Sheriff Doug Rader of Missouri’s Stone County says that he is being “attacked” for a “patriotic gesture” – decorating his department’s patrol vehicles with the motto “In God We Trust.” By focusing on a largely symbolic controversy, both the sheriff’s defenders and detractors are ignoring a more tangible threat – the sheriff’s insistence, typical of his profession, that citizens render immediate, unconditional obedience to law enforcement officers as duly appointed ministers of violence on behalf of the divine State.
“Where’s our patriotism?” Sheriff Rader theatrically complained during a recent interview on Fox News. “Anytime anybody wants to be patriotic and make a symbol nowadays, they’re attacked…. We’ve come so far from 9/11, it just saddens me.”
Rader is correct in observing that many other law enforcement agencies inscribe that phrase – which is the official national motto – on their vehicles. As legal commentator and retired Judge Andrew Napolitano points out, this practice is in compliance with Supreme Court precedents, even though it does prompt objections from proponents of strict separation of church and state.
A more troublesome expression of the worldview governing Sheriff Rader’s department is found on its official website. Prominently displayed on the introductory page is an inventive paraphrase of the familiar (and widely misapplied) verse from chapter 13 of the New Testament’s Book of Romans, which deals with being subject to the “ruling powers”:
“For the `Policeman’ does not frighten people who are doing right; but those who doing [sic] evil will always fear him. So if you do not want to be afraid, keep the laws and you will get along well. The `Policeman’ is sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for he will have you punished. He is sent by God for that very purpose.”
Jessica White, her husband Jordan, and her father-in-law Donald can testify that it isn’t necessary to be “doing something wrong” to find oneself on the receiving end of state-consecrated violence inflicted by Stone County Sheriff’s deputies. Each of them is completing a three-year term of probation on charges arising from a May 5, 2012 incident in which they were beaten and arrested by deputies who had invaded their property without a warrant or probable cause.
The Whites, who live in Crane, Missouri, were returning from a basketball game when they saw that their driveway was blocked by deputies carrying out a traffic stop on a suspected drunk driver. They were allowed to walk up a forty-yard driveway to the carport, but ordered not to go into the house. Although they were not suspects, they were detained in the interest of that most important of all considerations, “officer safety.”
A few minutes later, two more deputies – Taylor Jenkins and Brandon Flack – arrived on the scene with a police dog. Without a warrant, probable cause, or consent, Jenkins and Flack swaggered onto the property to interrogate the Whites. Things degenerated very rapidly.
“As the deputy was making the arrest, two individuals from the … residence became loud and aggressive in an attempt to keep the deputy from making the arrest,” asserted an official press release from the Sheriff’s Office, which was issued a little more than a day later. “Those two individuals were arrested for interfering with an arrest, and resisting arrest.”
“Also a female from the residence who was watching the incident … walked up behind one of the deputies and struck the deputy in the back of the head,” continued the official account. “She was then arrested for Assaulting a Law Enforcement Officer.”
Given that this statement was issued by a law enforcement agency, it isn’t surprising that it differs dramatically with the actual events, which were captured on video by at least two witnesses.
The SCSO statement conveys the impression that the Whites were trying to impede the arrest of the detained motorist, Thomas Barnett, who was the subject of a municipal warrant. The video documents that Jordan and Donald White became agitated by the uninvited and unwarranted intrusion of Deputies Jenkins and Flack and their weaponized canine.
Without cause or justification, Jordan was thrown to the ground by the deputy, and then kicked in the genitals. After Donald loudly protested the assault on his son, Flack bellowed: “Get him, Jenkins!”
Seizing Donald, Deputy Jenkins snarled, “Get on the f**king ground!” and threw the man face-down on the cement carport surface.
Jessica, who at the time was an elected alderwoman in Crane, had been trying to reason with the deputies, only to receive vulgar verbal abuse in return. After seeing her husband and father-in-law brutalized without provocation, the petite woman intervened directly, striking at Jenkins in a desperate attempt to defend Donald. Flack grabbed Jessica and thrust her to the ground, wounding her leg and inflicting severe, lasting damage to her shoulder in the process. Neighbors looked on in horror as the deputies – acting in violation of use-of-force guidelines – used a Taser to inflict several prolonged “drive-stuns” on Donald, who was prone and handcuffed.
After the Sheriff’s Office issued its artfully misleading press release about the incident, the White family’s attorney, John Dale Wiley, provided a detailed account of the officers’ abusive behavior to the Springfield News Leader. He also made public a video of the arrests. Two weeks later, deputies Jenkins and Flack responded by filing a lawsuit against the Whites and their attorney. The officers claimed that by exercising the right to publicize abuses and seek redress of grievances, the Whites had subjected their assailants to “defamation.”
The lawsuit accused Wiley of “intentionally, willfully, and maliciously distributing” defamatory statements through the media, and claimed that the Whites were “vicariously liable for the actions and conduct of their agent, servant, employee, and attorney,” who supposedly acted “in the reckless disregard of the rights of [the plaintiffs] to be free from being the victim of defamatory statements.”
Both Jenkins and Flack complained that as a result of the publicity they were “subjected to contempt and ridicule, and … suffered emotional distress, pain, and suffering.”
Wiley notes that the injuries inflicted by the deputies were rather more severe than the hurt feelings they supposedly experienced.
“Donny White [was] subjected to a vicious prolonged Taser attack, despite being handcuffed and being face down on the ground,” declared the attorney. “The deputy [continued] his sadistic torture ignoring Donny’s cries begging the deputy to stop.” Eyewitness Levi Cook testified that the deputies kicked the shackled, helpless man in the face, leaving behind “a big pile of blood.”
Attorney Richard Crites, who represented Jenkins and Flack, insisted that the assailants were merely carrying out their divine mandate. Reciting from the catechism of Blue Privilege, Crites maintained that Ms. White had a moral obligation to submit to whatever her costumed superiors saw fit to inflict on her and her family: “She reacted because she was drunk. Alcohol and stupidity go like bacon and eggs…. I don’t care what Dale Wiley says, you don’t have an excuse to go up and hit somebody in the head that’s a cop.” (Emphasis added.)
Committing aggressive violence is the priestly prerogative of the police officer. Protecting one’s self or a loved one from such violence is an impermissible sacrilege.
Because they had defied commands issued by their heaven-ordained supervisors – and, in Jessica’s case, profaned the consecrated body of a divine emissary by coming to the aid of her father-in-law – the Whites were compelled to accept “Alford pleas” for charges including third-degree assault on an officer and resisting or interfering with an arrest. In September 2013 they were sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.
The incident involving the Whites occurred prior to Doug Rader’s election as Stone County Sheriff. Neither Jenkins nor Flack is listed on the department’s current personnel roster, which means it’s likely they have joined the “gypsy cop” population.
One of Rader’s first gestures in office was to issue a statement promising Stone County residents that he would protect them against a hypothetical gun-grab by the Obama administration.
Like the decision to place the motto “In God We Trust” on patrol vehicles, that promise was a facile symbolic gesture. He has yet to provide substantive assurances to Stone County residents that he will protect them from the proven threat of criminal violence on the part of his subordinates.