Yawning Bread. 15 October 2009

Sam Schwartz and the police, part 2




In part 1, I wrote about the absurdity of the police issuing a formal warning out of the blue, without any due process. Sam Schwartz, a director of a gay sauna, One Seven, was told by mail -- and not even registered mail -- that a warning was being recorded against him in police records for running a massage parlour. One Seven does not provide massage.

Part 2 of the story actually precedes part 1. This part covers the period 25 April 2008 to 20 April 2009. It will raise serious misgivings about the way the police and prosecution conduct their business.


The raid

At about 10 p.m. on Friday, 25 April 2008, a rather busy night for One Seven, a member inside the club told the staff that water pressure in the showers had petered out. Sam, the director on duty, was informed. He promptly made his way through the premises to the backdoor, unlocked it and went out into the back alley to look at the master valve. Indeed, the water supply had been shut off by someone.

In that brief moment that he was in the back alley, a posse of plainclothes police officers rushed in through the unlocked back door. It took Sam a little while to realise what was happening; it didn't fully register until he himself had gotten back into the club, made it past the pool and saw pandemonium in the cafe area.

Upset, he demanded an explanation from the officers why they were rushing in. None was given. Instead, they shouted at him: "Shut up, shut up," but Sam would not, continuing to protest and demand an explanation, as he made his way past the lockers in the changing room towards his office.

When he reached a constriction in the passageway where the locker room and office met (and where there was a small stone fountain) he found himself confronting a female officer, making her way in from the no-opened front door. Concerned for his male patrons who were desperately trying to dress up, he told her, perhaps in full volume, that she should respect the privacy of the men and not step into the men's changing room.

The next moment, he found himself on the floor, having been knocked down by another officer (or two) in a tackle, with his arms held in a lock behind his back. He was soon handcuffed and remained pinned down for several minutes, unable to see what else was going on.

He was later taken to a police station, where other officers noticed he was bleeding. They sent him to the Singapore General Hospital for examination (x-rays were taken) before taking him back to the police lock-up at about 4 o'clock in the morning.

After spending what was left of the night in the police lock-up, Sam was released on bail bond at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. No interview took place in the time he was there, although he was told he would be charged with assaulting a police officer.

Three charges

Subsequently, he was called down to the Police Complex to be interrogated -- twice, he recalled. The outcome was that he was charged:

  • With possessing 121 uncensored DVDs
  • With possessing 25 obscene DVDs
  • With use of force in attempting to bite a person.

The police had apparently found DVDs within the premises of One Seven. Who these belonged to would later be disputed, but it is not the main point of this story. The third charge is the most interesting of all.

Sam thought it was ludicrous. He was (in 2008) 74 years old. He would not and did not physically tussle with officers half his age. It was later revealed that the (male) officer who had brought him down in a blow was 40 years old. Did Sam attempt to bite him?

When Sam and his lawyers asked the prosecution for disclosure of evidence, they were permitted to view (in a room in a court building) a video that the police had made on the night in question. It turned out that the police had a video camera recording the entire raid. What did Sam and his lawyer see in that video recording? The camera mostly followed an agitated Sam as he slowly made his way from the cafe through the locker room. Just as Sam was seen reaching the corner with the stone fountain, the video cut to scenes of empty rooms. The critical moment when Sam confronted the female officer and then got floored by another officer from behind was not on the recording. At least, not on the version shown to them and intended as prosecution evidence.

Neither Sam nor his lawyer could believe that the police stopped filming at that point. They must have carried on, since it was clear that the cameraman intended to follow him about. Why, then, was this portion excised from the video? Why wasn't the prosecution planning to submit the entire video as evidence?

The most obvious conclusion was that the video would prove him innocent. Sam knew he did not assault any officer. Most certainly, biting is not his style. He was prepared to go to trial. His lawyer would demand the full video and they were sure that it would exonerate him.

(It might also show the police using excessive force.)





Why did the police turn off the water?

The police knew they would not be able to rush in from the front. As a private club, One Seven has an electronically-controlled door just after the reception lobby. Thus a ruse was needed to get Sam to open the back door.

The raiding party comprised about 25 officers. This is excessive by any standard, especially when there was no demonstrable reason to believe that any serious crime was taking place within the premises, like harbouring illegal migrants, printing counterfeit money or making narcotic drugs.

It is absurd for the police to go about raiding places, e.g. your home or office, in the mere hope of finding crime. There must be plausible reason to believe that a major crime is in progress before doing so.


First plea bargain offer rejected

Meanwhile the prosecution offered a plea bargain: If Sam would plead guilty to the second and third charges (obscene DVDs and biting), the prosecution would drop the uncensored DVDs charge. The sentence would also be based only on the obscene DVDs charge.

Sam turned down the offer. It was a matter of principle that he was not guilty of any attempt to assault or bite anyone. He was confident that the prosecution's video would prove his version of events. As he wrote to his club members, "The police should not be allowed to use a trumped-up charge."

He was also ready to contest the possession-of-DVDs charges. His lawyer too felt he had a 60 - 70 percent chance of success.

There was one more reason why Sam wanted his day in court: He was keen to make the point that "the whole illegal method of entering should be open to strong cross examination... since they did not have any evidence, of any kind, that criminal activity had been going on in Club One Seven." He was still enraged by the police's stormtrooper tactics.

20 April 2009: the trial date. With Sam kept waiting outside, the lawyers huddled in the judge's chambers discussing procedural issues. Sam's lawyer reiterated that they were prepared -- even eager -- to have the charges tried. After some to-ing and fro-ing, the prosecution finally backed down, admitting they had a weak hand and agreeing to withdraw the biting charge. Following that, according to Sam, the judge offered "that he would ignore the [121 uncensored DVDs] charge if [Sam] would plead guilty to the [25 obscene DVDs]."

Sam agreed to this new bargain. "I was fined the minimum 500 dollars for each of the obscene DVDs." Total fine: S$12,500.

"The case was a victory, of sorts," Sam told his club members in a newsletter. "The police realise -- now -- that they cannot accuse an innocent person of a crime and expect not to be challenged."

* * * * *

Pull yourself back and look at the totality of the story, both parts 1 and 2. Were the police acting with justification at various points? Was a raid with massive manpower justifiable without any reasonable suspicion of a major crime? Was knocking down Sam justifiable under the circumstances? 

You'd notice that the police began by suggesting a charge of assault, then filing a charge of biting, when their own video most likely showed otherwise. When that tack failed and they were forced to withdraw the biting charge, the police began to insist that he had committed the offence of running a massage parlour, as described in Part 1. Anybody who has visited One Seven, and tens of thousands have, would know massage is not available there. Is throwing charge after groundless charge against him a form of harassment?

Do you get a sense that the police may be either on a moralistic campaign against a gay business, or a vendetta against Sam personally? Is that what we pay our police force for? 

Yawning Bread 



The prosecution didn't know the charge

In the months while waiting for the trial date, Sam needed to go abroad to attend to business, for which he had to apply to the court for permission. In a hearing in the judge's chambers, the prosecution objected to the application, but this was overruled by the judge. The prosecution then asked that the bail amount be doubled, because, they argued, the charge of biting a police officer was a serious one.

Sam's lawyer immediately interjected, pointing out that the charge was not one of attempting to bite a police officer, but attempting to bite a person.

The judge noted that the defence attorney was correct, it wasn't as serious as the prosecutors claimed the case to be, and granted Sam leave to travel without increasing his bail amount.