War On Drugs: Is Torture Allowed in a Ticking-Consent-Form Scenario?

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Radley Balko spins some of the golden sounds of the War On Drugs, Tennessee theater of operations. Listen in and read the transcript as a group of flatfoots in the Volunteer State beat, abuse, and threaten to kill an illiterate suspect unless he signs a paper they claim is a consent form to search his premises (they also claim at one point that they have a warrant, go figure).

Unfortunately for the five Campbell County deputies, suspect Eugene Siler's wife Jenny recorded a substantial part of the encounter. The tape doesn't include a portion where the cops allegedly dunked Siler's head into a fish bowl and a toilet, nor the conclusion, in which they made good on a threat to arrest his wife. But you can hear several beatings, a detailed threat to electrocute the suspect (by the testicles, naturally, no plungers being immediately available), lots of Siler moaning, and countless orders to sign the fucking form. That was enough to prompt Sheriff Ron McClellan to fire all five perps, who have received multi-year prison sentences.

Thanks to impressively named reader The Evilest, Moo-iest Moo in da Bloop.

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  1. Why do I find it so appropriate that torture, a civil liberties curtailment ostensibly intended to protect us from terrorists, would instead be used to prosecute the insane Drug War?

    If I were a cynic I’d say that this is what they had in mind all along when they started expanding the police state after 9/11…

  2. I swear to Christ, I’d vote for a Communist or Nazi if s/he would do something to end the drug “war.”

  3. If not for the tape recording, the cops would all be free today and the Silers would likely be in prison for making false statements against officers of the law.

  4. Yeah, I definitely smell a pork product of some type.

  5. I’m glad it was recorded, and that these cops are now perps. The only way to reign in renegade cops is to prosecute them and jail them.

    The root cause of this is the drug war, of course. I the WOD were ended then the world would be a better place. There would still be bad cops, but they would work their evil in the name of some other “good cause” though.

  6. all five perps, who have received multi-year prison sentences.

    Justice!! And for complete justice to be done, we need a friggin huge cash settlement for the victim. As mush as possible should come out of the property of the government thugs. After that, the huge bulk will have to be extracted from the Tennessee taxpayers.

    Taking money from taxpayers to compensate for government malfeasance is less than fair, so there needs to be an arrangement where compensation money is taken from salary and benefit funds earmarked for the department where the where the transgressions occurred. This would act as an incentive against government abuse.

    For a better nation, end the war on drugs and legalize all drugs for adults.

  7. Is it wrong to hope something really horrible happens to the cops in prison?

  8. Is it wrong to hope something really horrible happens to the cops in prison?

    That probably depends on who this rough little caper was a favor for.

  9. Is it wrong to hope something really horrible happens to the cops in prison?

    I’d say it’s moot. The inmates hate cops, and the guards hate anybody who’s dumb enough to get caught.

  10. Jennifer’s got it right. How many other cases were these clowns involved in where evidence was obtained through use of torture? Every person convicted on basis of investigation done by them has immediate basis for appeal. I’d be shocked if these cops were the only ones using such tactics….

  11. The root cause of this is the drug war, of course

    Although I am all for ending the drug war, I don’t think that is the root cause of this. The root cause of this is abuse of power, which can be done in any situation.

  12. I have to agree with JDR. A lot of cops out there have no respect whatsoever for the principle of protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Most of them are smooth enough to get people to give up their rights without this sort of thing.

    However, there is a special affinity between the Drug War and this particular kind of abuse of power. Drugs are perhaps the most widely riviled hidden commodity. They are also easy to hide, really bad for young people, and the people who deal them and get caught often are pretty marginal characters anyway. Few people have much sympathy for drug dealers; a lot of us have been instructed that drugs are part of the worst form of moral degeneracy. Maybe Americans have more sympathy for drug dealers than terrorists or pedophiles, but not by much. Counterterrorism is generally a Federal issue thus far, and sex crimes (with the exception of pornography) don’t usually involve possession. What’s more, there are drug task forces in many states and these outfits have their own cultures and Machiavellian standards. They have a habit, too, of sending in pretty heavy concentrations of men relative to the probable risk. The causation does seem, then, to flow the other way: for those LE officers who are most clever, least scrupulous, and most power-hungry, there’s much to attract them to these task forces.

    But reverse causation is, I think, enough to name the Drug War as a contributing and ultimately responsible factor. On the particulars of this case, does anybody think that if any one of these guys said, hey, you can’t torture a suspect to get him to waive his rights, the others would have continued, or escalated as they did? But here is a branch of law enforcement where in many places it’s simply not permissible to say “drugs are no big deal” or “it’s pretty cruel to send someone to jail just for dealing marijuana” or “we can wait and deal with this problem tomorrow.” If you said any of that stuff, someone would put you in your place pretty quick, I think.

    In this case, the most amorphous, knee-jerk, poorly planned “hot button” policies happened to be the ones that were most likely to cause earnest people on the implementation side to abuse their authority as they attempt to make an inherently inefficient policy efficient. These five thugs are really guys who heard a joke and didn’t realize it was a joke. Even if this weren’t directed from above the officers involved, these guys have received a strong moral imperative from the rest of society to “get tough on drug dealers.” This kind of improvisation seems inevitable and particularly so when the policy itself doesn’t really work.

  13. Make the pronouncement that it’s okay to torture people as long as you’re wearing the proper uniform, and this is where you’re heading. Drug warriors see themselves as doing God’s work no less than the CIA does. When you paint the world as “good guys” and “bad guys”, it’s not surprising that most people see themselves as the “good guys” and those they don’t like as “bad guys”.

  14. I also note that for these cops, the longest prison sentence was 6 years and the shortest was under 4. What do you think are the odds that you, a non-cop, would get off with only 6 years or less in prison if you spent several hours beating and torturing a man?

  15. As sad as it is that it’s come to this, it’s nice that there exists plausible scenarios (i.e. tape recording officers abusing citizens) that can get scumbags like this sent up the river.

    “where every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints”

  16. Before long, though, Siler was back in hot water. A probation officer contended Siler had skipped out on required visits to the probation office and was smoking marijuana. In the FBI transcript, the deputies who showed up on his doorstep claimed neighbors were complaining that Siler was back in the drug business, a steady stream of customers trekking in and out of his home.

    “You ain’t done nothing but sold dope,” Webber tells Siler. It’s not clear if these former lawmen were on official business. Webber claims in the transcript that no one else in authority knew they were there. It’s also not clear if their goal was a drug arrest or a shakedown of a drug dealer.

    From some Knoxville paper. Having read some of the transcript of the tape, I am going to go with the shakedown of a drug dealer option rather than the official police business option.

  17. Cold Water Edition: No one seems to have thought of one “un-intended consequence” of this justifiable conviction of police officials – PD may start harassing anyone they suspect of taping/recording them, whether they are engaged in criminal abuse of power or not.

    – – – – –

    This is not an attempt to excuse these convicts behavior, I agree that with Jennifer (above) that the sentences appear light compared to what a civilian would get for the same offence.

  18. So does anyone have any recommendations for cheap, small, and easily concealed audio recording devices to keep in one’s home and automobile?

  19. We actually discussed this news item last year on this thread.

    But it’s always nice to see fresh commentary on a a subject matter.

  20. So does anyone have any recommendations for cheap, small, and easily concealed audio recording devices to keep in one’s home and automobile?

    Just a few weeks ago I bought a little digital recorder for when I do interviews; at Radio Shack it was actually cheaper than the cost of a tape recorder and tapes would be.

    I have an Olympus VN-240 digital voice recorder; it’s a bottom-of-the-line model (just over 4 hours of recording time) and if I recall correctly, the total cost for the recorder, batteries and tax was about $45. It runs on AAA batteries; so far I’ve used the same ones for over a month and have seen no sign of them losing power.

    I think the recorder with 16 hours worth of recording space was just over a hundred bucks. My model is about three inches long by one inch wide; you could probably find an even smaller one if you wanted to pay more.

  21. “I am going to go with the shakedown of a drug dealer option rather than the official police business option.”

    But their official business IS to shake down drug dealers. Whether it goes in the officers’ pockets or in the closet of the police station, drug enforcement is almost entirely about taking. Think of how many times one of the cops says “you’re selling drugs and making money.” Ooooooh, two crimes!

    The problem with the argument that these guys were on the take for themselves is that they keep trying to force the guy to sign a permission to search form. They wouldn’t have a use for one if they were simply trying to grab some money or drugs, because there would be no place to file it. I would still figure these guys are trying to make a real arrest. As long as they have the paperwork, they’ll have time to get their stories straight later.

  22. This was pretty revolting. Maybe the cops ought to be subjected to waterboarding so we can learn which other suspects they pulled this kind of crap on.

    I have to say, after reading the transcript, that either Siler was as messed up as the cops suggested he was, or he had a pair of enormous brass ones. I’d have probably caved after two minutes of that kind of treatment. I tend to believe cops when they say they’re going to beat the shit out of me, and I don’t kid myself that the possibility of an award of damages in a lawsuit will be adequate compensation for knocked out teeth and broken bones.

  23. “I tend to believe cops when they say they’re going to beat the shit out of me, and I don’t kid myself that the possibility of an award of damages in a lawsuit will be adequate compensation for knocked out teeth and broken bones.”

    Pussy. I’d lay in the hospital for a week if I knew my little recording there would land the cops in jail. Stick it to the f’in pigs.

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