No, Ray Albers, Your Life Isn’t Ruined
Dec. 21, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Ray Albers, the former St. Ann, Missouri police lieutenant better known to the public as “Officer Go Fuck Yourself” following the protests in Ferguson over the death of Michael Brown, now bemoans his poor choices as actions which “ruined [his] life.”
A former police lieutenant forced out of his department after he pointed a semiautomatic rifle at protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and threatened to kill them testified this week that his life was “ruined” during the subsequent fight to keep his law enforcement license.
Albers was part of the response team on August 19, 2014 used by law enforcement to quell protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri. That night, he acted with “great restraint” in performing his duties by raising an assault rifle at protesters, telling news photographers to “get that fucking camera out of [his] face,” threatened to kill a crowd of protesters, and when asked for his name by protesters, responded with “Go fuck yourself.”
Once video of Albers’ poor conduct surfaced online, news outlets identified him quickly, and he stepped down from the St. Ann Police Department following recommendations from the city’s board of police commissioners that he either resign or be fired.
The State of Missouri didn’t think his resignation from the force was good enough. In March of this year, the Director of the Missouri State Department of Public Safety filed a “Complaint For Discipline Of Peace Officer License” against Albers, accusing him of committing acts “while on active duty or under color of law that involves moral turpitude or a reckless disregard for the safety of the public or any person.”
In sum, without legal justification, if Ray Albers wasn’t wearing a badge on August 19, 2014, he’d have long since been charged with Third Degree Assault, Harassment, Unlawful Use of Weapons, and a violation of Missouri’s Peace Disturbance statute. He did all of this under color of law, and now Albers faces either the suspension or revocation of the license that allows him to work as a police officer.
On Wednesday, Albers was at an administrative hearing as the Missouri Department of Public Safety tried to convince a member of the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission to take disciplinary action by suspending or permanently revoking the license that allows him to work as an officer.
Albers and his lawyer, Brandi Barth, offered several different defenses for his actions that night. Barth argued it was “unfair” to make Albers “the poster child” for bad policing during the Ferguson protests, and showed off photos of a number of other officers pointing rifles at protesters.
“He raised his rifle and asked people to ‘get the fuck back,’” Barth said. “That’s what happened, and unfortunately he became the media poster boy for bad behavior.”
Everybody else was doing it, so it’s unfair to punish Albers and make him the “poster boy” for bad policing. I doubt that excuse was plausible for any number of defendants Albers arrested during the twenty years he worked in law enforcement, but we’re already aware police get more rights than laypeople when facing disciplinary action or charges of misconduct, so maybe that’s a valid defense in Missouri’s Administrative Hearings.
“There’s selective enforcement against Mr. Albers, in a situation where we have now seen at least a dozen officers in the selected photos having their rifles raised,” Barth said. “This situation of 30 seconds in a 20-year career has literally ruined his life.”
No, it hasn’t “literally ruined his life.” He’s not dead, incapacitated, or unable to obtain gainful employment in another line of work. The “selective enforcement” of thirty seconds worth of bad decisions is an attempt to restore accountability and public trust in a country wrecked with police misconduct, even if it’s in a administrative disciplinary hearing. Albers’ testimony during his administrative hearing bounced around from previous discussions he’d had regarding that night.
In an interview with a talk radio host in February, Albers said that “total survival mode” kicked in the night of the incident. He said he had “tunnel vision” when he supposedly spotted [a] man with [a] handgun. He also suggested that he thought the people recording him were going to try to take his weapon and use it against him.
But this week, Albers said he didn’t have his rifle raised at anyone in particular.
“I never pointed my rifle at anyone,” Albers testified. “I was using that scope with the laser to find that individual with a weapon. Like I said, those people came towards me.”
It’s a sad day when your own behavior isn’t even given a pass by your own colleagues.
Lt. Garrett Willis, the lead firearms instructor in St. Ann until his recent retirement, testified that an officer is not allowed to scan a crowd with his or her firearm because the possibility of accidental discharge is “a threat to innocent people.”
Willis said that when there’s an individual with a gun in the crowd, an officer should go into a “low-ready” position — a stance where the officer has his or her gun pointed downward.
“You scan with your eyes,” Willis said. “You should never raise your weapon unless it’s a threat.”
St. Louis County Police Officer John Wall concurs, and was there to help alleviate some of the tensions Albers caused on August 19, 2014.
John Wall of the St. Louis County Police Department stepped in and lowered Albers’ rifle during the Aug. 19 incident, physically putting pressure on the weapon until it was no longer pointing at the crowd. Wall said this week that officers shouldn’t raise their rifles unless they intend to shoot.
Wall said he “was not fearful” despite the violence that surrounded the protests. He also said he didn’t believe he was in danger when people were filming him. “I know I could’ve been killed,” he said, “but it’s my job to stand out there.”
Albers’ administrative hearing is a step toward accountability, and that’s a good thing. He is not the “poster boy for bad behavior.” That changes weekly as more stories of police misconduct come to the public’s attention. If he loses his license to be a cop, that’s the price he pays for his poor decisions during the Ferguson protests. Those of us who shine a light on police misconduct are not out to see people’s lives “ruined,” and Albers’ certainly has not been. What we want is accountability for the actions those who wear a badge and enjoy the state sanctioned ability to take the life of another human being when they abuse their authority.
With hearings like the one Ray Albers just completed, it looks like we’re moving in a decent direction even if it’s at a snail’s pace.