THANKS TO the wisdom of Baltimore attorney Andrew C. White and an Anne Arundel County grand jury, we now have some clarification on what does and does not constitute a "cap-able" offense in the eyes of law enforcement officers.
For those of you not familiar with current American slang, it's only fair to point out that there is no such word as "cap-able." It's an invention, deriving from the street lingo phrase "to pop a cap in the ... " - I'm told the rest of the expression can't be used in this paper - or, in other words, to shoot someone.
White is the lawyer for FBI Special Agent Christopher Braga, who shot Joseph Schultz in the face March 1. Braga and other agents had stopped Schultz's girlfriend, Krissy Harkum, as she drove her Pontiac Grand Am along Fort Smallwood Road in Anne Arundel County. Schultz was a passenger in the car. The feds were looking for a bank robber. Problem was - not the only one in this case, and not the biggest - Schultz wasn't the guy.
On July 2, an Anne Arundel grand jury refused to indict Braga for making Schultz endure years of facial reconstructive surgery. Braga had committed neither first-degree assault, second-degree assault nor reckless endangerment, the grand jury ruled after carefully considering the weighty matter for all of 20 minutes.
As might be expected, White did not disagree with the decision. He went a step further, and told all within the Central Maryland area who the real culprits were: Schultz and Harkum.
"This would not have been a problem," White admonished those persnickety pundits among us who insist cop types shoot only armed criminals, not law-abiding guys returning from the mall with their girlfriends, "if the people inside the car had complied with orders and raised their hands, which they did not."
Everybody get that? You know-it-alls who thought cops could only shoot folks who were armed and presented imminent danger to police or others should learn a lesson from this. You've been wrong. You've been wrong for years. You don't need to have a weapon. You don't need to present a danger. If you simply refuse to raise your hands, prepare to get a cap popped in you.
We should be grateful to White and the grand jury for clarifying this matter. Now we know that when we venture from the safety of our homes onto our streets and highways, the folks charged with protecting us may now kill us if we don't raise our hands. The fact that they give conflicting orders will be considered our fault, not theirs.
Fortunately for me, White and the grand jury expressed these sentiments this year, and not back in 1996 when a city cop stopped me for running a traffic light I didn't run.
"Show me your license and registration!" he demanded, taking extra precautions to be as rude and as brusque as he could. As I started to reach for the registration in my glove compartment, the officer became completely unnerved.
"Keep your hands where I can see them!" he shouted. I wondered if the cop even considered he had given me two completely contradictory orders.
But I know now. Don't get the registration when the cop orders it. Keep your hands where they can be seen. Let the cop retrieve the registration and arrest you for failing to obey a lawful order. Twelve to 14 hours spent down at central booking beats getting shot.
The feds yelled contradictory orders to Schultz and Harkum as well. According to the Anne Arundel County police report on the incident, some yelled at Harkum to open the door while others yelled at Schultz to put up his hands. Schultz told the grand jury he reached down to unlock the door, choosing to obey that order.
It's possible that Schultz and Harkum might also have been scared out of their wits, but that won't gain them any sympathy. Cops, we are told, have much to fear from traffic stops. They have to make split-second decisions. The wrong one may be fatal for them.
We civilians, by this logic, know not fear. When we're driving along, knowing we have committed no crime, and a group of armed officers stops us and points loaded weapons at us, we're supposed to react as though we have nerves of steel. If we get shot as a result of any fright-induced hesitation or bodily movements, well, that's just our tough luck.
That's White's and the grand jury's message to Schultz and Harkum. FBI agents stopping the wrong car? Schultz and Harkum's fault. Agents shooting the wrong guy? Blame Harkum and Schultz. Next time they'll know better than to commit a cap-able offense, and in the meantime, the FBI might consider a new motto for when its agents screw up:
"Whoops. Your bad."