Featured Stories

Innocence lost

• Blogger's no PSU player, but he's been jailed like one
by:  L.E. BASKOW, Chris Snethen, aka Butterbean, spent some time in one of the infamous jails of Maricopa County, Ariz., a victim of mistaken identity. Based on that experience, he feels he was too quick to judge Scott Morrison, one of the Portland State University basketball players recently arrested in Mexico.

Like most people, when I read the first accounts of Portland State basketball players Scott Morrison and Jeremiah Dominguez's Mexican vacation, I came down on the side of law enforcement.

It seemed to be a cut-and-dried case of young kids doing stupid things. Dominguez was jailed, according to authorities, only because he ran from police. He was released. Morrison also was released without being charged but not before a lot of Portlanders presumed he was guilty.

It took a phone conversation with a friend a few days later to remind me that sometimes victims and law enforcement get it wrong and we shouldn't be so quick to judge.

See, what Morrison claims happened to him that night in Cabo San Lucas is similar to what happened to me one weekend several years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz.

I went for a walk to return some videos to a Blockbuster near my apartment. As I was returning home, a police cruiser pulled up alongside me. The officer asked if I had a second.

'Sure,' I responded. Having never been in trouble with the law, I'd always been friendly to the police.

Two other squad cars quickly showed up and parked along a side street.

Two of the officers approached me.

The first cop reached inside a file folder, took out a surveillance camera picture, and handed it to me. It was a picture of me at a convenience store. Only it wasn't me. The guy had a little more hair than me and was wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon character on it. I don't wear T-shirts with cartoon characters on them.

He explained the guy in the photo had been involved in an argument at a Circle K store up the street a few blocks and it had escalated into a shooting. Cartoon guy had shot another guy at the same time that I was walking back toward my apartment.

Wow, I thought. That guy looks just like me. Put him in any other T-shirt and in nearly any other convenience store and I would have told you the guy was me.

The cops asked me for some ID. I didn't have any on me since the shorts I was wearing didn't have any pockets. I did, though, recite my license number, my car's license plate number, and my home address for the officers. I didn't have anything to hide, after all.

They took a couple of Polaroids of me and sent me on my way. They assured me everything would get sorted out and I probably didn't have anything to worry about. 'Besides,' one of the cops said, 'your glasses look completely different from his.'

The next night as I returned to my apartment from a date, three or four unmarked squad cars surrounded me and their doors opened all at once.

'Scottsdale Police, get your hands where I can see them.'

My hands immediately went up. They really thought it was me.

'Walk backward toward my voice. Put your hands on your head and get down on your knees.'

An officer came over, handcuffed me and stood me up.

He searched me and asked if I knew why I was being arrested. I told him I figured it had to do with my being questioned the other night, but didn't offer anything more.

They drove me to the police station near Scottsdale Stadium, took my mug shot and fingerprints, and then stuck me in a cell in the Madison Street Jail in Phoenix. Like Morrison probably was, I was scared out of my wits.

The next morning, two detectives spent three hours questioning me. I didn't recognize it at first, but they gave me the 'good cop, bad cop' treatment. Morrison was told the victim picked his picture out of a lineup. I was told the same thing and that the victim was 100 percent convinced I was the guy who shot him. The only person who didn't believe I fired that shot, it seemed, was me.

In Maricopa County, Ariz., when you're accused of a crime you stay in jail until either you make bail or are found not guilty. There are no citations issued. No release on your own recognizance. You're there until the judge sets you free.

It seems to be a similar situation in Mexico, where Morrison was stuck in jail until he was released (accounts vary as to what precipitated that release). In my case bail was set at $98,000.

As a parent, what would you do in a similar situation? I hadn't done anything, yet I was in jail. My dad, to his everlasting credit, immediately mortgaged his house to raise bail money and hopped on the next plane down to Phoenix.

Morrison's family may have done the same thing. It's what families do. Only Morrison's family was vilified in various places for not leaving their son in jail to teach him some accountability. My dad, on the other hand, is a hero. What exactly is the difference?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, 'America's toughest sheriff,' runs the jails in Maricopa County. He's famous for issuing his inmates pink underwear and housing them in tents. He also spends less than $1 a day per inmate on food. I became Sheriff Joe's guest for the weekend.

The intake facility at the Madison Street Jail was known as 'the horseshoe.' Unfortunately for my dad, who had come to visit me, I spent nearly my entire weekend there. And while you're in intake, you're not allowed any visitors beyond legal counsel.

So I spent three days sitting on a bare concrete floor, waiting for Monday to roll around so the county could do whatever it did and release me on bail.

The horseshoe is basically a series of tanks arranged in a U-shape on the ground floor of the jail. As you wind your way through the different tanks, the deputies process your paperwork, do your medical intake, photograph and fingerprint you again, and then send you in front of a judge.

It was that very first tank they sent me into that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

As I walked through the door, a guy in the back of the room shouted, 'Hey! It's Butterbean!' Butterbean, of course, being a 300-plus pound boxer known for both his girth and his shaved head. A perfect nickname for me.

I politely waved and took a seat on the floor. Sheriff Joe doesn't believe in such a thing as overcrowding. So while all 15 or so bunks in the room were occupied, there were probably twice as many men stuffed inside. With all the smell and noise you would expect. There were thieves, junkies, drunks and any number of other criminals in there with me. It was a concentrated side of society I'd never seen.

As I worked my way through the process, I encountered a petty thief with a motormouth. Looking for conversation, he worked his way around the room, asking where guys were from and what they were in for.

I had a quick decision to make. I didn't want to say I didn't do anything. That would be whining. I didn't want to say what I stood accused of. That might make me a target. So I had to find a third path.

'What are you in for?' the guy asked.

'Giving false information.'

'Who did you say you were?'

'Butterbean.'

And with that, I'd made 20 friends. And a jail nickname was born.

Wherever I went after that, I was Butterbean. Didn't matter where.

The next tank? There was a guy in there who'd already heard the story. Into the showers? Same deal. Heck, in the visiting room, I was greeted four or five times as Butterbean. Fascinating how quickly word travels on the inside.

Monday finally rolled around, and just as my attorney told me, I was let out around 1 p.m. or so. On my way out, I was given my next court date and was asked if I was going to be there.

'With bells on,' I replied.

She got a good chuckle out of that. There was another guard present who quickly picked up on the fact I was green to the whole jail experience.

'You don't belong in here, do you?' he asked.

'No, sir, I don't.'

'I'm so sorry,' he said.

It was an experience that was hard to shake. My employer suspended me when it became known what had happened. My neighbors all treated me differently when I came back home. Heck, it took me a week to put my place back together after the cops had turned it inside out looking for a weapon.

I don't envy Scott Morrison right now. He's going to be looking over his shoulder wondering, 'What next?' for a while. And, like me, he'll probably find it difficult to trust the police again. But the memory will fade over time. I do hope everyone learns a lesson from this.

Having once been in Morrison's shoes, I know I shouldn't have been so quick to judge.

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