Dodge and Koepke Get Off Because It’s Good To Be A Cop
Oct. 14, 2015 (Mimesis Law) If you’ve ever wondered just how much deference people are willing to give to police officers, look no further than the recent acquittal of Fort Lauderdale police officers Brian Dodge and Billy Koepke on charges of official misconduct, falsifying reports and perjury. The facts are pretty simple:
The officers were accused of providing false information against Junior Jerome and Dieudson Nore, two men accused of taking part in a pill mill operation. When Jerome and Nore were arrested, Dodge and Koepke filed reports saying both defendants were inside Jerome’s car when they were pulled over, and both dropped small amounts of cocaine on the car floor.
But a video that later surfaced showed Nore was not in the car at the time it was stopped in the parking lot of a Red Roof Inn in Oakland Park; he was inside the motel lobby. The false information led to charges being dismissed against both defendants.
If it weren’t for the video, Jerome and Nore no doubt would have been convicted. Their lawyers might have even dissuaded them from filing a motion to suppress or going to trial in the first place. After all, at a suppression hearing or a trial, the judge or jury would’ve heard from not one, but two officers. The cops would have testified to exactly what their reports said, and on the other side would be the word of two pill-pushers.
Without video, the outcome of a motion or a trial based on conflicting versions of facts, one supported entirely by the testimony of cops and the other supported entirely by the testimony of defendants, would’ve been a forgone conclusion.
Indeed, the way the system treats the word of a defendant versus the word of a cop explicitly came into play with regard to some other charges against Dodge and Koepke:
The more serious charges could have landed Dodge and Koepke in prison for life. But in August, prosecutors dropped the charges, reasoning that a jury would be unlikely to convict the officers on the word of their accusers.
Even when cops’ lies in one situation are exposed by video, the statements of criminal defendant accusers in other situations still aren’t sufficient to make a prosecutor comfortable going ahead with the case. The message to take away from that is that cops being untrustworthy doesn’t make the people they’re after trustworthy. Even with the dirtiest cops, it’ll probably take video for each and every count if it’s otherwise just a bunch of arrestees making accusations.
Lucky for Jerome and Nore, there was video. Also lucky for them was the fact authorities had good reason to suspect Dodge and Koepke were bad cops independent of their fabrication in the case at hand. Those other charges are important for a variety of reasons, but most notably because they’re probably the only reason why authorities cared that much about the false police report in the first place. It seemed Dodge and Koepke weren’t exactly model officers:
According to investigators, it was the tip of the iceberg of alleged misconduct by Dodge and Koepke. When they were originally arrested in 2011, they were accused of an elaborate scheme of shaking down drug addicts and dealers, stealing their money and, in one case, kidnapping a man and driving him around for hours while trying to get him to provide evidence against other alleged dealers and users.
It’s interesting that what they normally call “arrest” seems to become “kidnapping” when the officers doing it are criminal defendants. It’s also interesting to see how that sort of background really defines how the system deals with a false police report.
In most instances, taking the sting out of a police report contradicted by video is a pretty quick fix. The officer just has to review the video and make up a new version of events that both matches the video and constitutionally justifies the search and seizure. A simple “I was mistaken” from the officer on the stand, and the defendant is no better off than if there hadn’t been video at all.
Prosecutors and other cops are unlikely to blink, and they’re certainly not inclined to begin investigating. In this case, however, it was no doubt the officers’ other misconduct that made their false reports serious enough to warrant a dismissal. That misconduct, however, was not enough to even convince a prosecutor to go ahead with the most serious charges. It would appear that the weight of evidence needed to go after a cop might be different from what’s required when an ordinary citizen is involved.
As for what little remained of the case against Dodge and Koepke, the jury apparently bought their story:
But Dodge took the stand Thursday to tell the jury he made an honest mistake. He said he confused the events surrounding Jerome and Nore’s arrest with another case that took place the same day. He filed the report for both cases the same week, seven minutes apart.
Jurors accepted the explanation.
It’s hard to imagine that a jury would buy that story coming from anyone other than a cop. It’s also interesting to ponder how those jurors now view the word of a police officer. On one hand, they presumably believed the cop when he said he made an honest mistake, and they agreed he and his colleague should not be held criminally liable.
On the other hand, they were given a very clear example of an officer being dead wrong about something. If they, like most people, tend to give extra weight to what a cop says, will their knowledge of one cop making a mistake change the deference they previously would’ve given to an officer’s recollection of an event? Mixing up the facts of two completely unrelated cases isn’t exactly the sort of thing that inspires confidence in the accuracy of an officer’s memory.
Realistically, Jerome and Nore just caught a lucky break, and Dodge and Koepke just reaped one of the benefits of being cops. No doubt they’re pretty upset about being suspended without pay for years and finding themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, but it could’ve been a lot worse. Had they not been cops, it surely would have been.