Because Even Bad Law Makes For Good Warrants

The excuse was that the Baton Rouge Police Department takes complaints about its officers very seriously.  That, according to BRPD spokeswoman Mary Ann Godawa, is why the “department uses unenforceable laws to gain information.”

It began with an email to the mayor about a cop asleep on the job. Maybe.

The initial complaint was somewhat innocuous — a photo pulled from Facebook of an officer apparently pretending to be asleep in his patrol car while on duty.

Whatever this means, the next step was abundantly clear.

BRPD, according to department spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola, first responded to the sender with an email suggesting that if the potential whistle-blower was 1) a regular citizen, he or she could be charged with defamation or 2) if a BRPD cop, he could be in trouble for violating the chain of command.

Charged with defamation? Criminal defamation? Of a cop? Seriously?

Defamation as a criminal charge, which involves damaging the reputation or livelihood of someone by spreading false information, has been ruled unconstitutional via “40 years of case law,” [former LSU professor Craig] Freeman said.

And when the threat didn’t produce results, the BRPD took it to the next step.

The search warrant, which was signed May 29 by 19th Judicial District Court Judge Anthony Marabella, gave permission to “seize, secure, tabulate” or “analyze” the AT&T cell phone records related to the IP address from where the email was sent. The scope included “all subscriber information,” including in-coming and out-going calls, text messages and a SIM lock code.

That would be a grossly overbroad warrant for the purpose of locating the person who sent a pic (I think) of a sleeping cop based on a claim of criminal defamation. But it’s not like the BRPD people are stupid, ya know.

[BRPD spokesman Cpl. Don] Coppola didn’t deny the charge was unconstitutional, but emphasized: “It’s still on the books.”

Any port in a storm. Even a shit storm.

BRPD commonly uses the threat of defamation charges as an investigative tool, Coppola said, but the department hasn’t, to his knowledge, ever actually arrested anyone on the charge.

And thus, no harm, no foul.  It may be a threat of prosecution, but it’s an empty threat.  It may be an unconstitutional law, but it’s still on the books, and so it serves as a basis for a search warrant from a willing magistrate.

After all, this is all about locating the person who sent an email of a pic of a sleeping cop (I think) to the mayor, and the police department takes complaints very seriously.

They both expressed that the reason police went to such lengths reflects the seriousness in which BRPD takes complaints against officers.

“We are held accountable for our actions (and) held to higher standards,” Godawa said. “We don’t want this story to deter people from contacting police department if they have a problem with a police officer.”

Thank the lord they have unconstitutional laws on the books to they can locate the sender of complaints through threats and search warrants, because they take complaints very seriously.  After all, they are held to higher standards.

Maybe they wanted to give the sender of the email of the pic of a sleeping cop (I think) a medal.

H/T Mike Paar

11 thoughts on “Because Even Bad Law Makes For Good Warrants

  1. Patrick Maupin

    I don’t know about Louisiana, but in Texas, I think the public admission of conducting a search based on a law that was known to be unconstitutional would be a slam dunk official oppression misdemeanor. Of course, that presumes a willing prosecutor, so it really depends on where in Texas you are. Oh, and of course, since a judge had to sign the warrant, it depends on a different judge who isn’t thinking “there but for the grace of God go I” since, of course, the judge signing the warrant should have known as well as the cop that it was a bad pretext and could conceiveably also be dragged into court.

    On second thought, maybe not a slam dunk after all.

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t think that’s the case, regardless of the willingness of the prosecutor. It might be better to have a Texas lawyer opine about Texas law. You know, just to make sure someone doesn’t read your comment, mistake you for a lawyer, and think your non-lawyer opinion has any validity whatsoever.

      1. John Barleycorn

        But, but, but…Patrick did sneak in the phrase “willing prosecutor” which in and of itself brings three cheers from the cheap seats.

        How does they song go again?

        A willing magistrate was sitting in a tree getting s-t-r-o-k-e-d and joked by Johny Law

        Poof out pops a warrant pre-cum not et al.

        Then the next thing you know willing procsecutor man wants him some k-i-s-s-i-n-g too.

        Never mind but it’s something like that.

        P.S. Judges should really be required to put what the “safe word” is in these sort of “master and slave roll-playing bondage warrants”. After all not all of those on the receiving end of this sort of “ride” are really into it after things get rolling.

          1. John Barleycorn

            “Just Jokeing” now that could be a fun safe word. But the cops never say that damit!…

            And those being served a warrant usually go with “is this a joke” but it’s all to common.

            I guess I will have to do some caveat warrant “safe word” pondering after lunch.

            Don’t let him ruffle your feathers Patrick. Some of us from the cheap seats can honestly say that we “criminals” have been on more than one occasion mistaken for our CDL’s before in open court. With the exception of Wheeze and William of course because they dress better than underpaid lawyers, have steel balls and self representation fetishes.

            So their legal cross dressing in open court doesn’t count. Even if William has gotten mistaken for being a prosecutor before.

  2. ecpa

    In February, a few months before the Baton Rouge officers sought this warrant, a district court rejected qualified immunity for officers in nearby Livingston Parish who in 2012 had obtained and executed a “criminal defamation” search warrant after someone made disparaging remarks on Facebook about public officials. See McLin v. Ard, 2014 WL 545743 (M.D. La. Feb. 10, 2014). The court held: “Plaintiff argues that it is objectively unreasonable to seek, obtain and thereafter execute a search warrant to seek evidence of the commission of a ‘crime’ that is, in fact and as matter of long settled law, not a crime. The Court agrees. As a matter of law, there could be no articulable reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime existed, when ‘criminal defamation’ is not a crime.”

    So the officers may ultimately find that bad law makes for very bad warrants.

    1. SHG Post author

      Jeez. That would be a shame.

      Good case. Thanks. Though it does raise a troubling issue; so the issuing mag is a blithering idiot who knowingly signed a warrant for an unconstitutional, and hence nonexistent, crime? Well then.

      1. Rick Horowitz

        Are we surprised?

        I wonder if we’ll ever see the pendulum swing back to the United States being a nation that at least tries to care about due process, constitutional rights, and just plain good moral sense.

  3. Wrongway

    How Very Orwellian that double speak was..

    Although, I’ll bet it had a southern drawl to it..

    Jambalaya anyone ??

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