The headline of this article is a classic quote delivered by the frustrated fictional character SFPD Inspector Harry Callahan in the 1971 movie Dirty Harry. In the movie, Inspector Callahan was having a conversation with the District Attorney and a Judge about key evidence in a case. Both the DA and the Judge told Callahan that the evidence would not hold up in court, which led the Inspector to blurt out this classic line.
Is that statement applicable today in our real life criminal justice system? As a police officer, I don’t necessarily believe so, but my belief has been called into question based on a recent ruling by a Superior Court Judge.
We all have learned early on in our civics classes that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that due process before a magistrate is afforded to all.
I am not a lawyer or a paralegal. I have not been schooled in criminal law outside of my certified training within the SFPD over the past 28 years and my hundreds upon hundreds of hours testifying in court. Having said that, I was disturbed about a recent ruling on a 995 motion by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross wherein he ruled that SFPD officers were unjustified in engaging or pursing an individual who was 1) harassing a neighbor, and 2) had a restraining order against him, simply because the suspect told the officers to get off of his stairs. Judge Ross then dismissed most of the charges against the defendant.
This incident occurred in January of this year in the Oceanview. In the wee hours of the morning, at least one neighbor called 9-1-1 on the known individual who was allegedly violating the restraining order and harassing his next-door neighbor. Uniformed SFPD officers from Taraval Station responded and made contact with the suspect. This is when Sean Moore (the suspect) became extremely agitated, angry, and hurled slurs and threats at the officers. These officers attempted to calm Moore down, and they created time and distance. Moore demanded that the officers get off of his staircase and leave, but it was clear that there was a violation of a restraining order.
These officers demonstrated tremendous restraint until Moore began to violently assault them by kicking them, punching them, and knocking one of them down the stairs. The officers utilized the only less-lethal options available to them and deployed pepper spray and baton strikes, but Moore continued his assault upon them. Not having Tasers at their disposal, and having the less-lethal Carotid Restraint recently removed by the Police Commission from the SFPD use of force continuum, one officer was forced into discharging his firearm. This is the last thing that any cop wants to do. Believe me, I know. Thankfully, the suspect survived.
Both officers were bloodied and bruised during this encounter and required medical treatment. Due to the dedication to duty and commitment to serve the community, they have both returned to their patrol assignments.
In light of these events and the totality of the circumstances, Judge Ross’ ruling is baffling. it is even more baffling when you consider that it is almost completely contrary to the considered decision by the Judge who actually heard the evidence at the preliminary hearing. That ruling was reasonable.
As police officers, we know that many things within the judicial system are out of our control. We also know that many offenders are repeat, and multiple-repeat offenders. Regardless, we will do what we have sworn to do for the safety of our community. Those who, like Judge Ross, make such baffling decisions on our actions will have to live with it. I just hope those who are victimized again and again can live with it, as well.
Is the law crazy? You tell me.