A few days ago I posted the blog entry “Atlanta Police chief says he may fire officers over shocking search.” In it, I quoted from the complaints two men submitted to the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards unit, in which they alleged that members of the department’s Red Dog unit stopped them unlawfully and then fondled them.
I had the OPS complaints. Apparently some of my colleagues in the press did not, or they did not read them because they have taken the following statement and extrapolated from it that one of the men was “body cavity searched”—as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported (“APD cops accused of fondling men during traffic stop,” Jan. 28).
Here is what Shawn Venegas’ actual complaint says (and Venegas was the one, by his own account, who got the worst treatment):
“[The officer] reached into my underwear and felt inside my pants,” Venegas said in his statement. “Next, he grabbed the back of my pants and pulled them and my boxer shorts down, in the middle of the street in downtown Atlanta.Then he spread my butt cheeks apart, and I guess he looked in my butt. He found nothing, and then he humiliated me even more by telling me to pull my own butt cheeks apart, so he could look even better, into my butt. I was so scared and upset. Again, they found no drugs.”
That’s awful enough without a cavity search but, in point of fact, there was no cavity search. No finger up the butt. But more to the point, we don’t know for sure that any of it happened. Much sympathy as any of us may feel for Venegas and his roommate, Brian Kidd—and just about anyone would feel sympathy for someone being subjected to such humiliations, with or without a cavity search—the fact is that we do not know if they are telling the truth. It’s their word against the cops’ and vice versa.
Carlos Campos, spokesman for the APD was quick to hand out a statement that talked about Chief George Turner intending to bring swift discipline “up to, and including, dismissal” pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation.
But has anyone noticed what was missing from all of these accounts? The department does not speak for its officers. When Campos makes a statement, he does so on behalf of his boss, and his boss is ultimately Chief Turner. Coming on the heels of the more than $1 million Eagle raid lawsuit settlement, the department is feeling sensitive these days and eager to please critical citizens. The very day after Campos’ statement the brass huddled over what to do about the Red Dog unit, even considering disbanding it, something that may very well be announced this week. Once again, some of my colleagues in the press have taken liberties with the truth, referring to the Eagle raid as a Red Dog operation, for example. Two of the three officers accused in the present fondling scandal were present at the Eagle, but it was the vice unit that was in charge of that debacle.
I do know who the officers are, but I have not named them because I have not heard their side of this story. Neither has the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or anyone else to my knowledge. Though that didn’t stop some reporters from jumping to conclusions about digital-anal penetration.
I haven’t heard any union representatives step up to speak on the officers’ behalf, either. Maybe they aren’t members.
The bottom line is that we do not know the truth about what happened. Granted, it looks bad. The incident report indicates that Venegas and Kidd were charged with running a stop sign that doesn’t even exist. Nonetheless, we have all only heard one side and that side has been presented by the plaintiffs and their attorneys. The APD itself has not, so far, made the slightest effort to explain what happened at this interesting traffic stop. Its investigation, so far as I know, continues. Given the job that the APD’s internal affairs unit has done in the past I am as skeptical of its ability to find officers guilty as I am of its ability to find them innocent. I am not convinced that discovery of the truth is actually the central mission of OPS.
Until we know more about the other side of the story, let’s remember that allegations are exactly that, allegations. That’s not to say this one didn’t happen, but right now we don’t know that it happened in exactly the way that a one-sided view would present it. SR