The accepted narrative for the criminal justice system is that law enforcement officials are always on the side of justice, protecting us from criminal bandits. But outside of Spaghetti Westerns, this narrative is a gross oversimplification of reality. In many instances, the “criminal bandits” are not criminals at all, but instead innocent civilians who are the unfortunate targets of police attention. Other times, the alleged evidence that the police would use to implicate the suspects was collected illegally.
The “white cowboy hat” narrative not only fails because the bad guys are not always guilty, but also because the good guys aren’t always good. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a former Fulton County Prison guard has pled guilty to federal charges related to bribery and drug distribution.
According to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the former detention officer was charged with involvement in a scheme to distribute cocaine and marijuana inside the prison. The charges alleged that as part of this scheme the former guard accepted more than $20,000 in bribes. The prosecution alleged that an undercover FBI agent had provided money to the guard to smuggle the contraband.
Of course, police officers and prison guards deserve the same constitutional protections against criminal prosecution as any member of the public, and are presumed innocent. But it is worth highlighting the conviction of law enforcement professionals simply to demonstrate the limits of the traditional narrative. Just as not everyone wearing a white hat is on the side of the law, not everyone suspected of a crime is guilty.
Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Another ex-Fulton jailer pleads guilty to corruption,” Angel Brooks, Jan. 20, 2012