Civil Rights Violations Aren’t a Problem for City Attorney Jim Nugent
A little over two weeks ago, Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller brought us the story that the city of Missoula has wrongfully arrested and even jailed people on illegal warrants issued over the past 10 years.
That’s a pretty big deal – and you have to assume she didn’t get much love from anyone in the city for looking into to wrongful arrests. The issue stems in a large part from illegal warrants.
There’s also been the mistaken identity thing – and this past weekend, the Missoulian detailed just that in the arrest of a man 30 years older than the man they should have been arresting.
Which says something about the arresting officers, does it not? I mean – imagine trying to tell them they’ve got the wrong person and they’re not even looking over their paperwork? Good lord!
I know a lot of people don’t give a crap about stuff like this. I’ve been told – when discussing the death penalty and the possibility of killing an innocent person – that “well, they were doing something wrong if they were arrested,” as if the people that get wrongfully arrested somehow had it coming to them. Even if they aren’t guilty of the crime for which the state is putting them to death.
I was very disturbed by Keila’s story. I witnessed a situation just as she writes of last year….and while I considered then and even try now to write something about it, I know it is not in anyone’s best interests that I do it here. Which I why I have much respect for Ms. Spzaller for having written that article. She didn’t make any friends and I highly doubt anyone was overly helpful as she dug for information.
So for me there were layers of disturbing to that story. Aside from the somewhat personal connection to the topic, as a citizen of Missoula it’s pretty disturbing to know that civil rights violations are going on with people being jailed unlawfully. Understanding the lack of places to turn to for assistance makes it even worse. Small towns tend to protect themselves.
What I also found disturbing was the attitudes expressed by city officials concerning such illegal arrest warrants. Spzaller starts off her story with this statement:
City officials say the incidents are rare and that Municipal Court has revised its procedures so it no longer issues bad warrants. The matter is a concern, said Judge Kathleen Jenks, but she knows of only a couple of people wrongfully detained on the invalid warrants.
“Really, there aren’t that many people getting picked up on old, illegal warrants,” Jenks said.
I don’t know who the city officials are that she refers to, but “rare” incidents of illegal arrest are – I’m sorry – a pretty big friggin’ deal.
Now, it’s clear from the article that new Judge Jenks has taken steps to try and keep these illegal arrests from continuing, but to acknowledge “only a couple of people” have been illegally arrested and to be quoted saying that “there aren’t that many people” being arrested on illegal warrants seems a bit flippant to me.
Szpaller speaks with deputy city attorney Carrie Garber:
In the worst-case scenario, a person is arrested on the weekend and remains in custody for two days because they can’t bail out, Garber said. The illegal warrants affect the people who are least able to pay a $50 or $200 bond; many people may not even know their arrest was improper, she said.
Garber said the practice took place for years, and she would not be surprised to find that “hundreds” of people went to jail because of it. When Judge Marie Andersen worked in the court, she started the practice of reviewing files before signing warrants, Garber said.
Garber said she tried unsuccessfully to encourage Louden to change the procedure, and she’s pleased Judge Jenks has done so.
In a worst-case scenario??? The practice took place for years?? She would not be surprised to find hundreds went to jail on illegal arrest warrants?? Louden didn’t give a shit??
Gerber’s boss, apparently, wasn’t giving a crap.
One quote that has really stuck in my craw since reading it back on January 27th, and it was one that came from long time city attorney Jim Nugent:
He isn’t aware of any recent arrests, and no one has sued the city over the matter, Nugent said. People may seek legal recourse if they believe their rights have been violated, but they must show they’ve been harmed, he said.
“They’d have to show damages,” Nugent said. “I don’t think a lot of money would be at issue because what’s their damages?”
“Because what’s their damages?”??? That quote there hearkens back to the conversation I relay above on the death penalty. These illegal arrests don’t mean much because..at some point the person had done something wrong so it doesn’t matter?
They don’t mean anything because these people that we’re arresting illegally don’t have the means to come back and sue us and even if they did, they don’t make a lot of money so whatever damages they incur would be minor?
They don’t mean anything because no one is going to believe them?
If you haven’t read Keila’s article, please do. It’s a worthy read.
Good newspaper writing, at it’s best – serving the public’s best interests, even when it isn’t easy.