St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has a blog. Pretty cool, right? Well, not so much for 18-year-old Armond Calvin, who was acquitted after trial.
Armond Calvin, 18, was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest in February. He was brought back to court for violating the terms of his bail, and sent home with an ankle bracelet to await trial.
On May 22, Dotson said, Calvin was riding in a car involved in a fatal accident. Two stolen assault rifles and a .45-caliber pistol with a defaced serial number were found in the car. Calvin was charged with possession of the defaced weapon.
Sounds pretty damning. But as it turns out, the story was malarkey.
[Defense lawyer Robert] Taaffe said Tuesday that his client had asked permission to attend the funeral of his cousin on the day of the accident, so authorities knew where he was. He got into a car with a relative’s boyfriend whom he did not know too well. The car flipped during the accident, and the police said they found Calvin on the roof of the car with the defaced firearm in his lap, Taaffe said.
“The jury wasn’t buying that,” Taaffe said.
No harm, no foul? Not quite.
“Do you know what the bond is for our suspect for having a defaced firearm while awaiting trial for possession of a gun and resisting arrest? $2,500. SERIOUSLY,” Dotson wrote in his blog. “Thank judge Calea Stovall-Reid. Sarcasm intended.”
Court records indicate Calvin’s bail for the initial case, for possessing a gun and resisting arrest, was set to $30,000 after he violated court terms.
His attorney, Robert Taaffe, believes Calvin spent six months in jail because judges were too intimidated by Dotson’s blog to lower his bail before trial. Calvin could not afford the $2,500 cash-only bail.
Naming and shaming have become a time-honored tradition in the blogosphere. Dotson, being a blogger, availed himself of the tool, and the name he dropped was Calvin’s judge for setting $2,500 bail. Calvin may have been acquitted after trial, but beating the rap didn’t change the ride The six months he spent in jail awaiting trial he will never get back.
Is it wrong for Dotson to have used his office to shame a judge?
“When you see the police chief and whatever politicians talk of judges and bonds, the courts are sensitive to that issue and they’re going to respond,” said Robert Taaffe. “Sometimes justice is done and not done as a result of political pressure put on the judiciary.”
There is a difference between a blogger (or any writer) being critical of a judicial decision and someone who carries the clout and authority of an office. Then again, does Dotson being the St. Louis police chief deprive him of the right to have an opinion? Does it make it wrong to express it? Had he said the same thing to a reporter, would it have been acceptable? If so, why not write it on his own blog?
Dotson said it is “complete speculation” on Taaffe’s part to say what a judge may or may not have done based on his blog post.
“Judges set the bonds, not police officers,” Dotson said.
Dotson is right. Judges set bond. That Dotson thinks bail is too low has absolutely nothing to do with the judge’s exercise of authority. If it influences the judge, scares him, makes him feel all nervous about his rendering a decision on bond that could come back to bite him in the ass, whether because Calvin gets released and commits a crime or because Dotson paints him as some criminal-loving softy, so what?
He’s the judge. If the judge doesn’t have the fortitude, both intellectual and otherwise, to do his job properly in the face of law enforcement criticism, then he’s got no business on the bench.
Sure, it may feel as if Dotson, by virtue of his official position, carries extra weight, the ability to exert undue influence over the judicial function by riling up the natives who don’t know the case is bullshit and his arguments are bluster, but that’s no excuse for a cowardly judge. if the judge can’t square up against Dotson to do the right thing on bail, then he lacks the integrity to be trusted to make any decision. Unless Dotson tells him it’s okay, of course.
There are plenty of things we can blame on law enforcement, and they deserve much of the castigation they earn. But that doesn’t create an excuse for the judiciary to be a bunch of gutless cowards, fearful that someone with a shield will say something mean about them. Was Dotson trying to bully the judge? Perhaps, but why would a judge be so easily bullied? Who cares whether the police chief likes your decisions?
It’s a hard job to be judge, and requires a great deal of fortitude to face up to public and law enforcement condemnation. It’s no place for someone with low self-esteem and a need for official validation. That’s not Dotson’s fault. Blame the judge.