The Dear Friend & Conscience was heading back to the mountain retreat from the city and was merging from one highway to another out of a clover leaf interchange when a car entering the highway a few hundred feet ahead accelerated. The DF&C put on her turn signal and began moving to the passing lane to give the other car ample room when a large black car traveling at a high rate of speed suddenly filled her rear view mirror. It was an unmarked Pennsylvania State Police cruiser with, it turned out, a second unmarked cruiser traveling so close on its tail that she didn't see the second cruiser until the trooper in the first cruiser flipped on his red-and-blue dashboard mounted lights and motioned her to pull over.
What had the DF&C done wrong? She was traveling at a safe speed and properly used her turn indicator before changing lanes. What she had done wrong was get in the way of a high-speed game of chicken between two state troopers who were hurtling along nearly bumper to bumper, with emergency lights off, at what the DF&C estimated to be 85-90 miles per hour on a highway where the speed limit is 55.
The two troopers, a man and a woman, approached the driver's side door of the DF&C's SUV. The man launched into a tirade to the effect that he and the other trooper were on their way to an emergency and she could have gotten them killed. The woman trooper stood silent and obviously embarrassed over her colleague's high-decibel tongue lashing, which of course was a bald-faced lie since the troopers certainly would not have stopped to ticket her for a non-infraction if they indeed were hurrying to an emergency.
The DF&C received a citation for "failed (sic) to drive within a single lane and or movement from lane was not made safely," which carries a $110.50 fine but no points on her driver's license, which is blemish free. She will plead not guilty and it's a safe bet that neither trooper will show up in court.
* * * * *Okay, nobody got hurt, let alone killed, as in the recent case of Rogelio Serrato, who was murdered by a Monterey County, California SWAT mean, his four children left homeless and his family home a charred ruins in a case of mistaken identity not unlike an incident in suburban Washington where police confused the town's mayor with a drug dealer, broke into his home, shot dead his pet dogs and held the mayor, his wife and children at gunpoint. Then there were the two Rutgers University students, one the son of a cop, who had the crap beaten out of them in December in yet another case of mistaken identity.
The reason that these incidents keep occurring over and over, and seemingly with increasing frequency, is because bullies like the trooper who raged at the DF&C, as well as sociopaths and psychopaths, are attracted to police work. Their aberrant behavior is made easier in a post-9/11 climate that has made everyone a suspect.
Don't get me wrong. Police have a tough job and should expect deference. And I have known some damned fine cops in the many years that I worked for big city newspapers.
* * * * *But the Pennsylvania State Police, in this context, are a special case. As I write in my book, The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, this force is mired in a seemingly irreparable culture of political favoritism, misogyny, cover-ups and scandal.
When I began researching the book in 2002, the state police were fighting several sexual harassment allegations, one involving a trooper who assaulted a woman in her hospital bed who had attempted suicide. Millions of dollars in settlement money was paid out to the victims. As I finished the book in 2010, the state police were fighting an allegation that a lieutenant was harassed repeatedly after he refused a major's orders to use police computers to snoop on the new beau of the major's estranged wife.
In between, there have been scandals involving inaccurate radar guns that the state police hid rather than corrected, shoddy testing at its crime lab, a successful lawsuit after it bungled the investigation of a trooper accused of molesting two girls, the unprecedented demotion of a captain by two ranks because it was falsely believed that he had leaked an internal memo to a newspaper, and the subsequent dismissal and rehiring of its highest-ranking woman officer for filing an internal-affairs complaint against a captain.
In the case of the four murders discussed at length in The Bottom of the Fox, the investigative work ranged from lackadaisical to unprofessional. And the state police pressed authorities to classify the questionable deaths of several peripheral players as accidents or suicides, which enabled them to walk away from cases that should have gotten intense scrutiny.
All of the victims had a common denominator: They were undesirables according to the state police's crude social calculus. If they had been "somebodies" and met with foul play, it was more likely that their departure from this mortal coil would have been taken seriously. As it was, they were hippies, gays and drug dealers who were not worth breaking a sweat over.
Welcome to The American Police State.