Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How to Make a Deputy Sheriff Sick

Quasi-Fiction © by Bob Hurt 17 May 2006. All rights reserved.

Yesterday afternoon Juan, Chuck, and I accompanied our friend Mark to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals in Lakeland to copy some court records. While Mark was making copies, I went to the men’s room.

On my way back I stopped to chat with the Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy. He was guarding the door to make sure nobody brought in a bomb or other destructive weapons, including a pen knife for cleaning one’s fingernails and opening mail. The obese deputy was nice enough but as the conversation proceeded, he began to look downright uncomfortable, and perhaps ill.

I asked him if he was a regular deputy or special one. He said regular. I asked if he served as a bailiff. No, he didn’t (as though the job were beneath him), and he was doing this door guard thing as a side job. I asked if he had the power to arrest people he witnessed violating the law. Yes, he did, so long as it was a law of the State of Florida or of Polk county. I asked if he had to swear an oath in order to become a deputy. Yes he did.

So far, so good. The deputy seemed in reasonably good spirits and willing to talk. But that was not to last.

I asked if he could arrest someone violating a federal law. No he could not.

“Really?” I asked. “Seems like everybody has to swear an oath. You have to swear an oath to become a registered voter. In your oath didn’t you swear to support the Constitution of the USA and the State of Florida? “

The deputy put his head in his hands as though I was giving him a headache. Presently he looked up at me.

“Yes,” he said.

“So,” I asked, “how can you support the constitution of the USA if, as a law enforcement officer, you don’t arrest someone you witness violating a provision of the U.S. Constitution he swore to support?"

Silence. Long silence. But I was patient, and stood silently, expectantly waiting for the revelatory answer.

More silence. Finally, I asked ”So, if you witnessed somebody violating the U.S. Constitution you are sworn to support, could you rightly arrest that person?”

“Probably,” he answered. I hid the smirk I was beginning to feel.

“So, what if you witnessed a District Court Judge violating the law or the constitution of the State or the USA?” I continued. “Could you arrest him for doing that?”

“Oh, no,“ the deputy demurred as he held up his hands. I almost expected a crucifix and wreath of garlic bulbs to materialize in his hands, as though warding off a blood-sucking vampire. “I’d have to call the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement),” he said.

“Why,“ I wanted to know. “Isn’t the Sheriff the top law enforcement person in the county?”

“Yes, but a judge swears him in.” he replied with self-assurance, as though that explained everything.

But apparently he hadn’t fully convinced himself. I see sweat beading on his corpulent countenance. This has made him feel uncomfortable. Or he has the flu.

“So?” I asked, not convinced myself.

“We WORK for the judge!” he exclaimed. “We can’t arrest him.”

“But,” I ventured undaunted, “if the Sheriff is the county’s top law enforcement officer, and he’s elected by the people, not by a judge, and you work for the sheriff, then how can you be working for a judge?”

Silence. Face in hands. Audible moaning. More sweat. The deputy looks utterly miserable. Clearly he’s tired of this light-hearted banter.

“Every situation is different,” he answered patiently as though explaining the intricacies of the chain of command for the county’s top cop to a child.

I drove my wooden stake home to the vampire heart of his ignorance, without mercy:

“Does it make sense to you that the U.S. and state constitutions don’t apply to judges, and that if you see a judge violating either of them, you should look the other way and let him off the hook, or pass the buck to the FDLE?”

More silence.

“So what’s the worst that would happen to you if you did arrest a judge you saw depriving a defendant of the assistance of effective counsel, or of the right to subpoena witnesses in his defense, or of the right to a fair trial by an unprejudiced judge?”

“Probably nothing,” he said with his head in his hands.

It sounded like it was coming from deep within a cave, weak and distant.

I concluded I’d given the deputy enough of a beating and I should show him a little mercy. It wasn’t his fault he’d been lied to and deceived by customary practice of treating judges as though they are gods. I knew, as he did that he was probably wrong. If he arrested a judge, his career would be over, simple as that.

I thanked the deputy for his kindness in talking with me and walked back into the Clerk’s office to share the story with my friends.

About 5 minutes later we walked back out into the lobby. I noticed the deputy was missing.

“Oh no,” I said to the girl behind the counter, and pointed to the empty chair.

“He wasn’t feeling too well and went to the bathroom,” she said. “I think he’s sick.”

Small wonder. Maybe he had caught a flu bug.

“Tell him I hope he gets to feeling better,” I said as we headed past the x-ray machine and out the door.

The girl at the counter puzzled over our fading laughter as our figures smalled in the distance. Most people leaving the courthouse feel no urge to laugh.

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