July 31, 2011

Contempt of Cop: Concealed Carry Division

In an article the good folks at Pajamas Media were kind enough to publish on July 16, I addressed the issue of police officers around the nation arresting and even beating citizens for lawfully photographing them as they go about their official, public duties. The following two paragraphs are from that article and apply directly to the subject of this post as well.

“Contempt of cop” is a play on words of the common legal term “contempt of court.” The latter refers to a judge holding someone responsible for conduct — usually in the courtroom — that is disrespectful or disruptive, that reflects blatant contempt for the law, the judge and his lawful authority. The former is similar. It refers to a cop’s reaction to the same kind of behavior by a citizen in their presence. In the best sense of the term, an officer’s attention will be attracted by someone who goes out of their way to irrationally and unnecessarily antagonize a police officer in a public setting. In such circumstances, it would be foolish for a police officer to allow that person to go unpunished lest their behavior encourage others to insult, even attack other officers.

Contempt of cop also applies to the worst instincts some police officers develop. In those cases, officers become “badge-heavy,” they begin to take matters personally. They become hypersensitive to any insult, real or imagined. They don’t consider the elements of the law, they take offense, act first and make up the rest later. Such officers are unpredictable and dangerous, not only to the public, but to their fellow officers who know that the bad will of the public is cumulative. Abuse the citizenry enough, and the officers who suffer for it — and some will suffer — will often be professionals, men and women of good will undeserving of their fates.

To this I would add one other simple fact of American policing: any and every rational officer must assume that any and every person with whom they have contact could be carrying a concealed weapon. This was so even in the years before most states allowed concealed carry, and since only Illinois does not allow it in any way, it remains an even sounder practice—even in Illinois. Most officers know that they will be speaking with people who are legally armed at any time. They also know that these people are thoroughly vetted by the state and are among the most law- abiding people in society. Every rational officer knows that they have less to fear from these people than almost any other class of citizens, and should have no surprise or anger when they do come into contact with them.

On June 8, 2011 in Canton, Ohio Officer Daniel Harless of the Canton Police Department was involved in one of the most egregious examples of Contempt of Cop I've ever seen. Go here for that article and video, and here for a related article. It was compounded in July by lawyer and Canton City Council President Allen Shulman who obviously has little respect for the Constitution, and less for anyone living outside Canton who dares to express an opinion. The links in this paragraph will take you to the police dash-cam footage of Officer Harless, and to the audio of Mr. Shulman's comments. Both speak, in many ways, for themselves.

The police video begins with Officer Harless stopping, in what is apparently a high-crime neighborhood, to investigate a parked car and three people. There is nothing obviously wrong with the officer's approach or his demeanor in speaking with the three people, one of who, apparently a known prostitute, is standing to the rear of the right side of the parked car. As he approaches, he orders the two people in the car to stay in the car. For the next five minutes he begins to threaten to jail everyone, yet there is no apparent violation of any law. He does not approach or directly speak to the driver until about 6:05 into the 17+ minute video. That's when the contempt of cop occurs, but not in the way a reasonable person might imagine.

Ordering the driver—William Bartlett--out of the car, Off. Harless begins aggressively questioning him (Bartlett immediately tried to tell Harless he was carrying a concealed weapon but Harless shut him off) and almost immediately accuses him of lying, despite there being no obvious evidence or indicator of deception. Within seconds, Bartlett tells Off. Harless that he has a concealed carry permit, and raises both of his hands. Harless immediately loses his temper and begins screaming at him. He grabs his right side—which Bartlett immediately tells him is his handgun, removes it, and another officer rushes over and handcuffs Bartlett, who is completely inoffensive, saying "yes sir" and "no sir" throughout the video despite being vilely insulted and repeatedly threatened by the officer.

Bartlett has clearly committed contempt of cop, apparently because he did not immediately inform Harless of his concealed carry status as required by Ohio law. Remember that Bartlett was obeying the orders of the officer to stay in his car, and that he did inform him within seconds of his first opportunity to speak with the officer. This obviously means nothing to the officer who is raging angry and screaming, calling Bartlett "stupid," and "an idiot," among other insults. Among the officer's early, screaming utterances:

"I could blast you right in the mouth!"

"I'm so close to caving in your goddamned head!"

"Talkin' to me with a fuckin' gun!"

"People like you don't deserve to move through fuckin' public; stupid idiot!"

Off. Harless aggressively grabs Bartlett by his handcuffs—officers know that this is painful and intimidating—and roughly jerks him back to his patrol car. It appears, from the sounds and from what is being said, that he is not gentle in putting Bartlett in the back of his patrol car, where he continues to loudly berate him.

At about 11:00 into the video, the dispatcher can be heard telling Harless that Bartlett has a concealed carry license. Harless did run his license plate earlier. It is not known why the dispatcher did not tell him this earlier.

Bartlett is still very polite, obviously afraid of Harless, who escalates to threatening to kill him, saying that he could have pulled out his "Glock 40" and shot him ten times. There was, of course, absolutely no justification for the use of deadly force. In fact, there was no justification for arresting Bartlett, but Harless continued:

"And he [referring to his fellow officer] would have been a nice witness as I executed you because you're stupid!"

For a time, Harless speaks to his fellow officer who appears to be trying to calm Harless down, and obviously remembers what Harless does not: they're being recorded. During the course of the incident, that officer does only what he must, being very quiet and engaging in no unprofessional conduct, and is careful not to turn his face toward the camera. Harless continues to loudly and angrily insult Bartlett, swearing broadly. Toward the end of the tape, he returns to Bartlett, threatens to charge him with felonies, and continues his tirade, threatening to harass him without cause whenever he sees him in the future:

"I'm going to pull that car over, tow it, and you’re going to jail every time."

This is one of the most badge-heavy officers I've ever had the misfortune to see. His actions and emotional state are far out of proportion to the situation. He allowed a completely non-threatening situation involving a very polite and cooperative citizen who was doing nothing more than exercising a fundamental Constitutional right and doing his best to obey Ohio law—which he did at the earliest reasonable opportunity—to send him into a dangerous and towering rage. He took personally what no officer should take personally.

Until Officer Harless lost control of himself, he was obviously behaving reasonably and professionally. It might have even been within the reasonable boundaries of professional discretion to handcuff Bartlett for the purpose of searching him for additional weapons, and perhaps even seating him in a patrol car only long enough to be sure that there were no outstanding warrants. If there were none, the reasonable thing to do would have been to explain, sincerely apologize and release him. However he compounded his grossly unprofessional behavior by arresting Bartlett, charging him with failing to tell him about his concealed carry permit, and with parking on the street. Clearly, he acted first and made up the charges later.

Many across the nation have called for the firing of Officer Harless. Based only on this incident, that would probably be excessive. If, however, Off. Harless has a history of such behavior firing might be warranted. If not, any responsible police supervisor or administrator should take great care to be certain that Off. Harless will never again behave so irrationally--for very obvious reasons--before allowing him to have contact with the public. The only good thing that can be said about his behavior in this incident is that he did not step over the line of overtly and brutally assaulting Bartlett—or worse. Even so, a false arrest is, in fact, an assault, as I suspect Off. Harless and the Canton PD will soon—to their dismay—discover. Anyone viewing the video might be forgiven for thinking that he was frequently very close to stepping over that line.

There is one additional issue that the Canton Chief of Police—or any police executive--should consider. With this video in the public domain, Off. Harless will be forever uniquely vulnerable to charges of harassment and abuse of his authority. Every police officer knows that some citizens, and unscrupulous attorneys, will lie about their actions, falsely accusing them of all manner of misconduct. Off. Harless has done something quite remarkable: created the presumption that he is out of control and abusive. Sadly, he has also tainted every professional police officer.

I should address two issues that Daniel Zimmerman at "The Truth About Guns" (the first link) slightly misstated. The brief search of the car depicted in the video was not obviously illegal. Officers do have the power to search vehicles under such circumstances for their protection, subject to some specific limitations. I was concerned that the officers did not remove the driver before conducting the search, as not only does the law allow this, but leaving anyone in a car you're searching is, to say the least, foolish and dangerous. In fact, had they removed the driver, he would almost certainly have informed them earlier that he was armed, though it's far from certain that Off. Harless would have reacted less explosively.

The other issue is that of Miranda. Simply being arrested is not a trigger for the reading of Miranda. Miranda applies only in cases of "custodial interrogation," which means that the person is under arrest and officers are questioning them with the goal of obtaining incriminating evidence. Even if officers don't mirandize under those situations, it means only that incriminating statements will usually be excluded from court. Miranda is not an automatic get out of jail free card.

Canton Police Chief Dean McKimm seems to be on the right track. He has suspended Harless, who has worked for the Canton PD for 14 years, and an investigation is being completed. Chief McKimm said:

“I think it’s important for citizens to understand that the behavior demonstrated on the video is wholly unacceptable, and it violates many of our rules, our regulations and standards we demand of our officers."

He also said:

“The city administration, in conjunction with the police department, recognizes the seriousness of this matter."

While the administration of the City of Canton may well recognize the seriousness of the issue, there appears to be considerable doubt in that regard about Canton City Council President Allen Shulman, who will almost certainly not be nominated for Chamber of Commerce business and tourism promotion awards for the foreseeable future. Those listening to his statement will likely hear what I heard: self-righteous indignation and arrogant condescension.

Mr. Schulman seems particularly incensed about three things:

(1) That anyone dare criticize Canton City government or any of its branches for its apparent slowness in dealing with this case.

(2) That anyone not a resident of Canton level any criticism or indeed, even venture an opinion.

(3) That any unwashed bumpkin be allowed to carry a concealed weapon, which as every civilized, enlightened being—such as Allen Schulman—knows will inevitably lead to chaos and mayhem.

But Mr. Schulman--who is a Democrat--is not against guns, no. He said:

"For those people who are going to say I am against guns, I am not against handguns, I’m not against people that hunt with weapons, but we all should believe in common sense, reasonable gun control laws that don’t allow this kind of thing to happen at 1:30 in the morning in a crime-ridden neighborhood with prostitution and drugs while we sit every week and listen to our citizens say, ‘we want to be protected.’

Well, we are being protected. And I know the police department and the safety director and the mayor will investigate this thoroughly. And that’s one of the benefits of having a video that allows our citizens some transparency as to what happens in these stops. But these laws are completely insane."

Let's set aside, for the moment, the fact that everywhere concealed carry has been in effect—and that's most of America—violent crime has decreased and the kinds of shootouts and mayhem anti-gun advocates have predicted have simply failed to materialize. Concealed carry licensees are among the most law-abiding, responsible people in America. Considering that in order to received their licenses they must spend considerable time and money and be thoroughly vetted by the state, this is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that Mr. Schulman--attorney Schulman--is apparently unaware of this commonly known reality.

Consider too attorney Schulman's apparent inability to process logic. If given a choice about the best and most rational time and place in which to carry a concealed handgun, and those choices were: (A) In a crime-ridden neighborhood with prostitution and drugs at 1:30 in the morning, or (B) In a completely safe neighborhood at 1:30 in the afternoon, who would not choose "A"? Apparently Mr. Schulman would not. Mr. Schulman believes that the laws that allow honest citizens to carry concealed weapons "are completely insane." He also believes that the people of Canton, OH are "being protected." Again, Lawyer Schulman apparently does not know that the police have no legal duty or obligation to protect any individual citizen (US Supreme Court: Castlerock v. Gonzales), or perhaps he simply doesn't want the citizens of Canton to know that.

Given the opportunity to speak for the City of Canton, Mr. Schulman does not address the actual issues, he does not reassure the citizenry that they have nothing to fear from their police force, but takes the opportunity to berate citizens who dared to contact an elected official to express their concerns, and engaged in an anti-Constitution, anti-gun tirade. I suspect that a great many Americans would believe that it is Mr. Schulman's thinking and those who mirror that way of thinking that is "completely insane." I also suspect that enough citizens of Canton, OH might share my suspicion to see that Mr. Schulman is denied further opportunities to embarrass their fair city at the next electoral opportunity.

I will, by the way, as a public service, and no doubt, to greatly annoy Mr. Schulman, send him a link to this article. Should he respond, I'll be happy to print his response in its entirety.

There are a number of lessons inherent in this sorry situation. It remains to be seen whether they are taken to heart. They are:

(1) Such notification laws are of no practical use. Not only do they not protect police officers, but they allow out of control officers like Daniel Harless protected means of harassing the law abiding. Any competent officer should assume that anyone with whom they interact could be armed. In addition, computer records should indicate any citizen with a state issued license.

(2) In cases like this where it is more than obvious that the officers involved exceeded their lawful authority, all charges against those they mistreated should be immediately dropped by the prosecutor involved. That has apparently not yet been done in this case. There is no excuse for causing innocent citizens falsely arrested to go through the trouble and expense of having to go before a judge—even for arraignment—for the charges to be dropped.

(3) Politicians should follow Abraham Lincoln's advice: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt."

Posted by MikeM at July 31, 2011 11:32 PM

The American police state jumped the shark long ago, going from "protect and serve" to "punish and suppress". I've long said I've never seen the policeman that I was glad to see, just the feeling of dread, suspicion, and distrust. The whole barrel has become so rotten that even the one or two good ones are covered with the filth. Police mirror the tyranny and arrogance of government we have come to know.

Posted by: twolaneflash at August 1, 2011 07:53 AM

I would disagree with your contention that the officer acted "professionally" for the first six minutes. Utterly ignoring the driver of the vehicle -- especially while rooting around in the back seat while the driver sat in the driver's seat -- was grossly negligent. At least, to this non-officer.

And I would also say the cop has to go. As you noted, he's forever tainted by this video, and is "damaged goods." Further, I find his conduct -- especially the all-too-plausible threats to commit murder -- utterly unacceptable. I'm willing to cut police a bit of slack in some areas, but that also comes with far less slack in others. And in this area, that's just too much.

For the record, I have greatly appreciated your insights and analysis, especially on the Vegas case. And I don't like having to disagree with you here. But I gotta.


Posted by: Jay Tea at August 1, 2011 10:20 AM


I disagree with your statement that firing Harless based on this incident is unwarranted. The linked article says officer Harless as had 16 complaints since 2000. I'm not a cop but that sounds a bit excessive. What say you?
You can tell in the video when Harless realizes that he screwed the pooch. He only "discovers" the concealed handgun AFTER he's allowed his partner to search the vehicle with the heinous malefactor/evildoer (CHL holder) still inside. He knows that this mistake could have been fatal for his partner if a differen sort of person had that weapon. His ego and idiocy have endangered his partner and his judgement has proven to be faulty. Again I'm not a cop, but I wouldn't want that idiot as a partner my life depended on. My wife wouldn't want that idiot as a partner my life depended on. Then he compounds his actions with abusing some hapless civillian in an obvious attempt to deflect responsibility. This is notably all the while he's out there "protecting and serving" said hapless civillians. That's TWO SERIOUS ERRORS OF JUDGEMENT by my count. Care to reconsider your opinion of Officer Harless?
**This IS a test....

Posted by: Barney at August 1, 2011 10:59 AM

Having read other reports of this incident, my understanding is that it is an indication of that part of Ohio's cop culture in general, and that particular force is rife with the same attitude.

Posted by: PurpleDragon at August 1, 2011 11:15 AM

Question: Aren't the threats that the officer made regarding causing physical injury/killing the man illegal? If I threatened my neighbor with such language would I not be subject to arrest? This story seems so outrageous to me. Am I missing something?

Posted by: carol at August 1, 2011 01:11 PM

Dear Jay Tea , Barney and Carol:

You'll notice that I wrote that firing Harless based only on this incident might be excessive. As you've noted, one accompanying link suggests that he might have had similar difficulties in the past, but because I have no idea if that is accurate, or if it is, what those difficulties might have been, it's not reasonable to consider them just now. By the way, my assertion that Harless acted properly for the first six minutes was based primarily on the fact that he seemed to be in control of himself and was not overtly abusing anyone or his authority. Remember, he had one other officer covering him, even if he was not visible to the dashboard mounted camera at all times. Threatening, during that time, to take everyone to jail might not have been the sharpest tactic in the toolbox, but it wasn't completely out of line.

You'll also notice that I wrote that it was foolish and dangerous for the officer accompanying Harless to search the car while Bartlett was still in the vehicle, and also noted that the officers had the authority to remove him before the search. I know that had I been backing Harless on this call, I would have separated him from Bartlett and taken him out of camera range to try to calm him down.

I'm not sure that Harless blew up because he realized that he made a mistake in not immediately ensuring that no one in the car posed a potential threat, so I didn't explore that theory. You might be right in that assertion, but there's no real way to be sure.

Generally speaking, assault and battery is a two part offense. The assault is the threat, the delivery of the intention to harm, and the battery is the actual infliction of harm. Whether Off. Harless broke any law by repeatedly threatening Bartlett would depend entirely upon the specific language of the applicable local and state laws. I'm not familiar with those laws and chose not to pursue that issue. There are other laws that might be applicable such as disturbing the peace, but again, I'd have to review the specific language of any laws to have any reasonable opinion.

Folks, you'll also notice that I wrote that Harless is, by his own efforts, damaged goods. As a police supervisor, I would be hesitant to fire an officer with 14 years on the force based only on this incident. Perhaps he was under some serious stress from his family, or some other issue. Police officers are human and have to be able to make mistakes without being fired--as long as the mistakes are not too serious or occur too often. If this incident represents a pattern of behavior for Harless, then I would very likely have to fire him, but again, I don't have the information I need to make that kind of determination.

My guess? Harless will be fired. This situation has drawn too much attention to the Canton PD.

Well, what do you think? Did I pass the test?

Posted by: Mike Mc at August 1, 2011 01:37 PM

Officer Harless threatened a law-abiding citizen with death, while stating quite plainly and on camera that the murder would be quietly covered up. For that reason alone, the officer should be summarily terminated from his position (although I would not support voiding his pension).

We hire police officers to be sheep dogs, not wolves.

Posted by: Georg Felis at August 1, 2011 03:21 PM

Here's the history I think you already suspect existed:

There's certainly more that hasn't been recorded, since one of his reprimands from earlier was failing to run the dash cam in a contact that resulted in a complaint of excessive force.

Posted by: Phelps at August 1, 2011 03:43 PM

Mike, there is no "test." Just a respectful (I hope) disagreement. Hell, I cheerfully lifted your "damaged goods" argument!

You were one of the first people I thought of when I first saw that video, and greatly appreciate your analysis. I just disagree with your conclusion.


Posted by: Jay Tea at August 1, 2011 04:09 PM

Dear Jay Tea:

No offense taken at all! We really do appreciate honest, civil debate here. We also know that with any article, at some point we have to stop and post it, so we can't anticipate or address every issue.

Regarding Off. Harless, his behavior made me suspect it wasn't his first time, but even with the article I linked, I did not have sufficient information to argue for his firing. We do owe the police a competent, unemotional review of their actions when complaints are raised. We also have to be aware that with the Internet, actions that in the past would have simply been handled on the local level can become international news in minutes. In that process, it is sometimes easy to rush to judgement.

I'm not the least afraid to call for punitive action when it is clearly warranted, and some kind of action--significant action--is clearly warranted in this case. However, in this particular case, I simply don't know enough to know that firing would be the correct call.

Thanks again for your comments, and by all means, test away!

Posted by: Mike Mc at August 1, 2011 04:23 PM

I apologize for a delayed reply. I seem to have a life. Our life experiences differ some, I imagine. Perhaps he was a better Marine than he was a cop. But, as a former supervisor of men relying on other men to perform a delicate, complex task in moments of extreme personal danger, I'd of personally bounced his ass in a heartbeat.

Anyhoo, Mike, with full realization that this is an imperfect medium for communicating clearly and being a victim of only the sources you cite, and not being up on police procedures, I could not and should not give you a score. The test was not for Me to grade...


Posted by: Barney at August 2, 2011 10:41 PM

Hi Mike,

I am a big fan of your writing, but I'm afraid I strongly disagree with your take on this. I've always found you thoughtful.

Death threats to a restrained prisoner should ALWAYS be IMMEDIATE cause for considering termination of a police officer. He should obviously benefit from due process, and have the right to appeal. You want to give him how many chances? By all means, give him a medical retirement, but the streets are less safe with this individual working on them. Time to get him off them.

Look at it the other way. If a civilian inflicted this experience on a police officer, what result would you expect? If a civilian inflicted this experience on another civilian?

Posted by: Dead Dog Bounce at August 3, 2011 08:18 AM

Like others, I have to disagree - this incident does rise to the level of "immediate termination".

Taken by themselves, the death threats to a restrained prisoner are oblique enough to potentially escape that judgment, but his overt threat to harass and wrongfully arrest a citizen every time he sees him - even if the threat itself is not a criminal act - has tainted his credibility forever. I can just about guarantee you that every defense and civil rights attorney in Ohio has saved a copy of that video, just in case they get a client who was arrested by this clown.

Combine that with the video of the other incident, and all I can say is God forbid he ever actually has to shoot someone. No matter how justified it is he and the department will be crucified, because he sure looks like he's just waiting for a reason to kill someone, and any attorney will make that crystal clear to a jury.

Additionally, (unless I missed it) I note that you didn't address his direct threat to physically assault the woman when he tells her to leave. I believe his exact words were "If I see you again, I'll put lumps on you!"

I don't care that he's a police officer - that is a criminal threat to commit battery. He should be fired and facing charges for that alone, completely independent of anything else he did in that video.

Posted by: Jake at August 3, 2011 09:16 AM