Ignorantia juris non excusat - ignorance of the law excuses no one
Traverse City, MI -- If the average citizen was caught running a racketeering scam to defraud the citizens of a town out of their hard earned money, they would go to jail. They would be arrested and thrown in a cage; even if they claimed they "didn't know it was illegal."
However, if you are the sheriff, the head honcho responsible for enforcing the law, you can and will avoid all accountability when you say, "I didn't know it was illegal."
Sheriff Tom Bensley of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department did exactly that after he was caught rewarding deputies for writing tickets.
A construction zone on U.S. 31 did not allow drivers to make left turns, so many of the were cutting through a nearby parking lot.
Bensley likely saw this opportunity as shooting fish in a bucket. He then sent an email to his department explaining to deputies that if they wrote five tickets in this area, they would receive a day off.
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"We thought this was a good method to catch people that were violating the law and to see if that incentive would produce some results," said Sheriff Bensley.
It is widely known across the country that offering an incentive or punishment for the number of citations or arrests an individual officer issues or makes is illegal. However, this sheriff, the man elected to be the supreme enforcer of the town's laws, claims he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.
"An officer cannot be required to issue a specific number of tickets either as part of continued employment or part of a performance evaluation," said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor, Bob Cooney when asked about the system. "An officer cannot be offered a fee for issuing citations."
When Bensley was confronted about his illegal racket, his defense was that he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.
"It's our bad and we're owning up to it," said Sheriff Bensley.
Except he's not owning up to it. If he were to truly "own up to it," he would turn himself in for violating the law and step down as sheriff. That is "owning up." Instead, he escapes any accountability whatsoever and the prosecutor has vowed not to pursue charges.
Fortunately, however, the money stolen from the citizens who were caught in the incentive based racketeering scandal will be refunded.