Opinion Columns & Blogs

We expect more from police officers

Former San Luis Obispo police officers Dan McDow and Armando Limon can call it a day.

They’ll be fortunate if they can find a rent-a-cop job at a dime store in downtown East Thumb, Neb., now that they’ve copped misdemeanor pleas to bringing into the U.S. more than 800 doses of “controlled medications” from Mexico.

Oddly, the two men and their attorneys continue to call their bust at the border last September a “mistake.” This bears some parsing.

Was it a mistake that they didn’t know that the drugs they were bringing across the Mexican border were controlled class C-II (one class below marijuana) and class C-IV? If so, shouldn’t they, as sworn peace officers, have known that?

If they were bringing across 850 pills as “mislabeled,” were they mislabeled at the pharmacia or did the two men put them into mislabeled bottles?

That’s never really been made clear in the federal court papers of their case. Either way, though, hanging your defense on a scenario as a “mistake” is a dog-ate-my-homework excuse.

Just so we know what’s at stake here, these guys brought in methyl-phenidate, also know by the brand name Ritalin.

This is the class C-II controlled medication that, according to a local pharmacist, “has a high potential for drug dependency.”

It’s a drug that’s used by parents for children who are hyperactive. It’s a stimulant, a legal speed when prescribed by doctors. And, as such, its side effects are agitation, anxiety, hypervigilance, anorexia and depressed appetite. Sounds a lot like the kind of high that meth tweakers supposedly get a kick out of.

The other two types of drugs were both restricted class C-IV drugs commonly used as diet pills. They both offer overstimulation of the nervous system as side effects.

As the pharmacist notes: “These meds individually or together can be snorted, injected, etc. to basically stimulate the central nervous system. … Sometimes they are taken just for recreation, but because of their addictive qualities, recreation turns into drug abuse. These drugs do have street value and have more potential for abuse when taken together. If taken for extended periods of time or just at a high dose, these medications can cause death.”

Their defense? It’s a mistake; we thought we were only buying diet pills.

Their lawyer, Allison Berry Wilkinson, said, “This was a simple error, and there was no evil intent. They are not people who went into Mexico to buy drugs to distribute.”

Oh, right. Some 850 doses of Ritalin and diet pills is an adequate amount for one’s personal prescription.

As to the amount of money that McDow and Limon received from the city while on almost a year’s paid leave — $305,228 in salary and compensation — well, that’s a different issue. The Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights guarantees that officers get paid while under investigation. The feds took almost eight months for their investigation, which resulted in guilty pleas; San Luis Obispo Police Department Internal Affairs took another couple of months to bounce them from their jobs.

OK, so that’s galling. But here’s the more galling part: These guys are appealing the city’s decision (as part of their plea bargain with the feds, they can’t appeal that conviction) to be reinstated, saying they will repay their leave of absence pay as a show of good faith.

Ummm. I don’t think so.

Unless some politician worth his or her salt wants to take on the powerful peace officers union of this state and try to rewrite their bill of rights for leave-of-absence restitution, this sorry saga will have to be written off as a sock to the chops of taxpayers.

But we taxpayers aren’t the only ones getting hosed here.

Despite their protestations of being the victim/stooges of a “mistake,” McDow and Limon failed on multiple levels, which should pretty much put the kibosh on any further appeal to the city to be reinstated.

First, they failed themselves.

Second, they failed their families.

Third, they failed their brothers and sisters of law enforcement.

Final tally? Everybody makes mistakes; most people use them as learning tools for future growth. Yet, we expect more from those who serve under the color of law. And when it comes right down to the crux of the nub, being a gatekeeper of the law means not blaming one’s criminal behavior and subsequent conviction on a “simple error.”

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.