Back in the mid-90s, when I was a fed, I was making some DEA agents and local Sheriffs happy by taking seriously their investigation of a relatively low-level drug trafficking organization. I was helping them with warrants, doing some grand jury work, flipping low-level mopes, that sort of thing. Nobody else was taking them particularly seriously.
So when I got them a search warrant for the ranch of one of the lead targets of the investigation, they were thrilled with me. "Ken," they say, "we've arranged air support for this operation. So we want to have you picked up on top of one of the buildings downtown in one of the Sheriff's helicopters, give you a raid jacket, and have you come along on the search to run a command center on the ground and trouble-shoot any legal issues with the search."
HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN, my 26-year-old self thought. (Yes, I was a 26-year-old federal prosecutor. Defense attorney hand-wringing — which annoyed me at the time, but which I now join — goes here.) A helicopter raid! A raid jacket! A COMMAND CENTER! They'll probably give me a gun. You know, in case any shit goes down.
But even at 26 I had a certain rudimentary old-mannish quality, and it occurred to me to ask — does that sound too good? So during lunch I wandered into the office of the U.S. Attorney– who had been my supervisor in rookie row not long before — to talk about it.
He listened sympathetically. Then he told me. "Ken," he told me, "if your reaction to a proposal is "HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN," then as a government lawyer and member of law enforcement, you almost certainly shouldn't be doing it."
It was a hard rule, but one that served me well for the rest of my government career. It helped me avoid some foolish cinematic flourishes, some bad but tempting decisions, and some social events. (Take, for instance, the local ATF's notorious big-guns-and-barbecue-in-the-desert gatherings. Holy shit, that sounds like fun, doesn't it? Yeah. Never attend a desert barbecue-and-gun-extravaganza by a federal agency that vacillates between "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUCK YEAH" and "Hey guys, watch this!" as a motto.)
Regrettably, many in law enforcement do not follow this simple rule. So some cops can be induced to do extremely foolish things — things that will shatter the constitutional rights of citizens, things that will expose them to vast liability, things that will threaten innocents with death — while under the influence of toys, cameras, celebrities, and tactical plans that wouldn't make the table read in an A-Team sequel.
Hence, as Patrick pointed out, cops under the influence of cameras, celebrity, and the opportunity to drive a tank (WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAA!) will decide that it is appropriate to raid a suspected cock-fighting operation with roughly the amount of force typically reserved to take a Pacific atoll from Imperial Japan. And now, via Radley Balko, I see that it is getting them in (entirely predictable) trouble, along with the highly irritable and oddly puffy Steven Seagal.
To our friends in law enforcement, here is a perfect application of the "Holy Shit" rule: if Steven Seagal asks you if you will stage a cock-fighting raid with a tank for the benefit of his reality show, if you have a badge, then you say no.
No, don't thank me. I'm just glad I could help.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War" - January 13th, 2016
- Lawyering Is About Service, Not Self-Actualization - January 11th, 2016
- Lawsplainer: Was FAU Prof. James Tracy Fired in Violation of His First Amendment Rights? - January 7th, 2016
- Defy, Defy, Defy. - January 7th, 2016
- President Obama And The Rhetoric Of Rights - January 5th, 2016