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Bad attitudes about Constitutional rights make for bad cops

Lewis Hatch IV

You're a good man, Greg Zullo, and we have the video to prove it
Lewis Hatch IV
, is a Vermont state trooper who could use some woodshed schoolin' on the US Constitution, and the ACLU is just in the process of giving it to him.  When this dumb-ass pulled over a 21-yo black guy named Gregory Zullo, he (the cop) decided he was going to search Zullo's car.  Zullo decided he wasn't, at least not without a warrant.  The stop was ostensibly because there was a 3 inch hump of snow blocking the annual registration sticker on Zullo's license tag -- that's Hatch's story.  

Greg Zullo's "offense" -- snow.  The tag numbers are perfectly clear.  
I think Ayn Rand said something along the lines that if cops 
can pull us over and impound our cars for something like this, 
the US Constitution is fucked.  Well, not in those exact words.

Now, think about this . . . it's Vermont, it's March, the temp. is 20 degrees F. and you've got a cop with an attitude issue who thinks he can pull over any car with snow on the license plate as a pretense to search the car.  But Zullo  stood his ground and refused to consent to a search without a warrant, and that's exactly what he should have done.  I would not have even consented to a pat down.  

Clean every bit of snow off your tags or 
this is what can happen to you.

My personal rule as a lawyer is: Never consent to a warrantless search.  Make the cops go to the magistrate and swear out an affidavit stating their grounds for having a valid suspicion.  You can use the affidavit against them when you sue, which is surely what is going to happen here now that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit to vindicate Zullo's trashed rights.  

You can use the cop's dash cam video, too, once you get your hands on it.  Here is the vid of the Zullo stop -- mp4 or YouTube -- it's 1.5 hrs. long.  Interestingly, although Vermont cops are required to wear a hot wire when making stops, Hatch's mic is turned off the whole time, certainly a lucky "coincidence" for Hatch, what with the lawsuit and all.  But you really don't need the mic, you can see him (joined later by his anonymous buddy) browbeating Zullo for about an hour.  Hatch doesn't get it. The buddy doesn't get it. Once Zullo says "No search" -- that's it: no freaking search.  The cops cannot threaten, or brow-beat, or demand a warrantless search.  And yet Hatch threatened Zullo with impoundment of his car.    

What is going on here is that Hatch is treating Zullo's refusal to consent to a search as a reason to think Zullo has something to hide.  In other words, in Hatch's mind the probable cause he needs is Zullo's refusal to allow a search.  Without having heard a single word of the video I would be willing to bet a crisp $100 bill against a single Dunkin' Donuts glazed that at least once Hatch says something to the effect of "Well, if you got nothin' to hide, then let me do the search."  It don't work like that.  The cops are not permitted to make any presumptions as to probable cause based on a person's refusal to allow a search.  It's another indication that Hatch needs a trip to the woodshed for a lesson on due process. 

Officer Hatch's "election"
Normally, cops have about 10 minutes to give you a ticket and send you on your way, or else arrest you.  These cops did neither and held Zullo under what appears to me to be a false arrest for over an hour, and then they took his car.  The punitive nature of what Hatch was doing comes clear when Hatch prevents Zullo from getting his coat out of the car -- it's 20 degrees F., where the F stands for "freaking."   The cops have on service coats and later put on the knit caps -- they're fine, so screw Zullo.

Now here's the way Sam Hemingway of the Burlington Free Press describes what happened next as if, duh . . . yeah, there's nothing worth commenting on with respect to Hatch's "election."  

"Hatch elected to have the car impounded when he was unable to persuade the driver, Gregory Zullo, 21, of Rutland, to let him search the vehicle after Hatch claimed to smell the burnt marijuana when he first spoke to Zullo, who is black."

"Hatch elected" ????  WTF is that supposed to mean?  There is no election here. The Constitution is damn clear that there is no search and no seizure without permission, or a warrant, or probable cause, and Hatch had none of the above.  The 4th Amendment is not an option for cops.  The cop had no grounds to search the car and he certainly had no grounds to impound it.  Here is what Hatch said on the radio: "I can smell weed, but he won't let me search, so I'm just going to take it,"  When you realize who is saying that line, what the situation is, what the US Constitution's 4th Amendment says -- when you consider this whole ugly roadside package unfolding the way it did, you should be as troubled as I am that any person with this attitude could ever be a cop.  

According to the Complaint filed by the ACLU, Hatch ordered the car to be towed because of the snow blocking the registration sticker.  Instead of writing a citation, or better yet just brushing the snow off and sending Zullo on his way with a "Drive safely", this prick, Hatch, towed the car.  However, at about 37 min into the video, before the tow truck arrived, Zullo removes the snow, which means that by the time the tow truck got there there was no longer an infraction and no longer any reason to take the car.  Nevertheless, Hatch had the car towed and left Zullo standing in the road in 20 degree weather.  At 53 min. you can see Zullo try to retrieve his cell phone and money from the car, but the cops block him; consequently, there was no way for Zullo to call someone for a ride or pay for a cab.  When Zullo asked Hatch for a ride to Rutland -- which is where Hatch was going with the car and where Zullo lives -- Hatch told him to walk.  That's 12 miles on a cold winter day.  Clearly, what we're seeing is a punitive roadside measure inflicted by Vermont State Highway pigs -- so much for "protect and serve." 

Hatch: "I'm just going to take it."

The post-bust events make these pricks look even worse than the bust
When the tow truck pulls out with the car on it, Hatch jumps in his cop car and goes after it at a high rate of speed in a 25 mph zone.  The tow truck driver does a U-turn on the highway, stopping on-coming traffic, but doesn't get busted for it.  By now Hatch has his music playing; soon he is chatting and laughing on his cell phone as he drives, very likely a traffic violation itself.   He does a U-turn behind the tow truck -- probably another violation in view of the on-coming traffic -- and follows the tow truck back through town, passing Zullo standing on the road.  

When Zullo asked Hatch how he was supposed to get home, 
Hatch responded "That's not my problem."

No charges were ever filed against Zullo because he did nothing wrong.  I repeat: Zullo, in fact, did nothing illegal. All of this was about a cop thinking he can personally punish citizens who refuse to consent to a search.  Zullo was amazing -- he handled himself far better that I would have.  Had Hatch passed me on the street after illegally impounding my car, my response would have been:

Denis O'Brien's personal, digital opinion of cops 
with poor Constitutional hygiene

Hatch follows the tow truck all the way to Rutland, where the cop station -- and Zullo's home -- are.  Follow along with the dash cam for a while to see what kind of a driver Hatch is.  At 1:10:18 on the tape, he enters an intersection on a clearly yellow light, another traffic violation.  About 2 minutes later the tow truck blows a yellow light and Hatch runs the red.  

When they got the car back to the Rutland cop-shop, Hatch swore out an affidavit for a search warrant -- but not right away.  It is noteworthy that Hatch told Zullo he was looking for heroin, and the reason it's noteworthy is because Hatch swore out an application for a search warrant that didn't mention "heroin" but did specify "marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia," and that's exactly what he says he found -- a grinder and pot pipe, neither one of which is illegal in Vermont.  I point this out because the request for the search warrant specified precisely what was then found, which would suggest to any objective person that the car could have been searched before the warrant was requested.  Of course, this is speculation based on opinion.  

But speculation though it may be, it provides one possible explanation of why Hatch wouldn't want Zullo riding along back to the cop-shop.  Perhaps, Hatch figured he needed some "personal time" with the car before Zullo got there.  Zullo was pulled over at 3 pm.  His car arrived at the cop-shop shortly before 4:30 pm, but Zullo himself didn't get there until 5:30 pm.  When he arrived, Hatch had not yet obtained the warrant.  In fact, the judge didn't even grant the warrant until 7 pm.  So by leaving Zullo standing on the road, Hatch gave himself room in the timeline that he could use to have his way with the car and its contents, if he had wanted to.  There are other reasons for a reasonable person to think that Hatch's story may not be the Gospel truth.  Or Koranic truth.  Or Talmudic truth.  Whatever.  

Zullo has alleged that Hatch lied during the traffic stop, telling Zullo, for instance, that his K9 had signaled drugs in Zullo's car.  If Hatch did say such a thing, it was total BS.  Hatch had a dog, you can hear it on the tape, but the dog was not a drug dog and was never let out of the car.  If this was a drug dog, Hatch certainly wouldn't have left it locked in the car.  There are also indications in Hatch's sworn affidavit that suggest a stretched truth.  

  • Hatch swore that snow blocking a registration sticker is a violation of Title 23 VSA 511.   That statute says nothing about the registration sticker or it being visible.  Of course, even if having snow block the registration sticker is illegal in VT, that would be no reason to ask for a search warrant.  Hatch was just trying to justify the initial stop. 

  • Hatch swore that he ran a check on Zullo and learned that he "has prior arrest for drug possession."  [sic]

    • The Complaint says that what Hatch learned was that Zullo had been "charged" with misdemeanor possession of marijuana almost exactly a year previously and the charge was dismissed but Hatch neglected to put that part in the affidavit.  One can lie as surely by omission as by words.  Besides, an arrest in and of itself does not give rise to a reasonable suspicion of anything, particularly in this day and age when cops fuck with just about anybody they want with impunity.  And so Zullo's 
      "arrest" was immaterial to the search.

    • Sam Hemingway's piece says that:  "Records on file at Vermont Superior Court in Rutland show Zullo has no criminal convictions and no drug possession charge, a court clerk said,  The records show that Zullo was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and possession of stolen property during the past two years, but both charges were dismissed."   

The bust took place at 43 28.055' N 72 58.723' W, on the southern end of Wallingford, VT.  Hatch followed the tow truck 12 miles north on Rt. 7 to the State Police cop-shop at 43 38.175' N 72 58.645' W.  Because of Hatch's pissy-girl attitude of refusing to give Zullo a ride, Zullo covered the 12 miles on foot and with rides and got there about 5:30pm.  Zullo waited there for Hatch to get his search warrant using the questionable affidavit, and for Hatch to search the car.  Having found no evidence of criminal activity, Hatch had no option but to release the car back to Zullo.  (Often cops, if they find any evidence of a drug crime, will seize the car as a civil forfeiture, and that will basically be the end of it.  Even if the suspect is found not guilty, the cops keep the car.  This is a widely use cop-scam all across America.  I don't know how prevalent it is in Vermont.)

But even after the search was complete and no charges were laid, Hatch would not release the car until Zullo paid the $150 towing fee, and he had to pay it directly to the tow truck driver.  Although it's not a part of the record or evidence, and, therefore not a statement of fact by any means, in my opinion, knowing a bit about the way pricks operate, Hatch likely called the tow truck driver and told him not to hurry back.  For whatever reason, Zullo had to wait until 10 pm until the tow truck driver showed up to collect the $150.  

Let's add it up to see how badly Zullo got spanked for asserting his rights: 7 hours of lost time, $150 cash, and however many miles he walked in sub-freezing temps --  all because of a three inch hump of snow on his license tag frame.  That was the penalty Hatch extracted, and intended to extract, because Zullo refused to surrender his 4th Amendment rights to due process and to be free from arbitrary search and seizure.  

And now that the lawsuit has been filed, we'll see whether or not the system works.  The system is not broken by myriad idiot cops violating the rights of Americans every day.  The system is broken when those Americans are not vindicated by the courts and the cops go unpunished.  And that's where the Internet can have a very beneficial effect by shining the light on these cops and judges.  

Attitude mixed with constitutional stupidity: a cop problem common to the country
The point of all of this is that what we are seeing in this rather banal interaction along a highway in small-town Vermont is a universal problem cop.  The thousands of cops in this country who don't know the meaning of "protect and serve" and "due process" are the problem cops.  They have no business being cops if they can't get a grip on those two concepts.  My experience has been that state highway cops are generally the best, notwithstanding shocking brutality displayed by some, such as Daniel Andrew the CHP sickopath who pummeled homeless great-grandmother Marlene Pinnock in LA.  Maybe the highway cops don't have to work so much with drug dealers, prostitutes, and pedophiles at the bottom end of the criminal scale and so they have an easier time keeping their perspective on the value of human beings.  But when you take thousands and thousands of people and strap a gun to them, you're bound to get some with an attitude problem no matter what department or force employs them.  

I don't know anything about the Lewis Hatches I through III, but in my opinion Lewis Hatch IV clearly needs a trip to the woodshed for an attitude-adjustment.  Hopefully, that's what the ACLU's lawsuit will accomplish.  If he's not capable of understanding "protect and serve" and "due process," then he needs to be transitioned into a line of work better suited to his psychological or intellectual limitations.  Fortunately for everybody in this micro-drama, Mr. Zullo kept his head.  He calmly stood up for his rights while maintaining a respectful demeanor in the face of what was an absolute, Constitutional outrage.  It is obvious that Zullo was raised by some fine people.  I would be proud to have a son who handled this situation so well.  If Hatch had badgered someone with a more 2nd Amendment approach to life and a shorter fuse, the results could have been violent.

Stories like this one, even though it did not end in violence, do immeasurable harm in a country in which the state and federal governments are allowed to exist and to govern only through and with the consent of the governed.  Consent of the governed is not something that is limitless or infinite.  There must be goodwill between those who wield the power of the state and those who are required to yield to that power.  Stories like this one support the opinions of those who see most cops as mendacious and potentially dangerous thugs who don't have the right psychological qualities or sufficient intelligence to hold any authority or wield any power over their fellow citizens.  But more troubling and sadder is the indisputable fact that stories like this one erode the opinions of people who want to see cops as mostly good people who have chosen a difficult job for the right reasons.  I mean, honestly . . . which of those two categories would you put Lewis Hatch IV in?  

Here is a more comprehensive telling of the story by Tim Cushing at techdirt , with the Complaint and Hatch's affidavit. 


-- Denis O'Brien, PhD/Esq.






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