Since my last post about cops in Albuquerque, which included an update about the indictment of two cops for the killing of James Boyd, people have been sending me stories about how the cops have targeted District Attorney Kari Brandenburg in retaliation. I’ve resisted discussion of this, both because it’s friggin’ Albuquerque (which isn’t as fascinating as, say, New York) and because Brandenburg is the DA.
What I mean by that is that anyone who wants to be the District Attorney takes on turf fraught with choices, many of which carry some public or private animosity. When Daniel Donovan, the District Attorney of Richmond County (that’s Staten Island to you New Mexicans) sabotaged his grand jury presentment in the Eric Garner killing, I challenged his ethics. Same with St. Louis DA Bob McCulloch in the Michael Brown killing.
The argument in both cases was that the public was calling for blood, and the District Attorneys felt compelled to put on a play, present the case to a grand jury, while believing there should be no indictment. Rather than sabotage the presentment, I argued that their ethical duty was to announce that they would not indict, because they did not believe an indictment was proper, and suffer the consequences.
Most people thought this ridiculous. How could the prosecutors not bend to the will of the public? What choice did they have?
The choice was the exercise of their duty in their office. Like the notion underlying “honest services theft,” nobody promised them they could avoid public censure for their choices by making a sham presentation to calm the angry natives, while simultaneously achieving their desired goal of “no true bill” by making sure the presentation to the grand jury would be a massive failure.
These guys ran for office. They wanted to be the big guys, the District Attorneys, adored and appreciated by all for saving society from the bad dudes. They want people to name streets after them, just like Frank Hogan got a block named after him with only one address on it.
The price is doing their job, even if the townsfolk march on the district attorneys’ office with torches and pitchforks.
Same for Albuquerque DA Kari Brandenburg. The difference here is that the people with the pitchforks are cops, who want to storm her office because she’s indicted two cops and means to convict them.
Just a day after DA Kari Brandenburg announced for the first time in recent memory that she would pursue criminal charges against cops for an on-duty deadly shooting, there was another police shooting in the city, which has seen a spate of fatal police shootings since 2010 at eight times the rate of New York City.
And when a prosecutor from Brandenburg’s office went to the scene and sought to attend an investigative briefing, as prosecutors had been doing for years as part of their collection of evidence, police wouldn’t let her in. They claimed that now that the DA’s office had filed criminal charges against a cop, they had a “conflict of interest” and should be excluded.
“Clearly, this could compromise the integrity of the investigation of this shooting,” an outraged Brandenburg told KRQE of the police department’s behavior.
Really? So indict them too for obstruction. They already hate you, so who cares if they double hate you?
Most prosecutors who see this happening to Brandenburg will get the message. The question is which message they get. Will it be the “screw with us cops and we will ruin you” message, or the “we’re dirty and will use any ploy to coerce you to be as dirty as we are” message?
But no district attorney with half a brain doesn’t already realize the tenuous position he holds. This is the “which part of the body is in charge” joke, played out in public. When they work together, it’s smooth and happy. When they are in conflict, it’s war. But each is part of the prosecutor’s job, whether it’s to pretend cops can do no wrong or to prosecute the people upon whom they depend.
That Kari Brandenburg is doing her job where so many other prosecutors fail miserably to excise the cancer in their own body is what she should be doing. She doesn’t get a red balloon for doing the job she swore to do. Some might believe she should, given how other prosecutors fail, but that misses the point: The ones who fail get castigated for their failure. The ones who do their job of prosecuting cops who kill guys are merely doing the job to which they were elected.
Sure, I applaud the fact that Kari Brandenburg is doing her job, even though it means indicting cops and suffering the well-oiled cop machine to harm any outsider who might challenge their hegemony. But we should expect no less from District Attorneys. This is why we vote for them, elect them, pay them.
Rather than applaud Brandenburg, we condemn the police who have cranked up the machine to destroy Brandenburg politically and personally. Then again, we see this every time cops get challenged, even questioned. Each time, the issue is presented for public consideration of who runs the government, the cops or the people.
So let them smear Dirty, Dirty Brandenburg. And let the public watch and decide which part of the body politic is in charge.