Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not Pot: A Curmie Contender

This is a marijuana leaf.
Longtime Curmiphiles of especially good memory may recall a piece from March of 2013, detailing the saga of two elderly Ohio State fans who were harassed by idiot Tennessee cops (I presume there’s another kind, even if the phrase does border on the redundant) who mistook the buckeye decal on their car for a marijuana leaf. This one is worse.

In September of 2014, the 11-year-old son of Bruce and Linda Bays (he’s identified only as “RMB”) was suspended from Bedford (VA) Middle School for marijuana possession. Assistant Principal Brian Wilson had found the offending foliage and a lighter in the boy’s backpack. Easy enough call, then, right? Well, except for the part where three separate field tests of the flora in question turned up negative. Not inconclusive, negative. Needless to say, the school’s dim-witted administration and the imperious county sheriff’s office still continued to pretend they had a case. At last word (there may be a follow-up since July, but I can’t find it), a federal judge allowed a lawsuit by the boy’s parents against the school and the cops to move forward (they’ve subsequently dropped their suit against school officials), denying a motion to dismiss by Jim Guynn, who represents both defendants (do we need further proof of their collusion than that no one seems to think there’s a conflict of interest there?).

This is a Japanese maple leaf.
Similar is not the same as identical.
The exact facts of the case are unclear at best—RMB did or did not claim to have marijuana; it was or was not a joke; he was or was not set up by a bully; did or did not even know the leaf was in his backpack (yes, leaf: one undried leaf—not the stuff of habitual drug use); he was given it by a high school kid on the bus, or he showed it to others on the bus, or in the bathroom, or in homeroom, or not at all.

Five things are certain: 1). there was a leaf that looked roughly like marijuana in the boy’s backpack; 2). it wasn’t marijuana, and the cops knew it, but neither they nor the school cared; 3). the boys’ parents weren’t told the leaf had tested negative until two months after the fact; 4). the prosecutor dropped the charges; 5). the boy was allowed to return to school (a different one), but only on a probationary basis, and only after he was forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation and similar indignities… and for what? For possessing, perhaps unknowingly, an item that isn’t the least bit illegal.

Well, let me equivocate on that last bit just a little. There is that bullshit look-alike clause in Virginia law that outlaws “imitation controlled substances.” As Walter Einenkel of the Daily Kos points out, the term is intended to apply to “things that are still actually drugs. This is clearly the loophole the school and sheriff’s office are trying to weasel through to get out of malicious prosecution charges. If it’s not a loophole then you can be expelled for dumping sugar on a lunchroom table and saying it’s cocaine.”

But, needless to say, if you’re an overzealous douchebag assistant principal or cop, you’re going to rely on this diversion when it becomes clear that you’re proceeding with a case that you knew was bogus from the get-go. And there are few people in the country with less ethical sense than Assistant Principal Brian Wilson (who pushed for expulsion despite a complete lack of evidence) or Deputy M. M. Calohan (who pursued criminal charges knowing the boy didn’t have any dope). Their respective bosses, school operations chief (what the hell kind of job title is that?) Frederick “Mac” Duis and Sheriff Mike Brown, are either utterly incompetent or utterly corrupt (or, of course, both). Three of these people should be out of jobs. The fourth, Calohan, should be not only fired, but prosecuted. Oh, and Wilson and Duis can share a Curmie nomination.

By the most generous possible interpretation of the facts, the school and sheriff’s office proceeded to punish an 11-year-old boy and his family despite a dearth of evidence. More likely, they continued despite knowing for a fact that the worst the boy was guilty of nothing more severe than a little adolescent braggadocio: “hey, look at me… I’ve got marijuana.” This is when any educator or police officer worthy of the name sit the boy down, read him the Riot Act, and maybe, maybe suspend him for a couple of days. But given the over-reaching of school officials and police (which in those with a conscience might instill a little humility), a more intelligent approach would be, “hey, kid, don’t do that again.”

Of course, that’s not what happened. There was a hearing on September 29, at which school officials ducked any serious questions, including whether the leaf had tested positive. Duis subsequently decided that the opportunity to appeal the inanity of his decision expired because of that hearing. Here’s how U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon described the Duis’s argument:
The formality of providing a hearing, in and of itself, does not satisfy the requirements of due process. The hearing... must be a real one, not a sham or a pretense.... Indeed, due process is a requirement that cannot be deemed to be satisfied by mere notice and a hearing if a state has contrived a conviction through the pretense of a trial which in truth is but used as a means of depriving a defendant of liberty through a deliberate deception of court.
Tell us what you really think, Judge.

The Bays family claims that RMB is experiencing agoraphobia, depression, and panic attacks. This may or may not be true. But even if that’s just fluff to make the lawsuit a little more persuasive, they’re still the victims. After all, most of us did something stupid when we were 11. We shouldn’t be considered lucky that we didn’t get thrown out of school or arrested, especially when he did nothing actually illegal.

Note: although the initial incident occurred in 2014, we’re going to call this a Curmie contender this year. The case is still ongoing, or at least it was into this summer, and I can find no media reports prior to this March. For a calamity of these proportions to miss out on a nomination on the technicality of not happening in 2015 per se would seem to Curmie to be a miscarriage of justice.

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