Striking Teamster proves prophetic about Sparks Police Dept.
UPDATE 9-29-99: UPS Teamsters Randy Hobbs and Greg Kneisel were convicted of obstructing an officer by Sparks Municipal Judge Andy Cray in a trial on December 17, 1997. Each was fined $315 despite six witnesses who contradicted the police story. The defense lineup included three strikebreakers who crossed union picket lines. Cray dropped other charges of unlawful assembly for the purposes of committing an unlawful act.
A non-attorney whose previous experience before becoming a judge consisted of working as a Washoe County bailiff, Cray chose to believe Sparks police officer David Karer, who admitted to a faulty memory when challenged on the facts by labor attorney Michael Langton.
"According to Karer's testimony, Kneisel was
asked repeatedly to move from the driveway and swore at the officer on
the third request. However, Kneisel said he merely asked the officer a
question and he was arrested shortly after the police arrived," the
Daily Sparks Tribune reported on Dec. 18, 1997.
Hobbs and Kneisel testifed that Sparks Police Sgt.
Jack Beach over-reacted to Kneisel asking Beach a question. Other witnesses
stated that someone else apart from Kneisel and Hobbs may have used swear
words, but that the accused had not. Hobbs testified
that "Beach grabbed (his) picket sign and threw it on the ground
and arrested him within 45 seconds of the request to move," the Tribune
"Langton said after the trial that he thought
there was no doubt that the police in this matter over-reacted,"
Tribune reporter Lorna McDaniel-Weaver wrote.
The two men chose to pay the fines and put the matter
behind them rather than endure prolonged litigation. Langton said the
two had ample grounds for appeal, but wanted to "get on with their
Kneisel's 15 year-old daughter, arrested on the picket line with her father, accepted a diversion program rather than risk trial so that the arrest would be purged from her record.
Cray was first elected in 1987 by heavily outspending six opponents, including an attorney endorsed by respected longtime Judge John Morrison, who retired. Cray and fellow Judge Don Gladstone immediately came under fire after the election. A second judgeship had been added because of the increasing workload from a growing community. Both Cray and Gladstone went on vacation immediately after the election, forcing the city to hire local attorneys as pro-tem judges. The Tribune and the city council excoriated Cray and Gladstone, who was later defeated for re-election. [[UPDATE: Cray was defeated for re-election in 2001 by now-Judge Barbara McCarthy. He ran against Judge Larry Sage in 2002 and lost again.]]
The Sparks Police Department has come under increasing fire for discrimination against women and minorities with several high profile lawsuits now pending.
The most infamous incident involved the nationally sensational "Internet Rapists." A 24 year-old college student known only as Jennifer W. reported being kidnapped and raped by two men with whom she had become acquainted via Internet electronic mail.
Sparks police investigators treated her with disrespect and refused to believe her story. When the two men committed a second rape, the first case came to light. Timothy Mobly, who pled guilty to both rapes, jumped bail and skipped his April 30, 1999, sentencing. Aaron Cross admitted raping the second victim, age 17, and taking part in the kidnapping of Jennifer W. He was sentenced to consecutive life terms and is now in the Nevada State Prison, where he will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
Mobly is still at large and was recently featured on "America's Most Wanted." Jennifer W. has appeard on several national news programs because she wanted to tell her story to help future victims of such abuse. She has allowed them to show her face, but witheld her full name. Jennifer W. has sued the City of Sparks for at least $900,000, claiming that her civil rights were violated and that police were negligent.
Chillingly, Hobbs' comments to the Tribune after the trial proved prophetic: "You know what scares me the most?" he asked. "If I ever had to go to court with a serious issue -- like a rape or a murder charge -- and I have an officer testify against me. Because they don't have any credibility in my eyes."
He told the Tribune that he felt the incident was minor and the police were disguising their overzealous actions with their testimony in court.
The city has zealously defended the actions of the department against Jennifer W. and other plaintiffs, most recently trying to disqualify noted civil rights attorney Terri Keyser-Cooper in other cases. She has never lost a civil rights action against local governments in northwestern Nevada.
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