from the the-pettiness-of-the-powerful dept
Tired of hearing about just the bad cops? Here's one with a good cop, surrounded by worse cops, and the amazing amount of pettiness the latter group can display.
Texas State Trooper Billy Spears was working an approved security detail at the recent South by Southwest conference when he was approached by one of the performing artists and his publicist. The artist asked for a photo with the trooper, who obliged. The photo was taken by the publicist and later posted to Instagram. Here's the photo.
Trooper Spears is on the left.
In most other realities, this would have been the end of the story -- one Billy Spears would be able to tell for years. Instead, it's turned into something else. It's still a story that Spears will be able to tell for years, but there won't be many happy memories attached to it.
Much of what came next has been compiled by Spears' attorney, Ty Clevenger, who submitted this to Techdirt. Instead of nothing happening, a whole bunch of petty crap went down, starting with the response from his "superiors."
[H]ere’s an excerpt of the “deficiencies indicating need for counseling” in Billy’s official record: “While working a secondary employment job, Trooper Spears took a photo with a public figure who has a well-known criminal background including numerous drug charges. The public figure posted the photo on social media and it reflects poorly on the Agency.”The "counseling" doesn't mean a psychiatric evaluation but it does mean the addition of disciplinary documentation that could negatively affect Spears' future employment or advancement opportunities. The Texas Dept. of Safety -- of which the State Troopers are a division -- has so far refused to comment on this action, something that appears to be vindictive rather than deserved.
First, there's the ridiculousness of demanding troopers not pose with anyone who has a "criminal background." Many people do. Far too many, given the law enforcement's willingness to criminalize all sorts of behavior under vague charges like "obstruction," "interference" and "resisting arrest." No small percentage of a population possess a "criminal background." As Clevenger points out, this sort of expectation is not only moronic, but it's completely nonexistent.
And of course DPS has no policy requiring a criminal background check on everyone who requests a picture with a uniformed trooper. In fact, DPS has no policy forbidding a photograph with someone who has a criminal conviction.The other problem with the DPS's disciplinary action is that Spears didn't post the photo. Snoop Dogg did.
Despite Spears having violated no existing policies, his supervisors went out of their way -- way out of their way -- to assure he was punished for this non-misdeed. This is from Clevenger's letter to the director of the Texas Dept. of Public Safety.
At approximately 9 p.m., Trooper Spears was informed by Sgt. Michael Sparks that Lt. Jimmy Jackson would be driving from Tyler to Gilmer to serve him with a copy of the counseling form. Sgt. Sparks also told Trooper Spears that DPS is now requiring the presence of two superior officers for any incident involving him. I doubt there are any other troopers who must be served by at least two superior officers, and I must wonder why Trooper Spears was singled out for special treatment. I must also ask what is so special about Trooper Spears that a lieutenant would drive 80 miles round trip to serve him at 9:24 p.m. in the evening.As Clevenger sees it, this is retaliation for Spears' willingness to cross the blue line.
Last year, Trooper Spears filed a complaint and requested a criminal investigation of Sgt. Marcus Stokke of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The complaint arose from a May 10, 2014 off-duty incident at Lake Fork wherein Sgt. Stoke detained Trooper Spears, with no apparent probable cause, because he thought Trooper Spears had been disrespectful to him at a public event.The suspension was ultimately lifted, in large part because Sgt. Stokke was unable to keep his story straight during his testimony, which was also directly refuted by a number of eyewitnesses, including other troopers and game wardens.
The detention appears to have been a straightforward violation of Section 39.03 of the Texas Penal Code, but neither DPS nor TABC investigated the complaint against Sgt. Stokke. Instead, Trooper Spears's superiors filed a disciplinary complaint against him, apparently because he “rocked the boat” by requesting an investigation of an officer from another agency.
What should have been nothing but a cool story is now an all-too-familiar story with bad cops as the antagonists. Someone who refuses to play within the confines of a broken system must be dealt with, and a pure BS disciplinary action predicated on policies that don't exist illustrates perfectly why most cops just shut up and ignore the bad behavior of their colleagues.
Clevenger also notes another detail that's a bit chilling on its own -- if it's what it appears to be.
Billy was informed by his sergeant that DPS monitors social media for photographs of DPS personnel. The photo contains no reference to Billy or DPS, and even Billy did not know that it had been posted to Instagram, so this begs the question of whether DPS is trolling social media with its facial recognition software.This detail came directly from those involved in the disciplinary action against Trooper Spears.
According to Sgt. Sparks, the disciplinary action was initiated by Asst. Director David Baker after Trooper Spears's photograph was detected during routine scanning of social media.This is a legitimate concern. If the DPS is only monitoring known social media accounts of its employees for anything questionable, that would be one thing. (And still a misuse of its power.) But the only tie to this photo was Trooper Spears' presence, something not noted anywhere in the posting, which originated from an account about as far removed from any DPS employee as possible.
Clevenger notes the DPS has already put biometric data to use in its system, comparing millions of stored drivers license photos to those stored in criminal record databases. This would be in addition to its quiet rollout of a demand for a complete set of prints in exchange for a drivers license. If it is using its database in conjunction with "social media monitoring," it has far overstepped its bounds. It may be that certain vindictive parties performed this "scan" without authorization, which would limit the abuse to person or persons performing this search, but that still wouldn't explain why or how the DPS is able to use biometric data to scan social media postings. Clevenger is demanding answers from the DPS, but it's hardly likely he'll receive them.
That's the puzzling part. The other part -- the vindictive display of power -- isn't. It's so routine it's almost banal.