694 The Question Is... That stuff that bulls drop.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

A town in Washington State with the unlikely name of Federal Way, has settled a civil suit filed by Randall Fontana for "rough police treatment."

Some facts:

On Mar 19 2008, 75-year-old Jane Britt was found in the trunk of her car at a nursing home where her husband was a patient. She had been beaten and strangled; her neck was broken.

Why was Fontana a suspect?

He wasn't. Fontana's father was also a patient there, and Fontana became a "person of interest" because of innuendo. Staff at the nursing home said he complained regularly [about what was not mentioned], acted suspiciously [how was not mentioned], and was “creepy.”

On March 21, two Federal Way detectives, Brian Lauer and Douglas Laird, went to Fontana’s home. "On their way to the front door," they walked by his car in the driveway, and “observed a number of items that could have been evidence." Based on this they obtained a search warrant for the car.

They searched Fontana's car and found that none of what they had "observed" had any relevance to the case, but on March 24, they obtained a second warrant based on the evidence presented in the first warrant for his car, now known to be irrelevant.

They did not go to Fontana's house, present him with the search warrant, and require him to accompany them to police headquarters to give a DNA sample. They armed themselves, waited outside Fontana's house for him to go to work, and "swarmed" him. One officer drew his gun and ordered Fontana to the ground. Fontana tried to comply but couldn't do it fast enough becaise he has a bad back. Officer Thaddeus Hodge, “shoved his foot into his back and twisted his arms while Officer Lauer, put him in an arm-bar and forced him to the ground."

He was then handcuffed and taken to FWPD, where he another officer squeezed his groin so hard that it injured one of his testicles. He was then handcuffed to a bench for over four hours.

Unfortunately for the police — and fortunately for the entirely innocent Fontana — the murdered woman had fought her assailant and had skin under her fingernails.

When the Federal Way police found that the DNA under Britt's fingernails matched that of Joseph Njonge, a nursing assistant at Garden Terrace, and also found Britt’s Costco card in his wallet they changed course and charged Njonge with the murder.

Fontana sued. [Surprise!]

Federal Way has agreed to pay $130,000 to settle the case.

The Question Is....

Why would any judge allow this statement to be part of such a settlement?

“The city of Federal Way strenuously denies any liability and stands by the lawfulness of its officers’ actions. Its officers lawfully took Mr. Fontana into custody, consistent with a signed search warrant, to collect his DNA and exonerate him as a possible suspect in an investigation into a violent and random homicide.”


John Lemon 2 years, 10 months ago

Tom, The STUPID statement might have been of a settlement agreement which, in part, said that Fontana would agree that the police did nothing wrong and that Fontana would not seek additional redress. Not withstanding, the Judge must be of diminished capacity.


Pat Randall 2 years, 10 months ago

If I understand what you wrote the police were in the wrong. Just because they had a badge doesn't give them the right to act the way they did. I would have sued for more money. And hopefully the two were fired. Yes, I read they had a search warrant, why wasn't it used in the lawful way?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

I agree with both of you. The judge should never have allowed such a self-serving statement to be entered into the decision. In essence it means that he endorses that statement.

Was it political? A way of keeping his job? I don't know.

As to what the police did, I am so sick of people violating Fourth Amendment rights that I am actually getting tired of talking about it. As far as I am concerned, unless something is OUTSIDE of any container of any kind — a house, a car, your baggage, your pockets, or whatever — it should require a search warrant to even so much as look at it. Until we face up to that need we will always have things like this going on. We will keep on getting just get more and more and more kinds of intrusive surveillance activity until BIg Brother becomes a reality.

What about things like taking baggage about an aircraft? That's a whole different matter. In that case you are taking something into a place which is NOT yours. the same thing applies to school lockers, or just walking onto school property. But in your home? In your car? In your pockets? That's what unreasonable search and seizure applies to, and say that Object A is "in plain sight," in the absence of any proof that there has even been a crime committed, and using it as an excuse to go searching for Object B is a clear violation of the original intent of the Fourth Amendment.

And yes, I know it would make it harder to catch crooks, but I sincerely believe it would not make it so much harder that we should give up our rights for it.

"Yes, I read they had a search warrant, why wasn't it used in the lawful way?"

Pat, I'll bet Don could answer that question. I come from a family which had a lot of cops on the family tree, and I heard conversations when I was a kid which convinced me there were some fine people on our police forces even way back — and some creeps too. Some people just can't handle power.

And, of course, there's the effect of dealing with trash day in and day out. That's got to have an effect on you.

And you know what else? (This occurred to me after I was about to hit the Post button.) We would probably be very wise to separate law enforcement into two parts — a. Traffic b. Everything else. I think you can figure out why.


Pat Randall 2 years, 10 months ago

I was told once that if 5 people get together one will be a total a--. I guess that applies to law enforcement too. These two got away from the other 8.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

Police work is by its very nature stressful, so it comes as no surprise that some people who start out as normal, average people end up being jaded and angry. But I have a strong suspicion that there may be some people who are attracted to law enforcement because they have a control mentality.

I ran across a few of those in the Air Force. Obviously, the training for the Air Police was nothing compared to what civilian cops get, and because the emphasis was on technical skills, security and law enforcement took a low priority, so the AP's were not of civilian quality. A couple of times I ran across some AP with odd ideas about what the laws were and had to straighten them out.

For example, I used to teach at an Army base on Okinawa, an island which at the time was under martial law. I used to drive down the main highway to the Army base, turn into a right turn lane, and go onto the base, which had no gates (none of the bases did). One day the traffic was heavy and was backed up at my turnoff. Didn't affect me; I just did my usual thing — into the turn lane and onto the base. Imagine my surprise when some MP stopped me and gave me a ticket for (as best as I can remember the wording) "illegal lane change." He thought I was trying to get around the blockage at the intersection. I told him I was on my way to my classroom, but the dummy still wrote a ticket. It was tossed out and I saw to it that he got his butt reamed. Another time I got speeding ticket on Okinawa (32 in a 30 mph zone) because the AP mistook me for a car he had been following and had lost in heavy traffic, and I had that one tossed out too. How? Easy. I was out of the car, was standing 200 feet away talking to someone, and had been there for 15 minutes when the AP came rushing up in his pickup. He was chasing someone who had been ahead of him less than a minute before. Obviously the ticket a screwup, but he just would not listen.

I'm hanged if I know how people like that can be weeded out, though. It's way off the track of things I know anything about; in fact it's part of things where I know nothing.

I think that what you say is true, Pat. It's just the luck of the draw.

Here's a question for anyone who might know the answer. Is it hard or difficult to recruit police officers? Is there a waiting line? Or what? I have no idea. Just curious. Not thinking of a new career. :-)


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