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May 18, 2012

Drones, Spitters and Flogging Rooms

Harry M. Covert

We can’t let this week slip by without acknowledging National Police Week. This commemoration and celebration has drawn thousands of policemen/women, sheriff’s deputies, Border Patrol, Secret Service, U. S. Marshals and all types of the law enforcement officers to greater Washington.


The week has included honors for all those who gave their lives in the performance of their sworn duties to protect the public in the past year. Among those heroes remembered was a Maryland state trooper.


I’ve always thought there ought to be code sections in state criminal law that would just be filed as dumb or stupid. These are the types of violations that cause law enforcement the most trouble.


It’s a good thing, too, that use of drones (remote controlled planes and cameras) is being considered for law enforcement. I can hear the squawking about eaves-dropping, especially from speeders and those unsavory characters who are always in trouble.


Until a few years ago, I thought drones were just male bees and wasps. But that leads me to this story. My eclectic career has included a stint as a Virginia magistrate (the Maryland equivalent is court commissioner). Magistrates are judicial officers and the first person arrestees face when apprehended.


On a busy Friday night, a veteran police officer stopped this young driver speeding over 90 mph on the Interstate. Once the car stopped, the driver promptly spit in the policeman’s face, not once but twice. The calm veteran handcuffed the brat (my description), charged him with speeding, put a mask on his face and came to the magistrate’s office. I was on duty.  It was my first experience with spitters.


“A bee keeper,” I asked the officer. “No sir, he’s a spitter.”


The driver made no comment and just grinned.


“Officer, take off his mask,” I said. He was startled that I responded that way. “No, go ahead, take off his mask. Now, if he spits again, knock his teeth down his throat.” I turned away a bit dramatically.


“I won’t spit again, please, don’t let him hit me.” Tears began to flow down his face.


It’s not the duty of a magistrate or commissioner to lecture. I couldn’t resist.


“I’m holding you without bond and I’m adding an assault on a police officer charge.”


The upshot of the story is the “spitter” ended up with a 12-month jail sentence and he had to serve every day.


There was the occasion when a uniformed policewoman brought in a young wife. She had been battered by her husband and had two black eyes, a broken nose and cut lip. The officer explained the situation and a warrant was given for the husband. The wife had disciplined their five-year-old child, sitting him in a high chair and in the corner.


When the 6-foot-5 husband, dressed in a thousand-dollar suit, came home, he didn’t ask what had happened, just smacked around his 5-foot-5 wife, knocking her on the floor and out the front door. Thankfully, neighbors called the police.


I issued warrants. Told the officer to serve the husband for felony domestic assault and bring him in. This was a holiday weekend; the courts would be closed on Monday.


In about an hour, the veteran policewoman brought in an unhappy, cursing husband, handcuffed behind his back. He was threatening everyone in sight.


I read him the charges of the serious assault. He interrupted me. “In my country, we can punish our wives.”


“Well, you’re not in the Middle East, you’re in America. I’m holding you without bond. You’ll appear before a General District Court judge Tuesday.”


The fellow went into a tirade to no avail. I had to call over three big and strong deputy sheriffs to drag him to the booking desk. Four days later, the judge also held him without bond, keeping him in jail for another week. He received another taste of an American jail after his conviction with another 60 days. He should have been flogged.


One more anecdote, please. I heard this commotion at the Alexandria (Va.) jail booking desk one morning. I was nosey and wanted to see the action. Low and behold, it was a guy I knew. “Linwood, what’re you doing,” I yelled as deputies lifted him off the floor. “They’re liable to take you to the flogging room.” Linwood stopped his foolishness and said he was just acting up. Tears welled up in his eyes.


“I don’t want to go to the flogging room.”


“As many times as you’ve been here, you know there’s no such punishment here and never has been.”


I admire the devotion to duty and the daily risk taken by all police officers, deputies, corrections officers. The public owes those men and women respect and honor, not just during this police week, but every day.


Today I wonder how many “knuckleheads” will show up and show off this weekend at the G-8 summit in Thurmont. If they cause any trouble, I’d hold them without bond and let them enjoy wearing jumpsuits, placed in the general jail population and create a “flogging room.”


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