Thursday, November 1, 2012

Police Entrapment is Immoral

When law enforcement engages in entrapment, the officers involved should be prosecuted.

But they are not, probably because law enforcement is a boring profession.  I mean, think about it.  Despite the fact that there are over 10,000 laws on the Federal books alone, not including State-level and County-level laws, there are plenty of crimes to catch people in.  Yet they persist in entrapping people in larger crimes for the purposes of not being bored and feeling good about their jobs because that is the only way they receive validation.

Now, I know that not all cops engage in such illegal behavior, but to be honest it is far too rampant to be ignored.

A good example of this is the tragic case of Salvatore Culosi:

The sad case of Salvatore Culosi provides a recent, vivid illustration of the folly of vice laws. Culosi (as irony would have it, he was named after a police officer) was a 37-year old optometrist in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Fairfax, Virginia. According to friends, Culosi was a wealthy, self-made man. He was easygoing and friendly, a guy who enjoyed his success.

He was also a small-time gambler. Culosi and his friends regularly met at bars in the area to watch sports, and frequently wagered on the outcomes of games. The wagers weren't insignificant -- $50, $100, sometimes more on a given afternoon. But the small circle of friends also had the means to back up their wagers. No one was betting the mortgage, here.

As one friend of Culosi's told me, "To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends...none of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting $50 bucks or so on the Virginia-Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation."

Apparently, it was. Fairfax police detective David J. Baucom met Culosi in a bar one evening last October, befriended him, and was soon making wagers himself. According to those close to Culosi I've spoken with, it wasn't long before Baucom began upping the ante, encouraging Culosi to wager larger sums than what the friends were used to. Baucom would later report in an affidavit that he'd wagered close to $30,000 with Culosi over a three-month period, and had lost nearly $6,000.

Baucom eventually encouraged Culosi to wager at least $2,000 in a single day, the lower threshold under which Culosi could be charged under state law with "conducting an illegal gambling operation." On January 24 of this year, Detective Baucom assembled the Fairfax County SWAT team, and marched off to Culosi's home to arrest him.

According to press accounts, police affidavits, and the resulting investigation by the Fairfax prosecutor's office, Baucom called Culosi that evening, and told him he'd be by to collect his winnings. With the SWAT team at the ready just behind him, Baucom waited outside Culosi's home in an SUV. As Culosi emerged from the doorway, clad only in a t-shirt and jeans, SWAT officer Deval Bullock's finger apparently slipped to the trigger of his Heckler & Koch MP5 semiautomatic weapon, already aimed at the unarmed Culosi.

The gun fired, releasing a bullet that entered Culosi's side, then ripped through his chest and struck his heart, killing him instantly.

Basically, this Detective egged on Culosi to make higher and higher bets in order to entrap him.  In other words, no real crime was being committed until Detective David J. Baucom met up with him.  While it is true that Mr. Culosi could have just walked away from the detective and wanted nothing to do with him, would Mr. Culosi have upped the ante had Det. Baucom not encouraged it?  Also, doesn’t the fact that Det. Baucom engaged in illegal gambling with Mr. Culosi make him an accessory from a moral standpoint.  I understand that some snarky lawyer will say that so long as it was official police business, he wasn’t immune, but what that say about a legal system that allows its officers to break the law and it is okay so long as it is official police duties?

This kind of thing is not isolated to local and state police forces either.   The FBI routinely and wantonly executes entrapment on many of its cases in order to get people locked up for much longer sentence than if they had simply been brought in.  This is not only illegal and immoral, it is also very dangerous.  While I am no conspiracy theorist, I do believe that the infamous Oklahoma City bombing was an undercover operation gone bad.  The FBI had agents inside McVeigh’s group (this is all documented) and they were probably looking to catch him in the act.  Unfortunately, they did not get to him in time, unlike the infamous Guy Fawkes.

Even if the scenario I described about McVeigh and the OK City bombing isn’t true and everything the government said is true (because that always happens), you would have to agree that any law enforcement agency who is seeking to entrap a terrorist who is assembling a dirty bomb would be a risky operation at best.

As for the sad case of Salvatore Culosi, know that none of the officers involved were ever suspended, fired, or held criminally liable for Culosi’s death.  His family, however, did win a wrongful death lawsuit against Fairfax County to the tune of 2 million dollars.  If there was any justice in this world left, it would have been taken out of Detective David Baucum’s retirement pension and garnished from his salary, not the taxpayers of Fairfax County.

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