Mimesis Law
29 March 2017

Jonathan McRae & The Delicate Flowers Of Maricopa County

Apr. 1, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — People were awfully upset following Maricopa County’s disastrous primary vote, and they came out in full force to voice their outrage. One unlucky protestor got more than he bargained for, however, as he now faces a felony charge:

A protester arrested Monday at the Arizona Capitol after a raucous hearing on the botched presidential primary vote was booked on a felony charge, because a safety pin in his pocket injured a state trooper.

Jonathan McRae, 23, of Paulden, was arrested after he and other protesters were asked to leave the visitors gallery in the House of Representatives.

It isn’t a felony because of what he did to get arrested, but because of what happened during the arrest. Looking at what he did to get arrested puts it in perspective, however:

McRae was “observed yelling and causing a disturbance,” according to court documents. McRae was asked to leave four times, then grabbed a chair when Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers moved in to remove him, the documents say.

It was apparently a wild scene, and emotions were running high. McRae was probably being pretty rowdy, and whether he was the worst or not, he stood out enough to officers to make them decide to remove him. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t appear to have any charges that arise from anything he did prior to that point:

McRae faces a felony charge of aggravated assault on an officer, and two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and criminal trespassing.

There’s no disorderly conduct charge for the disturbance, though that may well come later. After all, making unreasonable noise or engaging in seriously disruptive behavior, if intended to disturb the peace or with knowledge of doing so, is against the law in Arizona. It seems like that’s exactly what police thought McRae was doing.

Regardless, it wasn’t until officer tried to remove McRae that things got serious for him. McRae remained unlawfully after a reasonable request to leave by a law enforcement officer, and refused to leave despite being asked to do so four times, as the article explains. This likely constitutes a violation of Arizona’s trespass law. McRae’s grabbing a chair while officers tried to arrest him is probably passive resistance, a nonviolent physical act intended to impede the arrest and a violation of Arizona’s resisting arrest law.

That probably explains the two misdemeanors, and the felony aggravated assault, as silly as it may seem considering it arises from a prick of a safety pin, also isn’t much of a stretch. Assault in Arizona is just intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person, and it becomes aggravated assault when that other person is a cop doing his or her job. Sadly, Arizona case law says that the term physical injury encompasses minor injuries, including “red marks, scratches, bruises, or cuts.” Consider the circumstances of the arrest:

Before troopers searched McRae, he was asked if “there was anything on his person,” according to the documents. McRae said “no.”

But when a trooper searched McRae, he was pricked by a safety pin that was open and pointing out from McRae’s shorts. The safety cover had been removed from the safety pin, documents say.

The charging prosecutor probably figured McRae was reckless in removing the pin’s safety cover and failing to tell the officer about it as the officer searched him, and given the laws here in Arizona, that prosecutor is probably right. It doesn’t change how profoundly idiotic the whole situation is, though.

Throwing the book at McRae isn’t going to deter future arrestees from failing to mention pointy objects on their person as they’re being searched. Hell, it probably won’t even have a meaningful impact on McRae, as he probably had other things on his mind when they were searching him. That’ll surely still be the case if he’s arrested in the future too. That felony charge based on the pin might not even change his approach to accessorizing.

Furthermore, it isn’t that what McRae did is so bad that he deserves some sort of harsh punishment. It isn’t clear that he did anything more than get a little too excited about something a lot of people were excited about, and try to continue to participate after being told to leave. The disturbance he created likely bothered a lot more people than anything he did that actually resulted in charges.

Really, that’s the striking thing about McRae’s situation. It highlights both the bad consequences of the various crimes that most commonly involve police officers and the far less serious consequences of crimes against anyone else. That McRae did something that got the officers’ attention wasn’t what got him a felony and two misdemeanors. It was his response to the police that did that.

Inevitably, crimes involving the police and their ability to maintain order are broad. We want to protect police because they protect us, right? We want to incentivize people to obey them, right? Not leaving when they say so is a misdemeanor. Passively impeding them from removing you, even by doing something as ineffective as grabbing a chair, is a misdemeanor too. Finally, if they get injured, even with just a little pin prick, expect serious consequences.

Whether or not the laws as they stand actually make it any easier for cops to do their jobs is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly intuitive to think that severe punishment helps insure compliance, but it’s hard to imagine how much tougher we could be.

In a case like McRae’s, the serious consequences given the innocuous facts only make the officers look like a bunch of delicate flowers protected by some very harsh laws. It’s doubtful that’s what the laws were intended to do.

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