Monday, December 28, 2015

Michael Jackson – "Smooth Criminal" (1987)

You've been struck by
A smooth criminal

Thirty years ago this month, 101 people showed up at the Washington Convention Center in response to an invitation to pick up a free pair of tickets to the Washington Redskins football game later that day.

Those who came to the Convention Center for a pregame brunch were also told that they would be entered in drawings for 1986 Redskins seasons tickets and a week-long, all-expense-paid trip to New Orleans for Super Bowl XX.  

A story in the December 16, 1985 issue of the Washington Post describes what happened to those who showed up:

While they waited for their tickets in a small room at the Convention Center, eating pastries and drinking coffee next to posters that urged "Let's party!", an emcee in white tails and top hat announced that he had a "surprise": They were under arrest.

The ticket winners stopped singing "Hail to the Redskins" as 28 deputy U.S. marshals and D.C. police officers, dressed in flak jackets and carrying shotguns, marched in, handcuffed them, and put them on a bus that went to D.C. Superior Court instead of to RFK Stadium.

The marshals move in
The letters promising Redskins tickets had been mailed to some 3000 individuals with outstanding criminal warrants by the U.S. Marshals Service.  It was all part of a sting operation called “Operation Flagship.”  

The Marshals Service said that 15 of the not-so-smooth criminals arrested that morning were wanted for assault, five for robbery, six for burglary, 19 for bond default or bail violation, 18 for narcotics violations, 59 for probation or parole violation, two for fraud or embezzlement, one for a weapons violation and the rest for a variety of charges ranging from rape to arson to forgery.  Two handguns were confiscated along with an undetermined amount of narcotics from the fugitives who showed up thats morning.

Five of the people arrested (including the son of a man wanted for murder) had gone to the Convention Center with a letter addressed to someone else, and were released after their true identities were confirmed.

A December 18, 2015 Post article talked about how the marshals suckered the fugitives:

[A]fter the unsuspecting guests arrived at the convention center . . . they checked in and were given name tags. The criminals entered a large room [where] officers dressed as Redskins cheerleaders conducted discreet weapons checks by offering hugs or arms around the shoulders.  A big screen TV played Redskins highlights, including John Riggins’s touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII.  There was no indication that the event was a setup.

More than 100 undercover law enforcement personnel . . . participated in the operation. . . . One marshal wore a Redskins headdress and another wore a knock-off San Diego Chicken suit.  Both carried guns.

The star of the sting was U.S. Marshal Louie McKinney.  More from the recent Post story:

One of the most important roles was played by the charismatic McKinney, who wore a tuxedo and large top hat as the party’s master of ceremonies.

[McKinney deputy Robert] Leschorn and his team decided that attempting to arrest 101 criminals in a large room at once was too risky, so the plan called for groups of 14-16 fugitives at a time to be escorted to another room upstairs, where they were told they would receive their tickets and hear a few remarks from McKinney.

McKinney wrote in a 2009 memoir about what he said to the criminals:

Knowing that many in this crowd were Redskins fans, I talked about the exciting upcoming game and interacted with them. We had a prearranged signal with the Special Operations Group, which was supposed to enter the room when it heard me say “surprise.” . . . “Today really is your lucky day,” I shouted above the conversations.  “And I’ve got a big surprise for you!” . . . With guns drawn, the SOG team swept into the room and surrounded the audience. The cheerleaders drew their weapons, as did the chicken and the Indian characters.

All the law enforcement people involved in the Redskins tickets sting believed it was a great success, and the local press applauded the operation.

But only a few of those who were arrested had been accused of committing a serious felony.  Many of the fugitives were wanted only for parole or probation violations.

Something else about this sting rubs me the wrong way, too.  I’m sure the operation was perfectly legal, but I don’t like the idea of the police lying to criminals to trip them up.  Two wrongs don’t make a right . . . right?

I was a government attorney for many years, and I always believed that law enforcers should hold themselves to a higher standard than their targets.  It’s not legal for hunters to spotlight their quarry, and I don’t think it’s kosher for government law enforcement officers to lie to fugitives in order to trap them.

Here’s “Smooth Criminal,” the seventh single from Michael Jackson’s 1987 album, Bad:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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