When police act like organized crime syndicates

A Cleveland police officer named Michael Brelo is on trial for the killing of two unarmed people at the end of a crazy and dangerous chase through the city with 62 police cars and 100 officers in pursuit that ended with the victims and their car having 137 bullets pumped into them, 49 of them by Brelo, the last 15 after he jumped on the top of the car and fired straight down, as if he was the star in some action film. It later turned out that the insane chase and deaths may have been triggered by the victims’ car backfiring that some police thought was a gunshot.

This was one of the acts that prompted the US Justice Department and the state of Ohio to launch investigations into the workings of the police department and issue scathing reports about its excessive and indiscriminate use of force.

In yesterday’s trial proceedings, one police officer refused to testify against his colleague, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, unless he was granted immunity.

Prosecutors got through just a couple basic questions about the identity and work history of Cleveland police officer Michael Demchak before Demchak invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the witness stand.

According to a report from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Demchak was one of 13 officers that fired their guns one night in November 2012, when two unarmed suspects were killed. Investigators concluded Demchak fired his gun four times.

Two other police officers are expected to invoke the same defense, while two have been granted immunity. There has been some debate as to whether police officers should be able to invoke the Fifth Amendment. I think that it would be a dangerous precedent to carve out exemptions to basic constitutional rights, although the temptation to do so is great in the heated atmosphere of a high-profile case.

Before the trial began, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a motion that he had faced unprecedented obstruction from police.

McGinty is asking permission to treat police officers testifying in the case as hostile witnesses.
He claims virtually all the officers contacted by subpoena and letter as potential witnesses in the trial have refused to be interviewed by prosecutors or failed to respond.

McGinty’s motion reads, “This defiance by police has never occurred before…This unprecedented failure to cooperate with investigators then and now is evidence they are adverse to the State of Ohio and aligned with Brelo. They pledge their loyalty to the union and its members ahead of their duty as police officers.”

The motion claims the union told one officer expressing concerned about Brelo’s behavior “to keep his mouth shut” and not talk to anyone without the union lawyer or a union representative present.

The fact that the police officers are banding together in a code of silence makes them look very similar to organized crime syndicates or gangs.


  1. says

    The fact that the police officers are banding together in a code of silence makes them look very similar to organized crime syndicates or gangs.

    -- “indistinguishable from” --

  2. says

    Judges “compel” (read: intimidate and punish) witnesses with contempt of court and jail time if they refuse to testify in cases. The same should be done to the cops -- no “immunity”, either talk or be locked up until they do. In many places, cops, fire fighters and doctors aren’t allow to strike or take job action because they are “essential services”, so they shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to testify either, even if it does incriminate them.

    They claim to be “willing to lay down their lives for the public good”, so now it’s time to prove it. Testify, even if it means losing your job or freedom.

  3. says

    They claim to be “willing to lay down their lives for the public good”

    Which kinda clashes with how often they claim to be so terrified for their lives that they had no choice but to kill that unarmed black man.

  4. Dave Huntsman says

    Like Mano, I’m very reticent to carve out exceptions to Constitutional rights, and the fifth Amendment is pretty basic for us. That still leaves me conflicted. I’m a 40-year government employee; and I was disturbed during the Congressional hearings into whether the IRS targeted conservative ‘non-profit’ groups, that Lois Lerner took the fifth and refused to answer Congress’ questions. (This doesn’t mean I approved of the witch-hunt atmosphere that the Congressional Republicans were staging at the hearings). But, to me as a government employee, no matter how badly our elected representatives behave, anything we do on our official duty time we owe to tell the truth about to the American people. When the employee is someone who is given life-or-death powers over citizens, like the police, it becomes especially important that they do their duty and tell the truth; not hide it. The officers taking the fifth here -- though it is their right -- are shirking their duty in doing so, and should be fired from the force.

  5. doublereed says

    I thought the Fifth is against self-incrimination, not fellow-police officer incrimination. How would he be incriminated?

    I know you’re allowed to do that for your wife, but certainly not a coworker.

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