Friday, March 13, 2009

Union County Confidential

By now, everyone except three guys living in a capsule on the sea floor know that former Creston PD officers Sickels and Christiansen were convicted of second degree sex abuse in a trial that was moved to Woodbury County.

Several thoughts come to mind.

One, it's a bad day for law enforcement in that the perception of abuse of power and unfairness that a lot of people have has just received some believability-in particular among traditionally underserved groups.

That's a bad, bad thing. Some folks will see a rapist behind every badge.

It's also a bad day for Sickels and Christiansen, who are almost certainly going to do time over this. Sexual abuse in the second degree is a Class B felony and it is required that the offender serve 70 per cent of a 25 year sentence if my understanding is correct.

Doing time for a former police officer convicted of a sexual offense is not my idea of a great way to spend the next seventeen and a half years.

It goes without saying that it's a bad day for their victim. I suspect that nobody ever really recovers completely from such a thing. The effect is, as a witness in one of my cases once said, "like a slow bomb-the first thing it does is kill everything and everyone around it."

Second of all, as an attorney and former prosecutor I know that what a jury hears and sees is about 50 per cent of what's really there. The rules of evidence serve to limit the introduction of otherwise probative evidence for reasons that are, well, kind of silly but hoary with age and bedecked with mostly undeserved honors.

Third of all, there are only three people who really know what happened that night at the closed bar in the Crestmoor Country Club-maybe four, if either of these fellows is a practicing Catholic familiar with the sacraments.

I'm not one of them and neither are you, and all we really know is that whatever happened was awful and tawdry and horrifying on every level imaginable.

Fourth of all, I often wonder at the advisability of changes of venue in such cases. I don't care who you are, in small towns there's always someone who thinks someone else is trash and got exactly what they deserved. Move the trial and you lose those people. On the other hand, if you did what they say you did, you might well have done it before, and you risk having people with knowledge of that sitting on your jury. One also wonders whether these two were asleep at the wheel when the part about "I want a lawyer" was covered in class and how all questioning must thereafter cease.

The flopping sound you hear is Ernesto Miranda rolling over in his grave at about 700 rpm. It doesn't speak well for their acuity in matters criminal, and they probably could have learned a few things from some of Union County's artful dodgers and master practitioners of the criminal arts.

But nevermind.

One thing's for certain here, and that is that as my used car salesman friend John says "For most people, perception is the same thing as reality." He's sold a lot of cars with that knowledge, too.

The damage is done, it's going to take a long time to earn back the confidence and trust of the public, and that can only be done, if ever, with good works, absolute honesty, transparency, humility, inclusiveness in the 'boyz club' and avoidance of even the appearance of impropriety.

A down payment on the accountability's already there, as we've just seen.

But this is the beginning of a long hard road for a lot of people who didn't deserve this.

Photo courtesy Getty Images.


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