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Saturday, August 11, 2012

The American way — cops must be right

Posted By on Sat, Aug 11, 2012 at 6:04 AM

2010 VIDEO: Rule during traffic stop on police video.
  • 2010 VIDEO: Rule during traffic stop on police video.

Interesting to follow social media commentary following the arrest of Herb Rule, the Democratic 2nd District candidate, for DWI in Fayetteville.

The presumption — from friend and foe alike — is that the cops must be right. Cops everywhere enjoy that general presumption, particuarly on traffic stops, and I think their actions, on balance, justify that sort of public confidence. (No, not in the case of every single one of them.)

The instant guilty verdict had, in the minds of many, circumstantial support: Rule was arrested for DWI once before, in 2010. But he wasn't convicted. Still, political opponents were vicious, where supporters were simply rueful. But the political foes not only presumed guilt — and general dissolution on Rule's part — their belief appeared to be rock solid, as if they themselves had made the stop Thursday night on College Avenue. It was as solid as their belief that his acquittal on the 2010 charge could only be explained by political influence, technicalities, and so on.

Hell, I don't know. But I do know we operate under a presumption of innocence in the U.S. I do know Rule was acquitted on the DWI charge by a local judge who heard evidence about an out-of-towner in 2010 and I do know the prosecutor didn't fight Rule's appeal of the sole conviction, on the failure to take the breath test charge. (NOTE CORRECTION FROM EARLIER POST: I erroneously phrased this as saying prosecutor didn't appeal. He didn't contest Rule's appeal.) I do know that refusal of a breath alcohol test carries penalties, but I also know that the tests have been known to be fallible and officers have been known not to follow proper procedures in running the machines. I do know that avenging Republican Jason Tolbert, who earlier dredged up Rule's 2010 acquittal for no relevant reason except support of U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin's candidacy, has now dug up the video of Rule's 2010 arrest.

Thanks Jason. Watch the 14-minute video. It's no case for Rule's conviction. Indeed, there's ample material to see where that old "reasonable doubt" standard might come in. He questions police procedures (not a wise move with cops). But Rule's reluctance to take a field sobriety test on which the cop made the decision to cuff Rule was over a quickie follow-the-finger test alongside a busy freeway with lots of flashing lights going by. Rule doesn't slur his words. He moves, to my eye, normally. At least as normal as a 72-year-old man with a bad knee can move.

In Fayetteville this week, Rule said he had one drink, wasn't drunk and reportedly had drifted across the lane line on a four-lane road in the course of trying to find a turn. Cops say he was stopped for failure to signal a lane change. I'm glad I haven't been stopped by police every time I failed to signal a lane change on Markham or Cantrell. The account of his conversation with the officer who stopped him doesn't raise red flags to me about his condition (beyond Herb being the politely disputatious and somewhat condescending Herb, never a good way to approach dealings with a police officer.)

I am presuming innocence, as much a bedrock of our system as the right to carry assault weapons with 100-round magazines, until the case for prosecution is presented.

Tolbert harrumphs magisterially that history seems to be repeating itself. Yes, perhaps. But perhaps not in the way Tolbert means and hopes.

One more thing: Every time you presume the cops must be right, remember two words: Joe Thompson.

A DWI arrest, conviction or no, is a body blow to a political candidate, make no mistake, even when the candidate is preferable on policy in every single respect compared with incumbent Republican Tim Griffin. I happened to think Rule did himself more harm yesterday with remarks at the Arkansas Association of Counties, including the idea that counties sell naming rights to the counties to raise money. He indicated to a Democrat-Gazette reporter that he was serious. Was he speaking at a brunch with Bloody Mary bar?

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