CRIME CITY

It Doesn't Pay to Play with 911

Testifying on the phone can come back to bite you

Posted

Wes Denham is the co-author of "Arrest-Proof 
Yourself" and author of "Arrested, What to Do When Your Loved One's in Jail." He is currently at work on “The Crime Wasn’t Murder: The Death of Trayvon Martin and the Prosecution of George Zimmerman.” You can reach him at wesdenham.com.

Every jerk in the 'jects and every twit in the
 trailers knows you can call the cops to settle scores. Just dial 911 and say you've been raped/assaulted/robbed or that your wife/husband/fuckbuddy is beating, scaring, threatening you, etc. The cops don't mind being played because they win by busting people. Arrests keep the jail full and the Palace of Justice humming with hearings. They enable every elected official, whether right-wing freakazoid or liberal squish, to add "crime buster" to their bumper stickers before election day.

Recently, the realization has spread through the Land of the Low that you can testify to 911 and put your version of events into the official record. If something grisly goes down, the 911 call will make its way to radio and TV stations and into court. Best yet, with 911, you can have your say without being quizzed by cops, who ask questions rapid-fire in a confusing manner and have a habit of saying, "Do you know that lying to a law enforcement officer is a felony?" If matters go to court, your 911 statement can't be cross-examined under oath by annoyingly articulate state attorneys.

Playing cops and prosecutors via 911, like staging a crime scene, is a high-risk game. First, you can contradict yourself. Later, after you've had advice of counsel, you might find it advisable to say something different, but it will be too late. You're already on the record. When peeved about perjury, judges can sentence you to a year of busting up lime rock to plant vegetables or cutting grass with scissors along state highways.

Second, if you really get jammed up on the witness stand, you might find it difficult to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A prosecutor will say, "Your honor, the defendant has already spoken on this matter!"

Lest you forget, those 911 operators —courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent — work for the cops! If you talk too long and too convolutedly into their digital recorders, they will begin, oh-so-politely, to interrogate you. They know, and you don't, certain key words that trigger an indirect confession.

Let's say you shoot someone in your home. You call 911 and declare, "It was self-defense!" The 911 operator, following dispatch of the police, will ask you questions. "Did you know him?" If you say you did, that person may be ruled lawfully present and your self-defense claim may have just flown out the window. They will certainly ask, step by step, what happened. They may interject little questions like, "After the first shot, did you run after him?" If you say "yes," you've just blown your other defense because, when you're chasing someone and holding a gun, you're not, by definition, standing your ground.

The idea of testifying to 911 recently occurred to George Zimmerman during his latest scrum with his latest ladylove. Who hit whom isn't clear, since it is Zimmerman's unique charm to make women eager to jump in bed with him, then equally eager to smash crockery and break furniture. What is indisputable is that, while his girlfriend was raging to 911 on her cellphone, Zimmerman was too obviously testifying to 911 on his.

It didn't go well. All he could think to say was, "I didn't do anything." When the operator asked what he meant, he wouldn't elaborate. When cops banged on the doors and windows, he stayed on the phone. The dispatcher asked him, several times, to "talk to the police officer." When he kept talking to 911, he appeared to be hiding something.

Not good.

Nattering to 911 can cause other problems. Two years ago, I was on my bicycle peddling Downtown from my thinking emporium high atop Police Zone 1 when I came upon a dead body. Actually, it was a car perforated with several hundred holes created by the 7.62x39 mm, full-metal-jacket ammo that's popular on my block because it can whiz through sheet metal with enough juice left to kill all within.

The trunk was oozing protoplasm, and the spice of decomp was in the air. As a dutiful citizen, I dialed the number and gave the operator the vehicle location and description. I did not, however, give them my name and address. (My cellphone is an untraceable Walmart burner with no GPS.)

The reason was simple. The victim had been blasted somewhere else and the car towed into place as a warning. Had I identified myself on the 911 call, I might have been asked to make a statement or to testify at trial, though I had nothing material to say.

That's a risk. In my neighborhood, rats, especially the two-legged variety, get shot. The local dope bosses and I have a live-and-let-live arrangement that works. I stay out of their business; their bullets stay out of my head.

So, gang, when calling 911, do so only because you need help. Be brief, then hang up. If you play the cops, or get played, it can cause jail-type and morgue-type problems,

In Crime City.

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