Milton, you have been a criminal defense attorney for a number of years now, with more clients that you can probably count. What was it like working with Trishawn Carey from the very beginning?
Trishawn was arrested March 1st, 2015 and it was all over the media. When I first heard about it, my first reaction was, "Damn, why did they arrest that woman?" She had merely picked up a baton. She didn't injure anyone. She didn't even scare anyone. They immediately subdued her. (You should go online and see the video. It will come up on March 1st about the police killing a homeless man in LA).
The full video shows this frail looking homeless woman getting up from under a tarp. She'd been sleeping over there that morning, on the ground and police are there questioning an individual named Ithaca. She gets up, and she talks to the cops. They say that she was disoriented and confused. They told her, "Get out of here, get out of here, woman. Get out of here." She didn't get out, she just stood around. Then the police got rough with the homeless man named Ithaca. He kept begging, "Listen to me! Listen to me!" I heard that on the body mic that I got in evidence. This man was saying, "Listen to me! Listen to me! You're not listening to me! Listen to me!" They would say, "Get up against the wall. Up against the wall! Now! We're going to taze you if you don't get up against the wall now!" So they're confronting and having a stand-off with this mentally ill man who's saying, "Listen to me." This is going back and forth. He finally says, "Ahh" and he turns to go back in his tent. They grab him from behind and start pulling on him and shooting with the taser. One of the officers starts hitting him and they go at it. Another officer takes him to the ground and gets on top of him. He's hitting him and then the officer is saying, "He's got my gun!" Then he backs off of him and it's pow-pow-pow! Two or three of them shoot and kill him. Just like that.
That was the incident, and here is Trishawn who sees this whole encounter unfold. She's walking around the group. One of the attacking officers drops his baton. He meant to put it in his holster but he misses and it falls down. She picks it up briefly, about an eye blink, and they take her down. "Move!" One of the officers jump her, knock her down, and knocks the baton out of her hand. She's still confused and talking incoherently. I said, "Well, what did she say?" He said, "I don't know, she was incoherent. Babbling like they do, over there. Babbling." So they arrest her for interfering with an officer, obstructing justice, and an assault on a peace officer.
Several months down the line, this organization got a hold of me and asked me would I represent her because they weren't satisfied with what was happening with her. She was still in custody and nothing was being done. I decided to take it on. I met with her to see if she wanted me to represent her, she said, "Yes." So I subbed into the case and started working with her. The bail was $1,080,000 because she was facing 25-to-life. I put on a bail hearing and put on the history of her mental illness throughout the years, and some of the times she's been to court, other times she's been to mental institution and the judge reduced it to $50,000. From $1,080,000 to $50,000. That was in July, she was arrested March 1st. So she's bailed out July 24th, I think it was. You count that up, it was about five months she was in jail for this offense of nothing. But she needed care and monitoring and someone to kind of guide her in taking of her medication. That's what we were trying to get her.
You know I have several heroes in my life. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ms. Mobley, Emmett Till's mother. This lady reminded me of one of my heroes. I said, "You know, as the police was beating this man, you can hear the group of guys on Skid Row saying, "Hey man, stop beating that man! You motherf**, you motherf**s beating that man for nothing." Those men did nothing. But here along comes this woman. 110 pounds. She had the heart and the will to step in. A mentally ill, homeless fragile woman picked up the baton to help her fellow man. To help this man that was killed. Because something was wrong, and in her instincts, her psyche, something was terribly wrong, and she was right. They killed this man. She picked up the baton and she showed outrage. She showed that she was in pain by the infliction of this beating on another human being.
I just finished reading "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup. I saw the movie a year ago, but I just finished the book recently. When you read about the beatings and whippings that some slave masters gave their slaves, I mean they lay them on the ground and just whip until they got tired, and the flesh just peel off the body and blood is streaming down their legs and down the dirt. They beat them more viciously than they would an animal, if you were a dog. I guess I relate that to the beating that these cops were putting on this man, and her experiencing that. The spirit that she felt. I'm not trying to be religious or anything, but I'm saying she's one of my heroes, to be honest with you.
My position with them was, "You got to dismiss this case, or I'm going to trial. Because this is not a felony and I don't think it's a misdemeanor. I think I can win the case." The day of trial, the DA finally acquiesced and agreed to reduce it to a misdemeanor. We had a very intelligent, experienced judge with mental illness cases, who comforted me in so many ways. In so many words he said, "I'm not going to hurt your girl, Milton. Trust me. If she violates my probation, I will be reasonable and understanding. I know she's mentally ill." So we went ahead and agreed. I thought we could have got the 'Not guilty', but she needed treatment too. I had to make a decision, either to to get treatment now or go for the not guilty. If we get treatment now we can get the probation department and this judge to work with us and some treatment programs we can recommend. If we chose to get a not guilty, we'd let her loose right back on Skid Row and we're not helping her.
Was there a part of working the case that felt like it was all TLC?
The TLC method is so natural for me, I don't recognize it anymore. You know, I'm used to doing my work and incorporating it with reversing roles and reenactment. In expressing myself to the court, most judges think, "What the hell are you thinking? You're an old man and you're jumping around on chairs and up on tables, what the hell is going on with you?" That's my reputation. But I always show the jury what happened.
What's some of the best advice you could give a lawyer heading into their first trial?
Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, and be yourself. Don't go in there and be a phony to the jury, be yourself. If you're scared, you're scared, be real and trust the jury. Be real in showing them you're real. I think that's a very big step to establishing the credibility. I hate the stiff, pretentious, idly pretending type of a lawyer who's always looking down their nose as if they're above everybody else. I personally don't appreciate that type of personality. I'm not saying everybody has to be like me, but I think people appreciate you being a regular person and being as much of yourself as you can be. That's what I try to teach young lawyers. Know who you are, learn who you are, and be that person. Don't pretend to be someone else, and the jury will trust you more.
Mr. Grimes has been a trial lawyer since 1974, and has tried over 300 jury trials in both civil and criminal cases in ten (10) states. One of his greatest sources of pride is his representation of Rodney King in his Civil Rights suit against the City of Los Angeles for a verdict of 3.8 million. Throughout his career, Milton has received numerous awards including Lawyer of the Year, Loren Miller Award (2003) - presented by the John M. Langston Bar Association, Lawyer of the Year (1994) and (2001) - presented by the California Association of Black Lawyers, and the Dedicated and Distinguished Service in the Area of Civil Rights Award (1997) - presented by the Garden State Bar Association. He was invited by Gerry Spence to join the faculty of the Trial Lawyer's College in 1995, and he has served on its board as Vice President since that time as well.
Milton Grimes is on the board of the Trial Lawyer's College and has been active on the faculty since the beginning. Apply now to the 3-Week College to the learn more about the very skills he uses.