Pensacola outcry over Criminal Sentencing of Tasing Police Officer Too Lenient

Pensacola Federal District Court Casey Rogers was criticized by the editorial in the Pensacola Florida News Journal in Sunday’s paper on February 28, 2007 for imposing too lenient of sentence to Former Escambia County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Dix. Yes, from what one reads in the Pensacola New Journal the sentence seemed light. However, what the public isn’t told is that the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines establish a set of Guidelines that federal Judges are required to consider when sentencing an offender that only called for a 12 to 18 month sentence of incarceration, even if Dix had not become a cooperating witness. Generally, in my opinion, these federal guidelines are far too harsh, especially when it comes to drug and white collar sentences. (White collar prison sentences have recently been greatly enhanced under federal sentencing advisory guidelines for punishment). Dix’s sentencing range also includes a 6 offense level enhancement because Mr. Dix was a police officer at the time of his crime and disrespected the trust the public places on public officials. (Is this really true these days?).

What Dix did to Pensacola resident Martha Bledsoe was outrageous. Tasering a woman who did nothing aggressive towards the deputy did not warrant the type of violence he inflicted upon her. However, it is arguable the sentence imposed was appropriate on several grounds. First, although Ms. Bledsoe was no doubt traumatized because of the ordeal, Dix’s attorney pointed out in a sentencing memorandum that her claims may have been slightly exaggerated – no excuse for Dix’s behavior but perhaps something to consider. The memo states her claims for unemployment compensation were turned down because her actual injuries were not consistent with the descriptions of injuries she gave of her injury; in other words, they believed she overstated her injuries. Of course she also received a $250,000 cash award from the county. She certainly didn’t deserve to be shocked with 12, 000 volts of electricity administered by Dix for no reason other than his anger towards her for calling dispatch to report how abusively he was treating her. And this is not to say, by any means, that Dix should be treated lightly. What he did, especially if you heard the 911 call from Ms. Bledsoe to the Sheriff’s Office to complain about Dix’s behavior when he accosted her and then, with the 911 still being recorded, hearing animalistic screams of pain when he fired his tasers into her from point blank range, was simply outrageous.

What the paper didn’t cover however, is that our federal justice system is dependent on defendants charged with serious crimes to cooperate with the government to implicate others involved in crimes. Mr. Dix, whether you believe morally correct or not, began cooperating or snitching on others from the get go. He claims to have implicated five other deputies/law enforcement personnel who used excessive force or committed other improprieties. The prosecutor claimed in doing so, Dix even incriminated himself in these other cases. So, in keeping with how our federal system operates, Dix was rewarded when the government certified to the Court he had provided “substantial assistance” to them. This certification from the U.S. Attorney’s Office provides the Judge additional reasons to depart from the 12 to 18 month prison range and, in this case, it resulted in a sentence of 5 years probation that also included 6 months of house arrest. This is not a slap on the wrist. Just try sitting in your house day after day, being only allowed to go to work but other than to and from work, never leaving your house. Yes, you don’t have to fight for food with inmates, you can eat what you want provided you can afford it; you can watch television and you can be in the arms of your loved ones. But I cannot think of one client in Florida that I have represented that didn’t think house arrest was hell; many told me they would have done jail time instead.

Under the circumstances Judge Rogers sentence was within the bounds of correctness. Others no doubt take issue with this. Perhaps if people really wanted to change the system they would learn how draconian the federal court system really is; learn about how young men in the teens and early 20s are being sentenced to life based upon the testimony of cooperating witnesses because of their involvement with drugs. Maybe if sentences were more reasonable, the government would be forced to not rely so heavily on the testimony of cooperating witnesses like Dix to make cases. Reliance on witnesses who have the most precious commodity in life to gain by helping the government, freedom, may be prone to exaggerate or lie. Maybe law enforcement might have to investigate cases more thoroughly rather than scaring people with threats of life sentences and losing their children if they don’t cooperate. Once, in the early 90s I tried a trafficking cocaine case in the Pensacola Division of the Federal District Court. Fourteen (14) snitches testified against my client. Mr Client told me, “yes, most these guys bought cocaine from me; one was even my supplier. But out of the fourteen, five (5) of them I have never seen or heard of. They never met me.” The lying witnesses had jumped on the proverbial bus to freedom or reduced sentences: cooperation with the federal government to get a lighter sentence. Inmates know they can get their sentences reduced if they assist the government. This is not to say that federal agents knowingly put on perjured testimony; I am simply saying that as human beings sometimes our perceptions of who is telling us the truth and who is not is not an easy thing to determine.

Charles Dix punched his ticket for the bus as soon as he learned the bus to freedom had pulled into the station. Judge Rogers sentence wasn’t too lenient, the system merely needs an overhaul. I have heard the feds are building prisons to just to house “cooperating witnesses” who, you can imagine, don’t win popularity cases in the general population of federal penitentiaries.