Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tough guy jailers

Dispatches to the Culture Wars has a post about a cop who brags about how tough he is because he beats up inmates in the local jail. It was from a link provided by The Agitator.

That kind of behavior, and that kind of cop, is much more prevalent than most of y'all would like to believe. I've seen it first hand.

During one of my homeless periods I was living in my car in Austin, Texas. I was making inroads towards getting off the street, I bought a Polaroid Camera in a pawn shop and took photo's of tourists and bar goers in the 6th Street bar district of Austin. More than once I'd save up enough money to pay a deposit and a weeks rent for some weekly room rental then get arrested and after paying the fines and the car tow/storage fees be back on the street.

The arrests where almost always for failure to appear for some previous no-insurance ticket I'd gotten because I couldn't afford liability insurance. Of course having to pay a $2-300 fine plus tow/storage fees didn't make it more likely I could afford liability insurance, but hey, I was a lawbreaker, I deserved everything that happened to me.

Anyway, Travis County jail was overcrowded. They had two downtown lockups, one at the police station and one at the courthouse. The downtown lockup had no day room type facilities, just cells, and they'd put as many as 5-6 people in a two-man cell. Very crowded.

Because of my work taking pictures in a bar district I'd often be on the road at 3am and I frequently got stopped. I never got a ticket for a moving violation, the stop was always on some made up pretense hoping I was drunk and they'd get credit for a DWI arrest (cops who made a lot of DWI arrests would get put on special assignments that meant a lot of overtime pay). But since I often had some kind of unpaid ticket for no-insurance they'd find a warrant for failure to appear and the cycle would start again.

You have to be really patient to get off the street in some cities. Austin is one of those cities. Very liberal, but only if the homeless stay out of sight.

Anyway, after a few trips to the local lock-up I discovered they had a 6 man cell at the end of the hall that never had more than 2-3 inmates. It was a suicide watch cell.

So I made it a habit to refuse to discuss medical history with the jailers (they always ask about medical history at booking) and insist on seeing a nurse. I wouldn't tell the nurse I was suicidal (that gets you locked up in a nutcase hospital for 5 days) but I'd tell her I suffered from severe depression and I'd exhibit a high degree of anxiety. It would get me put in the suicide watch cell so I'd get a rack to sleep in rather than on the floor with my head in the toilet.

Whatever you got to do.

Anyway, one night I ran into a particularly asshole booking officer. When I told him I didn't want to talk to him about my medical history he got very angry and shoved me into the holding tank before I got a chance to ask to see a nurse (it was a pretty busy booking desk and they had a nurse on duty).

So I stood up by the door and shortly the same booking officer came up to the door and yelled at me to move. I asked to see a nurse and he yelled at me again. I said, "Fuck you" and walked away from the door. He opened the door and he and 3 other deputies (the jail lockup was at the police department but run by the Sheriff's Office) knocked me down. I had my back to them, walking away. I didn't resist in anyway, I'm stupid but not that stupid.

The angry deputy grabbed my hair at the back of my head and pounded my face against the concrete floor two or three times.

I was in the holding tank for about another hour before I saw a nurse and was put in that suicide watch cell about an hour after that. During the entire time that deputy was at the booking desk bragging about how he'd beat up that smart mouth inmate who was so stupid he didn't get a haircut before he got arrested.

These guys actually define their manhood by their ability to beat up people who are risking their very lives if they attempt to protect themselves in any way.

It's really pathetic. Cops are beneath contempt. Even worse is the nurse who ignored the abrasions on my nose and forehead when I told her how they happened. People who allow cops to get away with that kind of behavior are worse than the cops who do it. That would include Justice Scalia and his "new professionalism".

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