One of the things I really appreciate about the Midland Police Department is their willingness to police their own. We see movies about the code of silence among police officers in which cops try to put themselves above the law. But, in reality those conspiracy theories don't necessarily apply, at least not out here.
Ryan Myers, in the 8/30/05 issue of the Midland Reporter-Telegram article titled Midland police officer arrested, informed readers that Jessie Ortiz, a nine year veteran of the Midland Police Department, had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a female companion and firing his service pistol into the wall of a residential bedroom early Sunday morning.
Then in the 8/31/05 issue of the Midland Reporter-Telegram, with the information packed headline: MPD officer resigns amid criminal charge, Mr. Myers quotes Police Chief John Urby as follows:
"This concludes the department's administrative investigation into the issue," Police Chief John Urby said of the man's resignation.
"Because he is no longer an employee of the police department, it's no longer our concern and there is not a need for the department to investigate the case," Urby said.
The Sheriff's Department has the responsibility of investigating the crime, digging the bullet out of the wall, and turning over evidence to the District Attorney's office. But what exactly was the police department's "administrative investigation," and how did it result in Mr. Ortiz's resignation?
Too much public information about that might jeopardize any prosecution of the alleged offense, so my query to the Public Information Officer was a simple "yes" or "no" question. "Did Mr. Ortiz participate in an interview with an officer of the MPD Internal Affairs Department between August 27, 2005, and the time he resigned?"
"Yes," was the answer. Why is that significant? The Midland Police Department has an Internal Affairs department which investigates allegations against police officers. And Internal Affairs has a potent weapon.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in GARRITY v. NEW JERSEY, 385 U.S. 493 (1967) held that information obtained from police officers with a threat of firing was coerced and therefore violated the officers' constitutional right against self incrimination if that information was used against them in a criminal trial.
That resulted in the Garrity Warning which, once given, provides an accused officer with a choice of either to talk or get fired. The constitutional rule against self incrimination is intact as any information obtained in such an interview can't be used in criminal court.
Here' a short description of the Garrity Warning found at the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement site:
The employee is informed that although he (or she) has a right to remain silent and not incriminate himself, his silence can be deemed insubordination and will result in administrative discipline; further, any statement he makes under compulsion of the threat of such discipline cannot be used against him in a later criminal proceeding.
Tough but fair. So what can we surmise from Mr. Ortiz's resignation following the Internal Affairs interview? He had the right to remain silent, and jurors are told not to let someone's silence influence their decision of innocence or guilt. But we live in the real world not in a court room. So we are all free to draw own conclusions.