ACLU Student Section at Cooley hosts speaker on police corruption and brutality

Former deputy sheriff talks about use of force

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Law students, law professors and the general public had lots of questions for Charles Dix, former Deputy Sheriff of Escambia County in Northern Florida. Dix, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union student section of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, spoke on police brutality, corruption in the police department and racial profiling. The well-attended luncheon event was held at the law school on March 10th.

In February 2006, Dix admitted to excessive use of force when he used a Taser against Pensacola resident Martha Bledsoe. Bledsoe was attempting to report a child abuse allegation. The Sheriff's Office paid her a $250,000 settlement. Dix was sentenced to five years of probation. He also served six months house arrest in Michigan and performed 50 hours of community service.

"Part of my Federal probation required me to give talks to law enforcement academies, night schools and law schools," he said, opening the session. The topics he was mandated to cover included Escambia County Sheriff's Office continued Taser abuse, its Taser use policy, the department's training programs and its hiring policies.

Dix invited questions and the audience complied.

What did the victim allege?

"She alleged that I had violated her civil rights by arresting her and had used excessive force. The Taser was a big issue at that time. State-wide (Florida) there had been some deaths (from Taser use) and the US government charged me.

Did you follow your department's policy when you arrested her?

"Absolutely, I did the arrest by the book." During the Internal Affairs and subsequent department investigation, his superiors stated he did everything according to policy.

At what point was it acceptable to use force when making an arrest?

"At any point, you gave a vocal command first, when she (the victim) ran, I used the Taser."

Were you the first one convicted in that Sheriff's office?

"Yes and nothing has changed. I did everything according to my training and that training was wrong. I was part of a team--when I made more arrests--I was rewarded for that."

Where were the others in the justice system? Why weren't they refusing your warrants?

"I heard the excuse that it was volume, but obstruction of justice, a nothing charge, was used a lot. As was assault, which is simply verbal, so I would simply ask my partner if he was 'in fear.' He said 'yes' and the person was off to jail. I have done something really evil to her, which affects her family and friends as well as the woman herself."

When Dix was faced with corruption in his department, "there was no one I could go to and report corruption including the FBI. In our county, the US Marshall service, the FBI, had Sheriff's office liaison personnel assigned to the Federal branches. The Sheriff chose them. So now we have a Sheriff's office crony in the FBI office. Who am I going to call?"

Who would you attack first if you want a change?

"I don't have an answer. But we need to expose the corruption somehow. We should also realize there are some good people working."

The Student Section of the American Civil Liberties Union meets periodically. For more information on the organization, please contact William J. Fleener, Jr. at fleenerw@cooley.edu or (517) 334-5764.

Published: Wed, Mar 31, 2010

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