Contempt of Cop

You have the right to remain silent...later

Alastair Cooke-Goody doesn't seem like the type to get maced four times and have his face mashed in the dirt for ticking off a Dallas cop.

But on April 30 that's precisely what happened to the young Anglican minister, who was here from London as a consultant to the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. Cooke-Goody had been parked outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Reunion Boulevard, waiting for his wife, Margaret Fant Cooke-Goody, to come out.

She had been attending a charitable event at the hotel. Their two small children were in the back seat of Cooke-Goody's Rover station wagon. Having put in a long day at diocesan headquarters, the minister tilted back his car seat while he waited, leaned back, and shut his eyes to rest.

Donato Garcia was arrested for "failure 
to identify," according to police records. 
That's not supposed to happen in this country.
Mark Graham
Donato Garcia was arrested for "failure to identify," according to police records. That's not supposed to happen in this country.

Apparently he fell dead asleep. The car windows were open.

The next thing he knew, a Dallas police officer was rapping loudly on the car door with his leather ticket book, angrily telling him that he had parked too close to a fire hydrant. The officer told Cooke-Goody to present identity papers or be hauled off to jail.

The story gets a little cloudy from here. Cooke-Goody says he was reaching for his wallet to present his identity papers when the police officer yanked open the car door, hauled him out, maced him several times, threw him down on his face in the dirt, jumped on his back with a knee on his spine, maced him again, punched him in the head, got him in a choke hold until he almost blacked out, and then finally--with the help of two other officers who showed up on bicycles--slapped cuffs on him and took him to jail.

The officer tells a different story. He claims that Cooke-Goody looked like he was reaching for a knife. According to a statement the officer gave to a superior later, the officer admits telling Cooke-Goody that he was required by law to present identity papers when ordered to do so by an American police officer, and that he had no right to remain silent. He concedes that, when Cooke-Goody failed to present his identity papers, he did haul him out of the car, throw him down, and mace him.

So we have at least three big problems here. The first is that the only people I know of who are required to carry identity papers all the time are scared-looking East Germans in old black-and-white movies about the Cold War.

Next problem: In a case called Dickerson vs. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court in its last session upheld the requirement that police give people they arrest and intend to interrogate a so-called "Miranda warning," reminding them that the 5th Amendment of the Constitution protects people in this country from forced self-incrimination and therefore affords them "the right to remain silent."

That's important. Under most circumstances, we Americans do have an unalloyed right to remain silent. So telling us that you're going to haul us off to jail if we remain silent would be a violation of our Constitutional rights and, along with the identity papers business, would tend to make us feel like commie slaves.

Now, there was something else. What was it? I think I got some of this case wrong. Oh, darn! I did. His name isn't Alastair Cooke-Goody. Where did that come from? Shucks. And he's not an Anglican minister, and his wife's name isn't Margaret Fant Cooke-Goody.

Major screw-up. Sorry. And she wasn't attending a charitable event. I don't know where I got all that junk.

No, the real person in this incident is Donato Garcia, age 44, a legal immigrant from Mexico who is a construction worker, and he was in his car after work with his two little kids in back, waiting for his wife to get off from her job in housekeeping at the downtown Hyatt.

Now that doesn't change your feelings about the case, does it? Good. Because, as we know, the Constitution and the law apply to all of us, even if our wives aren't named Margaret.

So this is a real deal about real live people. In fact, when the Donato Garcia case is presented to the Dallas Citizens/Police Review Board at its September 14 meeting, that august body will have a chance to do something fairly significant for a change. One way or another, if they uphold Garcia or uphold officer Kenneth D. Pesce, who arrested him, the board will have an opportunity to attack one of the most deeply ingrained myths in all of cop culture--the idea that you can bust somebody for "failure to ID."

You can't. It's not an arrestable offense. Unless we are already under arrest or detained on suspicion of doing something illegal, we don't have to carry or present papers or give our names to anybody in this country. Even when we are arrested, we don't have to say squat if we don't feel like it. And even if the legal basis for our right to remain silent is the Constitution, most Americans also have a strong cultural dislike for the concept of identity papers and spot identity checks by police. It's just not American. We especially have to keep all of that in mind when the ones being hassled are people with limited means of defending themselves.

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