Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Caton Mess

Since learning of the impending promotion of now-Sergeant Patrick Caton, I've really been struggling to sort through my views on the matter. That, no doubt, will suprise many of you. "Donald," you'll say, "Your civil practice includes civil rights law. You've got to be horrified that Caton is still a police officer, much less a sergeant."

And I am. But it's not that simple. This is a situation in which several deeply-held beliefs are in conflict. Maybe our faithful readers can help me sort them through in the comments.
  • I grew up in a union household. I believe that working men and women have the right to organize, and to bargain collectively for the terms and conditions of their employment. And I believe that employers must be required to abide by the agreements they enter into with the unions that represent their workers.*
  • I'm a criminal defense attorney. I believe--I have to believe--that an acquittal means something.
  • I'm a criminal defense attorney. I believe that the power of the police has grown stronger than the Framers of our Constitution (particularly with respect to the Fourth Amendment) had ever envisioned or ever would have approved.
  • I'm a civil rights attorney. I believe that citizens should not be subject to excessive force at the hands of the police who are sworn to protect us--all of us. And I believe that an officer whose use of excessive force causes serious injury or death should never get the opportunity to do it again. I also believe officers shouldn't use racial epithets while on duty. (They shouldn't ever use them, but I can't imagine them being subject to discipline for non-criminal, off-duty conduct.)
So where should that bring me with respect to Caton's promotion? Our criminal justice system found that he wasn't criminally liable for his conduct. His own department found that he used excessive force and shouldn't carry a badge and a gun any more. But a collective bargaining agreement-mandated arbitration found that the police department got it wrong.

I'm sure there are others out there who have sorted through this dilemna. How do you balance the values involved here?

* I also believe the City should require (through a CBA, where appropriate) most--if not all--of its employees (particularly our police) to live in the City. But that's a whole new discussion.

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