Mimesis Law
21 November 2017

Video Exposes Lying Cop, This Time

May 18, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Everything about the article, starting with the title, is pretty sensational:

CASE DISMISSED AFTER JUDGE ACCUSED SAN FRANCISCO COP OF PERJURY

What the judge did is remarkable, as judges tend to be loath to disbelieve even the most patently absurd officer testimony. Accusing a cop of perjury takes it to a completely different level. It all started out innocuously, however:

Officer Nicholas Buckley had signed a sworn declaration detailing the arrest last December in the Tenderloin. He was testifying Thursday in federal court before Judge Charles Bryer.

He repeated what he said in his declaration that he and his partner had just broken up a dice game on Eddy and Taylor streets and that he engaged Simpson who looked suspiciously at him, “ignored his commands acted aggressively,” and tried to “sprint away up the hill.”

Buckley and other officers took him down and arrested him. That’s when they found a gun.

This is a scenario every single criminal defense attorney has experienced numerous times. Officer Buckley said he’d broken up a dice game, a nice little fact to immediately paint Simpson as being up to no good. Buckley further described Simpson as looking at him suspiciously, a classic cop observation if there ever was one. Rounding out the encounter with claims that Simpson didn’t obey, acted aggressively, and then fled, Officer Buckley’s testimony sounds like what countless other cops have testified to in countless other similar cases just like Simpson’s.

Simpson, of course, probably told his lawyer that Officer Buckley lied and had no reason to seize or search him. Simpson’s lawyer probably believed Simpson too, but knew exactly how a hearing on a motion to suppress would go. Officer Buckley would testify in uniform, coming off as professional and impartial, and provide his cop version of events, one that seems eminently reasonable. Based on his version of events, he had good reason to be suspicious of Simpson, and Simpson gave him plenty of legal cause for a stop and a search.

Of course, Simpson, a prohibited possessor with a gun who was there when Officer Buckley broke up a dice game, would insist he was just there minding his own business after cops broke up said dice game. Simpson would deny looking at the cop suspiciously, ignoring commands, being aggressive, or running. Simpson no doubt told his lawyer over and over again that Officer Buckley just came up to him, grabbed him, and threw him to the ground. Again, Simpson’s lawyer probably knew exactly how much weight Simpson’s narrative would have as compared to Officer Buckley’s.

In most cases like this, the judge would hear from Officer Buckley, hear from Simpson, and then barely hesitate at all before making a ruling. What’s more believable, that a sworn officer with no skin in the game would throw a guy down for know reason and perjure himself, or that a felon hanging out at a dice game with a gun on him would act suspicious and flee from police? That’s perhaps the single most common sort of fact pattern in drug and weapon possession cases everywhere, and where the case comes down to only the cop’s word versus the defendant’s word, it would be surprising if a defendant has ever won anything in that situation absent extraordinary circumstances.

Lucky for Simpson, he happened to have an ace in his pocket:

A federal judge accused a San Francisco police officer of perjury after video evidence directly contradicted his testimony, and then dismissed the case.

Federal prosecutors had no idea that lawyers for Brandon Simpson, the suspect arrested with a loaded gun, had a security video; video that would result in the case being dismissed.

Not only was Simpson lucky that he had video, but he was lucky that the video was good enough to affirmatively expose Officer Buckley’s lies:

It shows the officer and his partner arriving first and breaking up the dice game.

Video shows them interacting with Simpson and there’s no evidence he acted aggressively, nor did he try to escape by sprinting up a hill.

Then you see them grab him quickly and take him down before other cops arrived to help as they struggled with Simpson on the ground.

Sadly, many judges would’ve squinted, turned their heads, and done whatever else was necessary to square Officer Buckley’s account with the contradictory video evidence.

Could Simpson’s aggressions have been the kind that are hard to capture from far away? Perhaps things like the details of his facial expression or other tiny physical manifestations that would require high definition picture and sound to see? Is the frame rate so slow it’s misleading? Is it possible Simpson did do something in the seconds before the cops reacted and that the video just wasn’t good enough to catch it? Like maybe engaging in tiny movements suggesting he was trying to run, or starting to sprint so quickly that security video just couldn’t do the real situation justice?

It would be tempting to call this a but-for-video situation, but it’s not just that there was video that made the difference; it was that there was especially good video, that it was of just the right thing, and that the judge didn’t try to explain it away.

Judge Bryer’s reaction exemplifies why cops would lie about this stuff, which is also largely why they can get away with lying about this stuff:

The judge said the officer “perjured” himself and that it was “an affront to all of us” and that he was “deeply saddened.”

From a purely theoretical standpoint, Judge Bryer should indeed be saddened and offended by Officer Buckley perjuring himself to obtain a conviction. On the other hand, from a practical standpoint, the most disturbing part of the entire situation might be that Judge Bryer was saddened and offended by something officers everywhere do because they can. If Judge Bryer really thinks that he hasn’t been lied to by other officers in just the same manner in the past, but believed them to the great detriment of the defendants in those cases because there wasn’t video conclusively proving they were lying, then we should all be a little concerned about the good judge’s naivety.

Officer Buckley probably thought Simpson was a dangerous gambling scumbag with a gun. He encountered Simpson in a sketchy situation. He had a hunch Simpson had something on him, and he checked. He was right. Should Simpson get away with breaking the law? Why not twist the facts a little to make sure the case sticks? Unfortunately, there are judges who can’t believe a cop might think like that. Worse yet, there are judges who think that way themselves.

Simpson is one lucky defendant. He shouldn’t be, but he is. Hopefully, Judge Bryer remembers this case and brings a different perspective next time he hears a defendant and a cop testify to completely different versions of events. It shouldn’t just be the lucky ones winning their motions to suppress, after all.

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  • j a higginbotham
    10 August 2016 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    What about other cases, past and future, in which Officer Buckley has sworn to something? Can this be used to invalidate future statements or have older cases looked at? If so, what use is Officer Buckley to the Police Department if he can’t testify to anything?