Monday, November 23, 2009

REACTION TO CONVICTED FIREMAN VARIED

As one might expect in this day and age, reaction to the recent conviction of former Asheville, NC city fireman Charles Diez has been fast, frequent and all over the place. Diez plead guilty to Assault With a Deadly Weapon With Intent To Kill. Diez was originally charged with First Degree Attempted Murder but a local Grand Jury returned indictments on the lesser charge.  The charges were a result of a July 26, 2009 incident in which Diez, off-duty at the time, pulled over the defendant and his family to castigate Alan Ray Simons for riding his child in what Diez felt was unsafe circumstances on a busy city street. The child was in an approved seat attached to Simons’s bike and his wife was following him on another bike at the time.

Judge James Downs sentenced Diez to 15 to 27 months in prison and suspended all but 4 months of the sentence. Additionally, Diez must serve 30 months on probation, conform to a curfew, and complete anger management courses. Diez lost his job with the Asheville City Fire Department on August 8th.

Local responses range from seeing Diez as a “public servant doing his job” and now being frivolously prosecuting to outrage that such a “light sentence was handed down” for such a grievous offense. An increasing number of responses are taking issue with what the writers see as too much focus on Diez’s profession and thereby impugning all firefighters. One or two writers have noted that of 5 witness accounts only one supported the defendant’s contention that Simons reached into his car and grabbed his shirt thus putting him in fear for his life. The one witness to present this perception was apparently Diez himself.

One local columnist, John Boyle,  addressed the issue in his posting today (November 23rd). To view his comments and related remarks, CLICK HERE!

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the benefit of our own local attorney DJWheels, a cyclist and attorney in Los Angeles, in the courtroom each day as was the case in the Mandeville Canyon case in Los Angeles. It is unclear to me what machinations went on behind the scenes to result in the sentencing. Having worked in the Court system for a number of years throughout my career, I know that the Presiding Superior Court Judge, James Downs, does not carry the reputation of giving out light sentences. The opposite is actually the case.

In the aftermath of the verdict, I’m left with some ongoing questions that, of course, will probably never be answered:

  • Accepting that Diez was trained in the use of firearms, as evidenced by his military service, and even IF Simons approached him, reached into his vehicle and grabbed his shirt, where the heck did Diez think his bullet was going to end up on that day? Tunnel Road is a very busy highway with many businesses surrounding it and a stray bullet could easily have hit an uninvolved citizen causing injury or death.
  • What are the odds that an unarmed cyclist would knowingly reach into a vehicle grab a man’s shirt all the while staring at a loaded gun pointed at him or her?
  • Why was Diez, a firefighter on this occasion and not a policeman, exercising police powers of stopping a citizen?  He had no authority based in law to be pulling over anyone for riding a bicycle or probably for much of anything else.  Don’t even deal with the fact that Diez allegedly admitted on the stand that he knew Simons was not breaking the law when he accosted him.
  • Is there any possibility that any good can come of this sordid event? Similar to the Mandeville Canyon case, one would hope that the opportunity to develop some public education around the need to share the road and tolerance for others ON BOTH SIDES of the debate would come of this. The cynic in me doubts it will happen though because, in so many areas of our lives, we rarely seem to demonstrate tolerance toward others who are “marching to a different drum.” On the other hand, I am an optimist and see the good work of others sharing and helping every day so hope does spring eternal that maybe one day we’ll get it together.

Ah well, stay tuned! I’m certain there will be more!

Until later,

- Zeke

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