Just a couple of weeks ago, Columbia County Animal Control Officer Russell Swann stumbled into an unwelcome 15 minutes of fame when he rousted some nude sunbathers from a church graveyard.
Just about everyone has heard the story. Swann was sent to Solid Rock Baptist Church near Appling to check a report of a stray dog. What he found instead was a couple on a blanket behind the church. Nekkid.
The late Lewis Grizzard long ago explained: "naked" is nude. "nekkid" is nude and up to something. This couple was nekkid.
Naturally - no pun intended - the pair were surprised, though perhaps not as surpised as Swann. After all: They knew they were nekkid all along. Swann didn't until he rounded the corner and caught an inadvertent eyeful.
Swann did what he should have done: he radioed his dispatcher, who called the cops.
The nekkid pair hopped up and tried to skedaddle. Swann told the deputy, who arrived a few minutes later, that he used his county truck to block in their vehicle. The deputy cut the nekkid couple some slack and let them go with nothing more than a finger-wagging.
If that was the end of the story, I'd be writing about something else.
After this story broke on The Chronicle's Web site, a couple of things happened. First, a few readers offered their comfortably anonymous wisdom, including these gems (with all original grammar preserved):
- "These people should charge the animal control officer of false imprisonment for blocking their car in."
- "He blocked their car? What a fine citizen. I hope the couple knows where Swan lives so they can return the favor somehow."
- "its a wonder barney fife the dog catcher didn't shoot these innocent people and claim that the guy had his weapon out. he needs to get a life."
Next, Swann apparently caught heat from some of the county's higher-ups for blocking the car. Understandably, he then started waffling on that part of the story.
He shouldn't. And he shouldn't be attacked for blocking the car once the cops were called.
In fact, more people ought to have the fortitude to praise Swann for doing the right thing in an era when everyone else seems inclined to, ahem, look the other way.
As much as I detest hypotheticals - you know, "If that was your grandmother in the mug shot, I bet you wouldn't put her picture in the paper!" - this situation calls for one.
We can probably agree that it is illegal to go around in public without clothes on. The couple weren't on their property; they were on someone else's (and it was church property, on top of that). So the moment Swann saw them naked, he did, in fact, catch them committing an illegal act.
Even so, the prevailing view seems to be that Swann should have just left them alone.
All right; hypothetical time. What if Swann had found burglars prying open the back door of the church? Should he have "gotten a life" and ignored that crime, too?
What if Swann found not sunbathers, but a rapist and a victim? Would he be accused of "false imprisonment" if he blocked the getaway car?
We know the answer for both these situations. Swann would be hailed as a hero. Why? Well, because we can all agree that rape and burglary are crimes. But so is indecent exposure, and probably a few other things in which the nekkid people were engaged. A crime is a crime; it is purely situational ethics, not to mention hypocritical, to (hypothetically) hail Swann for taking action on one type of law-breaking activity, but berate him for not ignoring the other.
Personally, I couldn't care less if someone wants to work out their tan lines - though they should do so only in the privacy of their own property or in a tanning booth.
But our taxes pay the salaries for Swann and all county employees. I hope the absurd flak he's caught from this doesn't discourage them from reporting any illegal activity they find during the course of their jobs. We don't pay them to look the other way.
In this case, literally.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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