This month, a California appellate court recently ruled against an appeal for two Los Angeles police officers who lost their jobs around an incident that occurred in April of 2017. The court stated in the ruling that the two officers were caught looking for Pokémon characters instead of responding to a nearby call for a robbery in progress. The two officers claimed that they failed to hear the request for backup because they were near a park where loud music was being played.
Sergeant Jose Gomez, the patrol supervisor for the day of the robbery, made the decision to review the police vehicle’s digital video system recording the next day and discovered that the two officers were playing the mobile game Pokémon GO for 20 minutes. The two officers claimed that they were discussing the game instead of playing it.
In 2018, the two officers were fired for committing misconduct and violating the public’s trust. Both officers decided to appeal the decision and claimed that the recordings were improperly used for evidence in the decision for termination. The Superior Court denied their appeal, and the appeals court upheld the decision. Although both officers are disappointed about the court’s decision, they are collaborating with their legal counsel on how best to proceed.
What is an “official misconduct” charge?
Tennessee has similar laws regarding the behavior and actions of public servants, but we use different language. Under Tennessee law, a public servant can be charged with “official misconduct” if he or she intentionally or knowingly:
- Commits an act relating to the public servant’s office or employment that constitutes an unauthorized exercise of official power;
- Commits an act under color of office or employment that exceeds the public servant’s official power;
- Refrains from performing a duty that is imposed by law or that is clearly inherent in the nature of the public servant’s office or employment;
- Violates a law relating to the public servant’s office or employment; or
- Receives any benefit not otherwise authorized by law.
For a person to be charged with misconduct, there are two elements that the courts must prove. The first element is an intent to receive or deprive another person of a benefit, and the second element is evidence that the defendant intentionally acted or failed to act. Official misconduct is a misdemeanor in Tennessee.
According to CNN’s report, the officers “evidently heard the call [for assistance] but ignored it. In the ruling, [Officer] Lozano was quoted saying, ‘Aw, screw it.’ when debating if they should respond to the call.” Had this case been presented in Tennessee, that officer likely would have been charged with official misconduct, at least.
What is an official oppression charge?
“Official oppression,” on the other hand, is a much more serious criminal charge. Under the law:
- A public servant acting under color of office or employment commits an offense who:
- Intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, stop, frisk, halt, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment or lien when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful; or
- Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful.
This is a Class E felony charge.
What is the difference between official misconduct and official oppression?
The difference between official misconduct and official oppression is the severity of the offense. Using the police database to run the plates of your ex’s new beau is official misconduct; going to the new beau’s house, breaking the windows of his car and rifling through his glove compartment is official oppression.
Consequences for public officials charged with, and convicted of, crimes
For a public servant, merely being charged with a crime can cause permanent damage, even if he or she is completely exonerated. Despite what we may see in the “news,” people put a lot of faith in their public servants to do the right thing, and any whiff of impropriety could be enough to permanently stain a reputation.
An actual conviction can be far more damaging. At the very least, it can cost you a job – and that’s still a huge blow. Even a misdemeanor conviction could cost you a security clearance, which will, in turn, prohibit you from certain jobs in law enforcement or tech.
A felony conviction will be far worse:
- Jail or prison time
- Excessive fines and fees
- Loss of the right to carry a firearm
- Loss of the right to vote
- Loss of housing and educational opportunities
- Loss of government benefits or assistance
Understand, too, that depending on the crime, you may end up with a criminal record forever unless you seek to expunge your record, or are granted a pardon by the Governor of Tennessee. If you are convicted of federal misconduct charges, only a Presidential pardon will clear your record.
This is why you should seek the services of an experienced Sevierville criminal defense lawyer as soon as you possibly can. Delius & McKenzie, PLLC not only has a track record of successfully defending clients against felony and misdemeanor charges, but we have long been the go-to firm for public servants and members of law enforcement who are facing accusations of wrongdoing. This is because everyone is entitled to a rigorous defense, and we take that right seriously. Depending on the nature of the charges, you may be a good candidate for a pre-trial or judicial diversion; we can talk about this option during a consultation.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, it is our privilege, our honor, and our duty to provide our clients with superior legal services at the highest ethical levels. For more than 20 years, public servants in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge have trusted us to protect their rights; you can trust us too. To discuss your options with an aggressive criminal defense attorney, please call us at 865-428-8780, or fill out our contact form.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.