While Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas labored to justify the bullying interrogation of a farm worker whom an Oxnard police officer had just gravely wounded, Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting, called the inquisition what it was: "the functional equivalent" of torture. Thomas' 6-3 majority opinion Tuesday rolls back decades of constitutional protections against self-incrimination and all but invites the backroom rough-'em-up police tactics of old.
The farm worker, Oliverio Martinez, is blind and partly paralyzed from the five bullets that police pumped into his body after they stopped him in connection with an investigation of possible drug sales in his Oxnard neighborhood. Although Martinez initially complied with orders to dismount from his bicycle, a scuffle resulted when the officers discovered he was carrying a knife and Martinez was shot.
Paramedics arrived and carted away Martinez, bleeding and screaming, to a hospital. For nearly an hour, as Martinez waited for medical treatment and then as doctors tended him, the officers pressured him to confess to starting the fight.
"I am dying!" Martinez cried.
"OK, yes, you are dying," the officer said. "But tell me why you are fighting with the police."
Not once did the police officers inform Martinez of his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. Instead, to try to badger him into a confession, they took advantage of his physical agony and mental anguish and the fact that he couldn't move from the hospital bed.