Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crime doesn't pay...really

Since being laid off in late 2007, I've been able to string together enough freelance work to pay the rent (mostly thanks to friends and former co-workers who still find my talents useful). One of my current projects is simulating a web site via PowerPoint for the NYC Dept of Ed (another gig hooked up through friends/former co-workers). While the client is happy with the product thus far, my bank account isn't.

The problem? I can't get paid. Why? I have a record.

On Dec 30, 1991, I was sitting on Pompano Beach with my boyfriend (the Man I now live with) at 10:30 PM. No, we weren't doing anything naughty...except for being there after hours. A bright flashlight beamed into our faces and two cops (who apparently hadn't heard that Florida has enough REAL crime to rank 2nd in the nation) demanded we put our hands up. We were arrested for "trespassing."

In the back of the police car, the wanna-be lawyer in me sprang into action, demanding to know, "Do you HONESTLY think we're criminals?"

"Yes, you broke the law."

"And doesn't the law recognize different degrees of crime? Does sitting on a public beach warrant the same kind of police response as breaking into a home or stabbing someone?"

"Yes, when it comes to whether or not you broke the law, there is no grey area."

"Thanks for that insightful answer, RoboCop."

Where was RoboCop when Speedos were the rage? It's GOT to be illegal to show that much French Canadian ass on a public beach.

Okay, so maybe I didn't say that last line but maybe I did (my mouth never got that "be still when guns are near" memo). My Man kept shushing me, and finally hissed, "Are you trying to get me killed, white bread? I'm Latino, for Christ's sake!"

We were booked, fingerprinted, photographed and held in separate cells until our parents could come and get us. Although I was 18 and could post my own $25 bail, I only had like $10 on me. My Man was Li'l Man at the time and still a minor so could only be released to his parents. (You know, now that I think about it, if they wanted to play Super Cops that night, they should've charged me with statutory rape while they were at it.)

Anyway, two months later, I appeared before a judge to answer the charge of misdemeanor trespassing. The public defender suggested I plea guilty and hope for a fine. I told her "no thanks" and asked to represent myself. I pleaded no contest and started to explain to the judge that this was my first arrest before he interrupted me.

"You were arrested for sitting on a beach?"

"Yes, your honor."

"On a beach in South Florida?"

"Yes, your honor."

"Oh, now, THAT's a crime. Get out of my court room. What a waste of my time."


"Court withholds adjudication. Bail of $25 to be returned to defendant less $5 court costs. Now get out of here, Ms. Goddard, before you waste any more of my time."

How I wished Super Cops 1 & 2 had been there to witness my vindication but they were probably off somewhere arresting a senior citizen for failing to turn off their directional signal.

So what's wrong with this picture (aside from the fossilized man boobs)? Yes, even THIS is a crime in Florida. As of June 2008, it is illegal to feed pelicans: Feeding frenzy ends soon

As I collected the $20 bail from the court clerk (which I promptly returned to my Dad, who was busily scratching his beard, wondering why he hadn't ponied up money for law school instead), I could never have guessed that 18 years later:
1) I would still be with my Man; and
2) That the arrest would prevent me from being paid.

But, here in 2009, 1,200 miles away in Brooklyn, NY, I am both with my Man and unable to get paid. The NYC Dept of Ed (DOE) requires that all employees and outside contractors get fingerprinted (regardless of whether they'll be working directly with children). My prints came back flagged for the 1991 arrest. The DOE's Office of Personnel Investigation sent me a letter asking for a copy of the police report AND a copy of the court's official disposition.

Anyone who has lived or currently lives in South Florida knows this is no small task; it's an area that routinely screws up presidential elections. The place is the Bermuda Triangle of paperwork.

Tracking down the police report proved impossible: the Pompano Beach PD (where Super Cops 1 & 2 probably still rule as petty crimebusters) has since been absorbed into the Broward Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately, the BSO doesn't keep misdemeanor arrest records longer than 10 years. (I'm sure the rationale behind this policy is a mystery to Super Cops 1 & 2.)

As for the court's official disposition, I spent an entire afternoon on hold with Broward's Clerk of Circuit and County Courts, trying to track down which office would now have a file from 1991. Apparently, my record exists only in microfiche form at this point. I'm now "vintage crime" along the lines of something you had to fish for while doing an undergrad report on the effects of glasnost in Eastern Bloc countries.

Before I begin the Herculean task of expunging my record once and for all, I'm focused on getting the situation with the DOE sorted so I can get paid for my work. I found it somewhat ironic that I had to write a check for $20 payable to Broward County for certified copies of the official disposition.

Now coming full circle with my criminal past, I'm hopeful that I'll clear the DOE's Office of Personnel Investigation with the same flying colors I did in a courtroom over 18 years ago: "Get out of here, Ms. Goddard, before you waste any more of my time."

Note: How I wish I could get a copy of my arrest mug shot. I'm sure my hair was its own misdemeanor! I'll pay top dollar to anyone who succeeds in getting it!


Gren said...

Yep, I had to plead guilty to a higher crime than the one I committed, and confirm that I was indeed guilty of this crime (when everybody knows that people take deals all the time) despite the fact that the only way they could even enter that charge was on a technicality, and despite the fact that it was my first arrest, and despite all of the evidence to show that I'm a decent person who screwed up and not The Real Villain. Someone in the know recently told me that the Broward County court system is like that of a 3rd world country--and this is, indeed, the sad truth.

jan said...

unreal...and indeed quite ironic...at least ya still got the man...=)

TLa said...

That's CRAZY! You must have been doing something good on that beach girl....;-)

Anonymous said...

I almost got arrested for participating in a raucous match of nude marco polo in a Tallahassee pool sometime during the summer of 1992. I think the cop was worried that we'd mess up his car with our wet clothes (shed once we realized that wet jeans = slow swimmer). He watched twelve of us get dressed, of course he had to supervise with his mag-lite on full force. In light of your story I'm extra glad that cop was a lazy hydrophobic perv.

m!chele said...

Hehe, I'm still laughing at the "vintage crime" bit and having to dish out that $20 again, after all these years. Too funny (kinda).

When I agreed to room with you back in college, I had no idea you were such a hardened criminal!! I feel so dirty now. :)

I hope you are able to work something out and get paid!!! How absurd. Maybe you can get them to pay up if you offer to be a poster child for early crime prevention? Though, I don't supposed that would look too good on the resume...

Jennifer said...

LOL Do you know how many times I went to Pompano Beach and sat (maybe more) on the beach :) I can see your face for being arrested for that!