No Apparent Cause

Judge Naita Semaj was not kind to the officers who arrested “drill rapper” Camrin “C Blu” Williams.

“There was absolutely zero reason for any of those officers to approach this individual,” Semaj said on Tuesday in Bronx Supreme Court. “They approached him. They detained him. They searched him, and no officer even bothered to come up with a halfway legitimate reason for any of that.”

This would seem pretty clear, but for some subsequent details. C Blu, who was on probation for weapons possession, possessed an unlawful handgun and things got worse from there.

Williams then allegedly fired a round through his own leg before the same bullet struck Officer Kaseem Pennant in the leg. Both Williams and Pennant were hospitalized after the incident and have recovered.

The putative basis for the police seizure was that Williams was part of a “disorderly” group. Video showed otherwise.

Semaj said in proceedings New York Daily News covered: “While there is no disputing the fact that Mr. Williams had a gun on him that night… He literally does everything you tell your child to do when they’re approached by cops. He literally kept his hands up. He literally tried to record to make sure there was proof. He answered questions he had no obligation to answer.”

This will no doubt seem shocking to many, as it might be hard to reconcile the fact that the cops were “right” that Williams had an unlawful gun, so how is it possible that they can be factually right while being so legally wrong?

Bronx Judge Naita Semaj actually declared that police officers had “no apparent reason” to detain or search drill rap sensation Camrin “C Blu” Williams — whose seeming efforts to avoid getting in trouble for the gun he was carrying resulted in him allegedly shooting both himself and Officer Kaseem Pennant.

No apparent reason? Williams was illegally carrying a firearm. In a crowd.

The logical fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc, might be particularly apt here. Sure, he had a gun. No, that has nothing to do with whether the initial seizure was based on probable cause.

Semaj apparently thinks cops’ experienced instincts aren’t enough to justify such action.

Don’t blame the judge. Blame the Fourth Amendment, which precludes search and seizure except upon probable cause. And if that’s not reason enough, blame the cop for testifying falsely, although Judge Semaj neglected to refer him to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark for prosecution for perjury, not one of Clark’s favorite things to do,

The judge called Gjonbalaj’s testimony “absolutely incredible.”

“It was inconsistent with the video. It was inconsistent with his fellow officer’s testimony,” Semaj said. “It was self-serving. It had no value.”

What’s unsaid here is that it’s long been common for judges to let cops claim incredible magic abilities to smell crime in the absence of any substantive factual basis to establish probable cause. If they find a gun, then whatever nonsense they make up to justify the search based on their “training and experience” is close enough.

This is no different than cops finding marijuana, having fantastical olfactory skills to sniff out the scent of unburnt weed hermetically sealed five times over in the trunk of a passing car traveling at 50 miles per hour. In the opposite direction. And yet, judges wave it off because the cop found weed. It must be true.

But Semaj seems to think that, even if someone is doing something illegal, and even if there’s “no disputing” it, a police officer still can’t make a quick decision based on intangibles to take action. She doesn’t even seem to provide a definitive standard under which an officer might have validly stopped and searched Williams.

On the contrary, it’s not up to the judge to provide a definitive standard when the Constitution already does so. In the absence of probable cause, there is no authority to search and seize. Whether Williams was doing something illegal is irrelevant if the police are incapable of articulating the basis for their actions. Of course, here they tried, but the darn video proved they were lying about it. That’s a different problem.

The notion of “cop intuition,” that sixth sense the police would like the public to believe they possess and exercise in fulfillment of their duty to make the streets safe, was proven to be fantasy when the unconstitutional tactic of “stop & frisk” was promiscuously employed. Hundreds of thousands of stops, almost all of black kids, and almost nothing to show for it.

Of course, the argument is that the cops weren’t using their mad intuitive skillz when tossing black kids against walls, but making their numbers. Then again, if they had such mad skillz, they would have made their numbers without the need to toss hundreds of thousands of black kids for no reason. They would have nailed the kids with guns and been heroes, provided people didn’t fetishize constitutional rights in the process.

What makes Judge Semaj’s ruling stand out, and invoke the ire of the New York Post, ever vigilant for the safety of the city, is that she refused to let the outcome, that C Blu had the gun, color her ruling as to the complete absence of any justification for the seizure. It’s easy enough for the judge to color over, crediting the cops’ testimony, intoning the “training and experience” mantra in lieu of any substantive testimony to justify the police seizure.

It’s not hard to do, as evidence by the thousands of times it’s happened in the past. But this judge refused to give the cops the wink, and instead called clearly fabricated testimony “absolutely false.” This is the sort of change that judges have always had the authority to make, to no longer acquiesce to nonsensical police testimony for no better reason than they ended up finding something illegal. It may be completely true that Williams was committing a crime. It’s also completely true that the police had no lawful justification to seize and search him. That can happen, and when it does, the court should have the guts Judge Semaj had to call it out.

10 thoughts on “No Apparent Cause

  1. Guitardave

    I agree with your conclusion, and of course, an officer should never let someones ‘art’ influence their actions, but you sure as hell don’t need to be a psychic to have suspicions about him carrying if you sampled what hes putting out…

    1. CLS

      Thank you Dave. I now know what “drill rap” is and never want to hear this genre of “music” ever again.

        1. Hal

          I’d give you style points for such an apt choice, but our host has already dinged me once this AM.

          So, I’ll just say “Dat’s da facts, Jack!” and hope I’ll get away w/ it…

  2. RTM

    It’s good to see the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine in action. Not so good seeing the judge attacked for invoking it.

  3. Pingback: Beneficiary Of First Amendment Protections Says Fourth Amendment Shouldn’t Be Respected By Cops, Courts | Techdirt

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