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Sanford, Ferguson, Tallahassee: When Cops Act Like Vigilantes

| October 28, 2014

Truer than it ought to be. (Nicholas Komodore)

Truer than it ought to be. (Nicholas Komodore)

By Julie Delegal

Ferguson. Sanford. Tallahassee. What do these three cities have in common?

It’s not what you might think. It has nothing to do with perceived arch-villains such as Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman, or Jameis Winston. I don’t believe in arch-villains.


I do believe, though, in the predictability of human nature. Sometimes, human beings behave badly. And sometimes, that behavior violates the law.

Those paid to control crime — the police – often have good intentions. They have their own ideas about how to make the world a better place.

They can be dead wrong — over and over and over again.

Ferguson, Sanford, and, now, Tallahassee are all lessons in failure on two fronts: equal application of the law and transparency.

In Ferguson, some cop determined that hedging the truth to protect a fellow police officer was more important than the people’s right to be informed.

Tragically, getting their officer to safety and disclosing what they knew didn’t have to be mutually exclusive goals. The police’s monumental mistake caused that St. Louis suburb to erupt in violence.

Julie Delegal

Julie Delegal

In Sanford, police succumbed to the impulse to let a homicide — a homicide! — go unquestioned. Instead of trusting the system they were sworn to protect, the police acted as judge and jury in the Trayvon Martin killing, an event fraught with justiciable questions. A human being was killed, for God’s sake.

Likewise, the New York Times has now revealed that the Tallahassee police have a bad habit of turning a blind eye to crimes committed by FSU football players.

The headline reads, “At Florida State, Football Clouds Justice.” The story recounts incidents of theft, property damage, domestic violence and criminal foolishness – all allegedly committed by 13 Seminole football players.

One officer refused to pursue charges against a player who had almost undoubtedly stolen a motor scooter. In fact, in his written report the officer praised the athlete for staying after he was stopped to answer questions.

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But the police didn’t stop there. They went so far as to question the veracity of the scooter’s owner: was he certain he didn’t lend it out? Is he sure he’s mentally stable?

Officers in Tallahassee have also responded to at least four calls involving the firing of BB guns, which dented cars, shattered windows, and “stung” bystanders. The BBs caused thousands of dollars in property damage, but the police and state attorney’s office apparently decided that no crimes were committed — until the Times started asking questions.

Then the state attorney’s office took another look. The prosecutors concluded that the crimes were misdemeanors. They wouldn’t want to file felony charges against any members one of Tallahassee’s biggest economic engines, would they? Especially when the police get well-paid extra-duty jobs directing traffic during football season.

Never mind who might get hurt.


Protecting fellow-cops or FSU football players at the cost of public trust.


Least among the laundry list of criminal acts outlined in The Times were those allegedly committed by Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner has apologized for helping himself to crab legs that belonged to Publix. There are also the rape accusations against him. Winston was never charged, but serious questions about the botched police investigation remain.

The public has had its fill of the opacity served up by parochial police departments like those in Ferguson, Sanford and Tallahassee.

Transparency is essential if the public is to trust its government. But it’s also essential to protect those accused of crimes.

When police sit on information that should be publicly disclosed and vigorously pursued, they invite charges of a cover-up if the incriminating information becomes public. It’s a stench that can’t quite be washed off by those who stand accused.

If Florida State wins another National Championship, the TPD will have only itself to blame when the title is tainted by unprosecuted crimes.

The scandals remind me of Peter Pan and his lost boys in Neverland.

Not the football players. I’m talking about the lost boys in uniform.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville.

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13 Responses for Sanford, Ferguson, Tallahassee: When Cops Act Like Vigilantes”

  1. John Smallberries says:

    “In Ferguson, some cop determined that hedging the truth to protect a fellow police officer was more important than the people’s right to be informed.

    Tragically, getting their officer to safety and disclosing what they knew didn’t have to be mutually exclusive goals. The police’s monumental mistake caused that St. Louis suburb to erupt in violence.”

    No, I think it had more to do with an officer shooting an unarmed black man that was retreating six or more times.

    • Po Po says:

      Retreating…Ha !!…..More like charging like a bull with intentions to steal the police officers gun and kill him. The criminal had already showed what kind of person he was in the convenience store. The rioting is the “normal” minority response. If you can’t get your way legally…RIOT !!!

      • Outsider says:

        Michael Brown had already committed a series of crimes before he was shot. He committed a strong armed robbery which was recorded on video. He committed assault on a man half his size. He smoked marijuana, certainly not the crime of the century, but at this point is against the law nonetheless. He then assaulted Officer Wilson. He then attempted to steal a police officer’s weapon which is a felony, and he sustained a gunshot in the process. He then was in the process of charging the officer once again, certainly not to give him a hug and apologize, but to commit yet another felony. This is corroborated by a number of witnesses and the physical evidence. And the man who started all this mayhem by claiming Brown was on his knees and was shot from behind while pleading “Don’t shoot” was proven a liar on a grand scale by witnesses and the physical evidence. There will be no charges against Wilson because there is no evidence to support the shooting was unwarranted. All these leaks are by design to let down the radicals slowly, otherwise they will go nuts. They still may regardless. I don’t know why some people have such a hard time understanding that there are bad people in this world of all colors; Michael Brown was one of them who just happened to be black.

      • John Smallberries says:

        1. Darren Wilson had no idea that he was involved in the incident at the store when he decided to hassle him for walking in the street.

        2. Witness testimony and forensic evidence disagrees with you.

        3. There was minimal rioting, much less than you see say, during an Ohio State football game. There was a lot of peaceful protesting.

        I know you probably think that Michael Brown was probably experiencing some sort of superhuman negro rage brought on by smoking crack or injecting too many marijuanas, but if you switch news sources from FOX and stormfront to something less, say, one sided then maybe you’d actually get the full story. For example, Darren Wilson was fired from his previous department along with the rest of the police because they were to racist the city council decided to disband the police force.

        It’s really too bad that Missouri doesn’t have an open carry law, it would be interesting to see what the ferguson police would do if the community decided to exercise their 2nd amendment rights.

        • Outsider says:

          1. Whether Wilson knew or not, it doesn’t change the fact that he DID in fact rob and assault the store owner. That makes him a criminal, not a big teddy bear.

          2. The most reliable eyewitness account is from a man talking in the background of a cellphone video. He apparently saw the whole thing and confirms early on what the officer said happened.

          3. All autopsies say he was shot from the front. In the videos taken shortly after the shooting, it shows Brown had fallen face first towards the police cars. The head shot was fatal. So, he was running towards the police cars, and the officers were between the police cars and Brown. He was not shot from behind. Also, during the “minimal rioting” you describe, a building was burned and stores were looted. I guess if you don’t own the stores you can call it “minimal.”

          There doesn’t have to be any superhuman rage when a 300 pound man attqcks a 150 pound man. The laws of physics work quite well in the big guy’s favor, but at least you got the race baiting in there

          • John Smallberries says:

            1. I never said he was a big teddy bear, I said that Wilson can’t claim that he was accosting an evil criminal that had just strongarmed a store.

            2. Why is that the most reliable eyewitness? Because it portrays Brown as an aggressive black man threatening a poor unassuming police officer?

            3. The wounds on his torso and arms would also be the same if he ran, Wilson got out of his car and started shooting, and he then turned and put his arms up or in front to surrender. Likewise, people portray Ferguson as a place innundated by angry black people looting everything in sight. This is patently false, there will always be people that take advantage of situations to loot however it *was* minimal, and locals within the community banded together to prevent it from getting out of control.

            There are hours upon hours of footage of the initial protests where you can see how the protesters conducted themselves, and contrary to what FOX news might say it wasn’t a riot. I would say ask Brown what happened but you know, he was unarmed and shot multiple times 35 feet away from Wilson’s patrol car so it’s hard to ask him what happened. Instead, there’s eyewitness testimony, sound from a skype video call, and the testimony of a police officer that had been fired from a department which was disbanded because its relationship with the people it policed was so tarished with racism the city council got rid of it.

            • Outsider says:

              1. He just committed a robbery, which makes him a criminal.

              2. It makes him reliable because the shooting happened minutes before and the “witness” didn’t know he was being recorded and gave an account that is corroborated by the evidence.

              3. Look at a picture of Brown’s body. His head is facing the cop cars and his hands are underneath his body. The coroners confirmed he was shot from the front, with the shot to the forehead being the fatal shot. If he was running towards the officer as he was being shot, then the momentum of his body would have carried his body forward as he fell. Since he was felled by a fatal head shot, there would be no effort to break his fall with his arms, which would have put his arms over his head as he fell.

              The grand jury has all the information, more than either of us, and it seems like there will be no charges because all indications are that it was self defense, and nothing like the initial, fantastic claims that started the whole thing. Now, if I believed that the cop did shoot a defenseless man on his knees with his hands up begging “Don’t shoot,” I would be the first one calling for prosecution and the death penalty, but there really is no evidence of that.

  2. Lin says:

    Julie Delegal needs to stop presuming guilt of law officers (specific cases) where they have not been convicted of anything. And considering her family business this story is very irresponsible and another attempt at being inflammatory — we need another story like this in our times like a hole in the head

    We need responsible leadership even from press.

  3. reader says:

    Generalizing is a bad habit and so is not putting yourself in an other one s shoes before pointing the finger and so is criticizing unless all details are known.
    I do not see much point in this article.
    I find name calling also a bad habit and calling the men in uniform lost boys is out of context.

  4. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    The author has a legitimate point in Tallahassee, and partially in Ferguson (the Police department certainly did make a bad situation worse, but you cannot blame the “eruption of violence” solely on the PD, news networks and other outside forces fanned the flame for their own gain, not to mention the thugs that just look for an excuse to burn and pillage), but she is way off base in Sanford. The PD in Sanford acted in accordance with the law in not arresting Zimmerman the night of the shooting. If the author has a problem with that action, she should blame the legislature, not the PD.

    It would appear the Author’s preference is to arrest, arrest, arrest, and sort it all out later, constitution be damned. Ironically another article posted today on this very site regarding the Heroes of the European Village and the bar brawl a few days later in Flagler beach, shows what happens when the police do exactly as she would have them… innocent people are put through hell, loose job opportunities, and have to defend themselves unjustly because the state did not investigate prior to depriving them of their liberty. The bar for arrest must be high, if that means a guilty person gets a few more weeks of freedom before the police can put together enough evidence to meet that bar, then that is a far better scenario than arresting an Innocent person and taking a year of their life away as they fight to defend the charges only to get back to zero.

  5. w.ryan says:

    So let’s see…I’ll reach into a cop car reaching to to the cops far side to take a cops service weapon which everyone knows is locked. What kind of police tactic will allow anyone to get that far? What was this cop really doing to allow this to happen? Why have your tactics compromised by having your gun trained on someone jaywalking while you’re in the driver seat? If you have this kind of fear you need not do police work. Brown had given himself up regardless and was murdered thereafter! Sounds like lawlessness by 50!

  6. frustrated conservative says:

    Julie,

    Maybe the Tallahassee cops botched their investigation. I wasn’t there. Neither were you. We really don’t know and I for one don’t trust the media to get it right.

    Maybe the Ferguson PD was wrong. Ditto on the rest.

    As for the Sanford PD, I WAS there. I know the WHOLE story. And the media and the race baiters and the outsiders with their agendas DID get it wrong. The SPD conducted an in depth investigation of Zimmerman’s actions for two weeks until it was ORDERED by non-police officials who had no business doing so, to turn the case over to the state attorney. The State attorney all along had reviewed the facts and circumstances and determined there was no probable cause to arrest. The case was passed off to Angela Corey as special assigned prosecutor for POLITICAL reasons. Seven weeks later (nine weeks after the shooting) a weak probable cause affidavit containing multiple factual errors (I am being professionally polite) was issued which resulted in Zimmermans arrest. You saw how that played out, Julie. NOT GUILTY. Overcharged and underprepared. That was a train wreck of a prosecution. Someone is fortunate to still have a bar number.

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