Shirley looked out for No. 1

In the end, Bobby Shirley did what was best for Bobby Shirley.

Backed into a corner with evidence and testimony that indicated he was indeed guilty of the violation for which he stood accused, Shirley last week relented, resigning his post as sheriff of Jefferson County and, on Monday, pleading guilty to assaulting then-suspected/since-convicted bank robber Mark Daniel Haines during his arrest in December 2010.

When first charged, Shirley was bombastic in his denials: Haines was the bad guy; he was only doing what was right to bring a wrongdoer under control. He took that gloss with him even as he knew an investigation had been launched into the incident, then to victory in last year’s primary over rival Democrat Ed Boober, to a subsequent win in November over Republican challenger Earl Ballenger, declining to come clean to members of his own party who supported his re-election, to Jefferson County voters who awarded him a second term in the face of a damning segment of videotape that showed Shirley squeeze through a pile of officers who had subdued Haines to administer a final booted coup de grace to his head, and to his own deputies, a number of whom were apparently prepared to testify against him.

Even in the midst of Monday’s guilty plea, Shirley sought one final time to secure from a witness the acknowledgement that Haines’ injuries were not all Shirley’s doing. While that might play in Haines’ civil case against him, ultimately it shouldn’t matter. As commanding officer at the scene, it was Shirley’s duty to make sure that Haines’ civil rights were protected— that is, after all, the primary function of the police, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the protection of those in its custody.

Some will argue with fretting about the civil protections of a person who robbed a bank, threatening emloyees and who led police on a high-speed chase, endangering the well-being of the public and police, both. Perhaps they can’t see past the particulars of this incident. Surely, they wouldn’t be so slow to argue about the civil rights of a suspect if that were their own son or grandson in police custody.

Because of Shirley’s prevarications, Jefferson County voters will now have to reset the clock. Their willingness in November to return Shirley to office in the face of the charges against him was evidence of a community’s faith in a man who had served many years among them, sometimes admirably. But this time that faith was misplaced.

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