Criminal (Pt. 3)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | August 1, 2018

The police can be mean, the jails can be cruel, and the court system can be extremely unjust and unfair. If you have money and representation, you’ll be alright. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you are screwed. In my case, my dad is a seasoned lawyer who was willing to represent me free of charge. I was a bit apprehensive when we arrived to the courthouse on Monday, July 16, 2013. This particular hearing wasn’t a big deal. I was simply there to acknowledge the charges and make a plea. “Not guilty” were the magic words and a court date was set for a bench trial in October. My dad and I were in and out of the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in 20 minutes.

As my bench trial date approached in October, my dad got in contact with the state prosecutor. He made his case and sent the prosecutor the video that I recorded. Unfortunately, he didn’t hear back from the prosecutor until the last minute. In the twelfth hour, we cut a deal— charges dismissed in lieu of 30 hours of community service or $300 fine and a “stay out of trouble” diversion. We still showed up to court on October 2, 2013 and sat through the other proceedings until my name was called. I guess the judge was not informed of the deal made by the prosecutor, so the judge was prepared for a bench trial. Once she was made aware, she and my dad had a good laugh and I was dismissed. That was it. I went to the court cashier, paid $300 and this whole stupid ordeal was over just like that. Case No: 13M15505X “The State of Nevada vs. Brandon Summers” was settled.

From an efficiency standpoint, I think that having prosecutors and defense attorneys cut deals outside of the courtroom is an incredible practice. This saves the courts, judges, defendants, and potential jurors lots of time. However, it also introduces an inherent inequity in terms of justice for poor, unrepresented clients. I didn’t have to go to court with a lawyer, but I did because my dad is one. I’m not sure if I would have paid a lawyer or contacted a public defender in an alternate reality because I may not have known any better– or maybe I would have been too broke to even consider it.

When I was a junior in college, I got caught with empty beer cans in my dorm room during a room inspection. It was a victim-less crime, I was 21 years old, but my school was a dry campus– so there were consequences. I showed up to court and took whatever the judge gave me. I was sentenced to 70 hours of community service. I never told my parents about it until after the fact because I didn’t want them to be upset or disappointed. In hindsight, the punishment was unfair and immoral, but I just wanted the situation to go away. I probably should have gotten an attorney.

Occasionally, I would look up the charges of other street performers I knew online. I was trying to look out for people because I realized it was easy to get caught up in the system. I saw a few performers who actually plead guilty to petty misdemeanor charges without even going to trial. It makes the situation go away, but now they have a criminal history. One of my mom’s biggest concerns for me was avoiding having a record, no matter how insignificant. She’s worked in government for twenty plus years and she understands the obstacles faced by people who have a criminal record, even if the crime was committed decades ago. She also knows that it’s another strike in addition to being a black male; and I believe she’s absolutely right. When I applied to become a Clark County School District (CCSD) Substitute teacher in 2015, my “criminal history” (even though I was never convicted) was an obstacle in the hiring process (well, CCSD is actually an obstacle in the hiring process… for another day).

When I hear stories about people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit (or a crime they could beat in court), I absolutely believe it.

Any decision made while incarcerated is a decision made under duress.
Any decision made while you’re broke is a decision made under duress.

If pleading guilty to a crime gets you out of jail, allows you to go home to your family and back to your job, I see why people do it. It’s a cheap and expedient fix in the moment, but a terrible decision down the line. Meanwhile, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys are insulated from how defendants feel; or how defendants are treated by the police and jails– the humiliation of being placed in handcuffs or the lump in the back of one’s throat as a judge decides their fate. All they see is a case number and stack of paperwork. I’m not suggesting that our society burn the courts to the ground, but they are inherently flawed and inequitable.

Criminal (Pt. 2)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | July 21, 2018

The ride from the Las Vegas Strip to the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) was quick. CCDC is in the downtown area, just footsteps away from The Fremont Street Experience. Once I was taken to processing, that would be the last time I’d ever see Officer Smith #9643. The handcuffs were taken off, and I sat on a bench until my name was called for fingerprints and a mugshot. I had to take off my shoes and put on slippers, but I didn’t have to don a jumpsuit. Next, I was moved to a holding cell. The entire process seemed surreal, but it started to sink in that I had been arrested.

The holding cell was crowded. There were probably 15 people in this confined space. There were floating benches on either side of the narrow rectangular room as well as two free pay phones. It seemed like someone was always using one. The cell was mostly silent aside from the sporadic phone calls and the toilet flushing. Everyone’s mood was somber, resigned, and anxious. Nobody wanted to be there. Everybody wanted out— it was Saturday. Most of the individuals in the cell seemed to be there for a victimless crime– an unpaid traffic ticket, public intoxication, etc. I didn’t get the vibe that I was surrounded by hardened criminals, and thankfully nobody stunk.

Now that I was settled, I had to make that dreaded 2am phone call. My dad answered the phone.

“Are you okay?” my dad asked as he was clearly woken up.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I got arrested on a bench warrant. What do I do now?” I said calmly.

“I gotta bail you out. Call your mother in an hour while I work on this” my dad replied.

My dad is lawyer. He knows what to do, so I’m reassured that things will be fine (and I’m glad he’s not pissed). But in the meantime, I’m just stuck in cell with a bunch of strangers that I have no intention of talking to or befriending. The adrenaline begins to wear off and it becomes apparent that the cell is cold– like really cold. The previous occupants stuck toilet paper in the ceiling vent to restrict the airflow. Everybody was pinned to a wall and curled into the fetal position to conserve body heat. The lucky ones had secured a roll of toilet paper as a makeshift pillow. I found a spot in one corner of the room, curled into a ball, and pretended to sleep. But it was impossible to sleep. I was on a cement floor, the lights were always on, and it was probably 65 degrees in that room. It was dull and miserable. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to take a shit.

In addition to the cold, it became apparent was that there was no clock– no way to tell time. Some of the people in the cell would call a friend just to ask the time. And since there was no natural sunlight and the lights were always on, I became disoriented pretty quickly. I couldn’t discern between 15 minutes or an hour. What little “sleep” I got was interrupted by a phone call or the toilet flushing; and there was this annoying dude who kept whining about being locked up for 2-3 days. He was in search of a captive audience, but everyone was doing their best to ignore him. Occasionally the cell door would open. It was either to let someone out on bail or to serve a meal. I was hoping that my name would be called soon since my dad was on top of this situation. That wasn’t the case.

Bailed Out

Unfortunately, it takes time to process “inmates”. That process means that no one is getting out any sooner than 12 hours. Even though my dad was in contact with the bail bondsmen as soon as I called him, I didn’t appear in the system. The bondsmen situation was eventually worked out and I was told I would be out in a few hours. It was just a waiting game now. In the meantime, I was just doing my best to pretend to sleep and ignore the guy who wouldn’t stop talking. I believe I received two meals while I was in holding. The portions were small and I gave my milk away since I’m lactose intolerant. Eventually the cell door opened and my name was called. I pretended not to be excited, but my entire body wanted to race out the door. I was going home.

Of course it wouldn’t be that simple. I was taken to a different concrete room with one occupant, and I had to wait some more. I think 45 minutes passed before the door opened and an officer called my name. I signed some paperwork before being handed my possessions and the $190 I earned the night before. The only thing I wasn’t given back was my tip bucket. I guess it was mistaken for junk. When the final door opened, the sunlight was hot and blaring. I escaped the freezer just to be be put into an oven. I checked my phone and it was noon. I was free at last.

I called my dad to let him know I was out and he said he was on his way. We had to make one more stop. The bail bondsmen. When we got there, we were greeted by Byron Cadoc was a nice guy– a proud military veteran in his forties. Everything was sorted out in a few minutes. I had to sign some paperwork to consent to the cost of the bond and acknowledge that I would show up in court on Monday. My bail was set at $3,000— $1,000 for the initial charge, $1,000 for the warrant, and $1,000 for the bogus charge officer Smith #9643 threw on in retaliation for filming our encounter. My dad paid Byron $450 and we were on our way. I’m just glad that he and my mom were not upset with me. They were concerned more than anything else. I was just ready to take a shower. Sleeping on a concrete floor for 12 hours is an overrated experience.

Criminal (Pt. 1)

Busking

by Brandon Summers | July 13, 2018

I never imagined I would find myself in the back of a patrol car in handcuffs– Nor imagine having my mugshot taken, being fingerprinted, and eventually placed in an icy, crowded holding cell with a bunch of strangers. This outcome is only reserved for deserving criminals– thieves, murders, rapists, pedophiles, and drunk drivers. But 5 years ago, I was in this predicament. How did I get here?

The circumstances leading up to this moment were largely out of my control. Casinos, local politicians, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) had been devising ways to purge the Las Vegas Strip of street performers for years (more on that later). I have some responsibility in this situation, but it is minimal. I got a ticket in April 2013 while street performing. I unwittingly missed my court date (June 13, 2013), and ended up with a warrant for my arrest. After going months without significant interaction with police, I assumed my ticket was dropped. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Friday, July 13, 2013 was hot as usual. The summer heat in Las Vegas is merciless, so I played during the evening to avoid the sun. I started performing around 8pm and wrapped up my set around midnight. I was setup about 30 feet away from a McDonald’s near the intersection of Harmon and Las Vegas Blvd; and by that time the police were running their evening foot patrol, I was completely packed up– ready to go home. My friend “Nas”, a big dude from Philly who hung out with me most nights, was sitting to my right. He acted as defacto security and helped pass the time by making jokes and talking shit. I appreciated his presence and It was nice that we could look out for one another. What I didn’t know was that he had previous run-ins with the cops when I wasn’t around. He sold weed (allegedly), but I wasn’t aware of that considering he never did it in front of me. Once LVMPD’s foot patrol came in contact with us, an officer recognized “Nas” immediately. Rather than focus his efforts on him, the officer zeroed in on me. I assume that counting the night’s earnings in my bucket aroused the officer’s suspicion.

Once I realized a confrontation was imminent, I pulled out my phone and began recording. I had experience with police encounters, and I knew that capturing cellphone video was the only way to tell the whole story. I politely asked for the officer’s name, badge number, and the reason for the stop. He explained to me that “Nas” was a guy known to have narcotics and we looked suspicious. By then, he had already grabbed my tip bucket and was running his hands through the pile of bills. I was irritated, nervous, and defiant– ready to stand my ground; but I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking and the officer noticed.

“Why you shaking man? [Are] you nervous?” asked officer Smith #9643.

“Yeah, because you guys have guns, pepper spray, and tasers” I replied.

The rest of the stop was routine. One of Officer Smith’s wing-men ran my ID while he had me stand, and extend my arms to conduct a pat down for weapons. Officer Smith #9643 asked me a series of leading questions to see if I would self-incriminate. Once he realized that he didn’t have any evidence to continue his investigation, he tried to lighten the mood. I wasn’t amused. The whole experience was humiliating as usual, but it was over in less than four minutes. Smith #9643 made mention of an ordinance that he could have ticketed me for, but said he was going to cut me a break and let me go home. How benevolent.

Just as he was getting ready to move on, Officer Smith #9643 had me stand up once more for a pat down. That’s when he placed me in handcuffs and informed me of my bench warrant. I was going to jail– on the weekend. As Officer Smith escorted me to his patrol car he made the following remark:

“That’s what you get for fucking recording!”

I wasn’t expecting that, but I knew that police officers don’t like their authority being challenged; and in return are capable of retaliation— verbal and physical. I’d seen the YouTube videos (we all have) and experienced it in person during my time as a busker. Tonight my number was up. I sat in the patrol car with my hands and feet shackled for about 20 minutes until the vehicle lurched forward en route to the Clark County Detention Center.

Officer Smith #9643 / July 14, 2015
Las Vegas Blvd./Harmon Ave.