Arrested in Birmingham for charges of robbery and ethics violations, a former police officer is facing down the loss of his reputation, his career and his freedom.
Precious little is know at this point about what actually transpired. The media has so far reported that the officer was reportedly off-duty when the alleged crimes occurred.
The officer is said to have committed two robberies in which cash was stolen, although the exact amount was not released. One of those occurred in the early morning hours of July 13th and the second occurred in the early morning hours of July 17th. Both occurred in the same area and involved the same victim.
In a statement later given to media, the police chief would not reveal whether the two parties knew one another, but did say that the alleged victim was aware that the person robbing him was a Birmingham police officer.
The victim filed a report with the police department, and detectives reportedly uncovered additional evidence that appeared to back the victim’s claim, though authorities have not yet disclosed the nature of that evidence.
The officer did not use a firearm in the course of the alleged crimes, but the chief pointed out that the fact that he was a known police officer could be interpreted as evidence of force.
The officer resigned just prior to his arrest.
First-degree robbery, per Alabama Code 13A-8-41, is defined as robbery when the person is armed with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or when the victim is made to believe the person has a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. It’s a Class A felony, punishable by up to life in prison.
Alabama Code Chapter 25 governs the code of ethics for public officials and employees. We don’t know what specific ethics charges the officer is accused of violating, but we do know that there are provisions against use of official position or office for personal gain, which might apply in this situation. Additionally, all sworn officers swear to abide by the state’s code of ethics, which includes promises to keep one’s private life “unsullied as an example to all and behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to my agency.”
In giving a statement to the media following the arrest, the Birmingham police chief made it a point to indicate that the “vast majority” of police officers working for the agency “work diligently to make the city a safer place.”
Cases like this, however, show us that blindly accepting the word of a police officer in criminal proceedings is dangerous. It’s true that no organization can be perfect. However, juries and judges still tend to lend more weight to the testimony of officers in court. Cases like this reveal why that approach is flawed.
Just take a look at the findings of the Denver city officials in 2011, who found that one out of every 17 police officers on the force had some type of serious discipline issue that had an impact on the credibility of their testimony.
As in Denver, there is no system here in Birmingham to alert defendants when an officer is under investigation for offenses such as lying or criminal acts that could cast a pall on the officer’s courtroom credibility. Having an attorney who is diligent and mindful of this possibility in your case could mean the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.