Thursday, April 17, 2008

the bad seed...

the story of michael "tiny" branham runs completely counter to some of my recent posts that while focusing on and rantingly critical of frivilous and botched warrants, were somewhat protective and apologetic regarding the individual cops...but not all of them; not the bad seeds...

because some individual cops are like tiny branham...

tiny...he was about 6'2" and 350lbs...was a cop for years in the little town a few miles north of sebring, florida where my pawn and gun shop was located.

at one time he wanted to buy my shop and i was thinking about selling it to move my family back to west palm he visited me several times, talking about the price, the terms, and other related details.

he was loud, jovial, and pretty likable...but i could not shake an unexplained bad vibe that i kept sensing down deep inside every time i spent time with him.

on one of tiny's visits, he picked up one of those new superpowered slingshots from my shelf, the kind with the wrist brace and surgical tubing for the bands...they called them wristrockets, and that they were; extremely powerful and accurate for a pretty good distance...he bought it and when i asked why, he narrowed his eyes and smirked "probable cause"...huh? and he explained...

he was heading a dope unit in his town and they surveilled known drug-selling areas...but even though they knew tha cars coming and going from some of the locations would contain freshly-bought dope, they needed a pretext to pull them over so as not to be accused of "profiling". so, tiny said, he planned to use the slingshot to fire a small ball bearing at the windshields of cars he wanted to stop, cracking it, and using the cracked windshield as the reported reason for the initial stop...knowing that would give his guys the chance to run the dog by the car to alert for the dope inside...ingenious, yes? but crooked as hell, and it was an indicator of how tiny thought and performed his job...the end justified the means, and to hell with everything else.

tiny was married to a prominent local private attorney; she held the purse strings, and she refused to let tiny buy my shop...and there is no doubt that that refusal, along with what apparently was a pattern of janette brabham trying to keep tiny's increasingly spendthrift habits and wants (lots of guns, a harley, etc.) under control, helped to breed and grow the resentment and aggressive, erratic behavior that would eventually lead to tiny's losing his job (medical reasons were given, but it was common knowledge that tiny's bosses were looking for a reason to get rid of him and his loose cannon tactics on the job).

and after that, as time went on and with no convenient outlet through which to vent, tiny's already unstable mind deteriorated further, he developed an outlaw attitude and appearance...his hair and beard grew long and wild, and his treatment of janette grew more and more hostile and abusive.

until one day in july of 2005, after janette had once again nixed the purchase of some overpriced toy that tiny demanded she give him the money for, he finally imploded, and sat in the dark in their home waiting for janette to return home from an outing with a friend...and when she came in the door, tiny and his glock .40 pistol were deliberate, measured shot after another until 13 rounds had been fired, those 13 rounds signigying 13 years of marriage, found their target...and janette lay dead on the floor.

tiny tried halfheartedly to claim self defense, that janette came home angry after having some drinks, and came at him with scissors...but with 13 rounds fired, and forensics showing that tiny was advancing closer to janette as he continued firing, there was little doubt who was the aggressor, and after two years of preparation and five days of trial, it took the jurors less than thirty minutes to reach their conclusion, and their verdict...

tiny was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole...and of course that is where he belongs, but janette knew something like this might happen, she had voiced her fears to friends and relatives, but continued to love tiny for the man he was when she fell for him long ago, that is where she made her fatal mistake, and that is the point of my story here...

because tiny's mental stability may have deteriorated over the years to the point where he committed such a crime against his own wife, but the seeds of rogue injustice and callous disregard for rights, law, and morality lay dormant in tiny for years prior to this final violent act, and it is a failure of the screening and training system of law enforcement that allowed him to be a cop in the first place, and that job fed and encouraged his personal belief that he was somehow superior to the people he was sworn to serve, and that the end justified his means.

the case of michael "tiny" branham must certainly be an extreme one...but to what degree does the type of mindset that progresses from idealism to righteousness to justification and finally to the violation of human rights and presumed innocence exist within the law enforcement community as a whole?

i have written before that in many cases people who become cops are victims of a type of profiling...they are screened and evaluated to meet certain criteria that may themselves be flawed, and they are then bred within a system that has become obsessed out of all proportion to what is reasonable and necessary with justifying and expanding their existence and their role in society.

as illustrated in the many cases of the serving of warrants related to nonviolent offenses that escalate into dangerous paramilitary tactics and often go tragically, criminally wrong, the environment in law enforcement today encourages methods and activity far beyond what is called for in most cases.
and while the great majority of those who chose to pursue a career of helping and protecting law-abiding citizens from those who are not so, the system is tilted and skewed toward the selection and breeding of individuals who are less likely to question authority, methods, and denying the rights of others.

and to at least some degree, the broken system itself is responsible for the violation of the rights of those dope buyers who had their windows cracked by tiny's slingshot to create a pretext for searching them, and ultimately, even the death of janette branham, because had he stayed in law enforcement the final violence that took janette's life could have easily done the same to ordinary citizens who were the target of tiny's attention and tactics...he was a ticking time bomb, and when he exploded, anyone and everyone in his path could just as easily have been killed; no doubt justified in tiny's sick mind.

the law enforcement system is broken. and change from the top down: politicians, adminstration, and even the mindset of law-and-order zealots, is necessary to keep more tiny branhams from developing into the type of individual who would set you up to make a bust, or knowingly violate your Constitutional rights to cover his mistakes, or even to murder you if things went awry.

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