Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #360: SPIDER-WOMAN’S ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
I’ll bet Matt Murdock wishes he hadn’t screwed up and gotten disbarred in New York. Because now’s when he could cash in.
It’s all because of what happened in Spider-Woman v5 #5, when Jessica Drew heard a woman screaming for help. She changed into her Spider-Woman costume and answered the call. She found a woman fleeing down an alley being chased by a huge, hulking costumed villain of some sort. Just as the bad guy was about to grab the woman, Spider-Woman leapt into action. Literally.
And, no, I didn’t say literally, when I meant figuratively. Spider-Woman leapt off a rooftop and dropped down between the attacker and the woman. She kicked the bad guy away from the woman and followed up by delivering one of her bio-electric venom blasts to his chest. After this, she flipped the attacker with a judo throw and threw him into a wall. Physical but efficient. After all, this wasn’t the story’s main obligatory fight scene, it was just the set-up.
When Jessica went to secure the baddie to a lamp post and call the police, she didn’t have to call the police. The assailant wasn’t a super villain. It was a police officer dressed up as a super villain. And the alley was already full of other police officers. Why even the damsel in distress was a police officer, pretending to be a scream queen. Who says there’s never a cop around when you need one?
Turns out Spider-Woman interrupted a how-to-fight-super-villains training exercise the NYPD was conducting. (And now we know why they say there’s never a cop around when you need one; they’re all in some rain-soaked alley somewhere taking down pretend super villains.)
Cut to the next day: Jessica Drew was in a holding cell in a NYPD precinct, where she’d been for twelve hours after being arrested for assaulting a police officer. She was playing Charades with the other women in her cell when Ben Urich, reporter for the Daily Bugle who learned of Jessica’s arrest on the Internet, got her released. Wasn’t too hard, Ben didn’t even have to post bail. Turns out NYPD didn’t even book Jessica.
Ben explained that the police “knew none of their charges would stick to Spider-Woman. They arrested her and kept her in general lockup all night so that they could post pictures of the super hero under arrest on the Internet and humiliate Jessica. “Sad fact of life: Cops don’t like super heroes as much as super heroes like to think.”
Here’s another sad fact of life: Stupidity like these cops engaged in is costly; to careers and to pocketbooks. As I said earlier, New York disbarred Matt Murdock, so he can’t handle the case. Too bad, too, as this case is a slam dunk. What case? Why Jessica’s lawsuit against New York City for wrongful arrest.
Wrongful arrest? How can it be wrongful arrest, Jessica kicked a police officer. Then she hit him with a venom blast and, finally, judo threw him into a wall. Any one of these would constitute assaulting a police officer by itself. All three of them is multiple counts of assault of a police officer; redundant and proof that super heroing, like comedy, subscribes to the rule of three.
Problem is, they don’t. Not one of the three acts of physical violence actually constituted assault of a police officer. Not kicking him. Not venom blasting him. Not judo throwing him.
There’s a New York statute which defines the crime of assault of a police officer. It’s New York Penal Law § 120.08. No, I didn’t know this off the top of my head. I can’t know all of the criminal statutes of the states, cities, and municipalities in this country. There’s a googolplex of them. So, I Googled it.
NY Penal L § 120.80 says someone commits the crime assault of a police officer when, “with intent to prevent a … police officer … from performing a lawful duty, he causes serious physical injury to such … police officer…”
Ordinarily, this might raise the question: Did Jessica cause serious physical injury to the police officer? In this case, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter how seriously the police officer was harmed; although it didn’t appear he was hurt too bad. The fact is, Jessica could have ripped off one of his legs and she still wouldn’t have committed assault on a police officer.
Look at the elements of the crime again. Study them. There’ll be a test later.
Okay, it’s later. (Hey, I never said how much later.) So, here’s the test.
“Jessica Drew didn’t commit assault on a police officer. Explain.”
Right. The statute requires that she must cause the injury “with intent to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty.” Jessica didn’t intend to prevent any police officer from doing anything. She honestly and reasonably believed a hulking somebody was attacking a woman in an alley. Her intent was to stop a crime, not to interfere with a police officer.
Remember, Ben Urich told Jessica – and, thus, told us – that the police knew the charges wouldn’t stick. How did they know? They knew because they knew Jessica reasonably believed she was preventing an attack, not interfering with a police officer.
However, that means that the police arrested Jessica knowing full well that she didn’t commit any crime so they didn’t have probable cause to arrest her. They arrested her for the express purpose of posting pictures of her arrest on the Internet and embarrassing her. That’s what’s sometimes called a bad faith arrest. Not to be confused with pinching Buffy’s slayer friend for theft. That’s a Faith’s bad arrest.
When the police made a bad faith arrest without probable cause just so they could embarrass Jessica, they broke the law themselves. It’s NY Penal L § 195, official misconduct. It happens when a public servant, such as a police officer, knowingly commits an unauthorized act relating to his office with the intent to deprive a person of a benefit. Falsely arresting a person so as to embarrass her, would deprive that person of the benefit of her right to liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment. And by these actions, the police committed a crime, they also opened the city of New York up to a false arrest lawsuit.
Earlier this year, a law student in Brooklyn was parked in a bus stop. Two police officers chased him out of the spot, not because he was parked illegally but because they wanted to park there themselves so that they could go to a nearby food truck. When the student confronted the cops about their abuse of power, they cited the student with two counts of disorderly conduct. The student sued New York City for false arrest and reached an out-of-court settlement that netted him some money. And netted his attorney even more money in legal fees.
If that law student could successfully sue the city because the police cited him to make him stop busting their chops about their parking in a bus stop, imagine what a bona fide super heroine and former member of the Avengers could do with the police illegally arresting her for the specific purpose of embarrassing her. Hell there’s probably even be a federal civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lurking around in there somewhere.
And if the law student’s lawyer got an even bigger award in legal fees than the student won, there’s money to be had for some lawyer. Matt Murdock can’t take the case. Maybe Jennifer Walters will take Jessica’s case. And if Jen’s too busy being She-Hulk, I might consider getting my law license reinstated – I let it it go inactive after I retired from the public defender office – so I could have a crack at it.
On second thought, no. Jessica is a fictional character and her case a fictional case. So any damage awards or attorney fees would also be fictional. While the joys of being retired from the practice of law are all too real.