The Bath Salts Banker

The protestation is a familiar one to police officers: “My son (or, brother, husband, friend, neighbor, or what have you) would never do that!” And “that” refers to whatever affront to the commonweal the son (or brother, etc.) had committed to bring himself to the attention of the police. The cop’s response most often goes something like this: “He apparently would, and he apparently did, which is why he’s on his way to jail right now.” To the cop, there are few human foibles that come as a great surprise.

But once in a great while there comes along a man whose downfall is so radically divergent from his ostensible station in life that even the most jaded police officer cannot help but look on and ask, “Who would have thought it?”

Witness the case of Brian Mulligan, 53, an executive with Deutsche Bank in Los Angeles. To the casual observer it would have appeared Mr. Mulligan had it all: a high-paying job, a loving family, a nice home in a pricey suburb, and all the many trappings attendant to prosperity and success. So when back in May he found himself hospitalized after a violent confrontation with officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Mulligan responded as one would expect: with indignant attorneys threatening legal action. Very, very costly legal action, of course.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Mulligan’s version of his encounter with the LAPD, as related by his attorneys, can be summed up thus: On the night of May 15, Mulligan went to the Highland Park area of Los Angeles to buy medical marijuana, which, he claims, helps him sleep.  While there, he was detained by police officers and ordered under threat of death to check into a motel.  When he tried to escape, the officers chased him and savagely beat him without the slightest justification, resulting in serious injuries to his face and to his reputation.

The prudent reader is at this point curious.  Out of all the people out and about in Highland Park that evening, why would these police officers choose this respected businessman and mistreat him so?  Needless to say, the officers’ version of events is in conflict in key details with that of Mr. Mulligan.  The officers say they responded to a radio call of a man wearing a pink shirt and tan pants trying to break into a car, a call that was soon followed by a second, similar one in the same area.  While searching the neighborhood, the officers found Mr. Mulligan, dressed as described in the radio calls, near the entrance to Occidental College.  He was drenched in sweat and appeared unsteady, but he passed a sobriety test.

Mulligan told the officers he had smoked marijuana and taken “white lightning,” a term for a relatively new street drug more commonly referred to as bath salts.  He had not slept in four days, he said, and he believed people were chasing him.  He also told the officers he was depressed and going through a divorce.

He was exhausted, Mulligan said, and he asked the officers to drop him at a local motel where he could get some rest. Lacking any reason to arrest or further detain him, the officers took him to the motel and assisted him in checking in.

Later that night, the same officers saw Mulligan out on the street trying to open the passenger’s side door of an occupied van.  The van sped off, and when the officers went to investigate, Mulligan tried to run away.  The officers caught up to him, at which time Mulligan took up what the police report described as a “fighting stance” before charging at and attempting to tackle one of the officers. There then followed what neither side disputes, to wit, a fracas that saw Mr. Mulligan come out very much on the losing end, as a photo on the TMZ website will graphically attest.

Come, come, say Mr. Mulligan’s attorneys. Mr. Mulligan made no admissions about using bath salts, and the mere suggestion that he did so is nothing but a further attack on his reputation, no doubt requiring an extra zero or two to be added to the eventual damage award.

Ah, but here is where the tale gets even more interesting, for along comes a witness who speaks of Mr. Mulligan’s use of bath salts and the psychological consequences that frequently accompany such use.  And that witness is none other than Mr. Mulligan himself.

On May 13, two days before his encounter with the LAPD, Mr. Mulligan was in Glendale, a city adjacent to the LAPD patrol division where the incident occurred.  He was in front of the Glendale police station when he spoke to an officer who, inconveniently for Mr. Mulligan, recorded the conversation, which can be heard here, on the Los Angeles Times website.

In that conversation Mr. Mulligan said that had used “white lightning” about 20 times and that he believed people were following him, possibly in a helicopter.  The officer demonstrated some familiarity with bath salts and their harmful effects, and he cautioned Mr. Mulligan against further use, the effect of which advice on Mr. Mulligan was evidently short-lived.

Naturally, Mr. Mulligan’s lawyers are crying foul about the release of the Glendale officer’s tape.  In a letter sent to the chiefs of police of Los Angeles and Glendale, attorney Skip Miller demanded an investigation into how the media obtained the tape, claiming it was leaked “out of context” so as to discredit Mr. Mulligan and his allegations of police abuse.

No doubt there was some intrigue that saw the tape land in the hands of reporters, but “out of context”?  Here we have a man claiming he was beaten by police for no reason, and the officers counter that the man was under the influence of bath salts, a drug known to make people act bizarrely and sometimes violently. And then, in the purported victim’s own voice, we hear him describe his use of that very substance to a police officer who wisely counsels him against its further use, this occurring only two days before his run-in with the LAPD. Out of context?  It’s hard to imagine a circumstance where the context could be more apt.

All of this is not to say the force used on Mr. Mulligan was necessarily justified.  Even drug-addled maniacs have a constitutional right to be arrested by means of reasonable force.  Mr. Mulligan surely took a beating, but it will be up to him to prove the now dubious proposition that the force used against him was unreasonable.  And the tape wholly discredits any claim Mr. Mulligan might make that he was not a drug user and could not have posed a threat to the officers who found him acting strangely on the street last May 15.

Sure, Mr. Mulligan will press his case in court and lay out lots and lots of money to the platoon of attorneys now busying themselves in salvaging whatever might remain of his reputation. But in the end, the most damning witness against Mr. Mulligan will be Mr. Mulligan himself.

“I guarantee you,” said the Glendale officer to Mulligan two days before his encounter with the LAPD, “that if you continue using that stuff it will change who you are and it will destroy your family. I absolutely guarantee, ‘cause you will stop being who you are and you will become something totally different.”

“I’ve already felt that,” said Mulligan,

“And it’s gonna happen quickly,” continued the officer.  “You will reach a point very quickly when those things will become permanent and there will be no fixing them.”

Little did Mr. Mulligan or the officer know just how prophetic those words would soon prove to be.  Mr. Mulligan’s injuries will heal but his reputation very likely will not, no matter how many indignant lawyers he engages in the cause.