Meet Stephanie Mohr …
In the middle of the night on Sept. 21, 1995, a local Prince George’s County police burglary stakeout unit found two homeless men on the empty roof of a business, eating food they had found in the trash in Takoma Park, Md. Ordered down from the roof, Ricardo Mendez and his friend willingly climbed down. Lit by a police helicopter above and facing a brick wall, the two men were surrounded by police officers, some with guns drawn, and Mohr holding her German shepherd on a leash. Both men obeyed commands and stood facing the wall with their hands up.
It should have been over. It wasn’t.
A police sergeant later testified that he was approached by Mohr’s supervising officer who said, “Hey Sarge, we got a new dog. Mind if it gets a bite?” The sergeant gave consent, and Mohr set her dog to attack Mendez, an undocumented immigrant whose only crime was seeking a safe place to eat and sleep. Mohr testified that she was doing her job as trained, and the victim needed “only 10 stitches.”
Think about that: only 10 stitches. Mohr disregarded her training to give her dog a taste of flesh and blood.
This was no accident or split-second mistake. It was a willful and deliberate act of police brutality. It was also not Mohr’s first — and there was a pattern to the violence. Evidence at trial showed that Mohr had previously released her dog on a Black teenager sleeping in a hammock in his own backyard. She had threatened the relatives of a fugitive that she would let her dog attack their “black ass” if they did not tell her where he was. There were other incidents that the jury did not even learn about, including one in which Mohr put her dog into a trash dumpster to attack a man who had fled from police.
At trial, in addition to the police sergeant at the scene who pleaded guilty and went to jail for his role, numerous police officer witnesses testified about the incident. The jury convicted Mohr and the presiding judge gave her a significant prison sentence. A unanimous panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, affirmed her conviction. Mohr was released after serving a 10-year sentence.
On December 23rd, Donald Trump pardoned Ms. Mohr. This is but one of many unconscionable pardons issued by Trump last month, and not by far the most horrendous. Throughout his tenure, Trump has issued pardons for those charged, and in most cases convicted, of crimes from something as simple as drug possession all the way up to and including premeditated murder.
Throughout history, presidents have used their pardon pen to pardon the unpardonable, but none have abused it in the ways that Donald Trump has. It is time to take away the presidential pardon pen. Why should one man be able to undo sentences handed down by judges and juries? Why should it be possible for one person, with the stroke of a pen, to release killers back into our ranks? And why should the person elected by the people of this nation not be held to account by those people?
Trump’s very first pardon, in August 2017, was the notorious Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who had a history of racism and human rights violations, failure to comply with federal laws, and basically thumbing his nose at humanity. On July 31, 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court. Less than a month later, on August 25th, Trump pardoned him. The pardon covers Arpaio’s conviction and “any other offenses that might arise or be charged.” Trump announced his decision on Twitter, declaring that Arpaio is an “American patriot” who had “kept Arizona safe.” Safe for whom? Certainly not for the Latino population, many of whom Arpaio had jailed simply for the crime of existing.
On December 22 – 23, Trump issued some 41 pardons by my count. The ones you’ve heard the most about, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret, while shameful, are far from the worst of the lot. The worst was Trump’s pardon of four men convicted of killing innocent civilians, including children. The pardoning of four Blackwater guards – Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough – may well have been a violation of international law, and is most definitely, as United Nations experts have said, “an affront to justice”.
In the next day or two, I plan to delve a bit deeper into Trump’s pardons, particularly those, like the Blackwater guards, whose crimes truly are ‘unpardonable’. Why did Trump pardon the ones he did? What was in it for him? As we all know by now, Trump does nothing without expecting something in return. Can any of these pardons be reversed once Trump leaves office? And lastly, is it time to take away the presidential pardon pen? I believe that, like the Electoral College, it may well be a law that has outlived its usefulness and is now the subject of much abuse.
Stay tuned …