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Video, party, & off duty cop: Just who is guilty of what?

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POSTED January 31, 2009 4:57 a.m.
Kirk Doty is a Manteca Police officer. He also has the right to a private life. We also know he was summoned while off duty as a private citizen, and not in an official capacity, to a private party at a Manteca home where there was a fear it was going to get out of control.

Thanks to a partygoer videotaping the party, we know there was a lot of drinking going on. There were those who were 21 and older and those who weren’t 21 and older present, and people were getting augmentative. We also know he tried to referee an argument early on and pushed away a young man who was trying to charge into the middle of the two who were verbally fighting. We also know at one point that he put two hands on another young man and pushed or shoved - him backwards. Keep in mind he did not strike him.

Doty also was videotaped drinking a Bud Lite beer and putting his arm around several attending the party. Also, there was a young man who sustained dental damages from a fight at the party.

Did Doty show bad judgment? You could make an argument he did but did he do so under the color of his authority as a peace officer? Hardly.

I would hope a peace officer would be a tad more vigilant about minors drinking even in his private life. The fact remains he is no more guilty of allowing minors to drink in his presence at the party than anyone else who was there that was 21 years or older or the homeowners who turned their house over for the party.

The rationale to allow such parties with underage drinking is incredibly myopic. It goes something like this: We’d rather have them at our home partying and drinking than out in some orchard because we know they’re going to do it anyway. What’s next, allowing orgies in your home because your under-age kids are going to have sex anyway?

Several callers - including one claiming to have been at the party – said it was wrong for the officer as an adult to be around underage drinking. The caller, when asked, said he was 22. Guess what, he’s an adult as well. It was just as wrong for the 22-year-old to be around under-age drinking as someone who is in his 40s. You don’t bend the rules to accommodate your particular circumstances, and you certainly don’t do so if you’re hell-bent trying to make someone look guilty of an offense but want to make sure you exclude your own complicity.

As for the fight itself, it takes at least two to fight. That’s not saying the young man who got an unplanned trip to the emergency room and a dental bill to boot is in the wrong or, for that matter, in the right.

It is also true if an off-duty officer hadn’t been at the party, the incident wouldn’t have gotten much circulation behind a few lines in a crime report unless, of course, the injuries were more serious. Text messages sent via e-mail initially about the party hyped the fact there was a cop at the party where the kid got injured and the cop’s son was involved.

There is an expectation that police officers – and among some an officer’s family members as well - should refrain from doing certain things. And when they fail to meet that expectation, many people have a tendency to cry foul. Is it fair to family members? No, but it comes with the territory of having a cop as a parent, spouse or relative. Is it fair to the cop? Yes and no.

The party incident – as described by witnesses and reflected in the video – shows Doty is guilty of bad judgment as an adult like every other person in that house who was 18 or older. Just because you’re under 21 and can’t legally drink doesn’t give you a pass on acting like an adult if you’re between 18 and 21.

For those who are trying to make mini-series out of the video, it points to only one potential crime which is assault with the shoving incident. But then again, what were the exact circumstances that led to that? And, more importantly, is an off-duty officer being held to the standard of a private citizen than anyone else who laid their hands on anyone else at the party – or anywhere else for that matter - in an aggressive manner needs to be held to the same standard then.

Trying to pin other incidents from the party on the off-duty officer is grossly unfair. Unless some evidence comes to light that he grossly abused his authority as a police officer, then the public’s reaction to the entire incident should hold him in better light than the adults who opened the house for the party in the first place and in the same light as every adult at that party whether they are 18 to 21 years of age or over 21.

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