Well of course I have the photos of the bikini-clad fireman. But first things first — here’s the story:
Public Humiliation in the Internet Era
Visitors at a park in Mason, Ohio, called police after an apparently drunk man climbed into his pickup truck and started driving around, including near the children’s play area. When an officer arrived, “I observed [the suspect] to be wearing a very skimpy woman’s … bikini with two tan water balloons taped to the top to simulate two woman’s breasts and a pair of pink Speedo flip-flop sandals,” Officer Scott Miller said in his report. Steven S. Cole, 46, a volunteer firefighter who had emergency lights on his truck, was also wearing a blond wig, and allegedly had a blood alcohol level of .174 percent. He explained he was on his way to a contest at a “gay bar”; police found more wigs, a pair of silver go-go boots, beer, and other items in his truck. Cole was charged with drunken driving, having an open container, public indecency, and disorderly conduct. (Cincinnati Enquirer) …But since police released his booking photos and they’re all over the web, they really need to drop the charges to avoid Double Jeopardy.
The photos really are widespread, and I really debated running the story. I decided it was a worthy discussion driver: seriously, surely the guy is humiliated. It’ll probably take him years (and probably a move to another state) to live it down.
Even without getting into a debate about his perhaps being an alcoholic and needing help (blah blah blah), there is a huge issue about what punishment he “deserves.” Driving drunk inside a park near where kids are playing certainly he does deserve punishment. Some judges actually sentence people to public humiliation, such as having to carry a sign that says “I drove drunk” or being required to have a fluorescent bumper sticker or license plate frame with a similar message.
OK, that’s good. But with this guy, we’ve already got that whether he’s convicted or not. Does piling on legal charges constitute — in a way — a double punishment? Why or why not?
And here are the photos, courtesy the Mason Police Dept.:
Follow-Up (13 May 2007 issue)
There were a lot of comments on last week’s drunk driving bikini-clad fireman story. And it’s not so much just the number of comments, but rather the tone of them: people really are totally sick and tired of drunk drivers, and they’re ready to see them go to jail.
No hand-holding, no “Awwwww, he must have real problems,” and certainly no tendencies toward lenience because photos of him wearing a bikini stuffed with water-balloon boobs were released to the public.
I had wondered aloud whether such leniency might be appropriate not because I have any sympathy for drunk drivers (I’ve seen far too much of their carnage to have any), but rather because I thought it was an interesting question to debate.
But pretty much no one wanted to take his side; that’s how strongly people feel.
My take? I don’t think America’s politicians have any idea just how strong sentiment is on this matter. Why are there people with dozens of DUI convictions still out there driving?
Update (5 July 2007)
Not surprisingly, Mr. Cole has pleaded guilty. In a plea bargain, he accepted the charges of OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) and disorderly conduct; in exchange, prosecutors dropped the other charges: open container [of alcohol in a vehicle] and public indecency.
Also not surprisingly, the public humiliation angle was brought up by his lawyer as part of the defense. “I think it’s enough, isn’t it, if you lose your job?” said Attorney Charlie Rittgers. “[To] lose a line of work where he was a fireman where he enjoyed helping others. Where he embarrassed his family and himself. I think that’s enough punishment as it is.”
Obviously, the judge didn’t agree: Cole was sentenced to a 72-hour driver intervention program, plus two years of probation; he was banned from town parks for two years, he may not drive (except for specific events, like going to and from work) for six months, and he was ordered to pay a $250 fine.
In addition, he must continue the psychological counseling he started after his arrest. All in all, a reasonably stiff penalty for a first offense, especially when you consider he was ousted from the fire department, where he was a volunteer, and his full time job, too.
Oh, and in case you wondered: he wore a conservative suit and tie to court.
(Sources: WCPO Cincinnati, Cincinnati Enquirer)
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