Imagine how you would feel if you got a phone call from your spouse or friend telling you to quickly turn on the local news station. You click on your remote and punch in the channel only to see your own face filling the screen. You are one of the city’s “most wanted” persons. You are a violent criminal. Everyone in your neighborhood is instructed to keep alert and report any sightings of you.
It could happen.
On February 14, 2012 the Oakland Police Department released a statement (PDF download):
MOST WANTED TURNS HIMSELF IN
Oakland, CA – One of Oakland’s four most wanted suspects has been taken off the streets. Last week, Oakland’s Police Chief Howard Jordan named Van Chau as one of the City’s four most wanted criminals. Today, the Oakland Police Department reports that Van Chau is off the streets of Oakland and is safely behind bars after turning himself in due to media pressure. Chief Howard Jordan said, “A week ago I stood with community members and asked the community to stand with me to fight crime and today we have one less criminal on our streets. Today a victim is one step closer to justice.”
On February 13, 2012, the Oakland Police Department was contacted by an attorney representing wanted suspect Van Chau. Chau was identified as the person responsible for assaulting his victim with a deadly weapon, leaving the victim hospitalized with serious head injuries, on December 9, 2011, at 12:23 am.
Chau told investigators that he saw himself on television and received phone calls from family and friends advising him he was wanted by police.
The Oakland Police Department would like to thank the media and the community for their assistance.
The press release goes on to give “background” involving their attempts to deal with a recent spike crime and a picture of the dangerous perp himself.
The only problem was that Chau wasn’t “wanted” for anything. He is now suing the Oakland Police Department for harassing, defaming, and scaring the pants off him. And by “scaring” I mean endangering. When your face and name suddenly go out over TV and radio as a violent attacker, you have every reason to fear you will be attacked.
At the advice of his attorney, Chau stayed in his house to avoid being identified by a trigger-happy cop. His lawyer called the Oakland PD and was told that there was no arrest warrant for Chau. Yet after a week, Chau finally had to “turn himself in.” It was on that basis that the PR department heated up and released a triumphal, boasting statement, as if they had caught a real criminal. They hadn’t. They had terrorized a man and forced him to turn himself in, rather than simply acknowledge and correct their mistake.
And that wasn’t the end of it.
“To add injury to insult, Van says in the complaint, he ‘spent several months trying to get his name and image removed’ from the Most Wanted list. ‘This is pretty outrageous,’ John L. Burris, Van’s attorney in this lawsuit, told Courthouse News in an interview. ‘We don’t know how this mistake was made. We don’t know how this happened. Once your name gets there, it’s hard for people not to believe it. It’s like defamation. It’s hard to get your reputation back.’”
Most Americans, if they are not to ignorant to have heard of sixteenth-century Geneva and the theological influence of John Calvin, probably think of it as a religious despotism. After all, a heretic like Servetus got burned to death there. That did happen. But the man who first identified and accused Servetus had to spend the night in jail with him until the identity of the wanted man could be verified. The Genevans knew that you can’t just give people the right to make accusations and endanger people without holding them accountable. Our system doesn’t seem to recognize that basic fact.
Hopefully Chau will get some recompense from a jury, though it will probably be billed to the taxpayers rather than actually punishing the decision makers. But think about our “national security” apparatus outside of one city. Are the bureaucrats deciding who can fly and who needs to be watched any more competent than the Oakland PD? I doubt it.