Jay Park Shows Us Cops Can Totally Get Fired
Jan. 5, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — There aren’t many things that can get a police officer fired. A history of incompetence and the reckless killing of a 12 year-old boy, on video, didn’t do it. Choking a man to death in front of a crowd of onlookers, on video, didn’t do it.
But don’t lose hope. There are still some offenses so heinous and wanton that even a police officer can’t avoid consequences. Namely, insubordination.
Jay Park was a police officer who worked in Athens, Georgia, a college town built around the University of Georgia. Between prayer breakfasts and abstinence rallies, UGA students are known to occasionally imbibe small amounts of alcohol, presumably filched from communion cups at the local seminary.
Park was called to the scene of a minor suffering alcohol poisoning. His supervisor told him to arrest the student, but Park was aware of one of Georgia’s recent evidence-based laws.
See, since 2014, Georgia lawmakers have decided that it is more important to make sure that underage drinkers receive medical care than punishment. So, under the law, “[a]ny person who in good faith seeks medical assistance for someone who is experiencing an alcohol related overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted.”
You also can’t arrest the person suffering the overdose:
Any person who is experiencing an alcohol related overdose and, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for himself or herself or is the subject of such a request shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted.
So Park, following the law, told his supervisor that he couldn’t arrest the student for seeking medical care, or even in response to someone else calling the police out of concern. This did not receive a positive reaction. Park was told by his supervisor to go speak to Police Chief Jimmy Williamson the next day, and the student was arrested anyway.
Before that meeting, Park had another opportunity to arrest students suffering a medical emergency, and he again refused, citing the relevant law. The two students were arrested anyway, and Park was called onto the carpet in front of Chief Williamson.
Williamson was pissed, and Park was fired on the spot. More than that, Williamson told him that “I’m going to try to make sure you’re not a police officer anymore in the state of Georgia.”
For good measure, Williamson recorded the firing on a body camera, and posted it on YouTube. In his termination letter, he wrote that Park was fired to avoid “potential embarrassment that the department would suffer as a result of Officer Park’s suggestion that the department was violating the law.”
We live in an amazing world when an officer’s inaccurate knowledge of the law is excusable, even laudable, so long as it leads to the arrest of a citizen. But an officer’s accurate knowledge of the law can lead to his termination, so long as that knowledge conflicts with the directives of a superior officer.
For a long time, we’ve been complaining about how leniently officers are treated when their mistakes lead to the deaths of unarmed citizens. Or when, in their zeal for convictions, they give testimony in court that is slightly less accurate than a drug-sniffing dog in a peanut-butter factory.
These lapses are excused because, even though these officers may not be following the law, they are following an important unwritten rule: It’s us versus them, and if you’re not with us, you’re against us.
When the rule is followed, there are many second chances. When it is broken, the response is swift and harsh. Just ask former Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who was committed to a mental institution against his will for secretly recording his department’s arrest quotas and data fudging. Or Officer Kyle Pirog, who was fired for going to his local prosecutor’s office to report his concerns that another officer had lied about a search.
What makes the “exoneration” of officers who hurt and kill unarmed citizens so loathsome isn’t just that they’re treated with kid gloves by prosecutors and internal review boards. It’s that those offenses are treated so much less seriously than whistleblowing, embarrassing the department, or otherwise breaking ranks.
For Park, at least, the story has a happy ending. After losing two appeals to get his job back, he successfully settled with the UGA police department for $325,000.00. In the process, he became something of a local celebrity. UGA students posted nearly 5,000 signatures petitioning for his reinstatement on change.org. Hopefully, the message from all this is clear. Officer Park took the time to learn the law. He chose to follow it even when he was ordered not to. And most importantly, if he erred, he was willing to err on the side of liberty.
If we expect police departments to improve, we can’t simply focus on getting rid of the Timothy Loehmanns of the world. We have to find a way to make sure that officers like Jay Park get to keep doing good work.