Think cops are your protectors? Think again
As children, we’re always taught to respect authority and that policemen are our friends. We watch countless TV shows in which the detectives catch the bad guys and the prosecutors are intelligent, resourceful people who always make the right decisions. The underpaid, overworked district attorney and the police are there to defend the common man against injustice and to safeguard our society against evil, doing what’s right in the face of great personal sacrifice. Aren’t they? And if they ever make a mistake, they recognize it quickly and fix it right away. Right?
I’m sure Gunnison District Attorney Tom Raynes and Gunnison Sheriff Rick Murdie are tireless public servants, committed to justice, morality and upholding the law, defending good citizens against exploitation and violence. And their deputies are no doubt well-trained, insightful, tireless workers who exercise restraint and good judgment at all times.
Don’t be so sure. I just finished a Kafkaesque seven-month ordeal of facing criminal charges for assault and harassment brought by those fine folks. Last fall a man drove into our driveway in Marble and started screaming profanities at one of our workers, for reasons still unclear to me. After a couple of minutes of this disturbance, I walked off the porch and asked him to leave. He screamed a profanity at me and gunned his engine, spraying me with gravel. I had a cordless phone in my hand. I threw it at his departing vehicle.
A few hours later, Gunnison Deputy Pat Rice appeared in my driveway. He explained to me that one Franklin Brown had filed a complaint against me for harassment for allegedly hitting him in the head with the phone through the canopy of his jeep. Deputy Rice said that he had gotten the go-ahead from Deputy District Attorney Jeff Nims to prosecute me, before he had talked to me or any of the three people who had witnessed the event.
I was shocked. A man shows up uninvited on my property causing a disturbance, shouting profanities, driving like a madman, and I end up with the threat of arrest before even being asked about what happened? No way.
I told Deputy Rice that I knew the developing scenario:
Overcharge a person, make him hire a lawyer at outrageous expense, plea bargain down to the actual offense, pay a victim’s compensation fund, attend anger-management counseling (again at horrific expense), do community service and spend a couple of days in jail.
No way. I wasn’t playing ball. I wouldn’t plea bargain; I would take it to trial, and I would represent myself, avoiding thousands of dollars in legal fees. And when it was over I would write about my experiences to warn others that it could happen to them.
That was a mistake. I had challenged them, and nothing I could do, say or prove from then on would make any difference. They were going to get their pound of flesh. They were going to push me through the meat grinder of criminal justice. My spotless criminal record, my reputation for assisting the Division of Wildlife with game violations, my stellar record as a permit-holder with the U.S. Forest Service ” didn’t matter.
The so-called victim’s 50 appearances as a defendant in both civil and criminal court, his arrests for felony menacing, sexual assault, carrying a concealed weapon, failure to appear, drunken driving, harassment, leaving the scene of an accident, drug possession, the two active restraining orders against him ” didn’t matter.
My evidence that their star witness was a documented liar and drug abuser ” didn’t matter. They just fought harder.
A trio of deputy district attorneys ” Ann Toney, Jeff Nims and Ben Sollars ” joined the case and tried to prosecute me for obstruction of justice ” a felony ” for telling my wife to write her statement in her native language. They elevated the charges from harassment to assault, two months after the fact. It was clear that the case was never about justice, morality or right and wrong. It was about winning. And losing. I had insulted them; I refused to play the game, and they were going to teach me a lesson.
I stuck to my guns. Then four business hours before the trial was to commence, and after seven months of sheer hell, a fax arrived on my machine. Case dismissed. They couldn’t locate their “victim,” and I was angry that I didn’t get my day in court.
The moral of the story? Whoever calls the cops first is right. Instead of throwing the phone, I should have used it to immediately call the sheriff on Franklin Brown. Secondly, you, too, can be charged with a crime before you tell your side of the story. If something like this happens to you, no matter how upset and righteously indignant you are, SHUT UP and call a lawyer. Don’t say a word.
Lastly, if the Gunnison District Attorney’s Office can commit thousands of dollars of resources and several staffers for seven months to a case like this, they’ve got far too much funding. Their budget should be cut by at least one prosecutor’s position, and Tom Raynes, a political appointee, is a ripe target for a strong, moral opponent in the next district attorney’s election.
Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big game hunts.
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