|A liar at work: Officer Michael Reichert (back to camera) harasses Terrance Huff.|
“Cops lie. Most of them lie a couple of times per shift, at least.”
This assessment was offered not by an embittered critic of the police, but by Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department,in his 2005 memoir Breaking Rank (page 129, to be precise). Stamper supports the use of tactical dishonesty in dealing with certain kinds of violent suspects, but he has no tolerance for the casual mendacity that is ubiquitous in the profession of law enforcement.
Police consultant and former prosecutor Val Van Brocklin offers a similarly blunt perspective. “Police lie. It’s part of their job,” she wrote Val Van Brocklin in an essay entitled “Training Cops to Lie,” which was published in the November 16, 2009 edition of the online journal Officer.com.
Habitual lying cost Officer Michael Reichert of the Collinsville, Illinois Police Department his job nearly a decade ago. With the help of the police union, he was able to get it back -- at which point he resumed his career of officially sanctioned perjury. In January 2011, Reichert, who is now assigned to K-9 patrol, was one of four Collinsville officers given the “Chief’s Award of Merit” for performance “exceptional in nature or above and beyond normal performance.”
In April, Reichert was singled out again for his exceptional work by being named “Officer of the Month.” The department lauded Reichert for reflecting “the proactive and innovative philosophy of law enforcement prescribed to [sic] by the Collinsville Police Department. He has demonstrated this by his aggressive approach to drug trafficking in the area.”
“Officer Reichert had 166 total incidents with 6 arrests and 7 citations in 13 working days,” continued the department’s report. “In addition to this he had 3 self initiated significant incidents that is very worthy of praise [sic.]”
|Reichert (left) receiving "Award of Merit."|
To someone who doesn’t belong to the coercive caste, a total of 6 arrests out of 166 “total incidents” isn’t an impressive ratio. The concept of a “self-initiated significant incident” seems downright ominous. This is the portrait of a government-licensed bully bent on manufacturing cases, rather than a peace officer devoted to protection of persons and property. A brief examination of Reichert’s past supplies that portrait with additional detail.
In 2006, Reichert was fired by the Collinsville PD “after a federal judge ruled he lied during a drug trial,” reported the April 19, 2009 edition of StLtoday.com. “They also cited a conviction on federal charges that he sold knockoff designer sunglasses." Irrespective of the merits of the federal case, Reichart was consciously defrauding consumers.
With the help of his union, Reichert appealed that ruling, and was he was reinstated in March 2009. However, about a month later the Collinsville Police and Fire Board suspended him without pay after “federal prosecutors … raised new concerns against Reichert again questioning his trustworthiness.”
Despite his track record as a proven perjurer and con artist, Reichert was re-hired by the Collinsville PD. He was promptly assigned to counter-narcotics duty once again – and he immediately resumed the same tactics that had resulted in his well-deserved but tragically temporary unemployment.
Officer Reichert’s routine is described at length in a November 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan in the case U.S. v. Zambrana. The defendant was one of two suspects arrested on narcotics charges by Reichert during a traffic stop in 2002. Zambrana filed a motion to suppress the results of a canine-assisted narcotics search, insisting that Reichert didn’t have probable cause to conduct the search.
Judge Reagan keyed on “Reichert’s lack of credibility as a witness,” describing him as a “polished performer” – a term not intended as a compliment.
“One reason this Court rejected Reichert’s testimony as not credible was because it was so rehearsed, coached and robotic as to be rote,” observed Judge Reagan. “It was a generic, almost default performance not dependent upon the facts of this case, but suitable for any case in which Reichert might testify to having found `reasonable suspicion. When questioning required him to temporarily stray from this rehearsed script, away from the security of his default testimony, he was caught off-guard.”
When required to deal with “objective verifiable facts” – events captured in audio or video recordings, for instance – Reichert was equivocal and self-contradictory. He was clear and emphatic, however, regarding matters that “were not objectively verifiable” – such as his “conclusions from reading body language `thrown off’ involuntarily from people `trafficking in narcotics.’” Judge Reagan astringently referred to this as Reichert’s conceit that he could behave as a “human polygraph” – an approach that “is wholly subjective and fraught with potential for guess, speculation, conjecture, and even deceit.”
“Reichert made clear that he understands what a Judge might find persuasive in making a reasonable suspicion determination,” Reagan continued, noting that “he teaches this principle in his classes.” That’s right: Reichert is not only a professional liar, he also tutors other police officers in his methods of mendacity.
At this point, it’s useful to remember Ms. Van Brocklin’s observation: “Cops lie. It’s part of their job.”
“By simply adding up `suspicious’ factors while ignoring non-suspicious or mitigating factors [in the Zambrana traffic stop], Reichert misused the `totality of circumstances’ principle as a sword to unjustly pierce Zambrana’s cloak of Fourth Amendment protection,” concluded Judge Reagan.
Reichert claimed that Zambrana came to his attention when he noticed the driver’s rental car – with out-of-state plates – “crossing the white divider line.” However, he also used the expression “hit” to describe this entirely trivial infraction. He claimed to have become suspicious when Zambrana “continued down the highway in a completely normal manner,” not bothering even to make eye contact with Reichert after the officer pulled alongside him in a police cruiser. This prompted him to pull Zambrana over.
Once the pretext stop was made, Reichert claimed that Zambrana and his passenger appeared “nervous” – which is an entirely understandable reaction to the presence of an armed stranger who considers himself entitled to kill you at his discretion. He then barraged them with what Judge Reagan called a series of “rolling no” questions. This is a tactic designed to elicit permission to search the vehicle. After inquiring about drugs, weapons, or cash, and getting negative responses, the officer will pose some variation of this question: “Hey, this will only take a minute – do you mind if I just take a look before letting you go?”
Regardless of Reichert’s perception “that Zambrana’s replies and lack of eye contact during this questioning were `suspicious,’ Reichert’s subsequent actions indicate that he knew that he still had no `reasonable suspicion’ to search Zambrana’s car,” notes Judge Reagan. “At that point, rather than simply informing Zambrana that he would be searching his car, Reichert requested Zambrana’s permission to conduct a search. Inexplicably (yet, not surprising to this Court, Reichert viewed Zambrana’s denial as `suspicious’ and advised Zambrana that he was detaining his car for a canine search.”
Narcotics were found, and both Zambrana and his passenger, a man named Babar Shah, were maneuvered into a plea bargain. Despite Reichert’s obvious and documented dishonesty, those convictions stuck.
Last December, Reichert followed exactly the same modus operandi in conducting a pretext stop – and illegal search – of a vehicle driven by Terrence Huff and John Seaton of Hamilton, Ohio. Huff and Seton had traveled to the St. Louis Science Center to attend a Star Trek exhibit. Their return trip, unfortunately, included a stretch along I-70 that was polluted by Officer Reichert, who was loitering in the median at taxpayer expense awaiting his next victim. The sight of two men in an SUV with out-of-state plates proved irresistible, so Reichert pulled out behind them and paced them for a few miles before pulling them over.
Once the pretext stop was made, Reichert – following exactly the same script described by Judge Reagan – claimed to have noticed an otherwise undetectable traffic infraction. He obtained Huff’s driver’s license and asked the passenger for ID. When he ran Huff’s license, he found a record of a previous arrest (without conviction).
“That mother****r,” sneered Reichert as he reviewed the information on his computer terminal. After calling for backup and resuming his pretense of professionalism, Reichert told Huff that he would let him off with a “warning” – and then began the “rolling no” routine.
“This highway, we have a major problem with people running guns and drugs and illegal stuff up and down the highway,” Reichert told Huff. “You guys don’t have anything like that in your car, do you?
“No,” replied Huff, adding, “I could show you the photos we took at the Star Trek convention. We’re not drug runners. It’s my birthday.”
“There wouldn’t be any marijuana in there right now?” Reichert persisted.
“No,” Huff responded.
“No cocaine in there?”
“Any guns in there?”
“How about any large amounts of U.S. currency?” Reichert probed, thereby revealing the true purpose of the stop: He was trawling for assets subject to confiscation in the name of “asset forfeiture.” If Huff or his friend had been carrying cash, Reichert – assisted by the second officer who had materialized during the questioning – would have stolen it, and most likely the car, as well.
When Huff pointed out that all he was carrying was a credit card, Reichert moved to close the deal:
“Would you have any objection to us searching the car real quick to make sure that there’s nothing illegal inside the car?”
Reichert had neither probable cause nor “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a search. If Huff and objected, however, Reichert would have arrested him – and then stolen his car.
When Huff briefly hesitated, Reichert deployed yet another lie:
“Now, let me tell you something, OK? I’m not overly concerned about personal amounts or stuff like that. If you have a little bit … I’m not worried about that, OK?”
Remember that line; we’ll revisit it shortly.
“There are no drugs in the car, and I’d just like to go on my way, if I could,” Huff said in the forlorn hope that he would be set free.
“Well, I don’t have a problem with that,” Reichert lied once again. “I’m just a little
apprehensive about how your buddy’s acting, he’s a little bit nervous.”
“I’ve got a canine in the car,” Reichert continued. “What I’m going to do is detain the car long enough to run the dog around it.” He made that announcement in a tone intended to convey the impression that this was a mere formality – if not an actual favor he was doing on Huff’s behalf.
“That’s fine,” Huff – an unarmed man confronting two armed and thoroughly amoral strangers – conceded.
“If the dog alerts, I will search your car,” Reichert admitted, now that Huff had been manipulated into consenting. “And anything illegal I find I will charge you with.”
“Anything” would include the “personal amounts of marijuana or cocaine” to which Reichert had referred so dismissively just seconds earlier.
When Huff pointed out that Reichert had lied about the reason for the traffic stop – a point he did not contest - -the uniformed liar abandoned the façade of professionalism:
“I’m asking for your consent to search the car,” he told Huff. “If your answer is `no,’ I’m going to detain the car long enough to run the dog around it. I can get you a ride” – an invitation that, in context, has to be considered an ill-disguised threat to arrest Huff and his friend (vide the foregoing business about “personal amounts”).
“If I’m free to go, can I go?” Huff asked.
“Not in the car,” Reichert curtly replied.
In other words: Huff was under arrest. He was entirely at the mercy of a cynical, impenitent liar armed with a gun and clothed in impunity.
Reichert retrieved his dog, and – with the practiced guile of a veteran con artist – went through his charade, tapping and prompting the animal to “alert” as if the vehicle were containing contraband. Once at the front of Huff’s car – which concealed his actions from the dashcam – Reichert claimed that the dog had “indicated” that there was something in the vehicle.
He informed Huff that the dog – which “is trained to smell marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth” – had “started scratching” at the front of the car. “I am going to search your car,” he continued. That search was utterly futile. Reichert, who appears to be a mucosal personality composed of unctuous malicet, emitted one last lie to cover up his criminal misconduct.
“Inside your car, under your seat and under the back seat, there’s shake – marijuana shake,” lied Collinsville, Illinois’s April 2011 Officer of the Month. “A little bit all over the car. That’s probably what the dog’s alerting to.”
Of course, there was nothing of the sort to be found – in fact, Huff’s vehicle didn’t even have a back seat.
Despite the devoted obstruction of the Collinsville PD, Huff -- who owns a small, independent film production company called T-Minus Entertainment-- obtained the dashcam video of the episode. He used it to produce "Breakfast in Collinsville," a brief and thoroughly infuriating documentary of Reichert’s attempted carjacking and extortion:
“I am usually rather suspicious of authority, and this was something of a reality check,” Huff told Pro Libertate in a telephone interview. “It’s pretty clear that what Reichert is doing is generating revenue for his department. This kind of thing is happening all over the place – federal, state, county, or city, they’re all using asset forfeiture to collect revenue.”
Although he has been contacted by lawyers and civil liberties activists who want to help him mount legal action against Reichert and his department, Huff simply wants to use the video to “expose this abuse and get people to look at what’s happening in this country.”
Huff is too busy doing work for paying clients to invest the time, money, and frustration that a legal battle with Reichert and the police union would require. Unless the officer’s superiors can be shamed into firing him permanently – an unlikely outcome, given previous performance – Officer Michael “Third” Reichert will continue to prey on the innocent and perjure himself, and teach the relevant skills to other cops. After all, as his awards and commendations attest, Reichert is the pride of the Collinsville PD.
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