Cops Dodge 4th Amendment By Phoning In 'Anonymous' Tips; Watch Their Drug Bust Vanish After They're Exposed

from the it'sa-me,-anonymio! dept

Really. What the hell? Does law enforcement just perceive the Fourth Amendment as damage and route around it?

Detective Harold Zech and Lawrence Spathelf didn’t have probable cause to search the homes of Albert McCullough and Dakeem Booker, so they made their own. They phoned in “anonymous” tips to McCullough’s and Booker’s parole officers, who searched their [homes] and found some heroin.

It's not as though the Fourth Amendment is that difficult to comply with, especially considering law enforcement can avail themselves of all of the following to avoid having to obtain a warrant:

- Good faith exception

- Exigent circumstances

- Motor vehicle exception

- Plain view

- Plain hearing

- Plain smell

- Consent

And yet here we are, seeing two cops masquerading as the most reliable and honest of anonymous tipsters. You know, except for the part where they covered up the fact that they were cops.

The bust was fun while it lasted. 963 bags of heroin, two handguns, and a couple of perps. None of that matters now because the Fourth Amendment was just too much of a hassle.

This sort of dishonesty has happened often enough that there's a term for it.

[T]he law is clear that police cannot use parole agents as an arm of law enforcement to initiate a search to get around the stricter probable cause standard they must meet, Mr. Sheppard and other attorneys said. Multiple appellate courts ruled that practice, known as a “stalking horse,” illegal.

The two horses called in tips twice, resulting in searches of two residences. Despite costing them a nice drug bust and successful prosecution, both the DA (Shane Scanlon) and the Chief of Police (Carl Graziano) are defending not only the faux tipsters' actions, but their work as law enforcement officers as well.

“Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” Mr. Scanlon said. “I think it was an attempt to comply with the stalking horse law that was just done wrong."

Hmm. "I tried to comply with the speed limit but did it wrong." "I tried to comply with restrictions on the distribution of Schedule 1 substances but somehow screwed it up. Am I free to go?"

Yes, the officers did exactly the opposite of what the law forbids. That is indeed "wrong." But to shrug off the deliberate nature of their actions is asinine. The pair never identified themselves as law enforcement officers which means they knew they were violating something, even if they were unclear on the legal specifics. There was no "effort to comply." Just dishonesty and the hope that the ends would justify the means, as the police chief inadvertently implies in his defense of his employee.

“His goals and intentions, along with all other members of the Scranton Police Department, is to remove violent criminals and drug traffickers from the streets of Scranton while at the same time staying within the lines of current case laws and acceptable procedures,” Chief Graziano said in an email.

There was no "staying in the lines" here. Just two officers wandering outside of the confines of the law to expedite a process that likely could have been handled in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. It may have required more time and effort, but certainly wasn't an impossibility.

Citizens may not be pleased that two drug dealers will go unpunished. But they should be equally displeased the two officers who undid these convictions haven't even suffered the brief indignity of a paid vacation for their actions. As civil rights attorney Barry Dyller points out, this tells other law enforcement officers that there are zero consequences for bending the rules.

“The commonwealth and DA have a duty not merely to convict, but a duty to seek justice,” Mr. Dyller said. “If there is no consequence for those officers, it’s a signal to other officers it’s not the end of the world if you cut corners. ... For every time someone is caught, there has to be 100 times when they are not.”

Then there's this depressing statement from the DA, which clearly shows how much faith and deference his office extends to law enforcement.

Mr. Scanlon said as far as he knows, Mr. Booker’s and Mr. McCullough’s cases are the only two where this has happened. He acknowledged he has not done any research to determine if there are other cases.

Chances are, Scanlon still has yet to do any research. Why go looking for information that might disprove your bold, unresearched statements? Why give the other side that much more ammo when defending the accused? Better to stay on this side of the blue line and avoid biting the hand that feeds you criminal cases.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, albert mccullough, dakeem booker, drug bust, fake tips, harold zech, lawrence spathelf, police

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  1. icon
    Anton Sherwood (profile), 6 Dec 2017 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: A serious and honest question

    You can't but the state can.

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