Pennsylvania Cops Abusing A Bad Law To Arrest People For Saying Angry Things To Them

from the but-people-actually-hate-us,-they-exclaimed-with-their-guns-at-low-ready dept

If you ever need a bad law abused, just look for a police officer. The police like to steer clear of knowledge whenever possible because it helps them out when legal liability is on the line. Qualified immunity rewards cops who work hard to make sure they don't know the laws they're enforcing. But when it comes to laws officers can use to punish those who fail to show them the respect they think they're owed, officers know those inside and out.

Legislators have made things worse by passing "Blue Lives Matter" laws that grant extra legal protections to a class of Americans no one but cops think is a class routinely subject to oppression or bias. While a "Blue Lives Matter" law makes it easier to intimidate the general public, it's not a necessity. Officers have used bad laws -- like criminal defamation -- to hassle and silence critics.

Over in Pennsylvania, a hate crime law crafted to protect ethnic and religious groups is being used by cops to arrest people for calling cops the sort of things cops get called all the time.

On Sept. 23, 2016, Robbie Sanderson, a 52-year-old Black man from North Carolina, was arrested for retail theft by in Crafton, a small town near Pittsburgh.

During the arrest, Sanderson called police “Nazis,” “skinheads” and “Gestapo,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by the Crafton Borough police.

For that, he was charged with a hate crime.

Someone needs to explain to these cops they're not an ethnic or religious group. They're just cops. It's not a race or a religion, no matter how much law enforcement tries to set itself apart from the people it's supposed to be serving. Being called a "Nazi" is not "ethnic intimidation." Neither are the following examples provided by The Appeal, even if the language used actually seems to fit better with the legislative intent.

In January that year, Sannetta Amoroso, a 43-year-old Black woman from Pittsburgh, was charged with multiple counts of first-degree felony ethnic intimidation by McKees Rocks police Officer Brandy Harcha. According to police, Amoroso became angry while trying to report a crime and said “I’m going to kill all you white bitches” and “death to all you white bitches.”

Then in June, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Robert Wareham charged Steven Ray Oller, 47, of Chambersburg, with misdemeanor ethnic intimidation for threatening officers and using a racial slur directed at a Latinx trooper during an arrest for suspected DUI.

And in August, Trooper James Welsh of the state police charged Seneca Anthony Payne, a 39-year-old Bucks County man, with misdemeanor ethnic intimidation. Payne allegedly called an officer a “Gandhi motherfucker” during a welfare check at Payne’s home.

For what it's worth, state prosecutors seem more lawsuit-averse than these officers. The "ethnic intimidation" charges were dropped in all four cases. But here's the thing: the same departments charging these people with "ethnic intimidation" are too cowardly to include their misuse of a law in the official paperwork. As The Appeal reports, all of these departments claimed no hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions despite booking these arrestees for hate crimes.

If a law written in a way that can be construed to cover actions law enforcement normally wouldn't consider crimes, it will be used to generate additional charges for arrestees. Cops know the laws far better than they claim in court. They like the grey area that allows suspicionless stops and pat downs, but absolute love the minutia that can turn normal reactions to police presence into an arrestable crime.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 10:54am

    Of course there's bias

    Legislators have made things worse by passing "Blue Lives Matter" laws that grant extra legal protections to a class of Americans no one but cops think is a class routinely subject to oppression or bias.

    I'm not a cop and I'm sure they're subject to bias. It's surprising anyone would think they're not. People have always treated cops differently than other people, for example by driving more slowly when they're around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:08am

      Re: Of course there's bias

      That's an example of behaving differently but not of treating cops differently. And the behavior change is self-preservation, not an overt interaction with police.

      Despite that, you may still be right. Cops get all kinds of preferential treatment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 12:45pm

      Re: Of course there's bias

      I'm not a cop and I'm sure they're subject to bias. It's surprising anyone would think they're not.

      Not surprising when the person saying so is blatantly biased against police, as he makes excessively clear at every possible opportunity. Many people have blind spots like that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re: Of course there's bias

        Being anti-corrupt police is being not anti-police, unless you care to argue they are the same thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 2 Jul 2018 @ 2:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: Of course there's bias

          No, I don't think they're the same thing, but it's pretty clear from Tim's articles that he has some trouble with that particular bit of nuance. He seems to believe that all police are either corrupt or--nearly as bad--enablers of those who are.

          It's the Headline News Effect at its worst: stuff that goes right doesn't make the news, because there's nothing unexpected or sensational about it. So if you uncritically buy into what you see on the news, you might end up thinking that X is really, really bad when it's actually just fine except in a few exceptional cases.

          Combine this with Confirmation Bias and Libertarian tinfoil hattery and you get... well... Tim Cushing's views on police, to a T.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 2 Jul 2018 @ 11:44pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course there's bias

            He seems to believe that all police are either corrupt or--nearly as bad--enablers of those who are.

            Probably because that seems to be exactly the case. Stories like this do not come about by the mystical 'few bad apples', for something like this to keep consistently cropping up requires some pretty widespread corruption, whether directly in those abusing their positions or indirectly in those ignoring them.

            But here's the thing: the same departments charging these people with "ethnic intimidation" are too cowardly to include their misuse of a law in the official paperwork. As The Appeal reports, all of these departments claimed no hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions despite booking these arrestees for hate crimes.

            In this very article you've got a perfect example. Arresting multiple people for 'hate crimes', then never bothering to actual file the paperwork for it, making it pretty clear that it's just petty vengeance/'contempt of cop'. Even if it was just a few cops doing that it would still require those around them, from other cops to their supervisors looking the other way if not actively agreeing that yup, that's a perfectly valid use of the law.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 10:50am

      Re: Of course there's bias

      I agree that first example (Nazis) is ridiculous. But if we're going to charge normal citizens with 'hate crimes' for using racial slurs on each other, then it's perfectly reasonable to do so when the 'victim' is a cop.

      Let's be clear: I think the whole "hate crime/hate speech" regime we've built up in America is ridiculous and stupid. But if we're going to do it, then it should be applied equally to everyone, both perpetrators and victims.

      Cushing says cops are just cops and not some special class. Well, that being the case, cops get to be protected from racial slurs just like everyone else and when they are the victims of it, the perpetrators get to be charged for it, just as they would if they did it to any other non-cop.

      To say otherwise would do the very thing Cushing says he opposes: Putting cops in a separate, special class with rules that apply only to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:07am

    ethnic

    I the three examples listed, there WAS an ethnic slur in each of them - the arrested person in each made reference to "white bitches", an ethnic slur directed at a latino, and in the last, an ethnic slur aimed at the apparent Indian ancestry of the/an officer.

    I've got no problem with that. The law, well, ALL the "hate crime" laws, is completely idiotic, but it IS the Law.

    Or are you advocating selective enforcement?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:39am

      Re: ethnic

      Every word spoken by those people were protected free speech. Any law that restricts that is illegal from the get-go and cops, should know this. The fact that every charge was dropped by prosecutors shows that it is not a good charge and they should never have been arrested in the first place. Nice try but you are still an idiot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 12:25pm

        Re: Re: ethnic

        well... he is not the only one twisting or ignoring the constitution to mean something it does not for their politics.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 2:49pm

        Re: Re: ethnic

        Oh, I fully agree ALL the so-called "hate crime" laws should be declared Unconstitutional. Especially those involving "hate speech" - that's EXACTLY what the First Amendment protects - unpopular speech. Why would *popular* speech need protecting?

        As to the charges being dropped, be careful there. We've only got three examples from what I think we can all be sure are a veritable flood of such charges in various jurisdictions.

        Also, as is frequently pointed out here on TechDirt, ADA's just *love* to pile on every charge they can imagine PLANNING to throw them out in exchange for a plea deal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:54pm

      Re: ethnic

      I the three examples listed, there WAS an ethnic slur in each of them

      Only the first was intimidation—it threatened murder based on ethnicity. The other two were just name-calling.

      completely idiotic, but it IS the Law.

      Only to the extent it's constitutional. (The constitution prohibits Congress from passing laws against speech—if they pass something against speech, it's a meaningless piece of paper, not a law. If courts recognize the illegality...)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:44am

    Anyone here?

    Ever been given the laws you are to live by, or respect??
    Please give me a copy..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 6:50pm

      Re: Anyone here?

      Congress could not physically read all the laws in a given year so no, literally no one knows all the laws we are subject too. Try dumping some oil in a local lake and find out how many laws the EPA has created on its own.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:51am

    Holy SHIT!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 11:53am

      Re: Holy SHIT!!!

      Good damn enter key posts the damn message when you're in the subject line! FIX THAT!!

      In January that year, Sannetta Amoroso, a 43-year-old Black woman from Pittsburgh, was charged with multiple counts of first-degree felony ethnic intimidation by McKees Rocks police Officer Brandy Harcha.

      "A First Degree Felony is punishable by 5 years to 99 years or Life and includes such crimes as murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, high amount of drug cases, and many others."

      So calling a cop names is in the same league as rape, murder, etc. WTF!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 12:47pm

        Re: Re: Holy SHIT!!!

        So calling a cop names is in the same league as rape, murder, etc.

        Agreed. What he did was wrong, but it wasn't that wrong!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Sharur, 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:23pm

        Re: Re: Holy SHIT!!!

        Where did you source your definition of "First Degree Felony"? It doesn't match the usage that I've previously seen.

        Where I am at, first degree is the default status for any felony(any crime with a maximum statutory penalty exceeding one year of imprisonment, even if the sentence applied is less than a year ), and then you have "watered down" lessor degrees for, e.g. have a lower mens rea for the crime, e.g. negligent homicide rather than intentional homicide.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 12:21pm

    "punish those who fail to show them the respect they think they're owed,"

    Respect is earned, not owed. Perhaps what they desire is adulation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:10pm

    "During the arrest, Sanderson called police “Nazis,” “skinheads” and “Gestapo,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by the Crafton Borough police."

    So to drive home the 'fact' that the police is NOT 'nazis', 'skinheads' and 'Gestapo' they acted exactly like 'nazis', 'skinheads' and 'Gestapo'.

    [insert captn Picard facepalm here]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sharur, 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:26pm

      Re:

      How is arresting someone for retail theft (i.e. shoplifting) acting like Nazis or the Gestapo?

      Or where you referring to the misuse of the hate-crime law?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:41pm

      Re:

      They didn't act like skinheads man. Skinheads would have curbed them. Just Nazis and Gestapo.

      Totally unfair to be called a skinhead when you're not;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daydream, 29 Jun 2018 @ 3:43pm

      Re:

      Personally I think they're acting more like kidnappers, slave-takers, and the KKK.

      Without the context of police powers, what are their actions? Snatching people off the streets, murdering people for drugs and stealing money and cars, holding innocents in cages until they're paid 'bail' by a relative or they get sold off as slaves to some farming corporation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 29 Jun 2018 @ 1:40pm

    Someone needs to explain to these cops they're not an ethnic or religious group. They're just cops. It's not a race or a religion . . .

    Why, that's not important when it comes to creating protected classes. Protected classes are effectively arbitrary classifications - so its not unexpected that others are trying to get those classification expanded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Andrew D. Todd, 29 Jun 2018 @ 6:30pm

      What's In A Name?

      Well, you know, "Gestapo" is short for Geheims-Staats-Poliizei, in other words, the state police of Prussia, within the German confederation. Prussia was about 55% of Germany. The Nazis didn't invent a new agency- they just let the exuzting police do all the things which certain kinds of policemen do naturally., if nit sternly checked It's the same concept as the term "Chips" (California Highway Partrol), for the term "FBI.," or the term "ICE."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Andrew D. Todd, 30 Jun 2018 @ 7:13am

        Re: What's In A Name?

        The Nazis found that the average tweity-five-year-old policeman, that is, one young enough to be fit for active service, had no inhibitions about genocide worth mentioning. They mustered units of policemen, and these immediately became the concentration camp guards.

        The ICE if full of people who are quite willing to stuff Mexican chilred nito gas chambers it Trump gives the order.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 3 Jul 2018 @ 5:44am

      Re:

      Protected classes are effectively arbitrary classifications - so its not unexpected that others are trying to get those classification expanded.

      Naturally. Sometimes the most ridiculously awful things that happen are the consequences of good intentions. Try to enjoy being screwed by religious zealots using freedom of speech as a pretext to control us.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 2:49pm

    Delivery trick driver? Fire-watcher perhaps?

    If someone can't handle people saying mean words to them then they have no business in a job where 'regular interactions with the public, often in high-stress situations' is part of the job description. Either grow a thicker skin or quit and let someone competent take the job.

    The fact that they arrested and then sent the people off to be tried and yet 'forgot' to file the paperwork involved themselves makes it pretty clear that this is pure intimidation, not them cracking down on a 'crime'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 6:19pm

    They are afraid of being called names.
    They are afraid of being recorded.
    They are afraid of children.
    They are afraid of blacks.
    They are afraid of people who knock on car windows.
    They are afraid of people selling loose smokes.
    They are afraid of car backfires.

    Perhaps it is time we stop hiring people this fearful to do a dangerous job. If they can't keep it together when called a 'Nazi' I really don't want to see what happens if they are confronted with an actual gun, they would meltdown into tears.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2018 @ 6:53pm

      Re:

      They are not really afraid, they have been taught that saying they were, is a get out of trouble free card. Along with their special status as people on the right side of the blue line, no charges, paid vacation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jun 2018 @ 6:57pm

      Re:

      Dogs. You forgot dogs. They are terribly fearful of dogs as well. They use a shoot on sight policy for dogs, close or far, that dog must be dangerous and needs to be put down. Bang, bang, bang. That is, if they can control themselves to only three shots.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McFortner (profile), 30 Jun 2018 @ 5:31pm

    Thought experiment

    Blockquote "During the arrest, Sanderson called police “Nazis,” “skinheads” and “Gestapo,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by the Crafton Borough police. blockquote blockquoteFor that, he was charged with a hate crime."

    Let's try reversing the roles and see what happens. Let's assume that during the arrest, the officers called Sanderson "N*****," "Coon," and "Speerchucker". Do you think that the officers would have been charged and/or sued for a hate crime by Sanderson and/or the NAACP?

    If you said "No", then you are suffering serious cognitive dissonance going on there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 1 Jul 2018 @ 7:06am

      Re: Thought experiment

      Protip: it's kind of dumb to suggest that there's any "hypocrisy" or "cognitive dissonance" present in wanting to treat two different situations appropriately differently.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cenobyte40k (profile), 1 Jul 2018 @ 8:53pm

    Why is anyone surprised that the police are unethical and generally make things worse? There are few to no police in the US that shouldn't be in jail according to their own standards let alone someone with ethics and morals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    trypkid (profile), 2 Jul 2018 @ 9:35am

    The 14th Amendment's "Equal Protection Clause" prevents policemen from receiving special rights and privileges that do not ALSO attach equally to HOMELESS AMERICAN CITIZENS, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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