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New Times / Shredder

The following article was posted on December 6th, 2012, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 19

The thug life

It takes a lot to melt my heart like a stick of butter in a frying pan. I’m immune to the stuff that usually gets people’s tear ducts flowing in a sappy and utterly unoriginal emotional display. At weddings I speculate about the date of the couple’s inevitable divorce. At sickbeds, I scour the room for anything valuable I can pocket. And do not even get me started on the subject of births. Disgusting. I even sneer at Hallmark cards. What? I’m a badass.

So it came as something of a shock when an article that popped up in my Facebook newsfeed had me sniffling like a coke addict. A police officer in New York was photographed giving a pair of boots to a homeless man with no shoes. In a better, kinder, fairer world, it wouldn’t be such big news: a cop using his position to improve someone else’s life, a cop actually committed to protecting and serving. But judging by the comments the story generated, the cop’s actions are viewed as a very big deal. People were astonished that there were still cops who cared, who didn’t view homeless people as punching bags or trash littering city streets. That there were cops who did more than wander into bars and mace and Tase peaceful patrons.

That last little line was a jab at you, Morro Bay Police Department, for Corporal Mark Martin’s reported conduct at the Morro Bay Fuel Dock on June 8. To refresh your memory, here’s the story: Brian Lopez Martinez was drinking with friends at the Fuel Dock when Martin insisted—without any apparent cause, as Lopez Martinez was by all accounts behaving peacefully—that Lopez Martinez accompany him outside. Lopez Martinez’s friends warned him that if he went outside, he would be cited for being drunk in public, and he resisted—and was repeatedly maced and Tased by Martin and a second officer, Nicole Canby. And hauled away to jail. Initially, they tried to pin Lopez Martinez with charges of public intoxication, but now he’s being hit with battery (a shoulder-bump) and resisting arrest—you know, the thing cops throw at you when they’ve got nothing else, and probably shouldn’t have tried to arrest you in the first place.

In his reports, Martin insisted that Lopez Martinez had shoulder-bumped him. (Which tends to happen in a small bar, but doesn’t usually result in tasings and pepper spray, and which Lopez Martinez denied and no one else reported witnessing.) Bar staff—who were sober during the incident—insisted that Lopez Martinez was calm when Martin approached him. We could turn to the audio file of the incident—which each officer involved should have. But ever since Lopez Martinez’s attorney requested the audio recordings several months back—you know, ’cause when you’re defending someone, it’s helpful to be able to piece together what really happened—the process has been, let’s just say, dragging along. In fact, as of Dec. 5, the DA’s office had only delivered the recording from one of the Tasers to Lopez Martinez’s attorney.

And what happened to the other recording devices that should have been employed that night? Did they all malfunction? (A car-mounted camera apparently started more than 10 minutes after it should have, revealing little of use.) Or are their contents sluggishly slogging through the police department or district attorney’s office, fermenting when they could be shedding more light on the truth of the night?

To complicate matters (and perhaps explain why Martin was so seemingly hell-bent on arresting Lopez Martinez), word on the street is that Martin’s a little obsessed with Lopez Martinez’s car—a black Camaro. Is having a sports car a crime? To the great relief of balding, middle-aged men everywhere, no, it is not. Is it something of a reach to attribute Martin’s preoccupation with what Lopez Martinez drives to the events that went down that night? Maybe. But it’s a fact that Martin took special notice of Lopez Martinez, even when he was simply driving around town in that car.

And it’s not just Lopez Martinez who seems to have a beef with the police officer. Morro Bay business owners requested that something be done to rein in Martin’s hard-headed behavior. I’m guessing their concern isn’t based on the man’s stellar police work. In fact, he seems to be collectively viewed as over-reaching. So why is the guy who was, as pretty much everyone says, sitting peacefully in a bar drinking with his friends the one on trial? And why do Morro Bay residents tolerate such a bungling—seriously, three officers and maybe, possibly, just a single recording surfacing thus far—and heavy-handed police force?

And Morro Bay is hardly the only city whose police force is far from deserving a standing ovation for protecting and serving. San Luis Obispo police recently paid downtown business owners a visit to offer tips on deterring shoplifters … and to encourage them to report the presence of transients cluttering up city sidewalks. Apparently in honor of the merriest of seasons, our stalwart police force has once again decided to crack down on the city’s homeless. Because the only way to make the holidays more miserable for someone without a home or shelter from the cold weather is to throw in harassment from law enforcement. Why? Because it wouldn’t be fair for poor people to sit on benches and watch the wealthier people do their Christmas shopping. They might clash with the holiday décor.

Maybe the many people critical of local law enforcement aren’t simply thugs with no respect for the justice system. Maybe the cops are the ones to watch out for. ∆

Shredder’s livin’ the thug life. Send brass typewriters to shredder@newtimesslo.com.