Back in 2010, I shared parts of a Dave Barry column that mocked the government for bizarre examples of stupid law enforcement.
Barry was specifically making fun of OSHA bureaucrats for fining a company for the horrible transgression of saving a worker when a trench collapsed. But there are many other examples of law enforcement run amok.
- The Food and Drug Administration raiding a dairy for the terrible crime of selling unpasteurized milk to people who prefer unpasteurized milk.
- New York City imposing a $30,000 fine on a small shop because it sold a toy gun.
- The pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission going after Hooters for not having any male waiters in hot pants and tight t-shirts.
- Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources is legally attacking a family for rescuing a baby deer.
And now we have another Kafkaesque episode.
Here are some of the strange details from a local newspaper.
Anthony Brasfield saw romance when he released a dozen heart-shaped balloons into the sky over Dania Beach with his sweetie. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper saw a felony. Brasfield, 40, and his girlfriend, Shaquina Baxter, were in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard when he released the shiny red and silver mylar balloons and watched them float away Sunday morning. …Brasfield was charged with polluting to harm humans, animals, plants, etc. under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act. …Between 2008 and 2012, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there were 21 arrests statewide under the rarely used environmental crime statute. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Let’s now think about what this means.
We have a guy who almost certainly had no idea he was committing a crime. He presumably isn’t rolling in money since he was staying at a Motel 6. Yet now he faces a harder life because he has a felony arrest on his record.
I’m assuming, by the way, that the government surely won’t send him to prison. I’m also guessing – or at least hoping – that the state won’t even impose a heavy fine. And perhaps the prosecutor’s office will drop or reduce the charges so he won’t have a felony conviction on his record. Though maybe I’m being too generous in those assumptions.
Anyway, my main point is to question why the unfortunate Mr. Brasfield was arrested in the first place. What was the cop thinking, that a felony arrest would help fill his quota?
By the way, I’m not claiming that there shouldn’t be a rule against releasing balloons near a nature preserve. It may be that imposing some sort of sanction is the right way,Â from a cost-benefit perspective, to preserve and protect the environment.
But Mr. Brasfield wasn’t a big corporation dumping chemicals into the water with full knowledge of lawbreaking and potentially doing millions of dollars of damage. That’s the situation where felony arrests and prosecutions are completely appropriate.
Releasing a few balloons, by contrast, should be treated more like jaywalking or littering. Though I realize that would require common sense from lawmakers, law enforcement, and the justice system. So good luck with that.