Officer Monkey Ears
Jesus, what a pair of ears! Those puppies protruded from his head like the cantilevering I beams of a double-sided modern architectural cliffhanger. They defied gravity and logic and even anatomy because I was sure that steam was emitting from their molten red core. Immediately I thought of the name I would never dare call him to his face – Officer Monkey Ears.
Officer Monkey Ears was not a big man; a fact that obviously chagrined him greatly. He would have made the perfect poster boy for runt syndrome. What he lacked in physical stature he made up for in belligerent attitude sprinkled with heavy doses of sarcasm and condensation. He insulted me, my wife, and the town I live in with impunity, and relish. Appearing as puffed up and as prickly as a blowfish unceremoniously plucked from the ocean he seemed to be holding his breath so as not to completely exhale all the animus he was harboring towards me. But it was coming just as soon as he could string together another barrage of vilipends to machinegun towards me.
My wife and I were returning from a Halloween party down in the desert. We hadn’t violated any vehicle laws. We weren’t speeding. And we certainly were not drunk. But, we were high. Not that anyone would know by our outward appearance because we both can hold our weed. Why then were those miserable intimating blue and red lights flashing in the rear view mirror? On the outskirts of town, under the glow of the harvest moon, my wife had taken it upon herself to spark one up. She hadn’t even fully exhaled her first hit when Officer Monkey Ears and the individual who would prove to be his good cop partner set upon us. Sure we both had our medical marijuana cards with us, but a subsequent perusal of the California Department of Justice: Law Enforcement Policy & Procedures Manual (2015) bore out that they wouldn’t have help us much. We weren’t asked if we had them, and given the tension of the moment we didn’t volunteer that we had them. I knew that they were well within their rights in stopping us because according to Officer Monkey Ears the stench of the marijuana was overpowering. Just for shits and giggles, here is what the manual has to say:
452 Medical Marijuana
452.1 PURPOSE AND SCOPE
The purpose of this policy is to provide members of this department with guidelines for handling and distinguishing between claims of medical marijuana use under California’s Compassionate Use Act (Health & Safety Code § 11362.5) and criminal narcotics violations.
Although federal law does not currently permit possession of marijuana for medical use, California has created a limited defense (i.e. no penalty) for certain qualified individuals possessing small quantities of marijuana for medical use under strict conditions.
a. Notwithstanding California Medical Marijuana laws: 1. California does not provide any exception for individuals driving under the influence of marijuana. All such cases should be handled with appropriate enforcement action (e.g., Vehicle Code § 23152, et seq).1
So Officer Monkey Ears and the good cop partner had me dead to rights. Or, maybe not. I hadn’t taken a toke simply because we were interrupted before I could, and he had no way of proving how long it had been since I last imbibed. Not that he didn’t ask, and not that I didn’t lie in telling him that it must have been hours ago back at the party when I wasn’t driving. An onslaught of disparaging remarks ensued and I became more convinced by the second that Officer Monkey Ears was most certainly a rude abrasive prick.
“Give me that joint,” officer Monkey Ears asserted. Since it was clearly visible in my wife’s shaking hand, I reached over and took it from her and handed it to him. He placed it in his shirt pocket. I fully expected him to command us out of the car so he could conduct a search, and I was relieved when he did neither, because I would not have consented to a search. Never consent to a search. Not only are you not required to, but to do so makes the cop feel that you are stupid and can be easily duped into further incriminating yourself. He will push you even harder once he knows that he can push you at all.
After the ordeal was over, and I was out of harms’ way, what I wanted to know is; are inherently abrasive pricks automatically drawn to cop-hood? Or, does the job turn ordinary people into inherently abrasive pricks? In fairness, it’s a job where everyone you approach instantaneously assumes that you have a bone to pick with them and are on their guard before you utter your first word. Any cop that doesn’t command respect, or failing that, fear by his/her very demeanor puts themselves at a decided disadvantage because it’s common knowledge that you can always become nicer with relative ease, but it is nigh on impossible to become meaner once you start out nice.
How you treat people that you don’t like or respect, however, says a lot about who you are as a human being. Officer Monkey Ears obviously relished his role as cat in his cruel game of cat and mouse. But unlike the cat whose first priority is to let the mouse think that it actually may have a chance of getting away so as to embolden him to make an even greater effort in doing just that before lowering the inevitable boom, I was in fact paralyzed by fear wondering what this crazed and obviously deranged lunatic may delve into next: A strip search, a prolonged billy-club bludgeoning, further humiliating me in front of my wife, calling in backup so as to prance and chortle in front of his sick depraved buddies? He seemed, after all, capable of anything, and I was determined not to say or do anything that may set him off. Know that the California Department of Justice: Law Enforcement Policy & Procedures Manual (2015) is riddled with their ultimate (pardon the pun) get out of jail free card when it comes to the use of force simply by applying the word “reasonable” which you can be sure is most often only subject to their interpretation:
It is the policy of this department that agents shall use only that amount of force that reasonably appears necessary, given the facts and circumstances perceived by the agent at the time of the event, to effectively bring an incident under control.
“Reasonableness” of the force used must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable agent on the scene at the time of the incident. Any interpretation of reasonableness must allow for the fact that bureau agents are often forced to make split-second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.
Given that no policy can realistically predict every possible situation an agent might encounter in the field, it is recognized that each agent must be entrusted with well-reasoned discretion in determining the appropriate use of force in each incident. While it is the ultimate objective of every law enforcement encounter to minimize injury to everyone involved, nothing in this policy requires an agent to actually sustain physical injury before applying reasonable force.
“What do you know about hot boxing, John?” he snickered. I had no idea what he was talking about, but was to later learn that hot boxing is when a group of stoners close off all paths of ventilation in a small room so as to get even higher on the trapped secondhand smoke. “All you Anza losers are hot boxing, aren’t you? That Anza is only good for drug addicts and welfare basket cases.” Officer Monkey Ears ascended the ladder from abrasive prick to consummate dickhead with relative ease and I became quite uncomfortable in thinking that he was obviously capable of reaching stratospheric douche-bag heights if he so chose to.
Again, after accessing the aftermath of Officer Monkey Ears verbal assault I had to ask myself where did the popular police motto: “To protect and serve,” originate? In February 1955, the Los Angeles Police Department, within the pages of its internally produced BEAT magazine, conducted a contest for a motto for the police academy. The winning entry was the motto, “To Protect and to Serve” submitted by Officer Joseph S. Dorobek. “To Protect and to Serve” then became the official motto of the Police Academy. On November 4, 1963, the Los Angeles City Council passed the necessary ordinance and the credo has now been placed alongside the City Seal on the Department’s patrol cars. While society at large may think that all police departments are bound by this credo; that is a misnomer. The saying most definitely did not adorn the side doors of Officer Monkey Ear’s car. In fact, if a fitting saying were ever to be ascribed to his general demeanor it would read “To Bully and Harass.” Which brings me to how we feel about our interactions with the police in general, and specifically how I feel about my interactions with the police in total. Sure they might protect me if they have to. But, serve? Give me a break. I have never known a cop who wanted to help me out of the goodness of their heart, and in particularly out of any sense of duty. Any time I called on them to put down a family squabble they frequently told me that I could go to jail, and often voiced their true feelings saying, “What are you calling us for?” The great Hunter S. Thompson said it best in stating, “Never call 911!” It simply doesn’t pay in the final analysis.
When you think about it, the justice system and the banking system are a lot alike. Both are predisposed to contribute mightily to the ongoing failure of their clientele. It has been said that banks only want to lend money to people who really don’t need it. The high interest rates they impose upon the others, in particularly the poor, virtually guarantees that they will default on their loans and slide ever further down the credit rating scale towards economic irrelevance or oblivion. The recidivism rate of our prison system stems from the maniacal societal shunning that comes with a felony. The inmate may pay their debt to society, but society just keeps piling on. Once a felon always a felon seems to be their view, so why give a felon an even break? In either case, once they get their foot on their victim’s throat, they will push down ever harder until the problem is eradicated. “Good riddance’” they seem to collectively say.
Officer Monkey Ear’s feet were most definitely itching to apply even more pressure. He was eyeballing me, leaning in and crowding any nominal definition of my personal space, menacingly jabbing his index finger at my face while shining his bright flashlight across me and directly into my wife’s eyes. He was deliberately trying to piss me off, and he was succeeding in his efforts. He was goading me, the bullying little prick. It probably gave him a real hard-on. I took heart in imaging that it was probably a really tiny hard on. I wouldn’t look at him focusing my eyes directly ahead in what could only be defined as an icy stare. “Look at me!” No I wouldn’t look at him. I averted my eyes towards the floor of the vehicle. The good cop broke the ice saying, “Tell the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Really? It would be that easy? “Do you have any more marijuana on you?” Officer Monkey Ears asked. I had a joint in my shirt pocket but wasn’t going to admit to it. If he was going to search me he probably would have done it by now. “No,” I replied knowing that any other answer would just invite another one of his tirades, or even worse. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the deceptively comfortable confines of the car. It was like a security blanket that I knew could be ripped from me at any moment, but until that moment came it gave me great solace. This thin layer of metal separating the deranged Officer Monkey Ears from what I felt was the cowardly me, was the only protective barrier left.
Would Officer Monkey ears have behaved differently if the circumstances were different? Suppose he had come to break up one of my Halloween parties that a neighbor had complained about (primarily because they weren’t invited) and found me high on marijuana, but not belligerent or otherwise obnoxious. Would he have been just as incensed as he was now? I was driving after all, and I’ll concede that being high is being impaired when one is behind the wheel. I was certainly wrong on that count. Considering the extreme he was taking it to, and the extent that the other officer would have to go to lie about it in order to refute it, I was beginning to take heart that he was simply getting his money worth in his bullying and his badgering, and had no real interest in hauling us in.
His Napoleon Complex knew no bounds, and he would grasp at anything to exercise it. My wife, due to the stifling pressure of the moment, and her proclivity to quite literally shut down in crisis situations lit a cigarette to ease the tension she was feeling. “Put that out!” Officer Monkey Ears exploded. “I don’t appreciate that. Who said you could do that?” We weren’t as of yet under arrest, and she was lighting a legally bought cigarette so why was the hair so deeply up his ass? Perhaps he genuinely hated all cigarette smokers like many self-righteous, overly self-important people do. Cigarette smokers, after all, are people too. Most likely this was his knee-jerk reaction to something so completely unexpected that it caught him off guard and not in complete control which was something he fought mightily to never let happen. In bewilderment and shock she did as ordered. Now, a standoff of sorts ensued. The silence was deafening as he pondered his next insult, and I certainly wasn’t going to say anything. Into the still night air the words I was praying to hear emerged emanating from the lips of the good cop: “Get the hell out of here!” I glanced over my shoulder and saw that he was walking back to their vehicle. Officer Monkey ears stood firm not twitching a muscle with his eyes glaring and ears still glowering. I thought of asking him for his permission, and instantly thought better of it. Let them argue amongst themselves if they were going to, but I wasn’t going to kick this gift horse in the mouth. I put our car in gear, took extra care not to run over Officer Monkey Ear’s feet, and slowly, ever so slowly, agonizingly slowly crept away in a show of shame and humiliation, but mostly deep relief.
When out of their earshot my quite recently and greatly emboldened wife stated, “They’ll probably smoke that joint right after they get off work.” “Well at least they’ll know that at least one Anza lowlife grows really good weed. I hope it knocks them for a real loop,” I replied.
In the ensuing weeks and months I thought a lot about Officer Monkey Ears. Did he really have to be such a colossal prick? I have a healthy fear of the omnipotent power of all of law enforcement, so there was no question as to whether or not I treated him with the utmost respect. He certainly had the power and wielded it like a Mid-eastern despot putting down a military coup. But what was his purpose? In the final analysis, it doesn’t much matter now if he was right or wrong. It doesn’t much matter how I personally feel about his Oscar worthy performance, because Officer Monkey Ears succeeded in putting the fear of God in me. I never got high and got behind the wheel again.
My browbeating at the hands of Officer Monkey Ears left a deep impression upon me. I didn’t want another stoner to ever have to experience the type of demeaning harassment that I had endured. This led me to develop a list of Ten Commandments for all the members of my then active (and legal) medical marijuana collective. These are:
- Know California State Laws. Read the contents of Proposition 215 (1994) and Senate Bill 420 (2003). Card holders are allowed to cultivate 12 immature or six mature Cannabis plants, but not both. Card holders are allowed to possess not more than eight (8) dried ounces of medical marijuana at any given time.
- Even though doctor’s issue “99 plants” cards, they usually are not recognized by law enforcement or the courts.
- Do not imbibe in public spaces.
- Do not imbibe in the presence of anyone under the age of 18 or who is not a California medical marijuana card holder.
- Do not imbibe and drive. Use California’s drunk driving laws as a guide.
- Do not possess or imbibe in medical marijuana within 1,500 feet of a school or any other youth facility.
- If you want respect as a medical marijuana user, show courtesy and respect to nonusers. Let the state laws that apply to cigarette smoking be a guide for cannabis.
- Never possess more than one (1) ounce on your person away from your place of residence.
- When transporting marijuana, keep it in the locked trunk of your car, or in the back of your truck inaccessible from an operable back window. This is to avoid “open container” laws.
- American Indian Reservations, National Monuments, National Parks, National Forests, BLM Land, and any Federal Buildings fall under the ownership of the United States’ Government, and as such are subject to federal law. If you are caught with any amount of marijuana in any of these locales you will be prosecuted to the full extent of federal law. Your state medical marijuana card is not applicable in these locales.
These are words to live by, if there ever were any.
May peace and blessings be bestowed upon you Officer Monkey Ears.
John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He is also retired as an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist and currently holds seven active categories of California state contracting licenses, including the highest category of Class A General Engineering. He has written a college textbook entitled Desert Landscape Architecture (1999, CRC Press). John has had pieces published in A Gathering of the Tribes, Clark Street Review, Conceit, Palm Springs Life, and Pegasus.