The 5 Most Spectacular On-The-Job F#@% Ups By The Police
The best thing you can say about police misconduct in the headlines is that they're often cases of split-second decisions gone wrong -- officers who are too quick on the trigger (or the Taser) or react to conflict in ways that suggest they should never have gotten the job in the first place. But then, you have the cases where mindless or outright corrupt shit was going on for months or even years, and nobody involved ever raised his or her hand to say, "Uh, are we seriously still doing this?"
Louisiana Police Round Up And Arrest Gay Men For Being Gay ... In 2013
As we've mentioned before, it wasn't until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared it unconstitutional to outlaw same-sex sexin'. But, that didn't mean those states with offending laws were required to remove them from their statutes -- it just meant they could no longer enforce them. Apparently, however, Louisiana never got that memo.
The Supreme Court really needs a Twitter account.
In 2011 (in case math wasn't your strongest subject in grade school, that's eight years after the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling), the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's office launched a super clever sting operation. We're talking truly top-notch, Loki-level law enforcement trickery here. Step one: Find a gay man. Step two: Send an undercover (male) cop to ask said gay man if he wants to, maybe, you know, get up to some stuff of the butt variety. Step three: Arrest said gay man when he says yes.
"Maybe we shouldn't be so fast to arrest -- wait a couple of dates;
maybe a bed-and-breakfast weekend. We really want these charges to stick."
Now, to be clear, this was not a prostitution sting -- the cops never offered, nor did they ask for, any money. They were straight-up busting gay dudes for wanting to have gay sex. After two full years and 12 arrests, someone finally pointed out in 2013 that, no, you can't actually arrest people for being gay in America in fucking 2013. The Sheriff's department initially tried to shift the blame with a Facebook post saying that they were "never contacted or told that the law was not enforceable or prosecutable" and that "the deputies in the cases were acting in good faith using a statute that was still on the books of the Louisiana criminal code." But then, they recanted by issuing an apology and saying that the investigation totally wasn't meant to target the gay community. And the entire department's noses collectively grew by a good 12 inches that day.
"Which, under Louisiana law, counts as intention to commit sodomy."
By the way, Louisiana is just one of 13 states that still have unenforceable sodomy laws on the books. Let's hope the other 12 have people on staff who are more skilled at marking through things with a red Sharpie.
Virginia Police Routinely Suit Up In Their SWAT Gear To Issue Citations To Casual Gamblers
We've previously told you about the time optometrist Sal Culosi from Fairfax, Virginia, was befriended by an undercover cop, conned into betting more than $2,000 on a football game (the threshold for making it illegal in Virginia), and then accidentally shot outside his house when the Fairfax PD sent in a fucking SWAT team to arrest him for it. Well, apparently "you live and you learn" is not the motto of the Fairfax County police department, because it has a long and ludicrous history of using excessive force to put a clamp on the scourge that is casual gambling.
"Playing pogs for keeps? We will fuck you up."
It's a threat they take seriously enough that the department lost $300,000 by placing a series of bets in order to infiltrate and take down an online, Vegas-based bookie and his Fairfax-based associate. Both suspects were punished to the full extent of the law -- meaning that neither of them received any jail time, but they did get slapped with the maximum fine of $500. Oh, and they also have to repay every penny of that $300,000 ... in $200 monthly payments. Meaning that, much like your mortgage, they'll probably closely resemble haunted house props long before managing to pay the debt off.
But, bleeding out massive stacks of cash in order to bring people up on misdemeanor charges is only the tip of the iceberg -- the real craziness is the PD's tendency to break out their SWAT gear to bust casual bettors. In late 2005 (the year before the infamous Culosi incident), more than a dozen officers raided the basement of Rick Rahim, a part-time professional poker player who was running a friendly game with a $300 buy-in. The officers stormed in, presumably flipping tables like a scene straight out of Hollywood, and arrested ... two people: Rahim himself, and Robert Hoffman Jr., an off-duty police officer who had been protecting the game (not very well, obviously).
"Wait until they throw down the river so we can say, 'More like up the river,' while we use our Tasers on them."
And just in case you're thinking the Culosi incident placed a tragic bookend on this practice: In 2010, a "masked and heavily armed SWAT team" burst into the basement of a Great Falls residence, pointing their assault rifles at 10 poker players and ordering them to drop their cards. And this wasn't some old-timey saloon where every player had a six shooter at his side, ready to clear the table at the slightest provocation -- one anonymous player said, "They could've sent a retired detective with a clipboard and gotten the same result." Now, to be fair, this particular game had, at least, high stakes -- the minimum buy-in was reportedly 20 Gs. The PD, of course, seized every last chip's worth of that cash.
Hey, when you have a gambling habit to the tune of dropping more than a quarter million bucks to make a return of less than a grand in citations, you've got to support it somehow.
The U.S. Secret Service Spends The Better Part Of A Century Searching For A Single Coin
To explain what's ridiculous about this 1996 Secret Service raid, we have to go back a bit -- most of a century, in fact.
Once upon a time, way back in 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt decided that America needed a "coin that matched the beauty of the ancient Greek ones." So, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens got straight to work, designing a new version of the Double Eagle -- a gold coin with a face value of $20 -- and the United States Mint got straight to pumping those gaudy bitches out, because who the hell says no to Teddy Roosevelt?
"I want to be President now" -- the entirety of his election campaign speech.
Fast-forward to 1933: The man in charge was Teddy's cuz Franky, who was tasked with hauling the country out of the mires of the Great Depression. Part of his plan for doing so was to nationalize the country's gold and issue Executive Order 6102, requiring all citizens to dig up the gold they had hoarded beneath their backyards and exchange it for paper money. The entire run of 1933 Double Eagles was locked away without being circulated, save for two that were sent to the Smithsonian ...
... or so everyone thought. Even as the Mint was sending all its gold coins to the furnace, Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt was offering up several 1933 Double Eagles to collectors. One of them found its way to -- no shit -- the king of Egypt. The U.S. Treasury immediately sicced the Secret Service on Switt and asked King Farouk to pretty please give the Double Eagle back, but Farouk refused. However, in 1952, the king was deposed in a coup and, when his belongings were offered up for auction, Treasury officials succeeded in getting the coin removed from the docket. But, then it disappeared.
Keep in mind the reason they wanted this coin. Because, to be honest, we've already forgotten.
Fast-forward all the way to 1996. The coin had made its way through a few sets of hands until, in a full-on guns blazing undercover sting operation in a New York hotel room, the Secret Service managed to recover it from British coin dealer Stephen Fenton. As he was being tackled to the floor of the Waldorf Astoria over a freaking coin, Fenton thought, "The government has two of them. Why do they want mine?"
Apparently coming to their temporary senses, the Justice Department eventually dropped the charges against Fenton, agreeing to auction off the coin and split the proceeds. In 2002, it sold for $7.6 million, handily doubling world record for the most expensive coin ever sold.
This was the stupidest but most lucrative operation in Secret Service history.
Then, in 2003, the grandchildren of Israel Switt opened their long-dead grandpa's safe-deposit box and found 10 more of the supposedly nonexistent coins. The Mint yoinked the coins post-haste and literally hid them in Fort Knox. Long story short: As of 2015, the Mint and Switt's family are still suing each other over the coins -- 82 years after they were made. The ridiculous amount of effort that has been put into recovering them leads us to conclude that possessing a 1933 Double Eagle bestows the power of the Bull Moose upon its owner like some kind of pocket-size version of He-Man's Power Sword, making their recovery a matter of national security.
A Colorado Anti-Poaching Operation Creates A Massive Colorado Poaching Operation
One day in 1986, one "John Morgan" waltzed into San Luis, Colorado, and started handing out flyers offering cash for animal corpses. Mr. Morgan claimed he was a taxidermist offering good money to anyone willing to provide him with his morbid materials in less-than-legal ways. His payouts ranged from as little as $2.50 for a bear claw to as much as $300 for a bald eagle (that's like $650 in today's money, or countless Uncle Sam tears). As you can guess, Morgan was actually a federal agent named George Morrison, looking to root out poachers in the area.
Don't give us that look. The reveal wasn't that shocking.
Now, we should note that the San Luis Valley where he made his lucrative offer was the absolute dirt poorest area of Colorado and northern New Mexico, with nigh on a quarter of residents being unemployed and an average yearly income of only $7,600. Yeah, you can see where this is headed.
What followed was a two-and-a-half year widespread massacre of woodland creatures to keep the supposed purveyor of creeptastic wall furnishings in business -- federal agents said that "at least 500 elk, 2,000 deer and 95 eagles were illegally killed to be sold to 'Morgan.'" Once he finally decided he had collected enough evidence (presumably after the entire town looked like the cabin from Evil Dead 2 had exploded all over it), Morgan called in the big guns.
No, not those. San Luis Valley had plenty of those.
And boy oh boy, did the big guns answer. Hundreds of federal officials came swooping in via helicopter and plane to justice the shit out of the wide-scale poaching problem (that they totally hadn't single-handedly helped to create) by kicking in doors and dragging people outside in their underwear. "I woke up and thought it was an invasion, maybe of aliens, or Russians," one resident said. "Then, I found out it was our government."
Officials made 57 arrests in total, including former deputy sheriff Robert Espinoza, who had done more than his fair share of eagle slaughtering -- 33 counts, to be exact. Because while killing just a single bald eagle is enough to convict a fellow of poaching, "Morgan" apparently wouldn't be satisfied until he could charge the poachers with goddamn treason.
Police Use Civil Forfeiture Profits As Their Own Personal Party-Time Fund
Civil forfeiture is a controversial practice in which law enforcement officers seize cash or other assets from someone suspected of criminal activity and then proceed to play Monkey In The Middle with it as the suspect waits to be officially brought up on charges (say, for example, after a SWAT raid on a friendly neighborhood poker game). Then, if the suspect is unable to prove that the assets were not obtained via illegal means, the seizing agency gets to keep it ... even if the suspect is not charged with a crime.
"This porch smells like pot. Guess we'll have to seize the house."
Shockingly, this system is somewhat prone to abuse.
For example, one sheriff in Florida had his underlings pull cars over on I-95 and seize anything over $100 as "assumed drug profits" for eight friggin' years. Elsewhere (also in Florida), Camden County sheriff Bill Smith managed to build a $20 million civil forfeiture empire, which he then proceeded to blow in ways that fell just short of filling the station to overflowing with hookers and cocaine. He bought a fleet of boats that citizens jokingly referred to as the "Camden County Navy" (their maritime drug-bust record is somewhat lacking, but their "carry Smith and his cronies to Cumberland Island" record is straight-up gleaming). He purchased a $90,000 Dodge Viper, stuck "DARE1" on the license plate, and sent it to Las Vegas to win first prize in a police car contest.
Yes, of course, it had a spoiler.
The list goes on: He leased a boxing club. He kept his employees' personal cars filled up with gas (which, considering gas prices at the time, was like handing them each a winning lotto ticket). He endowed his alma mater with a quarter-million dollar scholarship, paid for his preferred deputies to go to college, had prisoners build him a party house and renovate the houses of his girlfriend and his ex-wife. When all was said and done, Smith had not only burned through the percentage of the collected forfeiture money that his department was allowed to keep ($16 motherfucking million), but he had also overspent his regular budget, too.
Smith eventually bankrupted the county sheriff's office so badly that policemen had to take unpaid days off just to keep the lights on in the station. Camden county voters took this as their cue to boot him out of office in 2008 after just, uh, 24 years as sheriff, and his last step into the limelight appears to have happened after a failed attempt to return to power in 2012, when he was brought up on charges of disorderly conduct the day after the election for threatening to kick a guy's ass in the line at Popeyes.
We ... we couldn't possibly think of a more appropriate note on which to end the article than that.
Zachary Frey will be a freshman at Cornell University this August and has written a bunch of other articles for Cracked, which you should totally go read.
Even Canada isn't safe from insane police officers. Read 5 Stories That Prove Police Are Just As Terrifying In Canada and check out 5 Insane Police Forces That Have Zero Right To Arrest You.
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