Never Trust a Costumed Strangerby William Norman Grigg
Within the space of seventy-two hours last weekend, three women were detained and sexually assaulted by armed strangers in official-looking costumes. Two of those incidents occurred in Texas, the other happened in Minnesota.
The first attack took place on a highway near Carrollton, Texas on Thursday, November 21. An unidentified man wearing what appeared to be a police uniform stopped a woman, handcuffed her, and assaulted her in the back seat of his car.
Early Sunday morning, a female student at the University of Minnesota was sexually assaulted by a man dressed like a police officer. The assailant, who was driving a black SUV, approached the woman and admonished her that she shouldn’t be walking alone late at night. Beguiled by what appeared to be the stranger’s official attire, the woman got into the vehicle. The driver locked the doors and conveyed the victim to a remote location, where he raped her.
Sandwiched between these episodes of sexual predation by ersatz police officers was one involving an actual cop. During a routine patrol on Friday, November 22, San Antonio Police Officer Jackie Len Neal allegedly stopped a 19-year-old girl, handcuffed her, and raped her in the back seat of his police cruiser. This was not the first time he has been accused of assaulting women during traffic stops.
Neal was arrested a few hours later, but released after making bail. He was immediately put on paid “administrative leave,” and allowed to keep his firearms – professional courtesies that would not be extended to either of the other two accused roadside rapists if they were captured.
Following the attack by the police impersonator near Carrollton, police officials warned female drivers that if they are suspicious of the individual pulling them over, they should call 911 and then drive to a well-lit area before stopping.
This course of action might defeat the evil designs of a police impersonator. However, if the suspicious stranger is a police officer, a female driver who acts on that safety advice will probably find herself involved in a dangerous pursuit that could lead to criminal charges – assuming that she survives the encounter.
This is demonstrated by the cast of Arizona resident Dibor Roberts, who was attacked by a sheriff’s deputy during a late-night traffic stop after she tried to find a safe and well-lit area to conduct unwanted business with the uniformed extortionist.
At roughly 10:45 PM on the evening of July 29, 2007, Mrs. Roberts, a 48-year-old nurse and naturalized U.S. citizen from Senegal, was returning from work when she noticed a car driving erratically in front of her.
After passing the dangerous driver, Roberts noticed police lights in her rear-view mirror. Her initial reaction was relief, since she believed the officer was going to pull over what she suspected was an impaired motorist. Her relief turned to puzzlement and then alarmed suspicion when she realized that she was the target.
Just a few days earlier, Dibor and her husband had discussed local incidents involving police impersonators. They were aware of advice given by police agencies to people being pulled over in dangerous circumstances: Drive carefully to a well-lit, preferably public area, and call 911 if possible to verify that it is a police officer. That was the official recommendation offered by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office. That department’s employees included Sgt. Jeff Newnum – who, ignoring another driver who was operating his vehicle erratically at unsafe speeds, had targeted Roberts for a revenue collection encounter on that dark July evening.
Roberts did nothing wrong. She acted in strict compliance with the Sheriff’s official advice, slowing down and proceeding in the direction of a well-lit area. Her behavior was not that of someone trying to flee from the police.
Deputy Newnum, on the other hand, had already lost his composure, informing the dispatcher that he was in pursuit of a “black driver” who refused to stop. He pulled alongside Roberts and attempted a “pit maneuver” to force her off the road, which did nothing to allay the innocent woman’s entirely proper suspicions. After Roberts came to a stop, Newnum erupted from his vehicle with a drawn gun because, he later testified, “I knew I had an angry driver.”
Roberts, who by this time was terrified, frantically tried to explain that she was looking for a safe place to stop. Ignoring her desperate pleas, and no doubt eager to exploit an opportunity to inflict property damage, Newnum took out a baton and shattered the driver's side window, bellowing at her to "Open the f*****g door!" He then seized the terrified woman and dragging her out of the car. As he did so, Dibor's foot came off the brake and her car -- which was still in gear -- rolled forward over Newnum's foot.
Through her window, Dibor had repeatedly yelled "It's too dark; I'm afraid." She was dragged from her vehicle yelling "No, no, no, no," as Newnum threw her to the ground. Her cellphone was taken from her and thrown away as well.
"He pulled me out and the car jerked because I had my foot on the brakes," Dibor explained after the incident.
"She took it too far when she ran over my foot," insisted Newnum later under oath. This is a petulant lie of the kind that comes readily to the lips of tax-eaters of Newnum’s ilk. He had needlessly escalated the encounter by threatening to use deadly force. Roberts made no effort to escape after supposedly assaulting Newnum.
Furthermore, Newnum’s courtroom testimony that Roberts clearly intended to run over his foot contradicted his official report from six months earlier, in which he said it wasn’t clear whether this was a mishap or an act of malicious intent. He likewise equivocated on the witness stand as to whether or not he was injured in that “attack.”
Another key contradiction in Newnum’s testimony dealt with his concerns over Robert’s “threat” to his safety. The deputy claimed that he was worried that he couldn’t see Roberts’s hands, which supposedly justified his decision to approach the car with a drawn gun at the “low ready” position. However, he also testified that when he reached Roberts’s vehicle he saw her hands plainly, and that they were gripping her steering wheel "firmly" – which he said justified suspicions that she might have been impaired.
In his closing arguments during the trial, Yavapai County Prosecutor Glen Hammond insisted that the driver’s crime was that "she did not stop" --
which would mean that Sheriff Waugh had abetted the crime by instructing motorists uncertain of the identity of their pursuer not to stop until they reached a well-lit area. Hammond's position was that Roberts was a criminal because she had obeyed the instructions offered by the Sheriff, and that it was not necessary to prove that she had willfully tried to flee or injure Newnum.
The jury, which apparently was populated entirely by punitive populists, ratified that claim after less than two hours’ deliberation, finding Roberts guilty of two felonies – resisting arrest (which isn’t a crime) and unlawful flight. (Significantly, the initial traffic violation was dismissed outright, as was a charge of “assaulting” Newnum for supposedly running over his foot.) The trial judge, in what he probably thought was an act of tremendous generosity, dismissed the first conviction and sentenced Roberts to six months' supervised probation. This left an undeserved felony conviction on her record, which meant an end to her nursing career.
Not content to ruin Roberts’s professional life and inflict substantial financial and emotional hardship on this innocent woman and her family, Hammond – offering the last full measure of prosecutorial malice – tried to depict the terrified nurse as the bully in this encounter.
"All he [Newnum] wanted from the very beginning was an apology and [he] left it up to the County Attorney what to do with this case," whined Hammond. "It was a misunderstanding. It has been really tough on him and his family due to a lot of press, a lot of hate mail. He has been called a racist.... He just wants everyone to move forward and" – at this point, dear reader, you may want to find a receptacle for your rebellious gorge -- "let the healing begin."
Bobbing in this slurry of insipid clichés is an unintended confession by Hammond that he had committed malfeasance of office: If this incident was a "misunderstanding," then it wasn't a crime, and shouldn't have been prosecuted as such. In addition, if Newnum really wanted nothing more than an apology "from the very beginning," he should have complied with Dibor's reasonable and lawful request to find a well-lit area to conduct the traffic stop.
An actual peace officer (who wouldn’t be involved in roadside shake-downs in the first place) would have cleared up that “misunderstanding,” rather than escalating it. Jeff Newnum, like practically everybody else in his profession, is a law enforcer who impersonates a peace officer. Such people are immeasurably more dangerous than their imitators.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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