Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fake Uplands Park Officer Acquitted

In 2009, Uplands Park “Officer” Lamont Aikens was driving a police car at high speed in a pursuit that ended tragically when the car he was chasing crashed and killed an innocent motorist – a mother of four.  Aikens was wearing a police uniform and carrying a weapon, according to the St. Louis City detective who investigated the crash.  The report filed by Aikens referred to himself as a “police officer.”  A fellow Uplands Park officer said that Aikens drove a police car by himself and made arrests.  Aikens wrote traffic tickets, but would sign another officer’s name to the tickets.

So, what’s the problem? 
The problem is that Aikens never attended a police academy.  By law, he couldn't function or act as a police officer.  He probably could have attended the police academy, but presumably because of his 18 arrests (including two felonies), he didn’t. 

This didn’t stop officials in Uplands Park from putting him to work in a police car.  His pursuit that night cost the 450 residents of Uplands Park $3.1 million, which was awarded in a lawsuit.  That’s about $7,000 for every man, woman and child living in the tiny cash-strapped village.  They don’t even have enough insurance to cover the damages.
On Friday, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Dennis Smith acquitted Aikens of acting as a police officer without a valid peace officer license.  I do not know Judge Smith and I will not question his authority.  But, really, what would it take to convict someone of this type of crime?  Aikens defense was that he was following city policy that allowed him to act as a police officer, so long as he had a “real” police officer seated next to him.  I’ll have to remember that one next time I find an unlicensed driver operating a motor vehicle with a licensed driver next to him.  But I digress.
A few months ago, the Uplands Park Village Board voted to disband their police department for financial reasons (imagine that).  All Uplands Park police personnel were dismissed and Velda City was hired to provide police services. 

Now, here’s the next tragedy about to happen:  The newly elected Uplands Park Village Board is working hard to bring back their police department.  It might happen in the next few weeks.
That’s great news for “Officer” Lamont Aikens.

10 comments:

  1. Unbelievable... None of this sounds right at all. This is no different than saying "As a ride along, you are now given the authority to make lawful arrests as long as I'm around." It's scary that this is the precedence set for this type of scenario...

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  2. Think I'll declare myself an attorney and a judge. And a doctor. Apparently licensure isn't required in our county.

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  3. What happened to the driver who was being chased and subsequently killed the mother of four? Is he in prison?

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    1. Yes, he was given a prison sentence.

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  4. Unbelievable Chief. Circuit Judge Dennis Smith - is there any way his decision can be reviewed by a higher authority? Any route to an appeal here?

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    1. Since he was acquitted, he cannot be retried on the same charge (double jeopardy).

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  5. The problem goes beyond Aikens and Uplands Park. The problem is with the laws governing peace officer selection, training, licensing, and discipline; Chapter 590 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri (RSMo). The problem is also with the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (POST) which is charged with the implementation and regulation of those laws and related regulations.

    First, to the laws. If I were caught pretending to be a cop and flashing a badge purchased on the Internet, I would be charged with false impersonation of a law enforcement officer (RSMo 575.120), a class A misdemeanor. Since Aikens' impersonation of an officer was aided and abetted by a municipal government and police department, he was charged with knowingly holding a peace officer commission without a valid license (RSMo 590.195), a class B misdemeanor. As a result, the prosecution couldn't simply prove that a man who wasn't a police officer was acting like one. Instead, the prosecution had to prove that Aikens knowingly violated Chapter 590 of the RSMo.

    You compare the charge Aikens faced with operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license. A good analogy, but they're not quite the same. Imagine if you had to prove a driver knowingly operated a vehicle without a valid license. It's not enough to prove the license wasn't valid, you would have to prove they knew it wasn't valid.

    Of course, it goes beyond that. You will not find all the rules governing peace officer licensing in Chapter 590 of the RSMo. According to RSMo. 590.020, “The director (of Public Safety) shall establish various classes of peace officer license and may provide that certain classes are not valid for commission within counties of certain classifications, by certain state agencies, or for commission as other than a reserve peace officer with police powers restricted to the commissioning political subdivision.” To learn about the various classes of peace officer licenses, one must consult the Code of State Regulations (CSR), Title 11, Division 75, Chapter 13 to be exact. It is here where you will find the various classes of peace officer license, and where they are valid.

    Small unprofessional police departments, like the one in Uplands Park, are run by administrators who lack the knowledge and integrity to do the job. They don't care about obscure statutes and regulations. After all, they don't care about background checks and who they give badges and guns to. (1 of 2)

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  6. That's where POST comes in. According to the POST website, POST is “a regulatory agency that is responsible for the licensure of peace officers, reserve peace officers, basic training instructors, curriculum, and training centers.” It seems that POST is not responsible for ensuring that police departments in Missouri actually hire licensed police officers. While POST routinely audits training centers to ensure that qualified instructors are following the required curriculum, it seems they don't audit police and sheriff's departments to ensure that they are actually hiring/commissioning licensed peace officers. Instead, in the case of Lamont Aikens, it takes a fatal car crash before anyone takes notice. In September of 2002, it took a fatal shooting, a Post-Dispatch article, and a County Police investigation to discover that most of the Kinloch Police Department didn't have the required peace officer certification.

    Routine audits of county and municipal law enforcement agencies by POST would help identify and remove or prosecute unlicensed officers before someone is hurt or killed. Unfortunately, POST doesn't have the resources to audit every department and agency in Missouri. In St. Louis County alone, there are over 60 municipal police departments. In addition, POST doesn't seem to have any desire to audit even the most problematic agencies. Unless there is legislative action to change the laws, and regulatory action by POST, nothing will change. Instead of being proactive and addressing the problem, the General Assembly and POST will continue to be reactive. (2 of 2)

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  7. He was acquitted because contrary to your allegation, under Chapter 80, RSMo, a village marshal, deputy village marshal, and the police officers employed by a village are not required to be licensed as a police officer nor are they required to receive peace officer training. Also, you know full well that Uplands Park was not required to pay a nickle in damages in that it was insured and its insurance company paid any judgment that was rendered against Uplands Park. Moreover, under Missouri law, if the judgment was in excess of the insurance policy limits, Uplands Park was protected from paying that excess by the doctrine of sovereign immunity under Missouri law. Further, I did a federal pacer and Missouri case net search and nowhere on pacer or case net did I find any judgments entered against Uplands Park for $3 million dollars. The foregoing of course does not excuse any wrong doing on any of the aforementioned indviduals or public officials who employed him, but it is certainly not appropriate for you to mislead the public with blatantly inaccurate allegations in your blog.

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  8. There's no place in Chapter 80 that says that. Go read it. And yes, I know you're a lawyer.

    If a person is enforcing the law (making arrests, stopping cars, writing tickets, etc.), he/she must be academy trained and POST certified (licensed) by the state. If they are performing these duties and are not licensed, they are committing the offense of False Impersonation. If the chief law enforcement officer commissions a person without a POST license, they are also guilty of a crime. I don't care what you call them - a village marshal, etc. - they still must be licensed if they are exercising law enforcement powers. Uplands Park didn't have to pay a nickel? Are you kidding me? That's like saying you wrecked your car, turned it into your insurance and it didn't cost you anything.

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