Bribe or extortion?

By many accounts, admitted bribe-taker and former Seattle cop Darryl Stone got a short, easy walk in and out of prison. Investigators found 60 unprocessed DUI arrest citations in Stone's locker, and an FBI agent said Stone admitted he solicited bribes from drunk drivers. But after confessing in 1996 to taking only four bribes—all of them initiated by the other guy, the disgraced cop insisted—Stone was called "a good man" who "made a very basic mistake" by US Judge Thomas Zilly. Stone told the court, "I was lost, your honor, and I've come home now," and did a quick five months in prison, with another five on home detention.

While still on detention, he climbed on the witness stand and helped send some of his bribers to jail for a year or more. In one case, Stone testified that a former waiter named Brian O'Neill, who blew a well-embalmed .17 on the drunk-o-meter, made the first overture, offering cash if Stone would let him walk. O'Neill said it was the other way around: Under oath, he claimed that when they got on the police elevator, Stone mentioned how costly an attorney would be, then put a finger to his lips, suggesting O'Neill should clam up. When they got off the elevator, Stone pulled him aside and wrote the figure "$3,000" in a telephone book. O'Neill accepted, he said, because he was frightened (and drunk). He was allowed to leave and, an hour later, returned with the money for Stone. A federal agent also told the court that Stone had earlier admitted to initiating the bribe from O'Neill. A jury nonetheless believed Stone—who on the stand made references to his religion and his conversion to a legit new life.

Maybe it was something the judge said. O'Neill tried to argue he was entrapped into paying Stone. But King County Superior Court Judge Janice Neimi told the jury not to buy that excuse. "A reasonable amount of persuasion to overcome reluctance does not constitute entrapment," she told the panel during instructions.

Say what? asked the state court of appeals.

"This sentence [of instruction by Neimi] erroneously suggested that a corrupt police officer who illegally solicits bribes from arrestees could use reasonable persuasion," wrote Judge H. Joseph Coleman, Division 1 of the state appeals court, in an opinion released last week. The appeals court indicated that, while the jury may have found that O'Neill was not entrapped into offering a bribe, he was clearly vulnerable, and any kind of persuasion, even "reasonable," changes the equation and raises questions as to who bribed whom. O'Neill's conviction was therein reversed, and he was given a new trial.

The county says it has not yet made a decision to retry O'Neill. But if so, the man who illegally took his money will likely be there to testify. Stone is now a free man.

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