You know, the frequent attempts I see to excuse flagrant police misbehavior as honest mistakes are seldom very convincing, but at least the excuse is usually applied to acts committed in the field. It's still usually a weak and often absurd excuse, and often applied to situations where the officer's claim that he sincerely thought he was doing something necessary for his own safety, if true, is damning proof that he's either a coward or mentally unstable, but at least it's applied to an environment where situations that require quick, potentially life-or-death decisions based on limited information can and do actually occur. The "you don't know what it's like not knowing if you'll make it home alive" excuse loses whatever plausibility it had when it's applied to paperwork.
At a Critical Mass event in New York in 2008, police officer Patrick Pogan shoved Chris Long as the latter rode past on his bicycle, knocking Long to the pavement. Pogan reported that he stopped Long because was weaving dangerously through traffic, forcing cars to stop or turn to avoid him, and that Long intentionally turned to ram him with his bike and knocked him down. Long was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.
The incident was caught on film, which exposed Pogan's entire report as a lie, as did subsequent eyewitness testimony, and stirred up public outrage when it appeared on Youtube. There was no moving car traffic, and Long was in no danger of colliding with Pogan. Pogan rushed Long without provocation, and shoved him down when Long tried to avoid a collision. Pogan remained solidly on his feet.
Last week, Pogan was acquitted of assault but convicted of filing a false police report, which has a potential sentence of up to four years. That Pogan was not convicted of anything for the attack itself is unfortunate- thought not at all surprising- and it's possible that the judge will give him a slap on the wrist during sentencing, but it's something. And all it took was hundreds of thousands of people seeing direct video proof that Pogan was lying.
I know that's a low standard. I live on the outskirts of Chicago, where a police officer getting caught (Note: Link goes to video footage showing severe violence) on video beating the shit out of a woman because she cut him off at the bar is only worth two years probation and some anger management classes. I grasp for whatever shreds of justice I can.
Pogan's defense attorney claimed that Pogan had been genuinely confused about events when he filed the false report. (Not that being genuinely confused or honestly mistaken makes a lick of difference when it's a police officer suffering harm at the hands of a civilian rather than dishing it out.) Patrolman's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch condemned the conviction, saying, "This will have a chilling effect on every new young officer when they realize mistakes now become crimes."
I can buy the possibility of someone body-checking someone into the pavement because of a reasonable but mistaken belief that they were under attack. That's plainly not what happened in this case, where the two men would never have come within ten feet of each other if Pogan hadn't dashed from his position to intercept Long, but it could happen. That's a mistake.
Whereas Officer Pogan's "mistake" was that, entirely innocently, he rushed a man and body-checked him into the pavement without provocation and then, by mistake, filed a police report that got every salient detail of the incident wrong and, in so doing, accidentally concealed the fact that he had rushed a man and body-checked him onto the pavement without provocation and framed the man he had attacked for a crime that never happened.
There's a scene from the early 90s action movie The Last Boy Scout that comes to mind with depressing frequency when I think about American law enforcement, and this is one of those times. Bruce Willis' character has discovered that his wife has been cheating on him. Her lover says that it "just happened," to which Willis sardonically replies:
Sure, sure, I know... it just happened. Coulda happened to anybody. It was an accident, right? You tripped, slipped on the floor, and accidentally stuck your dick in my wife.Of course, when Willis comes up with that scenario it's supposed to sound transparently ridiculous.