Florida: What it was like being Tortured in the United States 31 years ago Today– by NormanB (“Deviations from the Norm”)
Let’s have a big laugh about Torture. Torture can be fun, funny. I haven’t publicly addressed this nearly enough, and for good reason. But now, let’s all laugh it up at my Torture. Because laughing is more constructive than crying, more positive. I do sometimes deal with my own Torture in my act:
Some people think of June 6 as D-Day, the day in 1944 that US and Allied forces invaded Normandy, France, from England, leading to the defeat of Germany in World War II. The anniversary holds a different significance for me. It was the day in 1981 that US and hostile forces invaded NormanB in Florida.
That’s the day I was Tortured, nearly to death, by public employees (cops and a doctor) in Florida, USA. They accused me of drug crimes that they couldn’t prove. They broke my back. They hemorrhaged my eyeballs. They permanently paralyzed part of my right hand. (I am right-handed, and a writer.)
What they did to me fits the Webster definition for Torture: Intentionally inflicting harm or damage, or the fear thereof, in attempt to obtain evidence or confession. I think it also fits the definition of Kidnapping.
Cops committed the crimes, but guess who got arrested? I was ultimately charged with three violent felonies against them!
Their actual story, as read in court from their depositions, was that when they approached me with their guns drawn: I attacked them; none of them touched me; and then I broke my own back. (I may have lost consciousness during part of the Torture, but I know that’s not what happened!)
So, I need to tell what happened, and how it came about. But I don’t want to tell anybody; I need to. I don’t want to think about it. I want to forget about it. I want it not to have happened. Broken back. I was planning to use that vertebra.
The Torture lasted for hours, at three different locations. They thought I was dead a couple of times. And I sure thought I was dead. I thought they were just going to bury me out back. I’m pretty sure they would have done that if I hadn’t gotten word out that I’d been disappeared.
When they realized that I was paralyzed from the waist down, they tried to make me walk, by having two trustees drag me around the jail while a police lady moved my feet. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!
The beating was ostensibly just spontaneous mayhem, just a stupid poorly trained policeman almost Murdering a county citizen whom he was being paid to protect.
Though the investigation certainly did relate to it, the violence may have had nothing to do with the death threat I received a few months earlier from a DEA agent – the threat that he would kill me if I exposed pertinent details of a CIA Cocaine smuggling operation. I never did reveal those details, but it looks like he sicked the dogs on me anyway. And I don’t mean dogs.
In order to set me up, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department used Confidential Informant Jack Windisch. Though too old to be a student, Jack used to hang around my high school to sell hard drugs (Cocaine, Dilaudid [pharmaceutical Heroin two-and-a-half times as strong as the real thing], and other pharmacy products, as well as their bootlegged knockoffs). By the time Jack was assigned to entrap me, he was already angry at me for making him pay after he had tried to rip me off, and he was charged with cigarette smuggling.
Western Pasco County is a small smuggling community on Florida’s West Coast (the very next county North of the counties of Tampa and St. Pete – “Tampa Bay”). In my time, there were only two industries in West Pasco: Drug dealing and jailing. Many people were involved in both: The then-current Sheriff and the previous one both lived at the same private airport, where residents have airplane hangars next to their garages. Went on for decades.
Yes, even now every day police chase drug users and sellers while ignoring the actual crimes going on all around them. A bunch of ignorant cowards, afraid of real criminals, brutalizing school kids.
June 6, 1981, Jack Windisch phoned me, looking for some coke. I told him I had none. Right away somebody else called me, offering some. Perhaps a little too naive, I didn’t smell a rat yet. I got together with Jack. He shot up most of the coke and poured in a bunch of cut. We went to a Sambo’s restaurant parking lot where I wasn’t supposed to meet anybody.
I was still sitting in the driver’s seat when Jack brought a plainclothesman to the passenger door. The undercover detective said that a small plastic packet in my hand looked good. I knew that wasn’t good. If a bag that he thinks is Cocaine looks good to him in the dark from four or five feet away, then he’s a cop. Conventional drug-world wisdom and judicial precedent tell us what’s done next. I dropped the packet into a hard-box cigarette pack with no cigarettes in it. I crumbled the hard-box. He pulled out his gun and pointed it at me. “Pasco County Sheriff’s Department!”
I put the hard-box in my mouth. Now, I know first-hand why Alexander the Great made his soldiers shave for battle: The first thing that detective did was grab my beard and try to pull my mouth open. But I knew from Anatomy and Physiology class (I had studied Pharmacy in college) that the human jaw can clamp down tight with force that applies 20,000 pounds of pressure per square inch of tooth surface area: Anyone can hold your mouth closed; but nobody can hold your mouth open. However, it was a big package, and he stopped me swallowing it by choking me.
Suddenly, out of nowhere [or perhaps out of cars in the parking lot] uniformed Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputies were running at me. The first one at my driver’s door was a 300-pound behemoth, the monster who did most of the damage. “Spit it out or I’ll blow your brains out!” he yelled as he pointed his gun at my head. I just said “Uuuuhhhhhhhhh!!!” [I was being choked.] He’d said he was willing to kill me for Possession. But I still knew about the 20,000 pounds psi.
The second cop started choking me lower on my neck than the first one. They both choked me and yanked my beard and hair and tried to force their hands into my mouth. The lying detective said that I had bitten his finger. If I had done that, his finger would have gone to the same place that hard-box went.
With both of them choking me, I stopped breathing. I thought I was about to pass out. Finally the first one let go of my neck, and I swallowed the hard-box. The big uniformed cop (weighing more than twice as much as me) yanked me out of the car by my neck, and hammered my head into the pavement of Sambo’s parking lot, over and over and over again, screaming “Spit it out! Spit it out!”
With my body between his legs, he stood cussing at me, calling me names, and dashing my bloodied head to the concrete. He stomped his jackboot onto my right hand twice, severing part of the radial nerve, permanently paralyzing part of my right thumb and ring finger. He kept his boot on my hand, his full weight. A second cop grabbed my other hand. A third one grabbed my feet. The hammering continued.
As my eyeballs hemorrhaged, I could see nothing but rapidly changing bright colors. Red! Green! Blue! Orange! White! Purple! Black! Flame! Red! Blue!…
I felt like I was flying upward in a spiral, through the flashing changing colors, flying faster and faster and faster! He hammered my head again and again. I knew I was dying. Shortly after the Torture started, I may have gasped the word “Pig!” between hammerings to the concrete; but now, dying, I didn’t want my last words to be words of hate, so I said “Jesus loves you.” Then he smashed my head a bunch more times.
They threw me into the back of a pig car and laughed about me not breathing. Two of them sat in the front seat of the car and started filling out reports.
Here is perhaps the place to flash forward to talk about my injuries. I already told you about the hand. Hemorrhaged eyeballs are not bloodshot. I don’t know what my eyes looked like the night of the Torture, because the police didn’t allow a mugshot. That would have been evidence against them. I know what my hemorrhaged eyes looked like in the mirror a month later: They were still not bloodshot: They were solid red, fire-engine red, as red as that bright red icon on your computer screen. Not bloodshot.
I don’t know exactly how or exactly when they fractured my vertebra. Maybe they hit me with their clubs. That could do it. They broke off one of the processes [bony protrusions] from a vertebra in the upper part of my back. Now, all these years later, it remains lodged between my heart and my lung, a living “bone island.” And what about mental damage? Well,… I tried to publish this article on June 6. …It’s not that anymore. Man, this is hard.
When I began to move, the cop in the driver’s seat exclaimed “He’s not dead!” The detective answered “He’s alright. Take him to West Pasco [Hospital] to get his stomach pumped!” They rushed me to the county Hospital, not to treat my extremely severe injuries, but to continue Torturing me, to try to [unconstitutionally] gain more evidence.
In the ER I met the evil Dr. Charles Prespare, MD, who is still practicing medicine in Spring Hill, Florida. I told him he should be treating my head injuries – I didn’t yet know that my back was broken, but I knew I was hurt, abrasions and blood and bruises all over my face and my head and my body.
I told him to treat my injuries, but the Fascists told him to pump my stomach. He got out an emergency medical text and read aloud that it takes 1.2 grams of snorted Cocaine for a fatal overdose.
I told the doctor I needed to speak with him privately. He pulled a curtain between me and the cops. That actually didn’t provide any privacy for our conversation, since the detective who started the beating was right there on the other side of the curtain and could hear every word. I told Dr. Prespare about Jack cutting the coke in half, and that it was nowhere near pure even before he stepped on it. So, I hadn’t taken anything like a whole gram, and anyway the 1.2 gram fatality was based on snorting, not eating it. (The reason people snort coke is that it doesn’t get you high eating it, because the metabolism is too slow to produce a high, much less an overdose.)
I told Dr. Prespare this was no O.D. and that he should be treating my injuries instead of further Torturing me. He threw the curtain back and said “Pump his stomach!” Then I demanded “What’s your name, doctor?!” He quipped “Dr. Wasserman!” ridiculing his patient, while drawing uproarious laughs from his fellow Torturers.
Healthcare workers witnessing the crimes were horrified. But none of them came forward to help me out with my case in the weeks and months that followed. Most people are afraid to oppose Fascist repression and violence. The regular Emergency Room workers wouldn’t help them Torture me though, so the cops and Dr. Prespare carried on without them. They tied my hands down. They tied my legs down. They forced a tube up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach.
The mad doctor pumped a pint of noxious Ipecac syrup into my stomach. Ipecac bark is poisonous, and awful to a mere mortal. But I belong to the Church of the Tree of Life wherein we use herbs as sacraments, and even before joining the Church, I had been an herbalist for years, an herbal high enthusiast. I’ve had lots worse stuff in my stomach than that putrid Ipecac. I just looked at them. He pumped in another pint of Ipecac. I just looked at them.
An unexpanded human stomach only holds about two pints. But stomachs do expand. My Torturers pumped in another pint of Ipecac. Still nothing. The doctor was not legally allowed to pump in another pint of Ipecac. So, he pumped in a pint of water. I don’t intend to ever give evidence under Torture, even unto pain of death!
Dr. Prespare had used what looked like a turkey baster to pump the fluids up my nose and down the tube in my throat to my stomach. At this point, he inserted the turkey baster into the end of the tube still protruding out of my nose. He used it to suck liquid up the tube, then pumped it back down, fast. Up. Down. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. I was starting to feel nauseous. I was turning my head side to side, trying to make sure that if I threw up, it would be either on that lying detective or on that evil doctor.
Finally, I vomited, but I caught the hard-box with my teeth and swallowed it again. I was hurting. Bad. I knew that swallowing the pack again would mean a lot more Torture. But I had no choice: If I submitted and gave evidence under Torture, then that would encourage the practice of Torture. I would be doing the wrong thing. I thought I might die at any second. I didn’t want my last act to be doing something I know is wrong. Do not cooperate with Torture! Ever!
Well, they did it again, until I vomited again. This time, they were able to recover the hard-box and one plastic packet containing brown stomach juices. Their lying lab claimed that it was the purest Cocaine that they had ever tested. After those hours of ordeals, first in the parking lot, then in the Hospital, they still refused to treat my injuries. They sent me to the jail, where there were no medical facilities or healthcare workers.
At the jail, I was ordered to do something, go somewhere. I said I couldn’t do it, because I couldn’t move my legs. They wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. They had me dragged around for an hour, trying to make me walk. I couldn’t.
When a another cop came on duty, he looked in at me in my cell, where I lay face down on the cement floor, all bloodied and not moving. “What’s wrong with this guy? Is he dead?” The receptionist told him “He’s not dead. He was ‘Resisting Arrest With Violence,’” a crime which, if true, would theoretically make Torturing or Murdering me OK. The newly arrived cop chuckled. “He looks like he was ‘Resisting Arrest With Violence,” he said, drawing lots of male laughter from other cops. As you might guess, ‘Resisting Arrest With Violence’ is a very common charge in these here parts. Then and now, lots of people were/are Tortured and Murdered by police in Florida.
All day, during the next day, people came to visit prisoners. They all stopped at the receptionist’s desk, 20 feet from my cell. Every time I heard someone there, I yelled out that the police had Tortured and crippled me. I urged them to call the FBI and the newspaper. All the visitors acted like they didn’t hear me. Of course they did: They were there to visit or pick up their accused relatives: They didn’t want their relatives to be Tortured like me: They didn’t want to be brutalized or arrested themselves. People are afraid to oppose Fascism.
Of course, the police didn’t allow me a mugshot, fingerprinting, or one phone call. That would have been evidence against themselves. After a whole day of that, a trustee who apparently had access to a phone asked me if the police had really done “that” to me. He asked me whom I wanted him to call. I told him to call my parents. If he hadn’t called for me, I believe I would have been buried out in back of the jail. I wonder how many bodies are out there.
And I hope that trustee wasn’t Tortured or Murdered for making the call that may have saved my life. A few minutes later, I heard the receptionist lying to my father on the phone. “Yes, he’s here, Mr. Bie. No, you can’t see him. Yes, he is in pretty bad shape: He took an overdose of Cocaine.”
My second morning at the jail without medical help still had me lying face down on the cement floor. Perhaps the Ipecac poisoning was taking effect, I don’t know, but I went into convulsions, and a thick white foam mixed with blood began oozing out of my mouth. The jailers and cops found this very funny. Many of them looked in to make fun of my convulsing and effusing. One of them joked “Maybe he’ll die!” That brought on lots of male laughter, but the female receptionist angrily rebuked them.
“If he dies, it’s our ass!” she said – she was the one who had spoken to my father. She knew my life was in danger – both from my medical condition and from her comrades. But she didn’t seem concerned about my safety, just her own. In any case, it was her impetus that resulted in me being sent back to West Pasco Hospital, to finally be treated for my injuries, two days after the Torturers broke my back.
When the ambulance arrived, a cop told the driver that I needed to go to the Emergency Room for a Cocaine overdose. When I got to the Hospital, I blurted out to the first doctor I saw “There’s no overdose! The cops beat me up!” The doctor said “I can see that.”
The unconstitutional atrocities continued at the Hospital. The cop who broke my back, hemorrhaged my eyes, and paralyzed my hand walked into my Hospital room and chained me to the bed rail. He bellowed so loud it seemed to shake the Hospital halls: “If something happens and you start walking again, I’m gonna hit you!” The word hit is slang for Assassinate, as in hit man.
West Pasco Hospital used the crooked Dr. Willard O. Brown, D.O., on my case: After examining me and my X-rays, he didn’t notice any fractures. When I confronted Brown, and told him that the X-ray Technician has seen a fractured vertebra, Brown Covered Up, claiming that it was “an old fracture.” But I’d had no old fracture to my backbone. I knew right then I’d need to get out of this podunk backwater to get any healthcare. A few weeks later, I went to the city. I took the X-rays to Dr. Arthur Appleyard, MD, a legitimate doctor in St. Pete. He confirmed that it was a fractured vertebra, and a recent one. He was willing to testify.
This same Dr. Brown had two years earlier, in January 1979, examined X-rays of my skull after a semi-truck crushed my car with me in it. Brown noticed no fracture to my skull, though all later doctors who checked did. Here’s how to check: Feel the slightly protruding bony ridge that runs from your ear to your eye: I’ve got one on my left side, but on my right side it was dented, when that truck fractured my skull! Dr. Brown’s diagnosis helped out that trucking company a heap! [I don't know if he is the same Dr. Willard Brown whom Russel Means later told me about, who had (maybe intentionally) horribly messed up things for Means' fellow American Indian activist Leonard Peltier - but he got interrupted, and I didn't get the full story, though Means repeated the name several times: "Dr. Willard Brown."]
Because the cops didn’t allow a mug shot, and because photographic evidence could help our case, my brilliant lawyer Marc Salton (now a Judge) brought a photographer to the Hospital to document my injuries. But the cops physically stopped him, and took the photographer out of the Hospital. The next day Marc walked in carrying a briefcase. He whipped out a camera, and started shooting. The cops stopped him, but he’d gotten some good photos and ran out to get them developed. Of course, when we got to court, the prosecution tried to suppress that photographic evidence of my Torture.
When Attorney Salton had first met with me at the Hospital, I told him that I may not have actually been arrested, because I wasn’t booked, read my rights, fingerprinted, photographed, or allowed one phone call; and because it seemed like they were keeping my presence there a secret in case burial were deemed necessary. But Marc assured me that I had been arrested. My four original charges were Possession of Cocaine, Possession of Cocaine With Intent to Distribute, Possession of Narcotics Paraphernalia (Jack’s needles, which actually never were illegal), and Possession of Marijuana (less than one gram allegedly found in my pocket while I was unconscious).
After a couple of days in the Hospital, they stopped chaining me to the bed. With lots of help from Physical Therapists and Nurses’ Aides, I was able to walk again in a week or ten days. After a couple of weeks in the Hospital, I was released, as bail had been posted, ten percent of a few thousand dollars. Attorneys for drug cases cost thousands. If you can’t pay a good lawyer his good income, then you can’t expect of a good outcome.
I suggested my lawyer use the precedent of Jehovah’s Witnesses being allowed to refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds, even if it endangers their lives; to show that I too had a right to turn down the “medical treatment” of having my stomach pumped, even though cops and a doctor claimed it was necessary. The prosecution tried to suppress the Torture photos, but the Judge insisted on viewing them. He surpassed the precedent:
He ruled that my Torture was more repugnant to the community than any drug crime could possibly be. He threw out the Cocaine and Paraphernalia charges, leaving only the Misdemeanor Marijuana. But the prosecution was undeterred: They quickly filed three violent felony counts against me, to try to excuse what the cops had done. Let me state here that I am a pacifist. The St. Petersburg Times after the beating quoted my father as saying that I was “a well-known pacifist.” I did not commit any violence against them, yet they charged me with Aggravated Assault, Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, Resisting Arrest With Violence, and Possession of a pinch of pot.
After a year of legal wrangling and a change of venue to a different Judge, the case was ready for trial. Nervous, I cut my hair and shaved my beard, to try to look respectable. I got into court, and there sat a Judge with long hair and a beard. It seemed like he now wore my newly missing beard and hair. Here’s the sitch: I was already on drug Probation for pot and coke a few months before the Torture; but the prosecution flinched on trial date before we did, and agreed that if I’d plead No Contest, then Adjudication would be Withheld, and I would have no criminal record, not even on the drug crimes for which I was already on Probation.
The deal was cut, but the Judge had to make it look good for his audience, and I’m telling you, he leaned forward, pointed his trembling finger at me, and laid it on thick: “Fifteen years! The full force of every one of these charges! That’s what you’ll get if you ever get caught with drugs while you’re on my Probation, I’ll throw the book at you!” I did and he didn’t. For the three violent felonies, he added three months to the Probation I was already on, and when that was over, I had no criminal record. But what I had to go through for it!
And it seems that the First Amendment [granting Freedom of the Press] never passed in Pasco County, at all. I went to the local St. Petersburg Times office to get a copy of the weeks-old newspaper with the article about my Torture, including the words of my father and the lies of the Sheriff: “That’s what you have to expect when you Resist Arrest With Violence.” The person at the front desk claimed that they didn’t have any copies of it, and couldn’t get any. But since I was a reporter, I knew reporters, and one of them got me a copy of the paper.
Yeah, I was a reporter, until that very Sheriff ordered the West Pasco Press to fire me. Yeah, but here’s the thing, when you work as kind of your own boss, like I did, you don’t go into the office or even check in very much, when you’re out on the go, doing interviews, covering stories, shooting photos. So, I didn’t get the memo, that I was being fired on orders from the Sheriff. So, my assignment was to go photograph the Sheriff making some bullshit speech. I did it with aplomb. I shot photo after photo, near and far, used up the whole roll. I didn’t know that he had earlier that day refused to issue a Press Pass for me. I’m sure the ‘All-Reporters-Must-Carry-A-Press-Pass-Issued-By-the-Sheriff’ policy was started specifically to get rid of me. So I moved to a civilized country – St. Pete. More of a publishing industry down there, anyway.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Is pig one of those “words of hate”? In the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, issued by the Canting Academy to translate slang from the slums of London, the word pig is defined as a police officer. The book gives examples of its correct usage. My favorite is the sentence using a few slang words, the premise being that straight people and cops won’t get what we’re talking about: “‘Let’s floor the pig and bolt’ means ‘Let’s knock the policeman down and run away.’” About that word pig, and remembering the quote from The Big Lebowski: “This isn’t a guy who built the railroads here.” But seriously, pig is an insult. It refers to corrupt and violent police whom poor people fear, and must hide from. It’s a good word.
And the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is lots of fun for cunning linguists; I highly recommend it. Torture and execution were popular public entertainment in those days. Cockles. Do you know what it means? Here, I’ll use it in a sentence: “I heard him cry ‘Cockles!’” Still don’t have it? Cockles is the sound a person makes when he’s being strangled to death. Ahahahahahahhaha!