David & Goliath: Corrections Officers and Corporate Interests

08/04/2010 12:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What would Eric Holder and federal investigators say to a "Pattern of Practice" that routinely evidences violations of law by California State corrections officials? The person at the heart of what has become a quieted controversy is a witness to American citizens having been beaten and held at gunpoint by officers of California's corrections community. This activity allegedly occurred and continues in ongoing and unbridled fashion without any presentation of credentials or official sanction. This alleged breach of lawful behavior by peace officers is at the heart of an unveiling controversy.

Though those incarcerated in our prisons sometimes display an enlightened knowledge of their legal rights, it is often their families that possess no such acumen. When suddenly confronted by a state's powerful legal apparatus, few citizens actually know their rights. Fewer yet would be willing to fight uphill all the tumult that would surely await them after having alerted authorities to misfeasance and the breaking of laws by California's and possibly federal officials. Whistle Blower laws are paper tigers at best, especially when adjudicating the in-house abuse of community-vested power. Most average citizens want no part of such a battle.

Currently however, a Hispanic corrections officer named David Tristan is at the core of this controversy. It appears that while ordered to take part in the local "Mi Lai Domestic" style rousting of families of one-time incarcerated prisoners, David refused to falsify events surrounding those activities. Later asked to further compromise the veracity and accuracy of those events, his continued refusal to recant or "tailor" his observations began a process where several years later, all the strong forces in the corrections universe have been marshaled against David.

His income is systematically being eroded while at the same time he has been physically and emotionally injured long-term in carrying out his duties as a corrections officer. Yet until his refusal to falsify information, his record and performance had been seen as stellar by his superiors and colleagues. Those same superiors are currently absent where long ago honest brokering should have been the order of the day.

The controversy began when David sought help and support from African-American peace officer colleagues. Solicitation of assistance across racial lines violates the unspoken racial separation in corrections that now fervently exists. This new wall of separation was erected when George W. Bush carried out the early Congressional campaign promises of his father, George Herbert Walker Bush.

As a Congressman in Texas, George Herbert Walker Bush ran for office on a platform that endorsed the repeal of any kind of Affirmative Action. A posture most quizzical when one notes that George W. Bush was only allowed to matriculate at Yale University because of his "legacy" status. "Legacy" status is "preferential treatment" at the highest levels.

George W. Bush and California's Pete Wilson would later combine with Eastern banking interests to unleash the privatization of prisons. This re-orientation of policy was affected by creating public bonds that would return untold profits to investors, as twenty (20) of California's thirty-four (34) prisons became the prize. The Bush family "jihad" against Affirmative Action was at the core of that promise.

And when the corrections balance that had historically been roughly 25% Whites, 25% Latinos, 25% African-American and 25% Women was broken, what resulted was the 90% White corrections officer imbalance that we see today. Affirmative Action was always intended as a "place holder," a conceptual "zero" for civility. It was an attempt to re-commit Americans to the ideals of fairness. Indeed California's Corcoran Prison's inhumane and much chronicled violations were bound to occur in an atmosphere of penitentiary fiefdoms and administrations woven to built-in racism and pre-pubescent gladiatorial instincts.

It becomes clear that this wall of separation, supported by racism, exists not only amongst those incarcerated in modern prisons, but also among the corrections community itself. David Tristan in more modern colloquial terms--that is the terms of the streets that he helped patrol--seems to be getting "jumped out of the corrections gang." Sadly, Mr. Tristan had signed on to the objectives of law enforcement and not the excesses of a national ethos gone "nut-cake" and a credo of duplicity.

This "New Serpico" has been anything but a classic willing whistle blower however. On several occasions, his attempts have been to diminish the controversy and be left to merely function in his corrections officer role. His unwillingness to falsify information however seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back and also seems to have waved red flags to those who recognize that his testimony in court would bring much light, heat and censorship to corrections nationwide.

California's corrections juggernaut is already beginning to suffer from the focus of increasing national attention on that industry and its power base. Such inordinate power, both at the ballot box and in California's State Assembly, has recently summoned a scrutiny that does not display the corrections industry in good light. Cleary, David is being pilloried for what he has witnessed more than anything that he has done. And this witch-hunt has been carried out after an initial "fact finding" foray that seems to be playing out someplace in deep space.

Indeed, David Tristan should if anything, be the poster boy for corrections success. A "bad boy" himself early on, David turned his life around to the point that he was hired to arrest, attend to and treat those charged and convicted who could relate to this corrections officer from the streets. And he was a fine officer too, until he saw citizens being pistol-whipped by those sworn to protect them. David would not falsify reports obfuscating the activity that he had witnessed.

Lieberger liabilities seem to have many of his colleagues running for other assignments--and easily getting them. And don't expect the "catastrophic time bank" to be open for David. That mechanism that allows other peace officers to donate their excess hours seems somehow closed to David Tristan. Though in his career he has donated his extra hours to peace officers at risk, the same has not resulted for David in his time of need.

Such long-term violations of due process and the suspension of proper procedures, their "letter" and "spirit," do not surface merely because of what one individual does however. These "dark investment forces" that even have legal counsel buffaloed on both sides of the aisle have a greater value. And these draconian measures have surfaced in societies from ancient Athens to modern America essentially all because of what an individual knows.

Though it can hardly be called a "silver lining" in a society as willing to violate its own ethos as we have been of late, David Tristan's children will be able to say that their father fought for what is right. Their Dad, like so many others of the unsung, will be a true hero of the American experiment. David will have resisted the forces of might advancing the ethic of what is right.

And corporate banking models, whose profit structures are tied to the continued incarceration of targeted populations and members of the underclass already at risk, should never be allowed to continue their path to profitability as "business as usual." Has anyone noticed that "business as usual" seems to be morphing more and more downwards towards the laissez faire of policies that have long been proven as disastrous to Democracy? But in this case, though huge, Goliath is not lumbering. And in this age of laser targeting, a slingshot just won't do.

David Tristan's life has been upended and that is a horror. Meanwhile corporate motivated corrections actors siphon the vested will of the American people. One of California's most potent "unions" today is that body that represents the corrections community. There is an inherent contradiction in the very existence of that passageway of power. In the interim a kind and gentle man with integrity and a sense of what is appropriate to fairness watches his career and life be wrenched from him while the gladiatorial community that is corrections chalks up one more win for Goliath.