A little less than a year ago, Michael Vickers shot and seriously wounded a 10-year-old boy in Broxton, Georgia under circumstances that remain unclear. The victim, Dakota Corbitt, suffered serious and potentially permanent injury to his leg.
Despite the fact that this was an act of firearms-related violence involving a child, no charges were filed against Vickers. Although the public record is barren of a comment from Coffee County Sheriff Doyle Wooten expressing sympathy for Dakota and his mother, Amy, the sheriff pointedly commiserated with the shooter, telling a local NBC affiliate that Vickers is the father of three young children and that the shooting “is really preying on his mind.”
Many people bearing such burdens would make a point of meeting with the injured child and expressing contrition in person. Vickers didn’t have time for such a gesture, however, because immediately after the shooting he went on what was described as a “pre-approved vacation” from his job as a drug investigator with the Broxton Police Department.
At the time of the shooting, Vickers was in pursuit of a man suspected of shooting a police officer from nearby Douglas, Georgia. However, Vickers didn’t fire the shot at a human suspect; he was attempting to shoot the Corbitt family’s dog. Owing to his good-enough-for-government-“work” marksmanship, Vickers nearly murdered the 10-year-old boy.
Every day in this country, police officers, acting on the basis of vague and usually implausible fears, shoot and kill dogs. This isn’t true of service personnel whose occupations actually benefit the public — such as postal carriers and private couriers – and involve frequent contact with unfamiliar canines. In some cases, the shooting or destruction of a family pet by a privileged aggressor has been compounded by the threat – or imposition – of charges against the grieving human victims.
The memory of man runs not to an occasion on which an armed emissary of the wealth-devouring class has been prosecuted for killing or injuring a privately owned canine. A member of the productive class who kills, wounds, taunts, or even barks at a K-9 “officer,” on the other hand, will face criminal charges, even if the act was committed in demonstrable self-defense. Under a bill approved by the Georgia state senate last week, a Mundane who “assaults” a police dog could face up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Senate Bill 72, “Tanja’s Law,” is dedicated to the memory of a police dog that was shot and killed during a SWAT raid in Georgia that took place just a few weeks after Vickers nearly killed Dakota Corbitt. Tanja was buried with the Brezhnevite pageantry and state-dictated solemnity that accompany every police funeral.
Late last year, the man who shot Tanja, a genuinely unpleasant specimen named Steven Lee Waldemer, accepted a plea agreement imposing a 20-50 year prison sentence. This was seen as inadequate by Tanja’s human comrades, who insisted that any Mundane who lifts an unhallowed hand to injure one of his canine overlords must suffer more severely than the present law dictates.
In its original draft, “Tanja’s law” would have treated the killing of a police dog as an act of second-degree murder – the charge that would have been filed against Vickers if he had killed Dakota Corbitt and had done so as a common citizen, rather than a state-licensed purveyor of violence.
If enacted in its original form, “Tanja’s Law” would have been the first statute in U.S. history – perhaps in the history of the Western World – to recognize the deliberate destruction of a non-human creature as “murder.”
Of course, this would have applied only to specially designated members of that species, whose codified status in law would have been superior to that of human beings who are not part of the exalted fraternity of official coercion. A dog killed by a police officer wouldn’t be regarded as a murder victim, or autopsied by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, as “Tanja’s Law” specifies. Nor would a human Mundane be allowed to use defensive violence to protect himself against an unwarranted K-9 attack.
Herein lies the unarticulated, but undeniable, evil of this bill: In its original form, it would have expanded the circumstances in which police would employ “justifiable” lethal force. Under the Graham v. Connor standard, the individual police officer is trained that lethal force is “reasonable” in response to a perceived threat to his life or that of a fellow officer. If killing a police dog is “murder,” a human officer on the scene would be legally justified in killing a Mundane who is “perceived” as posing such a threat.
Currently, it is common to see police officers gun down dogs that simply approach them. Indeed, that’s how Dakota Corbitt was shot: The family dog raced into the family’s front yard in response to the presence of an armed intruder. One entirely plausible scenario growing out of “Tanja’s Law” version 1.0 would see a police officer gunning down a human being who verbally “threatens” or “takes an aggressive stance” when approached by a police dog.
The legislative purpose of the original bill was “to provide a measure of equivalency in the punishment of crimes committed against police dogs in the performance of their official duties as to that of peace officers [and to] provide that the offense of murder in the second degree shall include causing the death of a police dog while such police dog is engaged in its official duties….”
Although the revised legislation discarded the language designating destruction of a police dog (or horse) second-degree murder, it unambiguously elevates such animals above the rank of Mundane humanity.
It has been pointed out that any bill bearing an individual’s name is likely pregnant with trouble. This is certainly true of “Tanja’s Law,” as it is of most such legislation. As it happens, the current session of the Georgia State Legislature is considering two specimens of that type, the second of which –– House Bill 56, also known as “Bou-Bou’s Law” – would actually legalize the use of no-knock SWAT raids in Georgia, where such raids are both quite common and entirely illegal.
“The current law already makes these kinds of raids illegal in Georgia,” observes criminal defense attorney Catherina Bernard, who contends that the bill would do “the opposite of what it says it’s going to do.”
Bou-Bou Phonesvanh, for whom the bill was named, is the toddler who was burned, maimed, and nearly murdered during a 2:00 no-knock raid carried out in Cornelia, Georgia last May 28 by Sturmabteilung in the employ of the Habserham County Sheriff’s Office.
Bou-Bou and his parents were staying with relatives after their home in Wisconsin had burned down. Neither the mother nor the father was a suspect, or had a criminal record. The presence of toys and other indicia of children residing at the address should have been obvious even to the marginally sapient personages who find employment as police officers.
Heedless to any consideration apart from the degenerate urge to kick in doors and throw people to the ground, the Berserkers beat down the front door and hurled a flash-bang grenade into the crib in which the 19-month-old was sleeping.
The warrant authorizing the raid in which Bou-Bou’s chest was ripped open and his nose was blown off was issued on the unsupported word of a police informant that a $50 drug transaction had occurred at the premises a few hours earlier.
An “official investigation” of the incident “justified” the use of force while Bou-Bou was still in intensive care. A prosecutor-dominated grand jury ratified that finding, while expressing highly qualified reservations about the use of no-knock warrants.
The panel described the investigation that led to the raid as “hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practice and procedures.” However, it described the officers involved as “well-intentioned people … in too big a hurry.” The grand jury was actually more critical of “the parents and extended family” of the nearly-murdered child, who supposedly “had some degree of knowledge concerning family members involved in criminal activity that came in and out of the residence” – a claim that the state didn’t prove, but was sufficient to absolve the officers of all responsibility.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner has sponsored a separate bill that would supposedly place the most modest imaginable restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants – most significantly, by forbidding the use of such tactics between 10:00 PM and 6:00 a.m. That impediment could be overcome by an earnest declaration from police that a post-midnight paramilitary assault is necessary in order to preserve vulnerable evidence. Rep. Tanner, perhaps not surprisingly, was a sheriff’s deputy in Dawson County, Georgia for 18 years, and has personally participated in no-knock raids.
Nothing in any of the proposed bills would actually prevent police from carrying out 3:00 no-knock raids. However, police unions will not countenance any criticism of such tactics.
“I don’t think any changes are needed because it is not easy now [to get a no-knock warrant],” lied Carrie Mills, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. Yes, she conceded, people – including permanently disfigured children – have been abused in post-midnight SWAT raids, but that’s just how things are done in the Soyuz: “You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community’s right to live in a crime-free environment. You can’t have them both.”
Although “Bou-Bou’s” law has made it out of committee, legislative analysts describe the bill as “troubled” and unlikely to pass. This reflects the intense opposition from police unions and their allies, who prefer that such raids continue without legal authorization rather than seeing even the most trivial potential restrictions inscribed into law.
Such people believe it to be entirely appropriate to imprison a human being for wounding a police dog, while offering a paid vacation to a cop who shoots a ten-year-old boy, or blows open the chest of a sleeping infant with a flash-bang grenade.
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