A Rickety, Wooden Story
Deputies Jeremy Freeman and Trevor Vander Veen should be in hot water. Their actions in tasering, arresting, and charging Brian Wiederspohn with assault have gotten their employer, the Whatcom County, Washington Sheriff's Department, socked with a $500,000 judgment for false arrest and malicious prosecution. But that's no skin off the deputies' noses. The judgment will be satisfied by taxpayers, and neither deputy has been charged with a crime, lost his job, or even been disciplined.
Despite attempting to frame an innocent man.
Despite tasering an an innocent man.
And despite lying about their actions in court.
On December 28, 2004 Freeman and Vander Veen paid a visit to Brian Wiederspohn's home to arrest Wiederspohn's daughter's boyfriend. They had an arrest warrant, but not a search warrant, which the law required in order for the deputies to enter Wiederspohn's house without the owner's permission. Confronting Wiederspohn at the door, they asked to enter anyway, and were refused.
Stories differ at that point on what happened next. Freeman claims that he put his foot in Wiederspohn's doorway (to balance on a "rickety, wooden stairway" outside the door) and Wiederspohn slammed the door on Freeman's foot. (Wiederspohn claims Freeman just cold-cocked him, Vander Veen tasered him, and the two arrested him.) In any case, Freeman and Vander Veen tasered and beat up Wiederspohn, hauled him to jail, and had him charged with assaulting an officer. Both filed incident reports, specifically mentioning the "rickety, wooden stairway," and claiming that Wiederspohn made the first move.
Both were lying.
In fact, Wiederspohn's house didn't have a "rickety, wooden stairway" outside the front door. It had a solid, concrete ramp. This discrepancy can't be explained by faulty memory. Freeman and Vander Veen had to have known this when they filed their reports, or they wouldn't have come up with the same error. And that little detail is important. Without some excuse, such as a wooden stairway so rickety the deputies were afraid of falling, neither man had any business putting a foot in the doorway after Wiederspohn told them to leave, absent a warrant.
They repeated this lie at Wiederspohn's criminal trial, but didn't convince a jury, which acquitted the defendant.
And they repeated it in depositions during Wiederspohn's civil suit, until they were shown photos of the house, and its solid, concrete ramp. Finally, they admitted their … error.
That the discrepancy was a "lapse in memory" didn't go over too well with the civil jury either, which found both officers had violated Wiederspohn's rights, falsely arresting him and maliciously prosecuting him without cause. Though the Judge in that case hasn't acted on the lie, nor has the Sheriff of Whatcom County, the jurors obviously saw what was going on. That may explain why in addition to compensatory damages, the jury assessed punitive damages as well.
I believe this sort of thing happens all the time. Anyone who has spent much time around a courthouse will, if he's behing honest, tell you the same. Cops lie and secure convictions based on false testimony all the time. It's just that they're not often caught. They're generally much more accomplished liars than Freeman and Vander Veen. It didn't take a Perry Mason to break these liars.
And it's a scandal. We, the public, tell ourselves that we guarantee criminal defendants procedural fairness, that it's better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be punished. In the case of cops, that's the truth. Cops are almost never punished for filing false reports, or for lying on the stand, even when judges and attorneys know that's what's going on. I'll lay odds that Freeman and Vander Veen are never prosecuted or punished in any way for their false statements. Only the taxpayers of Whatcom County will pay for this.
In the case of everyone else, that's not true. Jurors often don't apply the same standards in assessing a lying cop's credibility that they would to other witnesses. Prosecutors and judges look the other way. Legislatures don't enact special punishments for cops who break the public trust. We'd all rather just not think about what's behind the thin blue line.
A bumper sticker common in my hippie southern town reads, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." I'd agree, and add that if you don't pay attention to a criminal justice system that tolerates the likes of Jeremy Freeman and Trevor Vander Veen, you have no right to be outraged when it happens to you.
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