California — In the state of California—up until this week—citizens who were “able-bodied persons 18 years of age or older,” would be charged with a crime if a police officer asked them for help and they refused. All that has since changed, however, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that no longer required or forced citizens to help police officers.
The law was still on the books from the days of the wild west. The California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872 made it a crime — punishable by up to a $1,000 fine — for refusing to respond to a police officer’s call for assistance during an arrest. It took until 2019 to change a bill that essentially turned citizens into indentured servants of police officers.
Bills like this one were originally drafted as a means to garner help for cops who were attempting to catch “fugitive slaves.” As the Sacramento Bee points out, posse comitatus derives from medieval English common law, but saw widespread use in America’s early days, including as a tool of enforcement for the Fugitive Slave Act.
Senate Bill 192, was sponsored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and removes the archaic law from the books. Hertzberg referred to the law as “a vestige of a bygone era” that subjects citizens to “an untenable moral dilemma.”
Naturally, the California State Sheriff’s Association was upset with the passage of the bill which allowed them to temporarily enslave citizens and force them to do their bidding.
“There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed,” the association said in a statement.
Although the law was archaic, police in California actually still use it and an innocent couple was thrown into harm’s way by the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office because of it. Despite never being police officers, Norma and Jim Gund were deceived under the law by a Trinity County sheriff’s deputy into confronting a maniac who just murdered two of their neighbors.
During the confrontation, Norma, 56, was viciously sliced open by the murderer.
When the Gunds attempted to sue the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office for $10 million, the office invoked posse comitatus and claimed that the law made the Gunds de facto employees of the state—despite not have a choice and not collecting a paycheck.
As the Sac Bee reported last year, in April 2014, a Trinity County judge dismissed the lawsuit in favor of the county’s argument that the Gunds were only eligible for workers’ compensation because they volunteered to perform “active law enforcement service” as the county cited “posse comitatus.”
“(The Gunds) knew they were responding to a 911 call, and therefore they were assisting in active law enforcement,” the appellate court judges wrote. “Although the deputy misrepresented that the 911 call was likely weather-related and omitted facts suggesting potential criminal activity, the deputy’s misrepresentations and omissions are irrelevant. … All that matters is that plaintiffs knew they were responding to a 911 call, the nature of which was not certain.”
This is sheer insanity.
Although law enforcement is fear mongering over the passage of Senate Bill 192, any legislation that overturns laws which allows police officers to force innocent couples into situations in which they can and will be stabbed, is good legislation.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that California is unique in passing such a law as most states in the union have similar acts that make it a crime to refuse assisting a police officer. In some states, like Kansas, when a cop demands a citizen help them, that citizen is then given qualified immunity if they hurt the suspect during the arrest.
“A person commanded to assist a law enforcement officer in making an arrest shall not be civilly or criminally liable for any reasonable conduct in aid of the officer or any acts expressly directed by the officer,” reads Chapter 22 of Kansas’ Uniform Criminal Extradition Act.
While California only imposed a $1,000 fine, other states like Maryland will put you in jail for refusing to help a police officer. So much for the land of the free, eh?