The heavy steel door latched shut with the tiniest of clicks just before the jail guard walked away. My seat was round and about as large as a personal pizza. My left buttock tingled and then drifted off to sleep. Across from me sat my client, wrists chained to his sides, feet chained to the floor: standard procedure when visiting a client in the jail’s maximum security wing.
“So I’ve been talking to some of the other guys in here…”
Oh no. My client had been discussing legal strategy in his homicide case with his fellow inmates, several of whom lacked the legal skill to avoid picking up their own homicide cases.
“…and I don’t think I have received enough training on how not to be a killer.”
My client lifted two fingers far enough from the chains on his waist to slide his manila envelope across the table. I skimmed each clipping and set it on the table between us. Inside the envelope,, I found…
…one newspaper clipping about a man in Staten Island who died begging for his life while his killer choked him to death. The killer told the dead man to stop selling drugs on the corner, but the deceased did not stop quickly enough for the killer’s liking. The grand jury decided that the district attorney did not have enough evidence to charge him with anything.
…another newspaper clipping, this one about a man in South Carolina who shot his victim in the back several times as the victim ran away. Strangely, the killer bound his victim post-mortem. The killer’s companion walked up to the body as the killer dropped another weapon on the ground to make it look like self-defense. Both the killer and his buddy wore identically-colored clothing, and the group to which both men belonged had a fearsome reputation for intimidating and brutalizing their community.
…one last newspaper clipping. A man in the midwest fled a gunman on foot. The gunman caught his prey and took him down. The gunman fired his pistol at the deceased as he labored for breath on the ground. Before dying, the victim yelled at the gunman for what he had done. “You fucking ran, shut the fuck up” sneered the gunman’s companion. Another of the gunman’s buddies mocked the victim for his inability to breathe as he lay dying. The shooter later claimed that he had intended to use one of his less lethal weapons and shot the victim by mistake; he stands accused of negligent homicide, and not murder.
…and finally, a computer print-out of a 100-page report, authored by the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ had penned this report in response to another high-profile killing in Missouri. The final section, entitled “Necessary Changes,” had been dogeared by my client. His handwritten notes filled the margins on either side.
I see where he’s going with this. “So if I’m hearing you, you want me to argue that, like the police officers in these news clippings, you simply have not had adequate training on how not to stab your brother-in-law in the chest while arguing on Christmas Eve morning.”
“That guy in New York begged for his life on camera. And they say that the cop was right to fear for his life? Why can’t I say the same thing? My brother-in-law said ‘I’m sorry’ to me right before I stuck him. But maybe I was still afraid of him? Was that completely fucking nuts for me to still be afraid of him? The DOJ says I would probably benefit from more training on ‘proper use of force.’ And shit. Most of these guys are never charged with anything. Why do they get to charge me?”
“So how about this: I make a pitch for you to voluntarily wear a body camera on your person for the rest of your life in lieu of a prison sentence. You want me to offer that?”
“I don’t know. Should I?”
“Do you think wearing a body camera would help you value human life a little bit more?”
“It couldn’t hurt.”
“Well, it better. They’re finally charging cops for this in South Carolina, thanks to the fact that most people carry a high-powered camera in their pockets all the time. But maybe with time, your fear of getting caught hurting people will turn into finding genuine reasons to not want to hurt people.”
“Yeah, it couldn’t hurt.”
Barely missing a beat, my client added:
“You know what else I should get? A union representative to protect me from people’s complaints.”
“Well, you already have a representative, and I’m a member of a union. Is that close enough?”
“They also should have set up a citizen’s review board to screen people’s complaints about me.”
“You mean a jury trial? Because you can have one of those.”
“No, not a trial. The thing before trial where all the complaints get dismissed.”
“You mean a grand jury? They indict everyone unless you are a cop.”
“It’s too bad I’m not a cop, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Unfortunately, my client was probably right.