In The Minority Report, Philip K. Dick's 1956 science-fiction short story that became a 2002 Steven Spielberg blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, the police department finds a novel way to expand its powers. “Pre-crime” officers use three government-controlled human mutants—glorified psychics who can see two weeks into the future—and armed with precognitive reports, cops hunt down and arrest citizens for crimes that haven't occurred.
Dick's tale may have seemed farfetched decades ago, but few people know that Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputies now employ a modified precognitive system. Theirs doesn't involve mutants, but rather deputies relying on their own keen mental machinations.
Take, for example, the case of Nancy Butano. Just after 3 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2010, Butano was at her San Juan Capistrano home, lovingly watching her two, 20-month-old kids while handling an important business telephone call. She had no reason to suspect she was about to enter a police-state nightmare.
Sheriff's deputies Charles Henry Stumph and Cory Haruo Martino stood outside Butano's residence and saw a tall, 115-pound woman who wasn't armed, wasn't bleeding, wasn't screaming, wasn't jumping up and down, and wasn't calling for help. She was calmly talking on the phone. The deputies also knew that nobody had accused her of even shortchanging a parking meter.
In theory, the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects citizens from unreasonable police intrusions. Stumph and Martino didn't have consent or a search warrant to enter Butano's residence. But they knew that judges have carved holes in 4th Amendment guarantees; for example, they can evade the need for consent or a court order if they face an emergency.
According to Stumph and Martino, the scene with Butano presented a frightening crisis. The resident clearly had been on the verge of killing them, herself and her children or destroying evidence, they asserted. They'd also concocted the notion that an unknown assailant might have been lurking in the house with homicidal intentions against Butano.
Never mind the lack of any evidence; the deputies had covered their bets on the emergency excuse: Either Butano was going to kill, or someone was going to kill her. That's why, they argued, they could run inside the home uninvited, yell otherwise-illegal commands, assault a shocked Butano—kicking her down, giving her a black eye and a facial laceration, and violate state law by keeping her in custody at the Orange County Jail for more than 30 hours on trumped-up charges.
The police abuse that caused Butano (and her lawyer Jerry L. Steering) to file a pending federal civil-rights lawsuit didn't end there. With the deputies' help, government social workers took custody of her children for 11 days under the justification that she had abandoned them. Of course, the deputies were responsible for the abandonment when they unnecessarily took her to jail for the misdemeanor charge of interfering with their duties, charges that were later dropped as meritless.
The incident began when—unbeknownst to Butano—her boyfriend Paul Luddy left the back yard where he was cutting bamboo with a machete-type knife, walked to a neighbor's house, confronted gardeners who were using an obnoxiously loud leaf blower and walked away. The gardeners called OCSD about a possible criminal threat.
Deputies Stumph, Martino and Alexandra Flores, who was in training, arrived, talked with the gardeners and went to the Luddy/Butano house. Given that Luddy matched the description of the suspect, the deputies asked him to exit the house, put him under arrest and then placed him into their patrol car.
Butano, who'd been in the back yard with her kids, knew none of what happened. Later, when the deputies began ordering her to end her call, come outside and answer their questions, they didn't say there was an emergency. They told her to get off the phone. She told them to wait. That exertion of her constitutional rights pissed off the deputies.
In later depositions, both Stumph and Martino admitted that Butano was within her rights to not follow their commands before their entry. But, according to Stumph, he was free to interpret her noncompliance as an element to imagine a murder might be in the works.
Here's a key portion of transcript from an OCSD recording of the confrontation:
Deputy: Let's come outside, ma'am.
Butano: No, I am on the phone.
Deputy: Okay, listen.
Butano: I did not ask you to come in this house.
Butano: I'm busy right now.
Deputy: Okay, I'm going to tell you one time.
Butano: No! No! Don't touch me.
Butano: [being slammed down and manhandled] Don't touch me, asshole. [Cries of pain.] I can't believe you're doing this to me. [Cries of pain.] You're going to break my arm! [Cries of pain.]
Deputy: Get up! Stand up! Do you have anything illegal on you?
Butano: No. What are you doing to me?
Deputy: Just relax.
Butano: What's going on?
Deputy: We're here investigating something.
Butano: I can't believe you slammed me against that wall. I'm a girl, for God's sake.
Moments later, Martino turned to Deputy Flores and explained, “[Butano] wouldn't get off the phone. And we're like, 'Ma'am, get off the phone.' And then, like, we see a crossbow, and we're, like, 'Hey, get off the phone.' And she's, like, 'no,' and so Charlie starts chasing her and takes her down.”
Please note that Martino didn't say he thought Butano was going to kill or that a mysterious hidden person was going to kill her—those claims came later. To help build their defense, the deputy also introduced the notion they'd entered the home because they saw a crossbow and feared for their safety. But that's a blatant lie. They couldn't have known of its existence until after they'd searched deep into the home. The crossbow, which had no arrows, was stored in a rear room that cannot be seen from the front door.
Despite the deputies' dramatic stories, there had been no emergency. The reason for the entry was simple and invalid: ego. Martino said it clearly to Butano after the arrest: “[The reason] you are in the back of my car [was that] I told you several times to get off that phone.”
In his deposition, Martino amended his story. He said he entered the house because of yet another emergency: Stumph had gone inside, and he had followed to prevent Butano from harming him.
For his part, Stumph—who has retired, moved to Arizona and is now an anti-terrorism consultant—remains positive that he prevented a potential murder. Though he didn't cite the phsychic work of mutants, he claimed in his deposition that “I believe that Butano lured us” into her house “to possibly assault myself or Deputy Martino . . . [or kill] us.”
In “The Majesty of the Law,” former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor observed that the Bill of Rights “is part of the American contribution to the notion of justice and freedom.” Our Founding Fathers' noble ideal will get tested with a likely cop-friendly Orange County jury at a scheduled September trial against the deputies. Until then, Butano isn't taking any chances. She moved her family out of state.
This article appeared in print as “'We're Here Investigating Something': Without smiling, Orange County Sheriff's deputies claim they attacked an OC mother in her home to save her.”
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.