The Mark Domino story has never reflected well on the city of Clarkston, the Clarkston Police Department or on City Attorney Todd Richardson.
But if Richardson proceeds with his plans to place Domino on trial next fall, it will only become worse. Richardson will be operating in a new era defined by the George Floyd case and the Black Lives Matter movement.
That will only add to a series of missteps that began on June 24, 2019, when Domino was in the Clarkston Walmart store parking lot. He worked there. The car he was opening belonged to him.
The only reason Clarkston police showed up was because someone reported a Black man — Domino is African American — had been prowling cars.
So all the officers had when they arrived at Walmart was an individual who fit the description, who bristled at their questions and refused to provide identification.
They might have scoped out the scene, talked to other witnesses or observed Domino’s behavior.
Maybe they could have run Domino’s license plate through a mobile data terminal. That would have yielded his name as well as any history of automobile burglary.
Instead, out came the handcuffs.
There was a scuffle and the situation escalated.
Out came the taser.
And before you know it, white cops arrested a Black man — not for any underlying crime — but for resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer.
Conviction would have cost Domino about $5,000 and or almost a year in jail.
And for months, the only break Richardson offered Domino was this one-sided deal: Plead guilty and the prosecutor would not formally file it with the courts — as long as the defendant kept his nose clean.
Eventually common sense prevailed when a more even-handed plea bargain emerged: The trial would be put on hold. If Domino avoided anything more serious than a traffic ticket for 90 days, the case would be dropped.
Domino is reneging on his pledge not to file a civil lawsuit.
“The city was in the wrong,” he told the Lewiston Tribune’s Kerri Sandaine. “The agreement he offered me was like a slap in the face of my intelligence. It covered everybody under the sun except me. Maybe I don’t want to sue the city and the police, but maybe I do want to sue Whitcom or the person who called 911 with malicious information.”
But the question for Richardson is not whether he wants to hold Domino to that side agreement.
The question is whether he intends to use the threat of criminal prosecution as leverage to stop Domino from considering a lawsuit he may or may not have the resources to wage, may or may not be inclined to file, and may or may not even win.
That’s not a good look.
Neither is this: Suppose Richardson takes the case to trial.
What was once a local story now could become another episode in a national saga about racial profiling and the use of excessive police force against Black men.
Can you just imagine these sort of questions presented to potential jurors during the voir dire process:
l What do you think motivated the person who called police in the first place?
l Do you think white cops treat Black people differently?
l How do you think the police officers would have responded to a reported car prowler if the suspect were white?
If Domino wins an acquittal, it repudiates Richardson, the police and the community.
Would a conviction be any better?
Talk about a pyrrhic victory. Imagine this lead on the front page of any major newspaper or network newscast: Today, a Black man arrested by white cops, charged by a white prosecutor, presided over at trial by a white judge, was convicted by an all-white jury. His crime? Entering his own car.
What else could go wrong?
How about that video of Domino’s arrest in the parking lot going viral a second time?
In the interest of justice — and Clarkston’s good name — the smart move here would be for Richardson to make this case disappear, sooner rather than later. Why wait? — M.T.