Thomas Caine White of the Ottawa Hills, Ohio Police Department should be the official national symbol for why all real Americans hate and fear the police.
Not Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Missouri police who shot and killed a teenager named Michael Brown and inspired a month of fires and riots. Not Daniel Pantaleo of the NYPD who choked a hustler named Eric Garner who then died protesting “I can’t breathe.”
Thomas Caine White epitomizes what has gone wrong in the relationship of American citizens and American police.
During a during a routine traffic stop in the early morning hours of May 23, 2009 White gunned down 25-year-old Michael “Biker Mike” McCloskey because McCloskey did not comply with White’s commands quickly enough.
The Traffic Stop
McCloskey and his friend Aaron Snyder had ridden their motorcycles out into the night to distribute Snyder’s business cards and flyers advertising the Bike Nights at a night club called the Omni. They went to the Omni about one in the morning, met a friend named Klint Sharpe and headed back to McCloskey’s home in Ottawa Hills. Sharpe followed the two bikes in his car. When Sharpe turned to take a different route, Officer White pulled in behind the motorcycles. For several moments, McCloskey and Snyder thought the car behind them was Sharpe rather than a police cruiser.
White, a relatively inexperienced reserve officer, lit the two bikes up and called for backup from another cop named Christopher Sargent. McCloskey stopped his Harley but he did not turn off the engine. He might very well have been tipsy. Because it was a bike with a V-Twin engine and because White had left his siren on it is likely McCloskey couldn’t hear what the cop said. While White was still in the cruiser with his lights and sirens on, McCloskey looked over his right shoulder toward White’s vehicle and then looked toward the backup officer arresting Snyder. White got out of the cruiser, drew his pistol and yelled something. White would later explain that he told McCloskey to put his hands up. When McCloskey turned again to glance over his right shoulder McCloskey shot him in the back.
White would later testify that he had seen McCloskey turn with his “right arm and elbow…making a drawing motion to the right,” causing White to believe that McCloskey “was pulling a weapon.”
McCloskey was instantly paralyzed from the waist down but he retained feeling in his legs. His motorcycle fell on him exhaust side down and as his hot exhaust pipes burned through his leg McCloskey begged White and Sargent to pull the bike off him. After Snyder ran to help McCloskey he asked White and Sargent for help and White replied, “He’s your friend. You get the bike off of him.” McCloskey’s burns caused nerve damage. He is now confined to a wheelchair and he remains in constant pain.
White was eventually charged with felonious assault with a firearm enhancement. The professional police establishment rallied to White’s defense. His most steadfast defenders since he maimed McCloskey have been the National Fraternal Order of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. At White’s trial a former FBI Agent and professional witness named Urey Patrick told the jury, “If McCloskey had turned off the bike and raised his hands off the handle bars this wouldn’t have happened.”
White was convicted anyway in May 2010. He posted a $100,000 bond and he has remained free while he appealed his conviction. In 2012 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for Ohio did reverse his conviction on the grounds that “the trial court erred by charging the jury on the standard for using non-deadly force in a deadly force case” and that the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury on the use of deadly force by a policeman. The appeals court also thought that the trial judge should have instructed the jury that it had the option of finding White guilty of “the lesser included offense of negligent assault.”
Prosecutors appealed that ruling in January 2013. Yesterday the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that if White is to be punished for what he did he will have to be tried and found guilty again.
Ohio Supreme Court Ruling
In a 38 page ruling the court wrote:
Quoting an Iowa case titled State v. Smith, “An officer, in the performance of his duty as such, stands on an entirely different footing from an individual. He is a minister of justice, and entitled to the peculiar protection of the law. Without submission to his authority there is no security, and anarchy reigns supreme. He must, of necessity, be the aggressor, and the law affords him special protection.”
Citing Wharton’s Criminal Law, “In making arrests for felonies and misdemeanors, an officer could use whatever force was reasonably necessary – including deadly force – if the suspect offered resistance; and in the case of a fleeing felon, deadly force could be used even if the offender presented no imminent threat of harm.”
Citing the United States Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
“The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Rejecting the notion that White criminally used a firearm the court wrote: “The purpose of a firearm specification is to enhance the punishment of criminals who voluntarily introduce a firearm while committing an offense and to deter criminals from using firearms. In enacting firearm specifications, the General Assembly recognized that ‘a criminal with a gun is both more dangerous and harder to apprehend than one without a gun.’ But in contrast to those who freely choose to use a firearm while committing a crime, a firearm specification is not intended to deter a peace officer from possessing a firearm,”
“We therefore conclude that the General Assembly did not intend the firearm specification to apply to a police officer who fired a gun issued to him to protect himself, fellow officers, and the public from a person he thought was about to brandish a weapon.”
The learned justices continue their deconstruction of justice until any reasonable person would become tired and sick.
McCloskey is still in a wheel chair and he probably always will be.
White is still free and he probably always will be.