't take it. What a stroke of luck! Then he led me to his police cruiser and put me in the back seat. I asked him if he would shut the door of my car and bring me the keys. Frank replied that my car would be towed.

"There's no way you're towing my car," I said. He then shut the door on me, leaving me imprisoned in his police car, and he and the three other cops began to search my car.

"This is totally bogus," I was thinking. My hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was uncomfortably twisted towards the window to keep from sitting on them. I have weirdly long, chimp-like arms, that hang almost to my knees when I'm standing up, so it just took a little stretching to get the cell phone out of my pocket. I started scrolling down the speed dial list, thinking I needed to talk to someone fast so they could get over here and stop these morons from towing my car, which I know to be a nasty government racket where the police get commissions from corrupt tow truck companies on the absurdly high impound fees they charge for releasing one's car.

(For the libertarian LRC angle, I object even more to these kinds of "private" companies that collude with the government, than I object to the government itself. What a sleazy business.)

A recently graduated lawyer Iíll call Cindy, who I work with at the Public Defender's office, lives only a few blocks north of my apartment, so I lit her name up on the speed dial list and hit send, feeling bad because it was really too late on a work night to be calling anyone. But this was kind of an emergency.

She picked up on the second ring, just as the police popped open the trunk of my car, from which they pulled out my roller blades. "What a bunch of idiots – keystone cops," I was thinking.

"Hello?" I can't tell you how powerful and excellent it was to hear her friendly voice on my cell phone. I felt a sudden rush of overwhelming relief and defiance towards the government bullies who had kidnapped me and falsely imprisoned me in this mobile jail. Now I understand how important and empowering it was for those hero-victim passengers of the Sept. 11 high-jacking attacks when they made their doomed cell phone calls to their families, and to the authorities, in defiance of the terrorists who intended to kill them.

If there's any last hold-outs against cell phones out there, and my dad is probably the last one (he calls them "leashes") – but if there are any final cell phone resisters besides my dad, you simply must get one. Cell phones are a miracle of capitalism, empowering you by allowing you to contact allies and alert friends in whatever situation you find yourself in.

Like me locked in the cop car while the police tampered with my property, or like the Sept. 11 victims, or whenever there are violent criminals using force against helpless victims, a cell phone will definitely come in handy. Get one now!

But even a cell phone can't always save the day.

I hurriedly told Cindy what happened: "I was sitting in my car in the school lot across the street from my apartment – using my laptop – and all of a sudden it was a cop party. This jerk demanded that I identify myself and tell him where I lived, and I told him that I wasn't doing anything wrong and didn't have to tell him anything. I tried to walk away, but he arrested me and I'm in the back of his stupid car right now – and they're going to tow my car. Can you come over here and take my car back to my apartment? Otherwise I'll be charged by some sleazy tow truck company for a tow."

Cindy was like "Oh my gawd!" and she said she'd be right over.

About five minutes later, as the Farmington Police thugs tore apart my car, Cindy's gray Toyota truck pulled into the lot. She stopped and walked over towards the officers. When they saw her coming, Frank walked out and met her in the middle of the lot. I saw them converse for a while, but I couldn't hear what they said. For those of you who've never had the experience, the back of a police car is the vehicular equivalent of a bomb shelter. Frank's was completely sound-proof.

But I got the story later. She told him we were both public defenders and that she was here to take my car back across the street to where I lived. Frank, an unsurpassing dunce, couldn't understand how she got there. "He must have called you before he was arrested," he said, apparently unaware that cell phones work anywhere, even in the back of police cars. She asked again if she could take the car back to my place, but they refused to release the car to her, even though there was no tow truck in sight, claiming that once a suspect had been arrested the car must be towed. (I wonder what the police cut of the towing fee is? 50%? It's as if they're working on a kind of perverse commission system.)

Then Cindy – what a pistol!, what a gal! – demanded to meet with "her client" right then. But the police refused, claiming that I'd been uncooperative, which makes absolutely no sense, because the preposterous claim that I had refused to cooperate was the basis for my arrest, but had absolutely nothing to do with whether I can meet with an attorney.

Even murderers are allowed to meet with lawyers. Perhaps – and this is giving him much more credit than he deserves – Frank intended to say that the back seat of the police car in the school parking lot was not a good time or place for me to meet with my lawyer. But I seriously doubt that Frank, or any of the police there, are much capable of any sort of sophisticated thinking.

In any case, the police seemed a bit confused and taken aback by the speed with which I'd been able to summon legal aid, so Frank walked over, got in, and began driving me to the police station. I suddenly realized that, so interested in the school's wireless network was I when I left my apartment, and thinking I'd only be down the block, I hadn't actually locked the door when I left. So I asked Frank if I could at least lock the door to my apartment before we went to the jail, and of course he refused, behaving faithfully to the thuggish and menacing demeanor he maintained throughout the incident. As a result, the door to my apartment remained unlocked and vulnerable to intruders for the next five hours.

We got to the jail, and I was booked in on entirely bogus "idling" and concealing identity petty misdemeanor charges. I'll stop here with recounting the events of that night, but rest assured there was much more, including the conducting of an extemporaneous legal clinic in the booking room for the benefit of the other detainees, charged with bread and butter DUI, driving on suspended licenses, domestic violence, and other the other standard nonsense, for which I was punished by removal to "an isolated holding cell," as Frank put it in his barely literate report, where I nearly died of boredom. Which, incidentally, I relieved by stuffing a wad of crumpled toilet paper into the camera hole which protects the video camera used to monitor the inmates in each cell. You should have seen the reaction that provoked!

So what's the bottom line? First of all, I want to add mine to the chorus of objections to our mediocre Republican President's assertion that we live in the "most free country in the world." Apparently, in the heartland of our most free country, you can be arrested and roughed up, and have your car torn apart and searched, for sitting by yourself in a parking lot on public property typing on a laptop, and failing to fall to your knees and cower before the police when they order you to reveal your identity, purpose, and residence.

I'm in nobody's army, and I therefore take orders from nobody. But apparently, failing in instant compliance when questioned by the government – for absolutely no reason – is a criminal offense, in "the freest country in the world." Attempting to assert your right to walk away from the police, and break off the contact, when you've done absolutely nothing wrong, as one would expect to be allowed to do in "the freest country in the world," is also a crime, subjecting you to fines, jail time, and the confiscation of your car.

Just another note about what a corrupt racket the government police run – my friend Cindy was there and available to take custody of my car, and I would have consented to that if the police had just come over and asked me, but of course "official police procedure" had to be followed. Rest assured that doing it by the government's book is inevitably going to cost you money. Lots of it.

When I reported to my local "Performance" Ford dealership at 8 a.m. the next morning, which, in addition to gouging consumers on cars we ought to be allowed to buy directly from Ford, moonlights (literally) as a police towing contractor, I was charged 86 dollars for the tow. The car was towed down to their lot, about a mile from my apartment. That's 86 dollars per mile, if my math is right. Otherwise they would keep my car, which I own outright. Their "service" also included leaving the car outside in an insecure, fenced in dirt lot, in an obviously bad part of town, with fifteen hundred dollars worth of computer equipment sitting in plain view on the front seat. It was a miracle my laptop wasn't stolen, and a very luck break for "Performance."

And the police have the gall to arrest people for theft. Who are the real thieves? What a corrupt racket! I wonder what percentage of towing fees the government steals.

Here's a tip for when you find yourself dealing with towing companies after you bond out. Don't make a stink. I did, and I lost the opportunity to pay with my credit card, and then stop payment on the charge. I was impatient with the incompetent and rude counter lady, because I was already late for work, and she couldn't find my paperwork or my keys. So they insisted on cash. I would have loved to stop that payment, but I may pursue a theft case against them, for the following reason -

I discovered, on retrieving my car, that my community college gym membership card, which I always hang from my rear view mirror, except when I go in to work out, was missing. I'll probably pursue a theft case against the towing company and the police for this, but I have to make certain that it wasn't misplaced by me first, because I'm a bit absent-minded.

Another note about government theft. In order to be released from my "isolation cell," the cops demanded a two hundred and sixty dollar extortion payment, which is commonly known as bail. There was a list of bondsmen posted on the wall behind the booking area, where I was allowed to make my one phone call. At that point it was so late that I couldn't bring myself to contact the heroic Cindy again, but after trying the numbers of two different bondsman without an answer (it was then after 2 a.m.), I decided to call her again.

But I couldn't find her number in the phone book the police gave me. I never memorized her number because it's programmed on my cell phone, which had been confiscated (stolen) by the police when they booked me in. The butch looking booking cop, who had nauseating red tattoos on her neck (I've found that many cops mimic the born to lose behavior of the underclass criminals in their system, and are sometimes even bigger losers), began to assert some idiotic rule, in defiance of any common sense, that I could not have my cell phone until I was released.

Calling Joseph Heller! Here was an unexcelled Catch-22. You can have Cindy's number when you get out; you can't get out until you get Cindy's number. Fortunately some small bit of reason intervened in the form of a Patrolman, sitting behind a glass booth, who called information and got me her number. She answered right away, and listened as I asked her for the huge favor of getting 260 in cash and bringing it to the police. Within 15 minutes she had surrendered the extortion payment to the police, and I was outside, a free man once again, after over five hours in custody.

Later it occurred to me that it might have been a better move to get a bondsman to post a bond, instead of putting up my own cash, because I've learned that once the government gets its hands on money, it very rarely gives it back. In fact, many people who post their own cash as bond have it confiscated outright. The police and courts legitimize this theft by asserting all kinds of obscure fines, and processing and booking fees, as if one asked the police to be arrested and imprisoned on bogus petty charges.

I'm writing this now on Tuesday night, two days later – and what's the score? So far the police have provided me with a comical police report, written entirely in illiterate baby talk police language, which relates a story bearing almost no relationship to the actual events of Sunday night. As soon as I can get it transcribed into English, I'll post the police report on my blog web site. If nothing else, it's good for a few laughs. In fact, I imagine that I will eventually post most of the documents relating to this case on my site. I'll call it "The Crime Blog," or something like that.

Eventually I hope to post the audio recordings of my arrest in Real Audio or MP3 format on my site, once I force the police to turn them over to me as discovery. Then the true version of what actually happened on Sunday will be available to everyone on the internet, if anyone cares. I expect most LRC readers won't, but I'll do it anyhow. This will be the first real time, pro-se criminal defense conducted on the internet.

So anyhow, the score? Right now, it's police $260 in cash, five plus hours of my time, tow truck company $86 in cash, and Russ, a few choice retorts to some of the more idiotic things the police said to me during my encounter with them, and one partially conducted booking room legal clinic. But this is only the second inning, and I'll have home field advantage when we get to court.

I fully intend to defend myself against the absurd and abusive charges against me, and I deny any wrongdoing, in general, and in particular. I'm going to wage the full Milosevic, and the Farmington authorities had better prepare for war. As the excellent Paul Craig Roberts keeps pointing out in his column, government police and prosecutors are only emboldened by the weakness inherent in guilty pleas, and unless a strong and assertive defense bar fights back, in trial after trial, the government's pursuit of false convictions at any cost, and money, and power, all coming at the expense of  private citizens, will only grow worse.

Not if I can help it.

March 14, 2002

Russ Stein [send him mail] is a defense lawyer out West. Here is his blog.

Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com

LRC needs your help to stay on the air.

Back to LewRockwell.com Home Page