What happened to Brandon Guresky the night the cops pulled him over in Dana Point isn't the kind of story that makes the newspapers. Who cares if an innocent man spends 12 hours in jail?
For those who think that's no big deal, it's probably because they've never had to do it.
It would seem to follow, then, that cops who deprive an innocent person of freedom have committed a serious breach of trust.
If so, why is this black-and-white picture turning to gray?
About 12:30 a.m. on July 12, Guresky was driving on Golden Lantern when an Orange County sheriff's deputy pulled him over for driving with the parking lights on. Guresky, who lives in North Hollywood, explained he had been at a wedding and was driving his girlfriend's car, which was unfamiliar to him. While the deputy talked to him, Guresky seemed extremely nervous, with dilated pupils and profuse sweating, according to the deputy's report.
Suspecting Guresky might be under the influence of drugs, the officer ordered him out of the car. A records search turned up nothing. The deputy found no drugs on Guresky or in the car. Guresky insisted that his behavior was induced by extreme nervousness at being pulled over.
After conducting some standard roadside tests, the deputy concluded that Guresky was high. His pulse rate was about 115 beats a minute, and his pupils remained dilated. The deputy radioed for a departmental drug expert, who reached the same conclusion. They arrested Guresky and by late morning, he was in the County Jail, where he would remain until being released early that afternoon.
The kicker: Guresky wasn't charged, because lab tests showed no indication of cocaine, amphetamines or opiates, for which the Sheriff's Department tests.
In other words, Guresky's version of events apparently was true. He had gone to jail because he flunked some tests that are supposed to be a tip-off of illegal drugs. Then, no drugs turned up.
Robert Jesinger is a lawyer and family friend who was at the wedding that Guresky had attended. "Perhaps they [deputies] are so jaded they can't believe any kid like Brandon could possibly be clean," Jesinger said. "They just can't believe it, so they throw him in the clink. That's quite frightening and upsetting."
But isn't this the price we pay, I asked Jesinger, for vigilance in the anti-drug war? "Maybe this is the price," he said, "but where is the presumption of innocence?"
I posed that to Lt. Tom Garner, speaking for the Sheriff's Department on the matter. "It's one of those things," Garner said, after confirming the details of Guresky's arrest and subsequent clearing on drug suspicions. "It's a judgment call in the field."
I talked to a nurse who said a pulse rate of 115 isn't an automatic indicator of drug use. Nor are dilated pupils. The deputies, of course, used those factors as part of their overall equation.
How solid is that judgment, I asked Garner, given the lab results? What can we say about someone wrongly sent to jail, even if only for the night? "I don't know what I can say," Garner said. "It happens."
That may be the answer that scares me. And it scares me because it is the perfectly honest one.
We all know we'd browbeat an officer who let someone go who they believed to be high. Even Guresky concedes the officers believed he was high.
Guresky said the incident still bothers him. "Once they had me step out of the car, that's when I started to get very nervous," he told me this week. "I never had been in that situation before. To my knowledge, when they ask you to get out of the car, it's not good."
He spent part of his night in jail "with 30 passed-out drunks and what appeared to be gang members. . . . I tried to lie down, relax, maybe even sleep the time away, but I couldn't even do that."
Through it all, he said, Sheriff's Department personnel continually asked him what drugs he was on.
I queried a deputy district attorney not involved in Guresky's case. Shouldn't we be outraged, I said, that an innocent man spent a night in jail, without stronger proof of being impaired?
No, the deputy D.A. said. "Here's the thing: You have to put yourself in the officer's shoes. He's got a tough job. He stops someone, and he may see something that makes him think the guy is under the influence of something, and he may not be sure what. . . . So he has a decision to make, and it's a very difficult one to make, unless you're there. Do I let him go and maybe he'll go down the street, go through a red light and maybe kill somebody? Or do I take him off the street?"
I asked the prosecutor if he's troubled with the occasional jailing of innocent people. "I hope I don't sound too conservative, but if we're going to err, I hope we err on the side of taking [dangerous people] off the street. Maybe that's the price we have to pay for making the streets safe."
Therein lies the dilemma. The proverbial one innocent man in the midst of 99 guilty ones.
I feel like I should be outraged by Guresky's jailing, but I can't get all the way there. I don't take it lightly that a 19-year-old spent a night in jail. It's bad form that the Sheriff's Department hasn't apologized to him. But I'd feel like a phony for condemning the officers in the field.
Maybe Guresky can take solace in knowing he was a prisoner in our war on crime.
Maybe he'll feel better knowing he was that one guy out of a hundred.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to email@example.com