Buying Ink By The Barrel Doesn't Mean You Know What You're Talking About
As a general rule, I don't pay much attention to the editorials that appear in the local newspaper. I mean, who cares.
Still, every once in a while, the Editorial Board comes out with a doozy. You know, an editorial that in one swoop is both staggeringly clueless and breathtakingly irresponsible.
In other words, an editorial like the one which appeared yesterday: "Derek Williams' family still looking for justice".
Derek Williams is, of course, the young man who died in police custody in July of 2011. Williams had been arrested for committing a robbery hours after his release from jail. Following his arrest, Williams complained that he was having trouble breathing. The officers who had arrested Williams believed he was faking. When they realized that Williams was truly in distress, the police tried to assist him. Ultimately, Williams died.
The cause of death is still unclear.
In any event, independent reviews by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, a Special Prosecutor and now the United States Department of Justice have found no basis for issuing criminal charges against the officers involved in the Williams case.
In essence, every prosecutor who has looked at the case has found no basis to believe that a crime was committed (or could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt). While the officers clearly erred in determining that Williams was feigning illness, this error does not rise to the level of intent required to sustain a criminal prosecution.
Yesterday's Editorial bemoans the lack of criminal charges and suggests that "someone should be held accountable". I guess in the world of the Editorial Board, the rule of law doesn't matter. Hold those officers criminally accountable even if no crime was committed!
The Editorial Board then has the temerity to imply that the outcome of these reviews might have been different "had Williams not been a poor, young African-American". Way to race bait, folks.
Think about it. The Federal review was conducted by Eric Holder's Department of Justice. You know, the same Eric Holder who took a pass on efforts to hold members of the New Black Panther Party accountable for allegedly intimidating white voters.
To suggest that Eric Holder, the local U.S. Attorney (appointed by President Obama) and the highly respected Special Prosecutor all took a pass on this case because Williams was "poor" and African-American is disgraceful.
Perhaps the most clueless portion of the Editorial though is this: "The family could file a civil lawsuit, but with no charges by any government agency, it would be tough to win a suit"!
Huh? I'd like to see PolitiFact take a crack at that one.
Most lawyers I know see this unfortunate situation as a classic case of negligence.
In other words, the officers didn't intend to cause the death of Mr. Williams but may have contributed to his demise by failing to appreciate that he was not faking.
Bottom line, I'd like to know who the Editorial Board is relying on when it claims that any civil lawsuit will be "tough to win" absent criminal charges! Frankly, if and when a civil lawsuit is filed, I think the chance of a substantial recovery is pretty good.
Money, of course, won't bring back Mr. Williams. At the same time, neither will a misguided criminal prosecution of the officers who arrested him.
People should not die in police custody - and yet they occasionally do. When this happens, it is not always because police officers have committed a crime.
The Derek Williams case has been reviewed on multiple levels - and the consensus of legal opinion is that there is no basis to issue criminal charges. I understand that members of the Editorial Board of the local newspaper like to see themselves as prosecutor, judge and jury - and disagree with the opinions of the various prosecutors.
Fortunately for everyone though, the Editorial Board is just six people sitting around in a room downtown.
And the ability to buy ink by the barrel doesn't mean you know what you're talking about .