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  • In rare case, false complaint earns a ticket

    Published Tuesday September 9, 2008
    In rare case, false complaint earns a ticket
    BY LYNN SAFRANEK
    WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

    Raymond Zbylut says an Omaha police officer purposely pushed into him, bruising his shoulder, because the officer recognized him as an outspoken atheist.

    Omaha police say they have proof that didn't happen.

    So after internal and criminal investigations into the matter, Zbylut was ticketed in August for giving false information.




    ZbylutThe case appears to be the first time charges have been filed against a citizen for making a false complaint, even though a dozen, sometimes several dozen, citizen complaints each year are proven untrue.

    What makes Zbylut's case different from the others?

    In addition to filing the internal complaint, Zbylut contacted various levels of government requesting a criminal investigation into the conduct of the officer and his partner - a step that most people don't take, said City Prosecutor Marty Conboy.

    "This case involves the additional step of demanding prosecution," he said.

    Had the evidence shown that the officers broke the law, Conboy said, they would have been ticketed - just as two Carter Lake officers and a Douglas County corrections officer have been ticketed recently for alleged on-the-job offenses.

    But "independent" and "objective" evidence disproved Zbylut's claims, Conboy said. According to court records, the police cruiser video never shows the officer "strike or push" Zbylut.

    False information, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a $500 fine, although most people receive much lower sentences than that.

    Zbylut is a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who says he hasn't had so much as a traffic ticket since the 1980s. He lives west of Westroads Mall with his wife and 10-year-old daughter and is an outspoken supporter of civil rights.

    He has pleaded not guilty in Douglas County Court and said he plans to fight the charge.

    A police accountability expert said Zbylut might have a case.

    People have a First Amendment right to petition their government, said Sam Walker, a nationally recognized expert from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

    That right allows them to challenge the way public officials do their jobs and to raise issues of misconduct, he said.

    "I may be deluded and totally wrong, but I have a right to raise that," Walker said.

    The Omaha police internal affairs unit last year investigated 56 formal citizen complaints and 47 internal complaints. Of those, 18 were unfounded, or proven false. (Findings can fall into four other categories, including one for complaints proven true but with no wrongdoing.)

    The unfounded numbers are dramatically less than in 2006, when 121 formal citizen and internal complaints were investigated. Forty-four of those cases were proven false, but no one was prosecuted, Conboy said.

    "We don't want people to feel reluctant to use that process," he said.

    The case against Zbylut falls outside those boundaries because "it's not based on simply an allegation of internal misconduct," Conboy said. "It's an allegation of criminal misconduct."

    Omaha Police Union President Aaron Hanson said more people should be held accountable when they make criminal allegations against officers that are proven false.

    "Police officers want citizens to feel comfortable in filing a complaint or concern against their police department," he said. "That's fine. That's their right as a citizen. But there's a difference between filing a complaint and flat-out lying.

    "You should be able to complain about any public or elected official, but you should not be able to lie."

    False allegations waste internal affairs investigators' time, Hanson said, and can damage an officer's reputation and career.

    In the ongoing debate about whether Omaha needs an independent police auditor, City Councilman Frank Brown has argued that the auditor position not only would protect citizens but also would protect officers from false claims.

    Hanson doesn't see it that way because, he said, the last public safety auditor didn't stop or reduce the number of false complaints. That might change, however, if Omaha officials revise the way the auditor functions and implement a "truly neutral system," Hanson said.

    The police union had hoped a 2002 case would set a precedent for seeking civil action against false claimants. In that case, an officer sued a citizen for filing a complaint against him that was proven false. The lawsuit alleged the citizen's statements slandered the officer and jeopardized his job. But a jury voted 11-1 against the claims.

    Zbylut's accident itself was minor: Officers Corey Clements and Tyler Stricker stopped Zbylut on Jan. 22 after seeing Zbylut's car and another car bump at 13th and Spring Streets.

    Zbylut wrote in a letter to the mayor that Clements approached his car and jammed his body into Zbylut's shoulder, then screamed for Zbylut to produce his proof of insurance and registration.

    "Although I appeared calm on the outside, I was in mortal fear of my life," he wrote in a letter to Mayor Mike Fahey.

    Zbylut visited Methodist Hospital after the incident and was diagnosed with a chest wall contusion, according to a patient copy of Zbylut's after-care instructions.

    Later, he mailed letters to U.S. Attorney Joe Stecher, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Conboy, in addition to Fahey, requesting investigation of what he alleged was a violation of his civil rights, he said in an interview.

    Clements may have known Zbylut was an atheist because of a pro-atheism bumper sticker on his car, although the officer didn't make comments to that effect, Zbylut said.

    Shortly after the accident, Zbylut made the news by asking the Omaha City Council to dedicate a stretch of street to Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a prominent atheist.

    He said his request may have led to the way his case was treated.

    "I was a marked man by the rednecks who believe in God, apple pie and red, white and blue bunting," he said.

    However, some of the recipients of Zbylut's letters responded that there was no evidence his rights had been violated, he said.

    Zbylut can be seen gesturing in the police cruiser video, according to court records, but Clements isn't shown striking him. Witnesses told investigators they didn't see the officer manhandle Zbylut, the court records state.

    Zbylut didn't respond to initial police requests to be interviewed, he said, on the advice of an attorney, who warned that investigators might be "fishing" for information to use against Zbylut.

    When Zbylut received notice in the mail of a warrant for his arrest charging him with giving false information, he said, he promptly drove to Central Police Headquarters to turn himself in.

    Despite his generally negative view of police officers, Zbylut had kind words for the officer who booked him into jail, where he spent three hours before posting bail.

    "He treated me so decently and respectfully," Zbylut said. "He changed my opinion about a lot of these guys."
    Some people were just dropped on their heads as children more than the rest of us!

  • #2
    I'm glad this guy was cited it's about time people that make false complaints have to pay for not telling the truth.
    Some people were just dropped on their heads as children more than the rest of us!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by nebraska_deputy View Post
      I'm glad this guy was cited it's about time people that make false complaints have to pay for not telling the truth.
      +1. officers are held accountable on whether they tell the truth or not, citizens should be also!
      This is my Glock, there are many like it, but this one is mine

      "Anything is possible to he who dares" A.G. Spalding

      Comment


      • #4
        If we're not going to hold them accountable when they knowingly file a false complaint that is proven untrue, what does a citizen have to lose by doing it? If they can file a complaint and smear the officer with no chance of reprocussions, then why wouldn't they complain to get back at an officer that arrested? This one is especially bad because it was apparently done with malice.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by nebraska_deputy View Post
          He lives west of Westroads Mall with his wife and 10-year-old daughter
          What difference does this make? Should he get treated special because he's not from North Omaha?
          sigpic
          Let your watchword be duty, and know no other talisman of success than labor. Let honor be your guiding star in your dealing with your superiors, with your fellows, with all. Be as true to a trust reposed as the needle to the pole. Stand by the right even to the sacrifice of life itself, and learn that death is preferable to dishonor. ~ Gov. Richard Coke, October 4, 1876

          Comment


          • #6
            The gentleman has a right to his beliefs,and the right to express them. He does not have the right to file a false police report. It's refreshing to see that he was cited.

            Comment


            • #7
              We have a lot of people who get tickets call in to make a complaint and then suddenly decide not to when they find out the traffic stop was recorded.....amazing. This will continue to get worse until someone....like in this article....starts charging these clowns with false reports. The complaint process is important for true misconduct, but these people diminish the process by their lies.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Fuzz View Post
                This will continue to get worse until someone....like in this article....starts charging these clowns with false reports. The complaint process is important for true misconduct, but these people diminish the process by their lies.
                Completely agree--what's wrong in this story is that it's considered newsworthy for someone who made a false report to get charged with the crime of having made a false report. This is completely different from filing a report and ending up w/ a finding that nothing wrong was done (but that the events in the report did happen), so I don't see how it would have an effect on people who truly believe that whatever happened was improper (regardless of whether or not it really was improper, so long as whatever actually happened).
                Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. --Mark Twain

                Comment


                • #9
                  People have a First Amendment right to petition their government, said Sam Walker, a nationally recognized expert from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

                  That right allows them to challenge the way public officials do their jobs and to raise issues of misconduct, he said.

                  "I may be deluded and totally wrong, but I have a right to raise that," Walker said.
                  You have the right (and indeed some would say obligation in some cases) to raise issues of misconductthat take place ....
                  "Police officers want citizens to feel comfortable in filing a complaint or concern against their police department," he said. "That's fine. That's their right as a citizen. But there's a difference between filing a complaint and flat-out lying.

                  "You should be able to complain about any public or elected official, but you should not be able to lie."
                  .... but if it didn't happen, if it's just a lie, then no such right exist.

                  Seems simple enough. Not talking about mistakes due to perspective, misunderstandings, requests for explanations, etc .... talking about outright lies and fabrications.
                  "That's right man, we've got mills here that'll blow that heap of your's right off the road."

                  "Beautiful Daughter of the Stars."(it's my home now)

                  >>>>> A Time for Choosing <<<<<

                  Retired @ 31yr 2mo as of 0000 hrs. 01-01-10. Yeah, all in all, it was good.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    A police accountability expert said Zbylut might have a case.

                    People have a First Amendment right to petition their government, said Sam Walker, a nationally recognized expert from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

                    That right allows them to challenge the way public officials do their jobs and to raise issues of misconduct, he said.

                    "I may be deluded and totally wrong, but I have a right to raise that," Walker said.
                    Not only that, you are a total idiot and j*ck*ss.

                    So, when I take a class at this idiots school, I can say whatever I want but verbally in class and writen on his tests without fear of ANY consequences. This guy is a total tard.

                    I guess that means ANYONE can make up what they want and report it as a crime??????????

                    It is idiotic thinking like this that helps our country go down the toilet.
                    Space for rent .........

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      white and blue bunting
                      What the hell is white and blue bunting?
                      The Red, Bold, Italic is my official sarcasm tag.



                      "I think many years ago an advanced civilization intervened with us genetically and gave us just enough intelligence to develop dangerous technology but not enough to use it wisely. Then they sat back to watch the fun. Kind of like a human zoo. And you know what? They're getting their money's worth"
                      George Carlin

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tucker6900 View Post
                        What the hell is white and blue bunting?
                        The red goes with that (red, white, and blue)--bunting is that streamer-like stuff of various colors used for decorations (and the three colors especially since it's against flag code to use a US flag that way). Curious, though, that he talks about the bunting rather than flag-waving or some other reference to patriotism.
                        Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. --Mark Twain

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          God, I only wish they would file charges against people for filing false domestic violence reports.
                          Being a good street cop is like coming to work in a wet suit and peeing in your pants. It's a nice warm feeling, but you're the only one who knows anything has happened.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by stormz5192 View Post
                            God, I only wish they would file charges against people for filing false domestic violence reports.
                            +1
                            "First of all, then we have to say the American public overwhelmingly voted for socialism when they elected President Obama." - Al Sharpton, March 21, 2010

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