Auto eroticism. It was just what you needed to bust a big drug case: a combination of fortuity, alertness, and teamwork. Dayton Det. Raymond St. Clair was the one who spotted the suspect, Eric Flanagan, first. He saw Flanagan driving on Xenia Ave., followed him in his unmarked car for ten or fifteen minutes, then watched as Flanagan pulled behind on industrial building. It was about 8:20 in the evening, just when, as St. Clair testified, the sun was setting and it was "getting close to getting dusk."
This wasn't the kind of thing a police officer would tackle on his own. St. Clair stayed out of sight, approaching the south side of the building on foot, and peered around the corner, spotting Flanagan's car parked on the west side of the building. Backup soon arrived in the form of three additional detectives.
They carefully plotted their attack, and all that tactical training at the police academy paid off. St. Clair rushed the car on foot, while the other detectives raced up to it in two vehicles with their high beams on.
So how many kilos of heroin or crack or meth did the police recover? Well, actually, all this wasn't done to nail Flanagan for dealing drugs. It was to arrest him for getting a blow job in a car.
Charged with public indecency, Flanagan took the stand to deny that any sexual activity had taken place. He explained that he and the young lady were friends and had simply gone behind the building to "talk privately and to drink beer," leaving unexplained why this would involve pulling his pants down to his knees, and having his ladyfriend with her head in his lap. (The theory that she was merely resting took a hit from one detective's testimony that when he approached, the woman "became startled and sat up, exposing Flanagan's penis to the detectives.")
A jury convicted Flanagan, but it all goes away with the 2nd District's reversal last week in State v. Flanagan. Noting that the statute requires that a defendant engage in conduct which "is likely to be viewed by and affront others who are in the person's physical proximity and who are not members of the person's household," the court concluded that there was "no evidence to support a finding that Flanagan engaged in such conduct under circumstances in which it was likely to be viewed by others," observing that only the "extraordinary efforts" of the detectives had allowed them to see it.
Besides the obvious profound precedential impact of Flanagan, one comes away from the case with several impressions:
- Dayton detectives really, really, really do not have enough to do
- The people in Dayton are a serious and hardy lot, because you couldn't get five minutes into this trial in Cuyahoga County without the lawyers, judge, and jurors giggling themselves stupid.
Here's a judge who never listened to Bob Dylan's The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. There's a part of you that wants to feel sorry for Ethan Couch. He's only 16 years old. Then again, you definitely feel sorry for the families of Brian Jennings, Hollie and Shelby Boyles, and Breanna Mitchell. Those are the four people Couch killed while driving with a blood/alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult.
A lot of people are surprised to learn that the most you can get in Ohio for killing somebody while you're driving drunk is eight years in prison. Of course, sometimes prosecutors get creative in their charging, or multiple victims allow consecutive sentences. We've had a number of such cases here in Cleveland over the years; one woman drove the wrong way on I-71 for eight miles before plowing into a couple coming home from their wedding and killing them. She wound up with 18 years, as I remember. Couch is 16, but the newspaper stories describe one of the victims as a "youth pastor," and two of the four victims were in their early 20's. Plus, a fifth passenger was left a paraplegic. Frankly, I don't see Couch walking out of more than a handful of courtrooms across the street with less than a double-digit sentence.
That's exactly what a Tarrant County, Texas, judge did last week, imposing on Couch ten full years -- of probation.
Various organizations annually anoint certain words as the new word of the year. It was "hashtag" in 2012 for the American Dialect Society, while Oxford Dictionaries kept a stiff upper lip and designated "omnishambles." I think it's safe to venture that "affluenza" will be on somebody's list for 2013.
That was Couch's defense: he was raised by affluent parents who never set any boundaries for him, gave him everything he wanted, and never punished him for anything. (The affluence part is undebatable: one of the conditions of probation is that Ethan spend time in a $450,000-a-year treatment center, the cost of which will be borne by his father.) The psychologist whored out by the defense used the term, and explained that as a result of his parent's gross over-indulgence, Couch lost the ability to behave responsibly.
The country was suitably outraged by the sentence, and I'm guessing Karma's going to come back with a roundhouse punch: Couch was driving a truck owned by a trucking company, which is owned by Couch's father. There are personal injury lawyers who would wet their pants at the prospect of trying a case like that.
If this were an after-school special on the Disney Channel, the outcome would have been clear and simple: The best way of teaching the vitally important lesson that actions have consequences is by showing that they do.
But then life doesn't imitate art, it's the other way around. And one of the things the Disney Channel doesn't teach you is that the man who said money can't buy happiness never sat in a courtroom.