A Judge Learns The First Rule of Policing

Via Radley Balko, Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes had just finished an Easter dinner with her sister and family in Deerfield Beach when she was taught the first rule of policing.

The first rule of policing, as I’ve explained many times, is get home for dinner.  What?  Did you think it would be something heroic and inspirational?  Well, it is, just not to you.  Foremost in a police officer’s mind as he straps on his gun is to make it through his shift unharmed.  Be reasonable.  It’s a job, not something to die for.  He’s got a wife and kids.  She’s got a husband and kids.  Not even a pension and gold shield will make up for leaving your children parentless.  Get home for dinner is a very good rule.

As it happens, the first rule of policing tends to conflict with the ordinary enjoyment of life, free from either the threat of death or, under unfortunate circumstances, the erroneous infliction of death.  And the judge learned this first hand.

The call to police said there might be a burglar inside 235 Southwest 4th Street. But there is no 235. Only 236 and 230.

Arriving police outside spotted someone inside 230 – Neville Scarlett was in the kitchen cleaning up the Easter dinner plates – and thought he might be the burglar.

There seems to be a running issue with police and house numbers, and it manifested itself again when the cops were confronted with the impossible, no number 235 and adrenalin flowing. Scarlett was in his own home, doing the dishes, minding his own business.  What are the chances he was thinking about the first rule of policing?  Then his wife, Carmita, looked out her kitchen window.

There’s a man with a gun and he’s going to shoot me!!” yelled Carmita. “I thought it was the robber!” Her sister, Judge Holmes, came running to the kitchen. The judge carries a legal firearm and immediately pulled it out and held it in her hand.

“She said ‘Who are you!? What are you doing?!’ He said ‘this is BSO.’ She said, ‘this is Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes!!’” Carmita said.

Under certain circumstances, announcing that you’re a judge carries some weight.  It’s enough to make lawyers laugh at your jokes, no matter how bad they are, or behave with courtesy toward you no matter how dismissive you are.  But it’s not enough to overcome the first rule of policing.

“They said, ‘Come out with your hands up!’ She said, ‘I am Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes. I am armed.'”

They all slowly went out through a side door. “She was putting the gun down. They yelled, ‘put the gun down! Put the gun down!’ Right there, the cop had his gun pointed at her.”

Judge Holmes, surrounded by deputies with guns drawn, slowly put the gun on the grass, announcing it as she went. She was holding a cell phone in the other hand. When she began to place that on the ground, police began yelling.

“When she went to put that down, they yelled, ‘Get away from the gun!’ She said ‘everybody calm down. I’m putting my cell phone down’.”

At that point, a higher-ranking deputy recognized her and called on his team to lower their guns, according to Carmita.

The funny thing is that judges are often hard to distinguish from ordinary people when they aren’t in robes or sitting on the bench.  They just look like regular folk, you and me.  Even if someone yells out that they are a judge, the police officer pointing his gun at your head can’t be certain that you aren’t some very tricky criminal about to throw your cellphone at him with great velocity.  And how can he be sure it’s actually a cellphone anyway?  Everything is presumed to be a deadly weapon under the first rule of policing.

“The one that first recognized her, he picked the gun up, opened it up, took the bullets out, he started giving her a speech: ‘Judge Holmes, you know, these guys may not know who you are. I know who you are. This could have been so different.’ And my sister said, ‘everyone of ya’ll know me. Ya’ll been before me’.”

Notice that even after recognizing the judge, his first act was to take the bullets out of the judge’s gun?  His second act was to tell the judge that “this could have been so different,” as in she might have had her head blown off, just in case.  The sort of mistake that could happen to ordinary folk.

But Carmita was downright angry. Remember the man outside her kitchen window who pointed a gun at her? Still wearing her pajamas and footies, she approached him afterward. “I said ‘you had a gun pointed at me!’ He said ‘because I felt threatened.’ I said ‘threatened how?'”

A well-trained officer knows that the first thing out of his mouth when he points his gun is to claim he felt threatened.  After all, if an officer feels threatened, then he’s entitled to do whatever he needs to do according to the first rule of policing.

While we are appalled at the frequency with which ordinary, law-abiding people who have the misfortune to meet up with police end up dead, judges rarely get a chance to experience anything beyond the sanitized, rationalized version of events presented in courtrooms. 

Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes had an opportunity to come face to face with first rule of policing.  This should be added to the list of things a judge, and prosecutor, should experience before being allowed to make a decision about other people’s lives.

11 comments on “A Judge Learns The First Rule of Policing

  1. Jdog

    “Mommy, we like Aunt Ilona, don’t we?”
    “Yes, dear. She’s my sister, and I not only love her, but I like her a lot.”
    “I like her, too, and I used to like it when she’d take me shopping, or to the zoo, or to the pool.”
    “You don’t anymore?”
    “I’m sorry, Mommy, but now that she’s wearing her robe to all those place, people keep asking me why my aunt is wearing a burka all the time.”

  2. D-Day

    One thing on that long list should be the requirement that prosecutors and judges serve a mandatory week in prison on an annual basis as a condition of continued employment: feeding, gorging themselves at the public trough.

    Perhaps they would not then send so many non-violent persons to prison, willy nilly, for actions which at worst might require a “civil remedy.”

  3. D-Day

    This was posted long before I ever heard of you. Well worth reading, and re-reading, however, including comments–some of which are v. funny indeed. Will have to add to favorites.

    Some things never change, and others are timeless.

  4. Bill P.

    The officer also ignored an elementary rule of gun handling: you never draw your gun except to shoot someone. Basically, if someone is trying to kill you, you draw your gun to shoot the aggressor. Some exceptions are typically provided for in the crimes code. (EG if the officer is trying to arrest someone for certain serious crimes & the suspect is trying to get away & there is no other way of stopping him & no innocent people will be endangered.) We really need to go back to square one with the police & hold them to all of this.

  5. D-Day

    If the police officer draws his weapon gratuitously, when it is unnecessary and/or against “departmental guidelines,” this is called “excessive use of force” and grounds for complaint.

    So you file your civilian complaint with the duly-established Review Board. After sitting on it for a sufficient period of time, they come back and tell you, “We took your complaint as a non-complaint.” No kidding!

    So now you file a federal civil rights complaint under chapter 1983 in federal court. Once again, the court sits on it for a year and half or so, and then dismisses it as without merit. You can’t win, because they won’t let you win. Heads they win, tails you lose.

    If you can’t do the crime, don’t do the time. Or should I reword that: “If one is unable to do the crime, one should not be required to do the time”? The field is full of Jabberwocky, for real.

  6. Bill P

    “If the police officer draws his weapon gratuitously, when it is unnecessary and/or against “departmental guidelines,” this is called “excessive use of force” and grounds for complaint.

    Is that in the crimes code though? I mean is there a statute which details “excessive use of force” by police officers? If not, then it’s the same situation as if some one who is not a police officer were to do it.

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