Attorney Michael Kessler in conversation with former NYC Detective Jerry Lyons about the police response in the mass-shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, and the importance of good cops speaking out about bad cops.
MK: We have a real treat today. We are joined by ace Detective Jerry Lyons. Jerry is a retired New York City detective, and someone I’ve worked with as a private investigator for a lot of years. And let me tell you, he’s one of the best.
JL: Thanks, Mike. Thanks. Great to be here.
MK: Jerry, we were talking the other day about this latest mass shooting at a school, this horrible incident down in Texas. What’s your take on that?
JL: Well, my take, coming from law enforcement, the cops were an embarrassment to me. You don’t stand outside classrooms, shots are being fired. You run in, and it’s not just cops that should run in. It should be any adult. Those were babies, eight-nine-ten year old children. Any adults should run in. You don’t have to be a cop. For a cop not to do that, it really bothered me.
MK: These particular police officers had had active shooter training. You read about that, right?
JL: Right. Well, you could throw that book out the window because they didn’t follow it. They didn’t follow.
MK: But I mean, it wasn’t a matter of they didn’t know what to do, because they’d taken special classes just a few months ago. And I understand that they also had been issued body armor to protect themselves for just this kind of an event.
JL: Well, Mike, like you just said, they had training. They had body armor. But even if they didn’t have body armor, even if they didn’t have training, they are cops. But you know, when they took that job, somebody gave them a gun. That told them that the job is dangerous. And every two weeks, they picked up a paycheck. But when the job became dangerous, they weren’t there.
MK: Police work is tough. It’s a tough job. It’s not for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do it. I’m not equipped to do it. But I think there are times when we know the people who are equipped, who are trained, who chose to do it. Because after all, people don’t get drafted to be police officers. Sometimes there’s just no question. They didn’t do what they’re supposed to do. I know, because we’ve talked about this, and both of us were both angry and frustrated at what didn’t happen. What were you expecting the police to be doing as this situation was unfolding?
JL: I think, with their training, my expectation of any cop is if somebody tells you there’s a guy with a gun around the corner, you go around the corner, right? You look up and down while these cop cars drive up and down the street, and most of them have right on there, “protect and serve”. Well, in this case, I would have expected the cops to run around a corner. And they didn’t do that. And they didn’t protect and serve. The only person they protected was with themselves.
MK: And we’ve seen some stories that they actually were arresting parents that were trying to go in without guns, without body armor, without training, just going in to rescue these children.
JL: And some parents actually went in and rescued children. Some parents went in for their own children, and maybe other children. But the cops, who are paid to do this, who pick up a paycheck to do this, didn’t do this. And you know what the worst part is? They then lied about it. They then lied about it. They told stories. They made up stories. And then the next day, you heard another story. And then the next day, you heard another story. Though, it’s bad enough they didn’t go in, they made it worse by lying about it.
MK: I agree. You know, our audience doesn’t know you. I don’t want you to come off as just a critic of the police. How about tell us about your background, so we’ll know where you’re coming from?
JL: I was a detective in New York City. I was in two shootouts. Another time, I had the barrel of a gun up against my chest. I had a razor blade to my throat. I had a guy stick his finger behind my eye four times trying to pop it out. So, I kind of have an idea of what a cop should do in a time of danger.
MK: How long were you a police officer in New York?
JL: 20 years. And I tell you what, I loved it. I was scared every day. But I loved every day because I worked with good people. I loved it. I was scared like, when I tell you I was scared, I was scared. And but you just do the job. You know, we have egos. You know, we’d like to think that we were something special because we were saving people. I love cops. I support cops. But I don’t like bad cops. And I don’t even like retired cops who don’t speak out about bad cops, because the bad cops can believe that their behavior is acceptable. And it’s bad for all of us if we don’t have faith and confidence in our police. Who’s going to help you? Where are you going to go if you don’t have faith and confidence in your police?
MK: And look at all the cases I know you’ve been involved with, and those I’m involved with every day, where cases go to court and police officers come in and testify. And you want to believe that the police officers are telling the truth, and they’re doing the right thing? You do you want to believe that. And how many times did they testify based on their experience? I know this because of my experience with that right now. Going back to the school shooting, you know, they had experience, but they didn’t do the job. And going back to your question now, you know, the criminal justice system doesn’t work unless people tell the truth.
JL: Right now, I do criminal defense. And that’s all I do. I used to put them in, now I get them out. And that’s what I do. I do criminal defense. And people say to me all the time, “Well, how can you? How can you do that? How can you? How can you try to get him off or try to get her off?” I never tried to get anybody off. I never tried to get one person off. The only thing I do, I do the same thing now that I did when I was a cop, a police detective, just look for the truth. If the truth helps my client, it helps my client. If it hurts my client, it hurts my client. So now my job is just to go out, find the truth. Tell the attorney what the truth is. So they know how to handle the case. Right? Do you go to trial? Do you try to get a plea? You know, so my job isn’t to get somebody off. My job is just to find the truth.
MK: And what we do is, you and I both, we do external quality control for the police. And sometimes we do it for crime labs. You and I both know, you from experience, me from taking classes, we both know how police are supposed to behave in a given situation. And we compare that to what they actually did in the case at hand. And sometimes that means applauding the police that did it. They did it the way they were supposed to and the results they came up with are reliable. And sometimes not.
JL: Right. They’re supposed to get the right person, and they’re supposed to do it right. And I, as a defense investigator, I don’t have the means that say a police detective has, sometimes they get the FBI involved. I don’t have the same technology that they have. But there’s things I find, and then I have to know that if I found them, they found it. And they never turned it over to the attorney. Now, the presumption is that this is an innocent man accused of this crime. So let’s deal with an innocent man, even as a cop, let’s deal with an innocent man. And if I find something that’s beneficial to this innocent man, because he’s an innocent man, I should turn it over and I should let everybody know. They’re supposed to, too, you know. And the state attorney, because the cop gives it to the state attorneys, the state attorney’s job, not the cops job, to turn it over.
MK: Well, this might lead into a conversation for another day. But unfortunately the law gives immunity to prosecutors and police when they fail to turn over exculpatory evidence. The chance of a prosecuting attorney ever being disciplined by the State Bar is slim to none.
JL: Right? It’s a bad law, because there’s supposed to be a presumption of innocence.
MK: It really is. You know, people asked me well, how likely is it that a client of yours is not guilty? Well, let’s say the police and prosecutors get it right 99% of the time. We know that’s not true. 99% of the time, that means one out of every 100 is wrongly accused. There were 6000 felony cases prosecuted just in little old St. Lucie County last year. That’s 60 innocent people. That’s when you had 1% in one year in one county. And the thing is, you can’t just look at a case on paper and see, is this one of the 60. Right? You can’t, and that’s why we have to presume them to be innocent unless they’re proven otherwise.
JL: Well, you know, and that’s it. Like everybody you work for, everybody I worked for, that’s an innocent person. When we take the case, that’s an innocent person. Until the jury finds them guilty, he’s an innocent person.
MK: Unless they find them guilty. Until makes it seem like it’s inevitable. And again, that 1%, those 60 cases, that’s just in St. Lucie County, one of the 67 counties in Florida, and just in one year. Imagine how many people nationwide get wrongly accused. And that brings us back to where we started today. That’s why we want to be able to count on the police doing their job right, doing it bravely. To protect and serve.