Why Good Cops Should Want Everything Recorded

Why Good Cops Should Want Everything Recorded December 23, 2011

I’ve written over and over again about bad cops being caught lying on police reports and framing innocent people after video or audio surfaces to reveal those lies. Here’s a case where the opposite occurred, a lawyer tried to lie about a police officer who was recording the entire event.

New York Attorney Eliott Dear was pulled over for going 84 in a 55 mph zone and given a ticket. He tried to fight the ticket by claiming that the officer had called him a “Jew kike.” He didn’t know that the entire situation was recorded by the dashboard video camera in the car and by an audio recorder on the officer’s uniform.

During his telephone interview with Sgt. Koopalethes, which was recorded, respondent at first equivocated about whether the trooper directed an ethnic slur at him, but after he was pressed to remember if a slur was used, he explained that since he wrote the letter contemporaneously to the incident, it was likely that the trooper said it. The interview continued and respondent added that the trooper dismissed respondent’s proffered explanation for speeding, namely, that his pregnant wife needed a bathroom, as more baloney from “you guys,” which respondent stated referred to orthodox Jews. Respondent further recounted that the trooper displayed a demeaning attitude toward respondent and his wife. However, none of this information was supported by the video or audio recordings made during the traffic stop.

In April 2008, 10 months after the traffic stop, the internal investigation was completed and the trooper was exonerated of all charges. In July 2008, the New Jersey State Police filed a complaint against respondent with the Disciplinary Committee wherein it was revealed that the traffic stop had been recorded. In August 2008, respondent was advised of the complaint and in September 2008, more than one year later, he paid the $265 fine for the speeding violation.

In a letter-answer to the complaint dated January 29, 2009, prepared by respondent’s then attorney, and also signed by respondent, respondent admitted that the trooper did not use any ethnic slurs and that he “exacerbated his mistake by not fully refuting [this] allegation … during his telephonic interview” with Sgt. Koopalethes. However, respondent continued to criticize the trooper’s “demeanor” during the traffic stop and the trooper’s apparent insensitivity to his wife’s “bathroom demands.” The letter concluded with respondent accepting responsibility for making the false statement against the trooper and acknowledging his wrongdoing.

During his subsequent June 2009 deposition, respondent no longer attributed a demeaning attitude to the trooper. He explained that he wasn’t trying to get back at the trooper, but that he just wanted the ticket dismissed. Respondent further stated that since he never filled out a formal complaint or form against the trooper, he never thought his writing that the trooper had used an ethnic slur would go anywhere except on a ticket processing pile, and that he had no logical reason for his decision to write the letter, just that it was “impulsive and emotional.” Regarding the telephone interview with Sgt. Koopalethes, respondent testified that he knew he had lied and was in trouble, and he repeated the lie because he was concerned about possibly being charged with perjury.

Dear’s license to practice law has been suspended for six months. This is a perfect example of why good police officers should welcome being recorded while doing their duties. False accusations against police officers are hardly uncommon and this provides evidence that helps discern between true and false allegations of misconduct. Only those who engage in misconduct have anything to fear from it.

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