In recent months, we have seen an outpouring of emotions regarding the law enforcement community. Responses range from criticism regarding how they do their jobs when dealing with certain members of the community to a belief that they merit unrestricted praise and obedience. In my life, my own friends and colleagues cover this gamut. I understand the instant desire to label all cops as heroes just doing their jobs etc. But, how in the world do you justify this?
To give you the quick gist of what you saw ( or skipped over, depending upon your patience) is a San Francisco Police Inspector, Brian Stansbury arresting Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson in a courthouse. Her crime? Refusing to let a client be questioned by Stansbury without her presence or allow Stansbury to photograph her client. In other words, she was reminding her client of his constitutional rights. Inspector Stansbury, clearly unaware of this right, decided to arrest Ms. Tilloston for resisting arrest.
That’s right, boys and girls. A lady was arrested for resisting an arrest that never happened. Confused? You should be. So let us take a closer look at California Penal Code section 148, or as it is also known, the “Contempt of Cop” Statute.
Cal. Penal Code § 148(a)(1) reads:
“Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
This statute is written broadly enough that Inspector
Fife Stansbury felt he was in the right. After all, he noticed two individuals in court that day who he thought might be related to a burglary that is still under investigation and called them aside to question them. He must think these people are obligated to aid him in his investigation, including Attorney Tillotson. But, he is wrong. Woefully, wrong. Incredibly wrong. And you need to know why he is wrong.
First, a person has no obligation to cooperate with a police investigation; especially of themselves. None. The Inspector wanted to detain these young men to collect, what he hoped would be evidence. He did not ask, “Mind if I take your picture?” No, instead he was ordering the young man to stand still for a photo. That is state power at work, friends. And the Inspector was wrong to use it and doubly wrong to arrest the person who knew the law for knowing the law and exercising it. It was unlawful and thus, California PC 148 does not apply.
Which brings us to another important point; Many police officers do not know the law well. And they become so accustomed to not knowing it because they rarely get called on it. If District Attorneys offices did a better job of being actively involved in educating police officers on the law, it might help.
Now, this does not mean that one should get into heated confrontations with the police. Notice in the video how cool, calm and collected Attorney Tillotson is during this encounter. She makes no effort to resist, she does not use profane language she merely exerts someone’s right to be left alone and when threatened with arrest she responds with a steady, “Please do”. That is how you handle things. Because she knows the law, she knows no good will come from a confrontation there. But in a courtroom? She is most likely winning.