We have always been sympathetic to cops, since we came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, when the counterculture treated them shamefully. Nevertheless, we never forget Lord Acton’s famous saying that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When it comes to the criminal justice system, the power is on the government’s side. It owns the weapons, the enforcers, the judicial systems, and the prisons. Sometimes it seems that the enforcers (also known as police officers) lose track of the fact that they are public servants and begin to believe that their sole duty is to throw their power around for their own good and for their department’s good.
This philosophical introduction comes about because a St. Louis, Missouri, judge threw out a drug case based upon her conclusion that a dashboard cam may well have caught Ronald Vaughn, the arresting officer, planting Alprazolam on the defendant, Jeremy Eden. The video is extremely grainy, but it seems to show an object falling next to Eden as Officer Vaughn searches him. Although the judge did not specifically rule on the video’s content, she nevertheless concluded that “credibility of police officer is questionable. . . . ”
The judge made that finding after viewing a nearly 30-minute long version of the dashcam video, as well as an enhanced, slowed down clip (seen above), in which an object apparently falls to the ground as Vaughan pulls his hand out of Eden’s pocket. In the full video, Eden can be heard saying “You had that bag on you. I gave you consent to search, I don’t know why you are doing this to me.”
The prosecutors and the police union say that Vaughan, a decorated officer did nothing wrong, and that this case is a textbook example of the way in which dashboard cameras can distort the truth. Vaughan, a five-year veteran, won a departmental Medal of Valor, which is the police department’s top honor, for his role in a 2010 shootout.
According to Vaughan, he had stopped Eden because of a missing front license plate. When he approached the car, however, he smelled marijuana. According to him, Eden appeared to have thrown a small, knotted plastic bag away from the car as he opened the door. The video, though, seems to show the bag dropping from Vaughan’s hand during the search.
Eden has now filed suit to recover for the months he spent in jail.
We believe most police officers are honorable and that they should get the benefit of the doubt. We also wonder if, with the ubiquitous dashcams, they’re really dumb enough to plant evidence while their own camera is rolling. Having said that, though, there’s no doubt that power is corrupting and American police officers have a lot of power. What do you think?