Scoot your chairs up next to the campfire, children, and I’ll tell you a scary story. Once upon a time in Aurora, Colorado, there was a gang of neo-Fascist thugs who threw up roadblocks and demanded to examine your driver’s license. They even asked why you were driving through this particular intersection (Iliff and Buckley) — curious to know where you were going and why, (as though this was any of their business). If you proved the least bit obstreperous or slightly suspicious, they handcuffed you and, if you had just robbed a bank, arrested you and whisked you away to jail without passing GO or collecting $200. These ugly assaults on sacred constitutional rights were executed by uniformed police officers. Yes, children, Aurora cops arbitrarily placed law enforcement priorities ahead of your personal convenience. Brazenly lawless and out of control, it’s not difficult to figure out who really should have been headed for the hoosegow.
Well, Hallelujah! David Lane is now on the case, filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of the professionally aggrieved, who claim they suffer from the post traumatic stress of having a little excitement introduced into their lives one afternoon. Lane is Colorado’s go-to civil liberties lawyer — both TABOR author Doug Bruce and Secretary of State Scott Gessler relied on his services when their due process guarantees were threatened. For the most part, Lane prefers to represent Joe Sixpack against our malefactors of great wealth and power. It doesn’t get any better than the police and an opportunity for a big settlement. Greed, of course, plays no part in this class action suit, which may incidentally shower a bucket of taxpayer dollars upon the head of each citizen who can prove he or she was searched at the roadblocks established to apprehend an armed bank robber. Imagine the insult, the humiliation! Did I mention that the bank thief was indeed identified and arrested? But really, how important is that in the scheme of constitutional justice?
Yes, the Aurora police responded impulsively. They knew the fugitive they sought was trapped in traffic. They didn’t know which car they were looking for, however, so they cast a net that gridlocked all vehicles and commenced a car-by-car search. A bit ham-handed, arguably, but they didn’t have time to visit their law library or consult the city attorney. I spoke with a dear friend who is a civil liberties lawyer and, as I expected, her sympathies lay with the public that found itself embarrassed, delayed and possibly at risk. “What,” I asked, “if the culprit had been a terrorist rather than a bank robber?” Apparently there are exceptions to privacy rights whenever “imminent danger” can be demonstrated. Armed thieves apparently may not necessarily make this judicial cut. It’s been suggested the Aurora police should have purchased the latest generation GPS technology so they could pin down the location of a specific vehicle. OK, maybe so; but that’s for next time.
David Lane is fortunate I won’t be serving on an Aurora jury (I live in Denver). But, if I were selected for the jury in this case, he would be mightily displeased. What evidence is there of malice or even simple disregard of privacy rights in this incident? Aurora’s men and women in blue knew they had effectively entrapped a very unpleasant chap — one whom we would all prefer to see placed behind bars. They made a common sense decision to protect their community against any further depredations. Good call. As a courtesy they could have distributed Red Lobster gift cards to any families that were delayed, but democracy demands occasional sacrifices — stuff like voting and cleaning up our campsites. How about scheduling a public hearing at city hall to accept testimony on how police could handle a repeat situation better? With those gift cards, you just might fill the room.
I’m sure you will be encouraged to learn that the bank robber has appealed his detention. You didn’t think the guilty surrender their rights when they stick a gun in your face, did you? You wouldn’t want that gun, the stolen money or the escape vehicle to be improperly introduced as evidence would you? Of course not.
Miller Hudson is former executive Director for CIFGA, the Colorado Intermountain Fixed Guideway Authority.