Gary Waters is one lucky perp. Already on parole for a burglery rap, he was arrested for gun possession, and went to trial. And then, he was acquitted because of comments that the arresting officer Vaughan Ettienne had made on Facebook and MySpace.
Here’s what went down. When Gary Waters went to trial, the defense found comments that Ettienne had made, describing his mood, and his thoughts, on both MySpace and Facebook.
For example, the day before the trial was to start, Vaughan Ettienne wrote that his mood was “Devious.”
And a few weeks previous, Vaughan Ettienne had written on his Facebook page that he was “watching “Training Day” to brush up on proper police procedure.” (Training Day, which stars Denzel Washington, is a story about a cop turned bad who wreaks havoc on Los Angeles).
Seizing an opportunity, the defense claimed that Vaughan Ettienne and his partner had chased Gary Waters down, roughed him up – breaking three ribs – and then had planted the weapon on him.
And in that light, the defense was able to create a reasonable doubt that maybe that could have happened, as Vaughan Ettienne was a cop who considered Training Day a movie about proper police conduct – and he had admitted to feeling devious just before the trial. After all, it was right there in his own words, in his Facebook and MySpace accounts.
Explains Ettienne, “The defense lawyer brings up Training Day like I was trying to emulate Denzel. He ties the defense to the story in the movie. It was a masterful piece of fantasy – but it was one that the jury bought.”
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In explaining his actions, Ettienne says “You have your Internet persona, and you have what you actually do on the street. What you say on the Internet is all bravado talk, like what you say in a locker room.”
But the remarks were far more damaging than any locker room talk because, in part, well, the defense found them.
They also found comments that Ettienne had made online in response to seeing some video clips of arrests in which the officers had beaten a suspect who was handcuffed.
In response, Ettienne had written, “An officer should not have punched a handcuffed man. If he wanted to tune him up some, he should have delayed cuffing him,” and adding, “If you were going to hit a cuffed suspect, at least get your money’s worth ’cause now he’s going to get disciplined for (it).”
Damning evidence, or thoughtless comment?
“I’m not going to say it was the best of things to do in retrospect. You want to run your mouth with the best of them. As the lawyer Ron Kuby says, stupidity on the Internet is there for everyone to see for all times in perpetuity. That’s the case for me,” said Ettienne. He added, in his defense, “There were hundreds of comments I made that were positive.”
While Ettienne had never been disciplined for brutality, he had been suspended at one time for using steriods. In addition to being a police officer, Ettienne is a ranked bodybuilder.
In fact, he is 205 pounds of solid muscle, with a 44-inch chest, a 15.5-inch neck, and 26.6-inch thighs, and he can bench press 336 pounds and squat-press 575 pounds. An imposing figure.
Ettienne’s remarks on MySpace and Facebook were used to “show” that he was violent, and that the story that he’d beat up Waters and planted a gun on him to justify the beating was at least plausible. “It supported our theory of the case, this guy was motivated to cover up his use of excessive force,” explained Waters’ attorney.
Admits Ettiene of the acquittal, “I feel it’s partially my fault. It paints a picture of a person who could be overly aggressive. You put that together, it’s reasonable doubt in anybody’s mind.”
But perhaps the most ironic thing of all in this case are Ettiene’s own words, prescient and foreshadowing, that he wrote 6 months before the trial, in October of 2008, in talking about how being a professional bodybuilder intersects with being a police officer:
I understand that when I signed up to be a cop that I gave up alot. A cop is considered “on duty” 24hrs a day. He/she can NEVER be “unfit for duty” (drunk), and is held to a higher moral, ethical and legal (but shamefully not physical) standard. Rightfully so. The power to take away freedom, property and life calls for deliberate and righteous hearted people to do so.
However, where is the line drawn? Does a landscaping business or a catering service or a personal training business become a conflict of interest when the proprietor has a gun and a sheild? Can he/she not engage in the very American pursuit of financial growth?
How about what we decide to do with our bodies? For my part, my more recent treatment for very low testosterone levels by a licensed Dr. has put me and those in law enforcement under a microscope. Not for the illicit use of what is considered steroids, but for the fear that a armed muscular person on “steroids” is a time bomb….ticking, ticking, ticking.
I have my opinion about that and it is this…. A licensed Dr. treating someone who has LOW testosterone levels, who happens to be a bodybuilder, certified trainer, and general fitness buff, is the measured hand that ensures that the patient”s testosterone levels do not rise above the level that causes “Rage” and that patient is then a healthy asset to himself, his family, his job and his country.
I’m proud to be a BODYBUILDER. I’m proud to be a NYPD Street Crime cop. I am PROUD to be an American who sees fitness as a way of life and the cure for what ails this increasingly obese nation.
Now that I am DRUG FREE* and competing again I wonder how soon the “job” is gonna start testing me and questioning my judgement as a cop. One way to find out cause it’s Bodybuilding for life, baby!!
[Note: We assume from context that Officer Ettienne is talking about the testosterone supplements – there is no suggestion anywhere that he was doing street or otherwise illicit drugs.]