My Photo
Location: Sitting inside a TV truck, Somewhere, more then likely in the Southeastern region, United States

I am a grouchy, bald headed old fart filled with opinions and not the least bit shy about sharing them.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Peter Watts: Post Verdict Thoughts and Observations

Kennedy Space Center, FL - Peter Watt's was found guilty of assaulting US Customs and Border Protection officer Andrew Beaudry. He will be sentenced on April 26. There are a few loose ends that need tying up so let's get started.

The Port Huron paper was the only news organization that actually showed up in person to listen watch and report the trial. Of the day and half I was there to compare what they wrote to what I saw and heard, they were accurate. My personal preference would have been for a little more detail but they only have so many inches to give to each story.

Mr. Watts legitimately complained that with one exception, no one running this story anywhere in the media approached him for his side of the story.

But in terms of actual mainstream coverage — well, for example, we’ve got four newspapers here in Toronto. All have covered the verdict to some degree. None, though, have approached me for comment. The closest I got to a question from the press was when the National Post left a voicemail saying they’d already written a story, thank you, but could I provide them with a photo to go with it? Even the reporter from the Times-Herald — the only journalist in sight during the actual trial — wasn’t up for so much as casual eye contact as far as I could tell.
Peter Watts' Blog: Undemocratic Journalism

What Mr. Watts may not have understood is that the rest of the media that ran that story took it off the wire services that took it from the Port Huron Herald. Watching the stories evolve from the original work has been entertaining. It is interesting to see the slant on each version.

Mr. Watts himself wrote a very eloquent piece about the verdict.

Nor do I have any complaints about the Prosecutor. She seems like a nice person, and while she tried her best to nail me to the wall she never went over the line (beyond a certain fondness for hyperbole, which I gather is part of the game). She did her job; she obviously did it well enough; and under other circumstances I could see myself having drinks and swapping arguments with the lady.

I have no complaints about the judge, a seventysomething Irish dude with a fondness for St Patrick’s Day who drives a blood-red ‘vette. He was polite, he kept things as light-hearted as could reasonably be expected, and (most importantly) he appeared impartial.

I don’t even have complaints about all of the border guards. Behrendt started the ball rolling and Beaudry channeled Eric Cartman to a degree I’d not have thought possible for a live-action character, but I get the sense the others just got caught up in the turbulence.

Finally, I have no complaints about the jury. The fact that it took them so bloody long to deliberate suggests to me that they took their job seriously. Based on what little I could tell during the selection process, they seemed like decent folks. And while I profoundly disagree with their verdict, I can certainly see how they arrived at it, given the constraints of the statute.
Peter Watt's Blog: Guilty

Considering everything that happened to him on the day of his arrest and since that time, that was remarkably gracious and humble.

Speaking of blogging, Cory Doctorow immediately joined the fray once the verdict come down. Once again firing up his congregation of anarchists with little concern for the facts. He wrote:

That's apparently the statute: if you don't comply fast enough with a customs officer, he can beat you, gas you, jail you and then imprison you for two years. This isn't about safety, it isn't about security, it isn't about the rule of law.

It's about obedience.

Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking "why?" It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.
Cory Doctorow writing on BoingBoing

Cory is still suffering from story-too-good-to-check-syndrome. His views on everything from the United States to copyrights to government are quite naive and immature.

There are a few more matters being reported and blogged that are being actively disputed by Mr. Watts and the all-knowing people writing and commenting on BoingBong. Mr. Watts and BoingBoing both claim that he was not found guilty of assault, let alone assault on a police officer. I checked the on line court records. Then I called the court clerk. She verified the conviction on record is accurate.

St. Clair County Courts

The fact is that Mr. Watts' conviction is for assault. This is because the charge, Michigan 750.81(d)1 comes under Chapter IX - Assaults. The State of Michigan defines any physical resisting or physical obstruction of a police officer as assault. Here is the text:

750.81 Assault and battery; penalties; applicability to individual using necessary reasonable physical force in compliance with § 380.1312 of the revised school code; "dating relationship" defined.

Sec. 750.81d(1) Except as provided in subsections (2), (3), and (4), an individual who assaults, batters, wounds, resists, obstructs, opposes, or endangers a person who the individual knows or has reason to know is performing his or her duties is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.

This idea may have originated with someone calling them self "Proudinjun" who claims to have been on the jury. This person is posting far and wide across the internet offering pearls of wisdom and insight from inside the jury room. One of those pearls of wisdom is that the jury did not find Watts guilty of assault.

As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury's task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts "obstructed/resisted" the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He's not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don't make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.
The Times Herald: Comment for Jury finds author Watts guilty

Originally I wanted to see the trial to see if the bloggers, journalists and others that were bound to write about this all went to the same trial. It never crossed my mind that I would have to apply the same standard to the jurors.

However, based on what Proudinjun wrote it cannot be avoided now. After the jury was selected the judge read the above statute in its entirety. I managed to get much of it down on paper in my notes. Then he explained the elements of the charge the prosecution would be required to prove in order for the jury to convict Mr. Watts. That explanation is also paraphrased in my notes. Judge Adair used the word assault twice more by my notes.

That leaves two possibilities only one possibility. Proudinjun somehow missed or forgot the judge's explanation at the beginning of the trial. Either that or is simply lying about being on the jury. (Proudinjun has since been verified as a jury member by Mr. Watts.) I was not present to hear the final instructions to the jury before they went to deliberate so I cannot speak to the last thing they heard before going in to deliberate.

Proudinjun's desire to convict the officers of a crime speaks volumes about where their head is at. It does leave one very big unanswered question. If this person felt this strongly about the way the case went and the actions of the US Customs and Border Protection officers, why did they vote to convict? All it takes is one juror and no conviction.

I don't see a gray area here. Under Michigan law, Mr. Watts is guilty. He was guilty the minute he declined Officer Behrendt's offer to hand cuff him by pulling away from her and the other officer. Personally speaking based on what testimony I heard, I don't think this stacks up to a Felony. I understand what happened. I understand why it happened. I even understand why the law is written as it is.

In a perfect world the events surrounding this case would draw an "Offsetting penalties, repeat the down" call. But this is not a perfect world. Our laws must be one size fits all. Without that standard of law enforcement the guarantee that everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or social status (Did I miss anyone?) all get the same treatment would be impossible. Unfortunately due to differences in personalities, culture and even language, that means some are going to get a better fit then others.

The US government had no choice but to seek a conviction to protect itself from civil liability. The jury had no choice but to weigh the evidence against the elements of charge and rule accordingly.

There is another matter here that needs addressing. Referring back to the court printout, you will see a habitual offender, second offense charge. Back in 1991, Mr. Watts had another brush with the law. Interestingly enough, it was challenging an officer's authority on a stop.

In 1991, while riding my bicycle along a deserted road at 2 a.m., I was pulled over by a cop; apparently I had not come to a complete stop during a right turn a half-block previously. I wanted to know what my legal rights and obligations were (that’s exactly how I put it) before presenting ID — my thinking being, since I was not driving a motor vehicle, I probably wasn’t even obligated to be carrying ID. So I asked the cop about my rights and obligations; he repeated his demand; I said I wanted an answer; I was arrested.

$400 to the Salvation Army and it went away: conditional discharge, which under Canadian Law means that there’s no conviction and my record is clear. If Fritz wants to call the Guelph courthouse, he may be able to prevail upon them to send him an official notice to the effect that all the relevant records have long since been destroyed because it was such a dick-ass case.
Peter Watts' Blog: Comments on Undemocratic Journalism

My friend, what is it with you and badges?

Peter's claim there is no record of a conviction involving him anywhere in Canada is defective. If there were no record, the US prosecutor wouldn't know about it. By Canadian law, he may be able to legitimately claim he has no record to the private sector. But the law enforcement side still has a record of it. Deferred or not, it is still a conviction as far as future infractions go. This makes sense. Without this kind of a system very few people would get a second offense. Just lots and lots of first ones.

I spent a long time pondering this entry. If it were not for some misinformation out there it may not have been written at all.

I like Peter Watts. In fact I intend to donate to the kibble fund. My feeling matches my new acquaintance, Jamie Mason, this was the perfect storm. What we had here was a combination of several things the made this mess possible. We have Peter Watts with a habit of questioning (and possibly even contempt for) authority, completely lacking in street smarts and apparently unaware he and his vehicle can be legally searched on either side of an international border. We have US Customs and Border protection officers that are trained to respond in certain ways based on the actions of the subject they are in contact with, they nervous about officer safety and dealing with someone they don't know from Elmer Fudd who just got out of the car and refuses to get back in it or step away from it.

That volatile mixture hit critical mass and the rest is history.

Mr. Watts is very grateful to Doctorow and all the others that spread the word about his plight and jumped on the band wagon with moral and financial support. They raised a fairly large quantity of money to pay for his defense. I feel that the public defender's office and their limited resources would have been unable to deliver a good defense here. So in spite of the bad taste left in my mouth left by Cory and Co's playing "real journalist," I do give a grudging tip of the hat to Doctorow. All of those people did a good thing for a friend in trouble.

When it comes down to it, that is one of the most important things that we can do in this life.


Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
- Otto von Bismarck

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Uplinktruck said...

Hey Satellite,

Your comments are welcome. However the link to your company web site is not. If you wish to comment, that is all well and good. But leave the advertising off. I'm sure you're high enough in the Google search pages without using my blog to help boost that.

As for your comment, I don't think so. In order for the border police to go on trial they have to break the law and be charged with a crime.

When it comes down to it, the law is on their side. In this case it might not be right or just, but that is the way it is.

9:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home