Police

Light Sentence for Deputy Sheriff Who Killed Two Pedestrians While Speeding May Be Normal for Such Cases But Shouldn't Mean He Keeps His Job

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John Swearengin
via KGET

In December 2011 Kern County sheriff's deputy John Swearengin hit two pedestrians, killing them, while going 80 miles an hour without his lights or sirens. In February he rejected a plea deal that would've seen him serve two years in prison. Last week he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to probation and 480 hours of community service. The accident cost the county $8.8 million in settlements to the victim's families.

At the Bakersfield Californian, columnist Lois Henry writes that while her first instinct was that Swearengin's punishment was an example of "good ol' boy justice," she found that in Kern County such cases of vehicular manslaughter, that don't include intoxication or illegal activities like texting or drag racing (I guess speeding doesn't count?), the punishments are light. Taken from the perspective that the law should most punish those who intend harm and not those who make "dumb mistakes" the pattern of sentencing doesn't seem to be a controversy. The fact that Swearengin still has a job where he's entrusted with a weapon and the authority to use violence when he's shown himself to be fatally careless, however, is.

California "public servants" have had some of the longest-standing protections of public employees anywhere in the country. The 1913 Civil Service Act created legal protections for government employees long before the privilege of collective bargaining became almost ubiquitous. The law provides for a long list of offenses that can result in termination (incompetence and inexcusable neglect of duty seem relevant here), but it also provides an extensive process of appeals for employees accused of firable offenses. The law has the effect of deincentivizing managers from trying to terminate employees even if there may be just cause.

Of interest, Henry also spoke with the deputy District Attorney, who pointed out Kern County's "conservative" constituency meant cases against police had to be rock solid. The DA recounts a case of police brutality caught on tape for which he could only secure a conviction for filing a false police report, after two trials. Defining down "reasonable doubt" when it comes to cops is a dangerous thing and holding them accountable is made difficult not just by civil service laws and often uninterested prosecutors but by a public wont to give cops the benefit of any doubt.

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  1. “The Thing…motherfucker looks JUST like…The Thing.”

    1. Uh, The Thing doesn’t have a singular form.

      1. 1) The Benjamin J. Grimm-Thing does.

        2) It’s a line from Reservoir Dogs.

    2. I think he looks like Officer Farva from Super Troopers. He could pass for Mayor Rob Ford too.

    3. To me he just looks like every cop I have ever seen.

  2. “Swearengin”

    Fucking cocksucker…

  3. From the look of it, he should be terminated for missing fitness standards.

  4. The American Caste System on display.

  5. Shouldn’t the punishment be harsher for a cop since they should know better than to speed? They spend most of their time giving tickets to us little people, but they aren’t required to adhere to the same standard they claim to be enforcing?

  6. All criminal cases are in some ways driven by the nature of the victim. That sucks and is not how it should be but humans being how they are is the way it is. The punishment for a crime against a likable victim is always going to be more than it is for a crime against a victim the jury doesn’t like. Since cops generally deal with dislikable people, that alone ensures they get off with lighter penalties than they should. Beating the shit out of some homeless drug addict may be just as wrong as beating the shit out of a young mother of three but a jury won’t punish you for it the same way.

    1. Since cops generally deal with dislikable people, that alone ensures they get off with lighter penalties than they should

      Yup, like those awful, awful drug dealers who routinely get 5-15 year prison terms for “crimes” that involve killing nobody.

      1. People suck. They hate drug users and dealers.

        1. “People suck. They hate drug users and dealers.”

          Prime topic of conversation at my local bar, especially with the owner.

          1. He doesn’t like the competition?

    2. Beating the shit out of some homeless drug addict may be just as wrong as beating the shit out of a young mother of three but a jury won’t punish you for it the same way.

      Look at Kelly Thomas as a perfect example of this point. They murdered the man in cold blood, and the jury gave him a pass. And he wasn’t even a drug dealer, just some schizo homeless guy

      1. The jury in that case was being stared down by all the cop buddies that came to support their own. Who in their right mind is going to vote ‘guilty’ when the cops already know where you live?

  7. they will never police themselves. the $8.8 million fat fuck isn’t even ashamed.

    1. the $8.8 million fat fuck isn’t even ashamed.

      When it comes to shooting someone in the line of duty, no matter how unjustified it may be, the shooter always has a bunch of guys in the same costume reassuring him that it was a “good shoot.”

      I wonder what the boys at the station house are saying to this clown.

      1. I’ll take a shot:

        Tough break bro, coulda happened to any one of us.

        1. This is small potatoes, but your comment reminded me of what happened in my county years ago. A cop, on a rural road, hit a deer. The deer was obliterated, as was most of the cruiser, but the newspaper reported that the cop was doing the posted speed limit of 45 mph.

    2. At least this family is getting paid. The kid that got a flash-bang in his crib isn’t even getting medical expenses.

  8. Depending on how much this guy was speeding, I am okay with the criminal punishment. I don’t think you should lock someone up for years for anything short of depraved indifference. The problem here is that he did it while at work and still has a job. He should be unemployed not in prison.

    1. I would think insuring him would be prohibitive, but who knows.

  9. Depending on how much this guy was speeding, I am okay with the criminal punishment. I don’t think you should lock someone up for years for anything short of depraved indifference.

    If it was 80 in a 60, that’s reckless; if it was 80 in, say, a 25, that’s depraved indifference. At least I can’t think of anything else to call it. And in that case, I have no problem with him being in prison and unemployed.

    1. I agree. But I can’t tell what it was.

      1. I agree. But I can’t tell what it was.

        According to this site, the speed limit at the site was 45 MPH:

        http://www.bakersfieldnow.com/…..66801.html

  10. Sounds like some pretty serious business dude. Wow.

    http://www.Anon-Surf.tk

  11. Joe pulls into a bar on the way home and has a beer. “Just one” he tells the bartender, “I’m driving.” But Joe has one and tells himself, what the hell. “Gimme another.” With a slight buzz after two beers, he orders a 3rd, then a 4th. He jumps in his car, drives as carefully as he can, but mows down two people. His neighbors and fellow citizens call him a low life — no better than a child molester — and through their government proxies, throw him into prison for 10 or 20 years.

    Meanwhile, John, completely sober, mows down a couple people, and gets “community service.”

    This is the DUI paradox: someone who, without malice, innocently inches toward inebriation, even if only legal inebriation, is a criminal, while someone else doing the exact same thing, is let off because they’re sober.

    Something ain’t right.

    1. Something ain’t right.

      The missing variable in your analysis is “cop”.

      1. Sometimes, yes. But not all the time.

    2. I agree. The assumption is that being drunk somehow makes the same conduct much worse. It doesn’t make any sense.

    3. The same thought occurred to me. Not long ago I made a “dumb mistake” and got drunk one night after work and then crashed my car while driving home. Even though no one else was involved or hurt (thank goodness!), I still had to pay a $2,000 fine, had my license suspended for 4 months, was put on 3 years probation and saw my auto insurance skyrocket. My license is currently restricted while I attend 6 months of DUI classes. My “dumb mistake” will haunt me for at least the next 7 years, even though no one died.

  12. I didn’t know the Juggernaut could wear a suit.

  13. There are clerks at Quickie Marts that would be fired for this incident, let alone cops.

  14. What happens when you prosecute a cop?

    All his buddies show up in uniform to stare down the jury. Who’s going to vote guilty when the cops already know who you are, where you live, and where your kids go to school, and are willing to drop some weed through the cellar window before they kick down your door?

    1. How do they deal with organized crime? It seems like it would present the same issues.

      1. It usually takes a ten year federal investigation and no one is going to RICO a police department.

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